Museum of Innocence on smoking

For curio’s sake – and for its [mild] critique of anthropology – there is this short chapter from Orhan Pamuk’s ‘Museum of Innocence’. You only need to know that the ‘author’ of the text has been deliriously in love with Fusan for years. What is impressive however is the way empirical evidence gets into the novel, a documentation of this obsession. It is even possible to visit the museum and see the butts lovingly displayed.

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Giraffes Africa-India-China – and other exchanges.

GiraffeValmik Thapar, in Exotic Aliens: The Lion and the Cheetah in India, reports that Jahangir was gifted a giraffe. Anand Yang in Bazaar India: Peasants, Traders, Markets in Bihar, reports that ruler of Bengal [it was Shihabuddin Bayazid Shah (reigned 1413–1414)] gifted a giraffe to the Chinese Emperor. What a gift to give, a giraffe! The gift of a giraffe by Bengal to the court of China in 1414. Got to also get hold of an article by Sally Church ‘The Giraffe of Bengal: A Medieval Encounter in Ming China’. I’m afraid I have little to add on this but awe. Giraffes! Even if I also know the trade in long necked beasts goes back some time before these Mughal exchanges with Africa – here, a photograph from Konark temple near Puri, 11 century C.E.

Meanwhile, I am also reading reading Murari Kumar Jha, 2013, The Political Economy of the Ganga River: Highway of State Formation in Mughal India, c. 1600-1800. Seeking out Danish smuggling/piracy back in the day…

fn 97 The first reference to opium purchase by the VOC at Patna come in the year 1652, see W. Ph. Coolhaas, ed., Generale Missiven van Gouverneurs-Generaal en Raden aan Heren XVII der Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, vol. 2, 1639–1655 (’s-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff, 1964), 622, Reniers, Maetsuyker, enz. VII, 24.12.1652. But even before the VOC started buying opium from Bihar, the Muslim merchants seems to have been purchasing this commodity for Southeast Asia. This becomes clear from the cargoes of one of the two ships which both were captured in 1649 by Leyel, a Danish commander, before they reached Balasore. The ship with opium was destined for Aceh, see Coolhaas, ed., Generale Missiven, 2:348–49, Van der Lijn, Caron, enz. VIII, 18.01.1649. In 1641 the VOC was already buying some opium at Surat for the Malabar Coast, see Coolhaas, ed., Generale Missiven, 2:145, Van Diemen, Van der Lijn, enz. XVII, 12.12.1641

Talk: Braga 9.4.2013

‘Seems like the funky days, they’re back again’ – 1960s fashion and subcontinental politics in the 21st Century? – John Hutnyk
 
This talk will consider the resurgence of an Asia-inflected 1960s aesthetic and a thoroughly modern politics in the present. To what extent does a kaleidoscopic reference in fashion and sound make room for a political activism that owes more to street protest than an updated digital-cultural exoticism. The work of Sri Lankan musician M.I.A will feature, as will Frank Zappa and the Monkeys psychedelic era masterpiece ‘Head’.

2:30 9 April 2013

Location: Braga, North of Portugal, at the Gualtar campus of the University of Minho. The building is the Institute of Arts and Humanities (Instituto de Letras e Ciências Humanas – ILCH) and the room is the ILCH Auditorium.

Jungle Studies

My copy of Kipling’s Jungle Book begins with Lisa Makman’s pithy (even pith-helmeted) passage on jungles. It well deserves citation:

‘The term “jungle”, derived from the Hindi word jangala, entered the English language only in the eighteenth century; today it evokes dangerous terrain: impenetrable equatorial forests, menacing urban landscapes, and overall mayhem [as in, “it’s a jungle out there”]. Even as jungles have gained a new designation – rain forest – and we have learned of their life-sustaining role in the biosphere, the word continues to conjure images of imperial adventure: the white man cutting his way through the bush to hunt big game, or Tarzan swinging from a vine. We owe our deep associations of jungles with mystery, threat, and the struggle for survival in large measure to Rudyard Kipling (Makman, intro to Kipling 2004:xv)’

I want to suggest that the stalking metaphor for the trinket collecting word-play of storytelling dialectics might be Kipling’s character Kaa, who also had some wisdom, let us not forget: ‘The jungle is large and the Cub he is small. Let him think and be still’ (Kipling 2004:33). Kaa is a storyteller too, not just an old snake: ‘I also have known what love is. There are tales that I could tell that…’ (Kipling 2004:42).

There is much to learn from the names that populate the jungle city. I also note, from my copy of Hobson-Jobson – that amazing compendium of Anglo-Indian loan words, without which neither Midnight’s Children nor Merchant Ivory – that the word ‘Jungle’ is derived from Sanskrit, chiefly used in medical discourses, ‘the native word means in strictness only waste, uncultivated ground’. In the great H-J we read a citation from Valentia, in the year 1809: ‘The air of Calcutta is much affected by the closeness of the jungle around it’ (Yule and Burdell 1886/1996:470). We should be much amused to hear yet again the repetition of this undeservedly bad press for the city, and must surely reject such characterizations, with Kipling in mind, remembering the city he called ‘dreadful night’ was also ‘a city of palaces’ (for discussion see Hutnyk 1996:7). From the silted swamp and urban jungle we move on to horror stories, always evocative, we go to battle the elements together: ‘for we be of one blood, ye and I’.

Hutnyk, John 1996 The Rumour of Calcutta: Tourism, Charity and the Poverty of Representation, London: Zed books.

Kipling, Rudyard 2004 The Jungle Books, New York: Barnes and Noble.

Yule, Henry and A.C.Burnell 1886/1996 Hobson-Jobson: The Anglo-English Dictionary. Ware:Wordsworth Editions.