Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

[The following is a revised version of some comments made during a discussion with Sudipta Kaviraj at the Centre for the Study of Developing Socoeties, Delhi on 21 October 2010. Kaviraj made a presentation based on a recent essay of his ‘Marxism in Translation: Critical Reflections on Indian Political Thought’ (published in Political Judgement: Essays in Honour of John Dunn, Eds Raymond Geuss and Richard Bourke) to which some of us responded. AN]

It is interesting to revisit, with Sudipta Kaviraj, the field of ‘Indian Marxism’. It is an abandoned field, a piece of haunted land where no living beings go – at least not in their senses. What is more, it is a field that ‘Indian Marxists’ themselves are afraid of revisiting. It is their past – the land of the dead, of unfulfilled ancestral spirits, where the ghosts of yesteryears hang like betaal from every tree. The terror of this forbidden territory has redoubled, after the collapse of socialism. It is as if some deep secrets of the past lie buried there which they would rather not bring back to life, for fear of what might be revealed to them of their own selves. It is strange but true that Marxists who swear by history are perhaps as afraid of it as anybody else.

And yet, we must visit that forbidden land, ‘summon up the ghosts of that nether-world’ in the hope that there may yet emerge another tale, maybe many other tales, that may throw some light on an idea that once seduced generations of modern Indians. For, it is all too easy to dismiss marxism as such, and Indian marxism in particular, as a bad dream, as some illegitimate idea that once took hold of us and kept us in that trance-like situation for almost a century (one could say, from the 1920s, at least). It is almost as if there was nothing to Indian Marxism except that it pathetically tried to copy one strand of European thought and history and implant it on Indian soil. It is all too easy, as has been often done in the past, to dismiss this episode as one where entire generations supposedly sleepwalked in the mistaken belief that they were awake – living a misrecognition, as it were.   How exactly did that happen? Presumably, if this rendition of our history is to be believed, the marxists of yore were doped (or duped) by the material successes of the West into believing that they could also all become Western/ modern overnight. The problem with this all too familiar, populist representation is that it forgets that it was not only the English speaking, west-oriented middles classes who were drawn towards marxism, but also large sections of the non-English speaking people of the regional language universe. It forgets too, the tremendous attraction that this vision held for the poorer and more underprivileged sections of Indian society. Thus we owe it to ourselves and to future generations, to take a fresh look at that entire episode. It is necessary for us to revisit the haunted land.

And so, Sudipta Kaviraj must be complimented for having made this foray, if somewhat too briefly, into that world.

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Caste and the Writing of History

By Prathama Banerjee

Caste is seen as both the most archaic and the most contemporary reality of India – a persistent but paradoxical presence in historical time. Perhaps for this reason, caste seems to act as a challenge to the writing and teaching of history. This essay seeks to understand the ways in which caste as a category has, for a long time, escaped history as a discipline. It also explores the newer ways in which historians today try to interrogate and renegotiate history itself, in their effort to fashion modes of writing adequate to the workings of caste in India. This essay therefore is as much about history-writing as it is about the category of caste.

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Interview with Ashis Nandy
[Prof Ashis Nandy is a well known social thinker and social psychologist based at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi. He has been an outspoken critic of science, modernity and secularism. His writings since the early 1980s have been extremely influential, in conjunction with Edward Said’s critique of Orientalism, in exposing the universalist pretensions of Western thought and social sciences. His most important books include The Intimate Enemy, At the Edge of Psychology, Tradition, Tyranny and Utopia, The Savage Freud, Time Warps and The Romance of the State. Nandy’s critique of secularism in the mid-1980s unleashed one of the richest and most hotly contested debates in India – one that continues even today.]

Interviewed by Aditya Nigam, Fellow CSDS, Delhi. The interview was originally conducted for Naked Punch (www.nakedpunch.com).

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