I was in Jaipur recently — not to see the Pink City or examine its “underbelly,” or to attend a literary festival and examine its underbelly — but to attend a conference organised by the eminent teacher and scholar, Dr Jasbir Jain.
She has retired from the University of Rajasthan, but continues to be a dynamic force in the intellectual life of the university. I don’t know how she finds the energy: A few days after my return to Mumbai, I rang her and found she was in Hyderabad.
What the temperatures are in Hyderabad I don’t know, but In Jaipur they hovered around the upper forties Celsius. It was a great pleasure to meet so many academics who were congenial, well-informed and scholarly.
Dr Jain herself has published books, written or edited on a wide variety of subjects: Muslim culture in film, Partition, individual authors, feminism, post-colonialism and so on. She very kindly gave me a copy of her most recent book, Indigenous Roots of Feminism.(Sage 2011). Despite it’s slightly forbidding sub-title, Culture, Subjectivity and Agency, the book is free of the jargon that seems to be mandatory in many academic books today.
It is entirely accessible to anyone with an interest in the subject: did feminism come from the West, or is there an indigenous ancestry? As Dr Jain says in the Preface, “Since women in India view their bodies, their roles and their social structures differently, there is no way the origin of the movement in two different cultures could have been the same.”
In her analysis of re-tellings of the epics she writes, in reference to Draupadi, “Right in the Mahabharata, written so many hundreds of years ago, we have a woman’s resistance based upon a query subtle and multi-pronged to defy all conventions.
The code of feminine behaviour is not transgressed but is opened out in several ways. She establishes the right to think for herself as well as her right to her body.” In a chapter on the Bhakti women, Dr Jain quotes A K Ramanujan who says, “In the bhakti movements, women take on the qualities that men traditionally have.
They break the rules of Manu that forbid them to do so. A respectable woman is not, for instance, allowed to live by herself or outdoors, or refuse sex to her husband — but women saints wander and travel alone, give up husband, children and family.” The playwright and historian Ranbir Sinh chaired some of the sessions.
Along with Kaifi Azmi and others he helped to resurrect IPTA in the 1960s, and runs an IPTA group in Jaipur which he says has a very active theatre scene.
He has written several plays, one of them on Wajid Shah, and is now working on a play on Gandhiji. A formidably knowledgeable man, he is both gracious and charming. And, like others in the group, he recited along with a young academic who read a paper on Iqbal.
A new translation of Iqbal’s Shikwa and Jawaab-e-Shikwa by Mustansir Dalvi, a poet and teacher of architecture has just been published in the Penguin Classics series, with Dalvi’s insightful introduction. I mentioned to the academic that Dalvi had said that though Iqbal’s poetry is appreciated on both sides of the border, Iqbal is “viewed through different lenses.”
“His early poems still inspire patriotic nationalism and communal amity. However, his subsequent inclination beyond Indian nationhood to a pan-Islamic global identification has been seen as problematic for its divisiveness.”
The academic acknowledged that Iqbal had gone through various phases in his political thinking, but said she preferred to view his poetry, any poetry, any film, any art form as an art form, not as a political statement.
War and politics at our doorsteps
This is with reference to Eunice de Souza’s last week column ‘'Waiting for the Barbarians', (PM, June 14). I more than agree with the author’s observations.
To understand domination, use and misuse of power, exploitation, and victimising
the ‘other’, one does not need to go to colonialism, or to the borders between two nations, religions, castes, etc. It is there at one’s doorsteps. It can be seen within a family. Unfortunately the availability of all these collectivities have led us to think that hate and violence remains only at these levels.
With respect to this, I can recall James Waller, who in his book Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocides and Mass Killing, somewhat states that “after an event of genocide or mass killing we ask how could 'people' or 'others' involve in such a mass killing; seldom we ask how could 'I' involve in such activities, or how 'I' am capable of doing it!