Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Ismat Chughtai's Short Stories

Though her life wasn't as drastically messed up as that of her friend and contemporary Saadat Hasan Manto, Ismat Chughtai was definitely a born rebel. She lived her life the way she wanted, and wrote the truth in her many stories, novels, and nonfiction essays.

Chughtai's most famous story is 'Lihaf' (The Quilt), which deals with a lesbian encounter within an all-woman setting (Zenana) in a traditional Muslim household. It's a funny and scandalous story (read it here), but actually, my favorite short story by Chughtai is called "Sacred Duty." I came across it in a recent collection called The Quilt and Other Stories. It's beautifully translated by Tahira Naqvi, who has been Chughtai's committed translator and one of her great champions.

The story is not online anywhere, so perhaps I should briefly summarize it and quote a little. Samina, who comes from a respectable Muslim family in Delhi, is engaged to be married to a respectable Muslim boy. However, the day before her wedding she runs off with her boyfriend with Tashar Trivedi, a Hindu whose family lives in Allahabad. Samina accompanies Tashar to Allahabad, where converts to Hinduism and is married to Tashar in a Hindu ceremony. When her parents get Samina's note explaining her disappearance, her mother's first reaction (the story is told from her parents' perspective) is "Let's go to Allahabad and shoot them both!" Lovely.

After some months tempers have cooled, and Samina's father goes on a mission to Allahabad to reconcile, and to invite Samina and her husband to their house in Delhi. He is so gracious and understanding that the Trivedis agree. But in Delhi the young couple find that the Siddiqui family have quietly arranged a second, Muslim marriage ceremony, which requires Tashar to convert to Islam and Samina to reconvert. He's ready to do it, though Samina isn't, and a great deal of poisonously comical bickering ensues. Finally, from their hotel, Samina and Tashar sneak off by themselves to an undisclosed city, leaving both their manipulative families behind. The high point of the story is the delciously snarky letter that Samina sends her parents as she and her husband disappear:

And then, Papa, you arrived on the scene; you're such a good actor -- how genially and amicably you convinced Papaji [Samina's father-in-law] -- I was so touched. My father's so broad-minded, I told myself. Papaji had managed to whisk us off to Banaras with the help of his cronies. First it was Papaji who waved the magic wand at us, but when you warmly expressed forgiveness and brought us to Delhi, you too exposed yourelf as someone really petty; you also made us dance like a monkey and its mate. And we took everything as a big joke, that comic drama too. Don't worry, we're not going to give away your secret -- tomorrow morning, when Papaji [Tashar's father] looks at the newspaper there'll definitely be an explosion [when they hear about the Muslim ceremony]. No, we only said goodbye to them. Goodbye to all of you too -- no, you don't want to know where we're going. If we've hurt you, please forgive us. No, we haven't hurt you, it's you who have caused us pain, you're the ones who should apologize. You have made us a laughing stock. What kind of parents are you, who make your children dance like monkeys to any tune you like?

I love that reversal of guilt onto the parents themselves. In the name of "respectability" and "the family honor," they seem willing to do any number of disreputable and hurtful things. (Indeed, the old tradition of the "honor killing" is alive and well, even in the South Asian diaspora.)

With its rude ending, "Sacred Duty" is a brilliant and fitting change-up on the old arranged marriage drama. And as a story it still feels completely fresh and relevant though it was written fifty years ago. Many of Chughtai's other short stories work the same way, especially when they're competently translated.

* * *

Who Was She? Some Biographical Background

Chughtai was greatly helped in her aspiration to be a professional writer because her husband, Shahid Latif, was a successful script-writer who actively encouraged her (through him, she also tried her hand at script-writing, and was involved in some fourteen or fifteen films in the 1940s and 50s). Chughtai wrote in Urdu and was early on associated with the Progressive Writers' Association. She was a friend of Manto's, and often compared to him, so this post is in some sense a complement to my earlier post on Manto. Manto's inspired take on Chughtai in his essay on her, included in a splendid collection called Ismat: Her Life, Her Times (Edited by Sukrita Paul Kumar and Sadique), is well worth reading. Some of Manto's comments about Chughtai's status as a woman writer are a bit controversial (Manto was no feminist; he wanted Chughtai to write like a woman). But others are witty and affectionate:

Ismat's pen and tongue both run fast. When she starts writing, her ideas race ahead and the words cannot catch up with them. When she speaks, her words seem to tumble over one another. If sheenters the kitchen to show her culinary skill, everything will be in a mess. Being hasty by nature, she would conjure up the cooked roti in her mind even before she had finished kneading the dough. The potatoes would note yet be peeled although she would have already finished making the curry in her imagination. I feel sometimes she may just go into the kitchen andcome out again afer being satiated by her imagination.

I've tried that, and I must admit it doesn't work so well for me.

Incidentally, Chughtai also wrote an essay giving her take on Manto, which I haven't been able to track down.

* * *

An Excerpt from Chughtai's Memoirs Online

The excerpt from her autobiography published at Chowk is well worth a read. Chughtai talks about her sense of rebelliousness, which began in childhood and continued up through her decision to marry the film-writer Shahid Latif. The anecdotes she tells and her style of telling them reinforces the sense one has of Chughtai as someone with a quick wit with an extraordinary ability to use humor to point out the truth -- and get her way. Here, for instance, is how, as a young girl, she convinced her father to excuse her from learning how to cook, and give her instead the opportunity to go to school and get an education:

"Women cook food Ismat. When you go to your in-laws what will you feed them?" he asked gently after the crisis was explained to him.

"If my husband is poor, then we will make khichdi and eat it and if he is rich, we will hire a cook," I answered.

My father realised his daughter was a terror and that there wasn't a thing he could do about it.

"What do you want to do then?" he asked.

"All my brothers study. I will study too," I said.

My uncle was assigned the job of teaching me. After a month of extensive study, day and night, I was accepted into the fourth grade at a local school. After that I got a double promotion and was promoted to grade six. I wanted to be free and without an education, a woman cannot have freedom. When an uneducated woman gets married, her husband addresses her as "stupid" or "illiterate". When he leaves for work, she sits at home and waits for him to come back. I thought that no matter what happens, I would never be intimidated by anyone. I would learn as quickly as I could.

It's not as if Chughtai's family were that much more progressive than other affluent Muslim families of her generation. But Chughtai knew how to work her family members to ensure access to an education, through which she was able to get out of her parents house and eventually marry a man she herself chose.

* * *

The Obscenity Trial for 'Lihaf' (The Quilt); Her Account Online

Chughtai's account of her obscenity trial in 1944, over "Lihaf," picks up where the autobiographical sketch leaves off. This is the incident in Chughtai's life for which she is most famous, and it's interesting to see that at the time she took it rather lightly. She emphasizes the pleasant time she and her husband had with Manto in Lahore, where the trial was held, over the legalities and the question of whether or not her story was actually obscene.

In this memoir of her trial Chughtai does of course get into some of the specifics regarding her interest in the subject of "Lihaf," though these discussions happen not in the actual trial, but in the informal "trial" she went through from the respectable people in her social circle. Here is her response to one of her husband's friends, Aslam, when he criticizes her for her story:

Using a mild manner and a tone of entreaty, I said, 'Aslam Sahib, in reality no one ever told me that writing on the subject I deal with in "Lihaf" is a sin, nor did I ever read anywhere that I shouldn't write about this . . . disease . . . or tendency. Perhaps my mind is not the brush of Abdur Rahman Chughtai but only a cheap camera instead. Whenever it sees something, it releases the shutter on its own and the pen in my hand becomes helpless. My mind tempts my pen, and I'm unable to interfere in the matter of my mind and pen." (link)

It's a rather ingenious defense: the issue of homoerotic desire between women was such a profoundly unspoken thing that it wasn't necessarily clear to Chughtai that it was in fact a "sin." (Of course, this defense doesn't hold if you actually read the story closely -- there one sees there is a strong sense of shame in the chld protagonist's perception of the acts committed by Begum Jan and her lover, the servant Rabbo.) The second part of Chughtai's defense of her writing may be the more important: she saw what she was doing as in some sense an act of recording. In fact, there is some indication that the story was based on real people.

Here is how Chughtai describes the actual trial:

There was a big crowd in the court. Several people had advised us to offer our apologies to the judge, even offering to pay the fines on our behalf. The proceedings had lost some of their verve, the witnesses who were called in to prove that "Lihaf" was obscene were beginning to lose their never in the face of our lawyer's cross-examination. No word capable of inviting condemnation could be found. After a great deal of search a gentleman said, "The sentence 'she was collecting ashiqs (lovers) is obscene."

"Which word is obscene," the lawyer said. "Collecting," or "ashiqs"? (link)

And from there the case against her begins to crumble.

The question of obscenity and censorship is still very much with us today, as many recent incidents have reminded us. The only difference now is that while representing sex acts are considered more or less acceptable in works of literature in India at least (Shobha De has never been tried for obscenity), now the censorship battleground is religion. But even if the theme is different, the arguments are the same: the question of what specifically makes a serious literary work obscene or offensive is as hard to answer now as it was in 1944. Most people recognize that there is a difference between representing an act of communal violence and celebrating or encouraging it. But somehow one still finds that the works of writers and filmmakers whose works criticize communalism -- most recently, Taslima Nasreen -- are banned because they "hurt religious sentiments."

"Lihaf" can be found online in numerous locations, but I would recommend the version translated by Tahira Naqvi here. (The other translation I came across does something odd with the ending.)

More materials online:

Fran Pritchett's Ismat Chughtai links

An essay by Chughtai: From Bombay to Bhopal (PDF)

An essay by Chughtai: Communal Violence and Literature (PDF)

I also want to thank Ruchira Paul for inspiring me to do this post, and for sending me a copy of Ismat: Her Life, Her Times.

[Cross-posted to Sepia Mutiny]


Blogger Shreeharsh said...

I've tried that, and I must admit it doesn't work so well for me.

What exactly doesn't work for you?

1:43 PM  
Blogger Amardeep said...

What exactly doesn't work for you?

Satisfying my hunger purely through my imagination of what I might have cooked!

I find that I actually have to eat something to not be hungry ;-)

2:29 PM  
Blogger ana beynaam said...

i agree, it's best to read tahira naqvi's translations. that's how i've read some of ismat's stories. i recommend tahira's own stories in a collection called attar of roses. would send you my copy if i could find it in what has become the rubble of my mother's basement.

did you know that ismat chughtai was in a film as well? the name escapes me, but it's got shashi and jennifer kapoor, and it has to do with the raj. ruchira? anyone?

3:07 PM  
Blogger Amardeep said...

Ana, that one was easy -- she was in a Shyam Benegal film called "Junoon" with Shashi Kapoor. 1978 or 79...

3:16 PM  
Blogger Ruchira Paul said...

Yes. She was the snarky old grandmother - the mother of Jennifer Kapoor's character, if I remember correctly.

That relationship wasn't quite clear to me when I saw the movie. Jennifer appeared to be playing an English woman but her mother (the Ismat character) was clearly Indian (Muslim?). Was the J.K. character then an Anglo-Indian married to an Englishman? And Nafisa Ali's character was then perhaps three quarters English? (I hate to sound like one of those race obsessed busybody anthropologists in the antebellum deep south.) What was intriguing in that movie was the level of social mingling that was depicted, even through marriage. Hindu/Muslim, English/Indian etc. Are we more self conscious of this practice now than the Indians were in the 19th century? And I am not speaking about the so called illicit liasons which we know occurred widely, but formalized marriages.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Suvendra Nath Dutta said...

Welcome back to literary blogging, after what seemed like a long hiatus.

Excellent post, but I am hoping you will expand on a future posting about the censorship over religious sentiment today and "pornographic" literature in the past.

My understanding was that the current censorship stems from a reluctance to displease a group of people in the society as opposed to some fundamentally wrong thing. If some wrote a book lampooning The Great Flying Spaghetti presumably it wouldn't be censored. So its not that criticism if religion is looked down on these days (as pornography was then) but the fear of upsetting one community or the other is what drives banning of works of art.

4:12 PM  
Blogger Shreeharsh said...

Oh ok. :-)

I thought you meant something about Manto's take on Chughtai -- and what you quoted seemed to be perfectly benign.

My bad.

4:29 PM  
Blogger ana beynaam said...

yes, junoon, that's it! thanks! it's been a while since i've seen it. all that comes to mind right now are bright red coats and bits of the characters, but i wish i could recall more. :)

7:13 PM  
Blogger Panini Pothoharvi said...

I have been able to retrieve the following bits from the class notes I took while attending a workshop on Narratives and Narrations by the eminent film theorist Dr Madan Gopal Singh

The Quilt

One could identify here four registers of subjectivity.

The feudal-patriarchic register is perhaps the central referent. The argument of the story, despite all its avowed radical perspectives on feminine desire, could well be that Begum Jan would not have 'fallen on ways of deviant sexuality if her honorable sexual desires had not been so callously spurned' by a deviant old Nawab. This is hardly a radical argument. Our worst suspicions are confirmed later in the story as we see the question of feminine desire being totally overwhelmed by an uninterrupted and almost visceral
lapse into sexuality. The feudal-patriarchic register is severe in its maintenance of social sanctions and pretences but strictly as a ritual code. Thus, one may follow the institution of marriage and continue to practise 'deviant sexuality'.

The first register functions through the largely absent persona of the elderly Nawab.

Begam Jan is the active carrier of the other register of subjectivity - namely, the feminine desire. Her character is doubly negotiated. She is a woman from a distinctly lower economic strata married into a far richer feudal family. The disparity is further underlined by the Nawab's 'deviant' sexuality as well as by the huge gap in age that exists between the two. Her presence is primarily a decorative, ritual presence within the matrimonial cosmology sanctioned by the feudal into which she seems to have been despairingly inserted. Her desire is unfortunately articulated only through a carnal self-expression of a visceral sexuality. She seems distinctly devoid of any creative potentials to reconstruct herself out of her moribund misery. Soon enough, she is transformed into a kind of a monster who would not hesitate to molest a child while her 'slave' is either away on leave or generally sulking.

Rabbu, Begum Jan's perpetual massuese, represents the third register albeit in a muted and almost unseen seams of the quilt. It is surprising that in all the debates about feminine desire vis-à-vis The Quilt, how not one feminist critic has deemed it fit to place the question of desire at Rabbu's door. Is she a willing partner or is she economically forced into a situation she would much rather avoid. An answer is hinted at in the mysterious withdrawal of Rabbu's son from the service of the elderly Nawab. Rabbu's somewhat inchoate subjectivity also in a way puts Begum Jan's own existential dilemma in a much sharper focus. For, the Begum is perhaps as much a victim of economic
mismatch as Rabbu herself.

Interesting question however is the position of the author-child. There is clearly a playfulness constituted by establish…. the Two of these registers constituted in the persona of Begum Jan and the author-child are in the active mode. The other two represented by the elderly Nawab and Rabbu exist on the narrative margins and could be constituted only through inference. The Nawab, in fact, remains an absent carrier of subjectivity. The author-child, on the other hand, has a somewhat complex dual existence vis-à-vis the narrative schema. Within the narrative, she is both an outsider as well as an insider. For one, she has literally come from an outside world

Quilt as a failed narrative

Much has been written on Ismat Chughtai's Quilt as a symptomatic representation of the feminine repressed and its radical potentials vis-à-vis the question of feminine desire. We propose to question both these assumptions and establish on the contrary that the Quilt is a failed narrative window on the important question of woman's desire.

First of all the main narrative body is split along two authorial positions. The author is a participating and indeed curiously terrified witness to the lesbian going-ons below the quilt as a forced child visitor from the outside. More importantly, the author is also
the adult, bemused and almost compassionless arbiter from the outside. The last sentence of the story (not included in the official translation issued by the University) where the child-author finally winds up the story with a tongue-in-cheek, almost gastronomic, remark comes across as a particularly cruel joke.

Begum Jan's choice of lesbian relationship with Rabbo is projected as a forced choice. In such construction of sexual choices there is a built-in quasi sympathetic but morally indignant stance alwaysalready. The argument could well run like this : if only the Nawab Saheb had not acquiesced 'deviant' sexuality, Begum Jan could have saved from 'going down' the path of lesbian 'damnation'! Lesbian sexual desire as merely a filler, a choice in lieu of a better choice - that is how Ismat Chughtai seems to build her case study on 'deviant sexuality'.

Structurally, though the plot seems neatly laid out, the story is not a little problem-ridden. The little girl-child's - who is more of a tomboy than a girl - punishment for fighting with boys is to be dispatched to a distant aunt who is known to be a compulsive lesbian. We emphasise the word 'compulsive' because her mode of sexuality is nothing short of an addiction. She needs to be kneaded and doughed all through the day by her constant companion and consort Rabbo who seems to have no other chores to attend as a
maidservant. The question of feminine desire is thus reduced to visceral sexuality. If Begum Jan does not receive the attention of her masseuse, she begins to get the cold-turkey effect. If Rabbo happens to be away on leave, the Begum seems perilously close to
losing her sanity if not actually in fear of dying. This is where she would not hesitate to attempt to molest even the little girl child. The author could not present the case of feminine desire more unsympathetically.

Other considerations of socio-economic disparity are conveniently glossed over. It is emphasized, for instance that the reason why a good-looking but relatively impoverished Begum Jan is married off to a rich and ageing Nawab Saheb has its basis in social sanctions and economic disparity. The façade of matrimony has to be kept ritualistically alive within the overall patriarchic control. But similar logic is not extended to the relationship that unfolds between Begum Jan and Rabbo. The question of feminine desire is kept confined to Begum Jan and Rabbo is conveniently excluded from the universe of desires.

If the child is an outsider who becomes an unwitting privy to the happenings on the inside, Rabbo is an insider whose own desires are almost clinically kept on the outside. If this is not a case of failed narrative drive, then one wonders what is.

A lot has been written about the radical and, for its times, the daring theme of alternative sexuality with regard to Ismat Chughtai's The Quilt. The gender question, especially inrelation to the feminine (sexual) desire has also been the focal point of discussion. It has been pointed out, for instance, how sensitively the theme of lesbian sexuality has been handled by the author through the agency of the child-narrator. However, one would like to seriously challenge some of these assumptions - namely, if, indeed, The Quilt is a story about alternative sexuality; if, indeed, it takes on the question of feminine desire at a philosophical or even existential level; and, if, indeed, it approaches the sensitive issue of lesbianism through its child-narrator.

To take up the question of the child-narrator first, one would notice that the position of the narrator continuously shifts along two registers - that of the adult narrator removed from the incident in time and the child narrator who is some sort of a terrified and even mesmerized witness to the strange goings-on under the quilt and the monstrous shadow-play on the wall in the middle of the night. Nearly half the story is in the voice of the adult narrator. All the information regarding Begum Jan "rolling on a bed of live coals" in the vain hope of receiving the Nawab's attention while the latter is busy in his mysterious escapades with "young, fair-faced boys with slim waists" is in the adult narrator's voice. It even carries a tinge of dismissive sarcasm when it comes to Begum Jan's attempts to turn to books etc. The child narrator comes in later. The confusion is so stark that finally when the child musters up recoils from what she actually sees - the last sentence has been coyly censored out from the scheduled translation - one is no longer quite sure if it is the child responding to the forbidden or the adult to the spice.

The problem with The Quilt is clearly compounded by the unaddressed hierarchy of relations permeating the small universe of Begum Jan's household. The first hierarchy is the cut and dried relationship between the husband and wife sanctioned by a feudal order.
Here the Nawab is free to indulge his fantasies as long as he fulfils his social obligations – namely that of acquiring a wife - a Begum - albeit as a piece of furniture.

There is a second hierarchy to which, strangely enough, commentators have turned a deaf eye. This is the relationship between Begum Jan and her maidservant Rabbu. Even though the narrator mentions that "it was Rabbu who pulled her (Begum Jan) back from the brink", details are conspicuously absent. At the end of the day it is as unequal a relationship as indeed that which exists between the Nawab and his Begum. It is
determined by economic control which the Begum seems to wield. It is curious that no one speaks about Rabbu's desires. The radical theme begins to go awry.

The third hierarchy is that which obtains between the Begum and the child narrator. This too is a grossly unequal relationship determined as it is by the awesome power the Begum seems to wield over the child. It is somewhat disturbing that not a single
commentator has reflected upon Begum Jan's nearly successful attempt to sexually molest the child when Rabbu has gone away temporarily.

The essential problem with the story is that it links up the question of lesbian sexuality almost exclusively with the husband's inability to sexually gratify the spouse. This trivialises a number of important issues pertaining to feminine desire, lesbianism and the institution of marriage. Finally, as one looks back, The Quilt appears to be a visceral
shroud in which an entire universe seems to be subsumed in a frightfully active and perhaps hypnotic bed. A debate about feminine desire, alternative sexuality and lesbianism has not as yet begun

8:03 PM  
Blogger ana beynaam said...

hmmmmmm. . . thank you panini :)

8:29 PM  
Blogger Panini Pothoharvi said...

I wonder if Professor Amardeep would now also carry a post on Ajeet Caur's (not Kaur but Caur as against her daughter's Cour - the name game becomes curiouser with some writers/painters who live literally by the word and its visual lure) short story "Lesbian" - a piece of writing which is so blatantly and self-righteously anti-lesbians.

I also suggest that we open up a genuinely critical debate about some of these grossly overrated wtriters rather than getting overwhelmed by the spurious cultural-studies potentials that some of the desi respondents here "sitting so far away from home" - mostly the inhabitants of north-south US campuses - are.

2:50 AM  
Blogger Chandra said...

I am an illiterate on all literate matters (I read this blog, and not the silly sm, in order to learn a bit about it) but I am not sure what to make out Panini's comments. Was this post about lesbianism? I thought it was about Ismat Chughtai.

I think I’d love hear why Ismat is an overrated writer - just out of curiosity. I felt the notes on Quilt were a review (similar to lot of a good ones I read on nyt book review section, I thought), not really a commentary on writer rating. Or may be that’s how commentary is done in the field of literature?

3:06 PM  
Blogger ana beynaam said...

ismat chughtai is not an overrated writer, in my opinion. panini has a problem with "the quilt" and how more than a few critics have approached it. it is an argument he has been addressing in previous posts. panini also talks about not privileging his readings over that of others (or the desire not to do so)but that doesn't quite show in the last paragraph of his last post.

3:48 PM  
Blogger Amardeep said...

Chandra, you're correct -- this post was about Ismat Chughtai, not lesbianism.

I don't agree with much that Panini Pothoharvi says, but I'm allowing his comments to stand. I don't have time or energy to fight, and I figure readers can make up their minds on their own about whether or not to pick up Ismat Chughtai's work.

Panini, I encourage you to use your own blog as a space where you can criticize in detail all the writers you feel are overrated.

3:58 PM  
Blogger Amardeep said...

(Correction: Ana Beynaam is correct in her response to you.)

3:59 PM  
Blogger Ruchira Paul said...

Ana and I have had a bit of exposure to Panini when he decided to hijack a post about Saadat Hasan Manto to start his diatribe about "Lihaaf" and Ismat's derision towards lesbianism! Ismat is not overrated - she is a lively writer. Tahira Naqvi's translations are particularly enderaing, in case you cannot read her works in Urdu.

Panini is welcome to his own opinions regarding books, movies and writers. But so are we. There is little use in going off on a tangent and starting a rant about how wrong everyone else is, just because the discussion is not going in the direction that he wants it to go. Or because most of us don't know (or don't care) what the real worth of a particular book or a movie might be.

Also, it is of little use in insinuating that readers who enjoy Amardeep's posts are blind followers dazzled by his precocious intellect /good looks / glamor (take your pick). It is worth mentioning here that no one has been forced to read Amardeep's (or anyone else's) blog. A blog, although a public forum, is like an open house party in someone's living room. Although there is no formal invitation, a guest takes it upon himself/ herself to maintain a certain degree of common geniality. We can request that the author address such and such subject for our interest and pleasure, but it is entirely up to the author what ultimately is posted. Amardeep was a total stranger to most of us when we first stumbled upon his blog. We decided to come back because we find this a classy venue where subjects of a wide variety are addressed by the author in an interesting, informed and polished manner. Amardeep rarely urges us to agree with him and oftentimes we don't. But we love Amardeep precisely because he keeps all discourse courteous, relevant and non-threatening.

This is a blog for heaven's sake. Not the last word on all matters literary or political. Lighten up Panini. If you want a more scholarly discussion which goes into every social/anthropological/psychological aspect every piece of writing, start your own blog for the so inclined. Not all of us have the time or the inclination to devote to such minutiae. I read literature for my own private enjoyment and a little bit of dissection and background info are okay but not the kind of tortuous commentary you, Panini, want us to engage in. Heck, if I had enjoyed that, I would have studied literature and not chemistry.

7:45 PM  
Blogger Panini Pothoharvi said...

Truly and honestly I am sorry about the last paragraph of my last post. It is unwarranted and unnecessarily provocative. At 24, I have still not been able to outgrown some of my 'infantile disorders'. I apologize - especially to Anna.

Having said that, I am a bit puzzled by Ruchira's response where she attributes a position to me which I never espoused. Says she:

"it is of little use in insinuating that readers who enjoy Amardeep's posts are blind followers dazzled by his precocious intellect /good looks / glamor (take your pick)."

where did I make such an insinuation. In fact, I would be myself greatly enamoured of Amardeep for all the above attributes cited by Ruchira.

I am absolutely new to blogging and I did not understand that it was driven by an unwritten hierarchy - an etiquette that leaves me not a little uncomfortable. But I believe these are "teething troubles" and that I will eventually get used to protocols of coexistence and intellectual tolerance.

I am afraid I cannot agree with the last para of Ruchira's last post. It betrays an intellectual lethargy which, irrespective of which discipline you belong to, is to put it mildly problematic.

I take the hint when Professor Amardeep says - "I encourage you to use your own blog as a space where you can criticize in detail all the writers you feel are overrated" - and feel enormously obliged were he to "allow" my acerbic and combative comments "to stand"!

9:53 PM  
Blogger Ruchira Paul said...

You get the picture. A blog is not grad school.

Yes, I was exaggerating a bit about Amardeep's good looks and glamor (not that he is lacking in either department). But I remember from one of your earlier comments something about his being a professor at 32 - I don't know what that has to do with anything. Not to mention the last paragraph in your last post which pretty much insinuated that most readers "here" are "sitting far away from home" and spouting off and/or accepting Amardeep's opinions without further independent examination. Which I took to mean that our sole introduction to these authors and Indian literature may be by reading Amardeep's blog. For most of us, home is now here. And some of us unbeknownst to you, came of age in India. So we are not unfamiliar with the milieu of "home" that you refer to and many are not reading these stories for the first time or through the filter of American sensibilities. You say you are twenty four (you sound wiser beyond your years) which makes you younger than both my adult children. So I understand the "infantile disorders" you refer to.

I took some of your previous comments to be a bit churlish and combative. I am glad that you saw some of them the same way. And yes, there is an etiquette for public discourse, not just on blogs, I would think. And call it intellectual lethargy, if you will. But a blog is read by a whole host of people, most of whom, unlike you and me, remain silent. It is unrealistic to expect this forum to lend itself to endless debate on a single issue that appeals to one or just a handful of readers.

I am a blogger myself. Most of us do it for fun - for me, that mostly constitutes criticizing George Bush and for Amardeep (who also has a full time job), it is a whole range of subjects. After making a post, it is unreasonable to expect the author to linger on a subject forever, until all his readers have been satisfied. I did detect from your tone that you were putting undue pressure on Amardeep and other readers to see things your way. That is not fair.

12:11 AM  
Blogger Chandra said...

Ops...I didn't realize there was this built up tension. I am glad I could help bring it out :-)

12:19 AM  
Blogger Panini Pothoharvi said...

Dear Ruchira,

When you say "you get the picture" - I feel the imperious heat. I feel strangely threatened. It is a bit like George Bush talking down to Iran. This is precisely what I meant: When you shift spaces across continents - when you move from an underdeveloped to an overdeveloped habitation, the discourse no longer remains the same. This is a very basic lesson one learns as a student of sociolinguistics.

I am largely unmoved by your wisdom but for fear of sounding impolite I will not dwell on the subject any longer. I am a somewhat proud intellect and I deeply cherish this vanity.

For instance, I will never 'criticize Gerge Bush for fun'. In this vast world inhabited by the likes of Bush and Modi, I have lost my sense of fun and even humour. I am too fierce a secularist and, even if it sounds a bit self-congratulatory, too compassionate a leftist to be able to afford such sophomoric excitement.

1:14 AM  
Blogger Ruchira Paul said...

I blog for fun and to share my views with others. My criticism of Bush is passionate and real. In fact that was the sole reason for me taking up blogging in middle age.

No, I was not patronizing you. Just asking you to cool down.

And there is yet another one of your many assumptions. How do you know that I wasn't just as imperious when I lived in India? What makes you think I just became that way as the citizen of an overdeveloped country? Did you know me then? And do you know me now?

1:36 AM  
Blogger Panini Pothoharvi said...

Another lesson as a student of semiotics: reading words literally may not always bring the succour that goes radically beyond the pleasures of nit-picking.

1:45 AM  
Anonymous jammy said...

read the story. as u said...scandal all the way

5:22 AM  
Blogger ana beynaam said...


just one small correction which i think you'll appreciate - it's ana, not anna. my name isn't anna. ana is the urdu word for ego, and the first person pronoun in arabic. with all your knowledge, you might have already known that.

i'm not sure why you have to especially apologize to me, but i do think ruchira has spoken to why i was a bit put off by that comment regarding being overwhelmed by spurious cultural studies. some of us have already heard comments like that before, and we can either laugh them off, or respond. as a young man who is knowledgeable in matters of literature and linguistics, i can understand why you have strong feelings towards how language is used. i didn't feel what you said about entering into critical debate was representative of your not wanting to privilege your reading(s) over that of others.

i know your criticism was towards some of the readers and you might have a point, but some of the readers "here" can be interpreted as on this blog. and as one of the readers, who has her own mind, and examines various interpretations, i find the insinuation of being overwhelmed, or of the breadth of cultural studies being described as spurious, unfair. we see things differently. it is possible to leave it just at that, sometimes.

we all come here with different experiences and different levels of how we read literature. the reason i come to amardeep's blog is because as a former student of english literature, i like the topics he presents, and because it's done with little to no condenscencion. it's not a class, and he's not one of those old school professors that push their views on you. i think we could all just discuss the issues without insisting on an agenda, don't you?

think we've exhausted this particular discussion. perhaps out of respect for everyone else who reads this, we could return to discussing ismat chughtai, or move on?

12:12 PM  
Blogger Panini Pothoharvi said...

Thanks for corrections. How I wish I had known a little Arabic! I know about seven languages but not Arabic.

As a student of sciences my interest in literature, philosophy and culture has remained a bit off-mainstream and possibly a bit arrogant.

I shall keep the blog etiquette in mind. Meanwhile I notice we are moving on to Spinoza who remains courtsey Deleuze a favorite thinker with me and my friends!

9:54 PM  
Blogger Kristen said...

I wish someone would recommend authentic Indian contemporary fiction. What I read of Rushdie--who's not even Indian--might not be a reflection of Indian culture.

6:20 PM  
Anonymous carl said...

When I read this post, I was immediately reminded of Virginia Woolf. Not that the comparisons might run that very deep, but still the thought was there. Yes, I realize the post is erudite and beyond the homoerotic, even not really about it. It is curious though, don't you think?

12:59 AM  

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