Thursday, November 24, 2016

“A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that's just how the world will come to an end: to general applause from wits who believe it's a joke.” 
Kierkegaard, anticipating Trump

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Disease as life's lascivious form

From The Magic Mountain (translated by John E. Woods):

He learned pathological anatomy from a volume he was now holding to one side to catch the reddish glow of his table lamp; the text, with a series of illustrations, discussed parasitic cell fusion and infectious tumors. These were tissue formations—and very luxuriant formations they were—caused by foreign cells invading an organism that proved receptive to them and for some reason offered favorable conditions (although, one had to admit, rather dissolute conditions at that) for them to flourish. It was not so much that the parasite deprived the surrounding tissue of its nourishment, but rather, in exchanging materials with its host cell, it formed organic compounds that proved amazingly toxic, indeed ultimately destructive, to the cells of the host organism. Researchers had been able to isolate and concentrate the toxins from several such microorganisms and were amazed to find that, if injected into an animal’s bloodstream, even tiny doses of such materials, which could be classified as simple proteins, produced the most acute toxic effects, leading to rapid demise. The external form of this contamination was a rapid growth of tissue, a tumor, pathologically speaking, which was the cells’ reaction to the stimulus of bacilli having taken up residence among them. The cells of the mucuslike tissue between which or in which the bacilli resided formed millet-seed-size nodules, some of which were very large indeed and extraordinarily rich in protoplasm containing numerous nuclei. This riotous living, however, soon led to ruin, because the nuclei of these monster cells began to shrink and break down, their protoplasm began to congeal and decompose; other tissues in the vicinity were affected by the same foreign stimuli. Inflammation spread to adjacent blood vessels; lured to the scene of the accident, white corpuscles now arrived; death by congealing proceeded apace. Meanwhile the soluble toxins from the bacteria had long since intoxicated the nerve centers; the organism was already feverish, and with heaving bosom, so to speak, it reeled toward its disintegration.

 So much for pathology, the study of disease, with an emphasis on bodily pain, which at the same time was an emphasis on the body, an emphasis on its pleasures—disease was life’s lascivious form. And for its part, what was life? Was it perhaps only an infectious disease of matter—just as the so-called spontaneous generation of matter was perhaps only an illness, a cancerous stimulation of the immaterial? The first step toward evil, toward lust and death, was doubtless taken when, as the result of a tickle by some unknown incursion, spirit increased in density for the first time, creating a pathologically rank growth of tissue that formed, half in pleasure, half in defense, as the prelude to matter, the transition from the immaterial to the material. This was creation’s true Fall, its Original Sin. The second spontaneous generation, the birth of the organic from the inorganic, was only the sad progression of corporeality into consciousness, just as disease in an organism was the intoxicating enhancement and crude accentuation of its own corporeality. Life was only the next step along the reckless path of spirit turned disreputable, matter blushing in reflex, both sensitive and receptive to whatever had awakened it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

From Kierkegaard's Either/Or, translated by Alistair Hannay (interesting parallel with Kafka's Hunger Artist) :

WHAT is a poet? An unhappy man who hides deep anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so formed that when the sigh and cry pass through them, it sounds like lovely music. His fate is like that of those unfortunates who were slowly tortured by a gentle fire in Phalaris’s bull; their cries could not reach the tyrant’s ears to cause him dismay, to him they sounded like sweet music. And people flock around the poet and say: ‘Sing again soon’ – that is, ‘May new sufferings torment your soul but your lips be fashioned as before, for the cry would only frighten us, but the music, that is blissful.’ And the critics come forward and say: ‘That’s the way, that’s how the rules of aesthetics say it should be done.’ Of course, a critic resembles a poet to a hair, except he has no anguish in his heart, no music on his lips. So I tell you, I would rather be a swineherd at Amagerbro and be understood by the swine than a poet and misunderstood by people.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Lenin, wake up! They have gone crazy.

A signage during the Soviet invasion of Prague shown in Costa-Gavras' L'Aveu (The Confession)

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Reading Notes on Pollock's The Language of Gods in the World of Men

In the first paragraph of his preface itself, Pollock acknowledges the gratitude of an Indian scholar!

A number of the ideas in this book began to germinate as long ago as 1990, when I delivered my inaugural lecture as Bobrinskoy Professor of Sanskrit and Indic Studies at the University of Chicago. Three years later I reformulated that presentation as a series of lectures at the Collège de France. A year’s fellowship under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Institute of Indian Studies, 1995–1996, enabled me to work closely with the greatest living scholar in the field of Old Kannada, T.V. Venkatachala Sastry, professor emeritus of the Institute of Kannada Studies, University of Mysore. It was only then that I began to conceive of this book the way it is today, having come to understand more fully than ever before that just as the history of Sanskrit makes less sense the less we understand of its relationship to local forms of culture and power, so the vernacular revolution in second-millennium South Asia makes less sense the less we understand of the shaping role played by Sanskrit. 

There is more gratitude at the end of the introduction

In closing, I remember two men of Karnataka whose deaths took away not only friends but teachers: A.K. Ramanujan, with whom I had the wonderful if all too brief pleasure of exchanging Sanskrit for Kannada instruction in the early 1990s, and D.R. Nagaraj, from whom I learned how great are the stakes of the knowledge of culture-power, yet how joyful, too, such knowledge can be.

He also thanks U R Ananthmurthy (who died last year) and surprisingly Yogendra Yadav also features in the list of people he thanks. I am assuming he is the same political scientist turned political activist.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

रामचरितमानस - ब्राह्मणवाद के लिए वातानुकूलित विश्रामागार

रामचरित मानस हमारी जनता के लिए क्या नहीं है ? सभी कुछ है ! दकियानूसी का दस्तावेज है ...नियतिवाद की नैय्या है ...जातिवाद की जुगाली है, सामंतशाही की शहनाई है ! ब्राह्मणवाद के लिए वातानुकूलित विश्रामागार ...पौराणिकता का पूजा मंडप ...वह क्या नहीं है ! सब कुछ है ,बहुत कुछ है ! रामचरितमानस की बदौलत ही उत्तर भारत की लोकचेतना सही तौर पर स्पंदित नहीं होती .'रामचरित मानस ' की महिमा ही जनसंघ के लिए हिन्दीभाषी प्रदेशों में सबसे बडा भरोसा होती है. शूद्र वर्ग और स्त्री वर्ग को 'सहज अपावन' और 'अति अधम' बतलानेवाली एक भी पंक्ति जिस संस्करण में छपी हो ,'रामचरितमानस' का वह संस्करण गैर-कानूनी घोषित हो जाये .ब्राह्मणशाही और सामंतशाही के धूर्त प्रतिनिधि ऊंचे ऊंचे पदों पर जमे बैठे हैं .अब भी मनुस्मृति और रामचरितमानस को ही वे अपना असली 'नीतिग्रंथ' मानते हैं ...समाजवाद के हमारे सपने तब तक अधूरे ही रहेंगें , जब तक 'मानस' का मोह नहीं टूटता ...पिछड़ी जातियों में पैदा होकर भी सौ किस्म की मजबूरियां झेलनेवाले साठ प्रतिशत इंसान तब तक सही अर्थों में 'स्वतंत्र और स्वाभिमानी' भारतीय नहीं होंगें , जब तक 'रामचरितमानस' सरीखे पौराणिक संविधान ग्रन्थ की कृपा से प्रभु जातीय भारतीयों की ग़ुलामी का पट्टा उनके गले में झूलता रहेगा ।

बाबा नागार्जुन

Friday, April 8, 2016

An extract from Thomas Bernhard's Woodcutters

Woodcutters is my favourite novel by Thomas Bernhard. It is difficult to choose one favourite novel from his oeuvre because they are all so similar in terms of style, tone and the authorial voice but I like Woodcutters because of its compact structure specially the way it ends which makes the whole narrative circular (the extract below). When I read it the first time I immediately jumped to the beginning and read the whole thing once again. It also touchingly shows his relationship with Vienna and its people. He may hate the city and its residents but it is still his city and its people his people.


I ran through the streets as though I were running away from a nightmare, running faster and faster toward the Inner City, not knowing why I was running in that direction, since to get home I would have had to go in the opposite direction, but perhaps I did not want to go home. If only I’d spent this winter in London! I said to myself. It was four in the morning, and I was running in the direction of the Inner City when I should have been going home. I should have stayed in London at all costs, I told myself, and I kept on running in the direction of the Inner City, without knowing why, and I told myself that London had always brought me happiness and Vienna unhappiness, and I went on running, running, running, as though now, in the eighties, I was once more running away from the fifties, running into the eighties, the dangerous, benighted, mindless eighties, and again it struck me that instead of going to this tasteless artistic dinner I ought to have read my Gogol or my Pascal or my Montaigne, and as I ran it seemed to me that I was running away from the Auersberger nightmare, and with ever greater energy I ran away from the Auersberger nightmare and toward the Inner City, and as I ran I reflected that the city through which I was running, dreadful though I had always felt it to be and still felt it to be, was still the best city there was, that Vienna, which I found detestable and had always found detestable, was suddenly once again the best city in the world, my own city, my beloved Vienna, and that these people, whom I had always hated and still hated and would go on hating, were still the best people in the world: I hated them, yet found them somehow touching—I hated Vienna, yet found it somehow touching—I cursed these people, yet could not help loving them—I hated Vienna yet could not help loving it. And now, as I ran through the streets of the Inner City, I thought: This is my city and always will be my city, these are my people and always will be my people, and as I went on running, I thought: I’ve survived this dreadful artistic dinner, just as I’ve survived all the other horrors. I’ll write about this artistic dinner in the Gentzgasse, I thought, without knowing what I would write—simply that I would write something about it. And as I went on running I thought: I’ll write something at once, no matter what—I’ll write about this artistic dinner in the Gentzgasse at once, now. Now, I thought—at once, I told myself over and over again as I ran through the Inner City—at once, I told myself, nowat once, at once, before it’s too late.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

पद्मावत में नख शिख वर्णन

बरनौं माँग सीस उपराहीं । सेंदुर अबहिं चढ़ा जेहि नाहीं॥

बिनु सेंदुर अस जानहु दीआ । उजियर पंथ रैनि महँ कीआ॥

कंचन रेख कसौटी कसी । जनु घन महँ दामिनि परगसी॥

सुरुज किरिन जनु गगन बिसेखी। जमुना माँह सुरसती देखी॥

खाँड़ै धाार रुहरि जनु भरा । करवत लेइ बेनी पर धारा॥

तेहि पर पूरि धारे जो मोती । जमुना माँझ गंग कै सोती॥

करवत तपा लेइ होइ चूरू। मकु सो रुहिर देइ सेंदूरू॥

कनक दुवादस बानि होइ, चह सोहाग वह माँग।

सेवा करहिं नखत सब, उवै गगन जस गाँग॥2॥

Translation by Sir G.A. Grierson and A.G. Shirreff

Item- the parting of her hair yet untouced by vermillion[5]. Pure white shineth it as though it were a shaft of light beaming bright upon a path through the night[6]. 'Tis like unto the bright line left by gold upon the [black] touchstone; 'Tis like the lightning flashing through the clouds. 'Tis a bright sunbeam shining across the sky; 'Tis the shining stream of the Sarasvati in the midst of the [black torrent of the] Yamuna. Pink is it like an ensanguined sword-edge; [slightly unevent is it] as though it were a saw laid upon the braids. On it lieth a string of pearls white as the stream of the Ganges amid the Yamuna[7]. At this holy confluence there thus lieth ready the saw for cutting the devotee in two [who sacrificeth himself that, perchance], she may take his blood and use it for vermillion [8]. It is gold perfect in all its qualities, and longeth for its flux[9]. The stars and planets are is slaves. It is the Galaxy shining in the skies[10].


5. The Mang (Skt. Marga, or path) is the parting of the hair. Vermillion is first put upon it when a girl is married and she uses it during her married life. The flat folds of hair on each side are termed patiya. When a topknot is worn it is called jura. The ends of the patiyas and of the hair hanging down behine are tied into three braids (beni). When these three are twisted together at the back of the head, the coil is called choti. These three benis are known a tribeni. When a woman is separated from her husband she ties her hari on one beni instead of three (Compare Valmiki Ram. v 65,14). When a woman becomes a widow she washes the vermillion out of the parting of her hair, and never applies it again.

6. The night, of ourse, is the two black patiyas on each side of the parting.

7. The Ganges and Jumna meet at Allahabad. There also is said to flow the Sarasvati by an underground channel. The three streams unite and form the tribeni (Compare Note 5 above). Each has waters of a different colour. The Ganges water is plain to every eye for some way below the confluence. The Jumna (Yamuna) waters are much darker.

8. This is an elaborate comparison between the parting of the hair and the Prayaga or confluence of the three rivers (with a pun on the two meanings of tribeni). At this confluence a saw is supposed to be laid down. Its object is for the devoted lover to sacrifice himself with it, so that his blood may supply the vermillion of her parting, and thus make her a married woman. This is a reference to the true confluence (tribeni) at Prayaga (i.e. Allahabad). According to tradition a saw was kept at this holy place, wherewith devotees cut themselves in two in order to obtain final emancipation. The action was considered so meritorious as one, and the self-sacrificers were considered so holy, that large crowds used to attend these dreadful functions, the women anointing the partings of their hair with the blood the victim in the hope of obtaining long and happy wedded lives. It is said that Shah Jahan put a stop the practice by destroying the saw. The parting of the hair is compared to a saw because its edges are slightly jagged.

9. Here again there is a pun. Sohaga means both the flux which is added to the gold to enhance its brilliancy, and also happy married life, (saubhagya). Regarding the gold of twelve colours see 9(2) 4, note (5).

10. The Galaxy is the Ganges flowing in Heaven; which, of course, the stars and planets worship.
Grierson reads ka sari barnak dieun; Shukla ka sarvari tehi deun. The meaning is much the same.

पद्मावत में नख शिख वर्णन

का सिंगार ओहि बरनौं, राजा । ओहिक सिंगार ओहि पै छाजा॥

प्रथम सीस कस्तूरी केसा । बलि बासुकि, काक और नरेसा॥

भौंर केस वह मालति रानी । बिसहर लुरे लेहिं अरघानी॥

बेनी छोरि झार जौं बारा । सरग पतार होइ ऍंधिायारा॥

कोंवर कुटिल केस नग कारे । लहरन्हि भरे भुऍंग बैसारे॥

बेधो जनौं मलयगिरि बासा । सोस चढ़े लोटहिं चहुँ पासा॥

घुँघुरवार अलकैं विषभरी । सँकरैं पेम चहैं गिउ परी॥

अस फँदवार केस वै, परा सीस गिउ फाँद।

अस्टौ कुरी नाग सब, अरुझ केस के बाँद॥1॥

Translation by Sir G.A. Grierson and A.G Shirreff

[Quoth the Parrot], 'My Liege, how can I tell the tale of her charms. Charms verily hath she, but such as become her alone. Imprimis--A head[1] crowned with musk-scented locks, before which Vasuki, not to speak of earthly kinds, doth immolate himself[2]. 'The Princess is as it were a jasmine, and her tresses are black bees, attracted by her fragrance and impetuously struggling to imbibe her nectar. When see looseneth the braid and shaketh out her hair, darkness o'erspreadeth the universe from Heaven unto Hell. Soft and waved are her tresses like black snakes seated in wavy undulations on a mountain. For pervaded is she with the sandal odour of Mount Malaya, and therefore have they climbed her head and drag their slow lengths around it[3]. Full of deadly poison are her curls, chains of love ready to fall upon the neck of the beholder. The locks upon that head are nooses which inevitably snare each neck, and hence all eight tribes[4] of serpents are tangled in the fillets of her hair.


1. In describing a divine being it is usual to begin at the feet and work up to the head. In describing a human being the order is reversed.

2. Vasuki is the king of serpents, the most potent of which are black. So are Padmavati's locks, but they are also odorous, thereby surpassing the Lord of Snakes who immolates himself in consequence at their shrine. There is, however, a pun in the original. Kesha the word for hair also means Vishnu whom Vasuki would naturally adore.

3. Mount Malaya is celebrated for two things, its sandal trees and its snakes. Padmavati's head has the sandal-fragrance so that the snakes imagine it to be their natural abode. This comparison of wavy hair with the serpents is unpleasing to European taste but is one of the most commonplaces of Indian poetry.

4. The eight tribes of the nagas or serpents are (1) Vasuki (2)Taksaka (3) Kulaka (4) Karkotaka (5) Padma (6) Cankha-cuda (7) Mahapadma (8) Dhananjaya

Saturday, April 2, 2016

On Sir Jadunath Sarkar's Obsolescence

This is an excerpt from Dipesh Chakrabarty's The Calling of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth 

The Fall from Grace of Sir Jadunath

Sarkar’s reputation as a historian survived the debates of his lifetime. Immediately after Sarkar’s death, the eminent Bengali historian, Professor N. K. Sinha, prophesied: “It is not likely that Sir Jadunath Sarkar will ever be displaced. His wonderful accuracy will secure to him immunity from the common lot of historical workers. So far as we can visualize, in the near future, in his chosen field, there will be only scanty gleaners after his copious harvest.” So probably it seemed in Calcutta in 1958. But even as Professor Sinha was writing these lines, a group of younger scholars at Allahabad, Aligarh, and Oxford were conducting research that would ensure that by the time someone like me came into the world of South Asian history as a young novice in Calcutta in the early 1970s, Jadunath Sarkar’s name would be all but forgotten among the prominent historians of India. Everybody, of course, knew his name and knew that he was without doubt once the greatest authority on Mughal India— particularly for the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries— but his academic status suffered a steep decline in the late 1950s and the early 1960s. We dutifully bought copies of his five- volume history of Aurangzeb, his four volumes of the Fall of the Mughal Empire, and some of his other works when the Indian publisher Orient Longman reprinted them in the 1970s. But we did this with the knowledge that Sarkar’s approach to history had been discredited. Our teachers did not do emperors, battles, and the character of kings anymore. Unlike Sir Jadunath Sarkar and other historians of his time, they did not believe in the role of heroes in history. Heroes had been replaced by “causes.” As Satish Chandra said, “[Sir Jadunath] . . . projected Aurangzeb’s struggle to conquer the south as a Greek tragedy . . . [but] the search for causal relationships cannot be given up by historians.”

“Cause” was a code word for institutional analysis. Into the list of “causes” fell economy, institutions, parties and politics at the Mughal court, money, wages, exploitation, histories of the state and of revenue crisis, peasant revolts, provincial autonomy, and so on. Chandra’s generation studied the Mughals with an eye on the question of India’s transition to capitalism. Could India have become a capitalist economy on her own, without the mediation of British colonial rule? Were underdevelopment and “distortions” of Indian institutions results of colonial rule? Those were their (and our) questions. We were decidedly anti-empire in our attitude. We knew that Sir Jadunath was not. This transition in historiography is captured well in something Satish Chandra wrote in 1989, discussing “Mythifying History” in the Indian journal Seminar. For Jadunath Sarkar, “the personal qualities of Aurangzeb . . . became a negative point,” wrote Chandra; current research, he contended, showed Aurangzeb to be “neither a hero nor a villain,” but someone representing an old order that could not “recognize . . . the stirrings and incipient growth of a new socio- economic system.” Chandra’s criticisms were backed up by the work of his student M. Athar Ali, whose pathbreaking study The Mughal Nobility under Aurangzeb, a revised version of a PhD thesis submitted to the Aligarh Muslim University in 1961, was published in 1966. Ali emphasized the need to study in detail “all the elements of the structure of the Mughal Empire” before its decline could be attributed to what he called “text- book formulae” such as “personal degeneracy of the kings, luxurious life at the court, inefficiency of administration,” all reminiscent, as we shall see, of Sarkar’s analyses in his multivolume Fall of the Mughal Empire. The historiography of Mughal India underwent further significant changes with the publication of Muzaffar Alam’s The Crisis of  Empire in Mughal North India in 1986, based on research conducted under the supervision of Satish Chandra and S. Nurul Hasan, both trained at the University of Allahabad and later professors at the Aligarh Muslim University. As a matter of fact, much of the ire and sarcasm of Athar Ali’s introduction to the second edition of his Mughal Nobility was directed at Alam (and the perceived congruence of Alam’s propositions with those made by Christopher A. Bayly of Cambridge). Yet, it is interesting to see how, in spite of all the vitriol that Ali reserved for Alam and Bayly, Alam’s own position on Sarkar remained consistent with the criticisms that Sarkar’s work had already received from the generation that taught Alam, in which Ali was included. Alam described Sarkar’s attribution (and that of Sarkar’s mentor William Irvine, an Indian Civil Service officer) of “the decline of Mughal power” to “a deterioration in the characters of the emperors and their nobles” as failing to “lead us beyond the perspective of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’ Persian chroniclers, with the difference that Sarkar also read evidence of a ‘Hindu reaction’ in the Rathor, Bundela, Maratha and Sikh wars against the Mughal[s].” “Sarkar’s views,” Alam concluded, “are to be set against the ambience of the times that lent legitimacy to communal interpretation of Indian history in the late- nineteenth and twentieth centuries.”

However, a silent but perhaps the most magisterial dismissal of Sarkar came in the form of Irfan Habib’s 1958 doctoral thesis from Oxford, eventually published in 1963 as the awesome The Agrarian System of Mughal India, a classic in its own right, which played a key role in displacing Sarkar from the canon. Habib wrote about the “agrarian crisis” that plagued the Mughal Empire and contributed to its “destruction,” but he did so without any reference to Sarkar’s propositions in the latter’s Fall, as if the volumes did not exist for Habib. Sarkar features rarely in Habib’s book. No mention of him is to be found in the original preface, dated Aligarh, August 1962, and the few references in footnotes are mostly confined to Sarkar’s The India of Aurangzib (1901) and his errors of translation or his mistakes in dating events. The one time Sarkar figures directly in the text is in an appendix on revenue statistics, where Sarkar is acknowledged as one of the pioneers, after Edward Thomas’s The Revenue Resources of the Mughal Empire in India (1871), who “attempted a study of . . . [Mughal] statistics.” The reference, again, is to The India of Aurangzib. The India of Aurangzib was a work of Sarkar’s youth, published in 1901 when he would have been about thirty- one. The book was a product of the thesis that won him the prestigious Premchand Roychand Scholarship at the University of Calcutta, a fellowship named after a Gujarati merchant who “suddenly amassed a large fortune during the cotton boom of 1866 [precipitated by the American civil war] and spent much of it in various useful charities.” Sarkar obtained this prize scholarship in 1898, and the book version was published in 1901. The book contained partial translations of two relevant seventeenth-century Persian manuscripts Sarkar could locate in India, which supplied some key statistics of the late Mughal period: Khulasatu- t- tawarikh by Sujan Rai, who composed it between 1695 and 1699, and Chahar Gulshan (c. 1759–6 0), by Rai Chatar Man (or Chaturman) Kayath. Sarkar actually explained in the book how he had to translate “this work [Chahar Gulshan] without any critical apparatus of the text.” The “only copy” he could lay his hands on in India had “numerous” mistakes; some “proper nouns” were missing and the text was in “corrupt condition.” Sarkar was apologetic about his work even though it had involved an enormous amount of labor on his part. He pointed out in his preface that the title of the book did not “fully express its content,” and its size gave “an inadequate idea of the labour it ha[d] involved, especially in making out proper names and abbreviated Arabic word- figures (raqam) from badly- transcribed Persian.” “If the net results of the researches embodied in this work be imperfect and wanting in finality,” he pleaded, “I hope the difficult nature of the subject and our want of the requisite materials will be taken into account before sentence is pronounced upon it.” His very first chapter began with a formal “apology.” “Nobody can be more sensible of the imperfections of this book than the author,” reads the very first line of the book. Yet it was his hope that “nobody who knows what it is to translate a Persian work bristling with obscure geographical names from a single and incorrectly transcribed manuscript, will be hard upon” the author for “these imperfections.” The manuscripts available to him were unpublished and unedited, he often had “no second manuscript to collate [with] the one lying in front of him,” and the “Pandits and Maulvis” who helped him were “ignorant of historical criticism.” “The historical student in India,” observed Sarkar, “is thrown almost entirely on his own resources. He may, therefore, claim a partial, if not a plenary, pardon for his sins.”35 Meant probably more for his contemporaries than for researchers after his time, these words of “apology” did not win Sarkar much reprieve from the criticisms, if not the condescension, of posterity. Habib, then probably about the same age as Sarkar was when the latter published his The India of Aurangzib, rubbed the point in while rejecting Sarkar’s translation: “The Chahar Gulshan has not been printed, but the geographical and statistical portion was translated by Sarkar in his India of Aurangzeb [sic]. Bodl[eian] Elliot 366 is not only the earliest among catalogued MSS . . . but is also probably the most authoritative, being a copy of the original work and not of its later recension. Its reading has generally been preferred here to that of Sarkar’s India of Aurangzeb, which on the admission of the translator, was based on a carelessly transcribed manuscript and contains many errors in the statistical portions.” But more than his rejection of specific sources used by Sarkar, it was the themes that Habib worked on that signaled the remarkable shift in historiography I have already mentioned. Habib was avowedly Marxist— his very last footnote in the book is a reference to the Selected Works of Mao Zedong. He was “secular” (in the Indian sense of the word) and did not shy away from decrying “Muslim communalism”; and he sought the causes of Mughal decline in a revenue crisis of the empire and the attendant rebellions in the countryside. Habib was, however, not the first person to signal the shift. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the story of Sarkar’s fall from grace with younger generations of Indian historians had its origins in the decade before Indian independence in 1947. The Department of History at the University of Allahabad, where later historians like Satish Chandra and Nurul Hasan were trained, had a critical role in disseminating critiques of Sarkar’s approach to history. Chandra and Hasan both migrated later as teachers to the Aligarh Muslim University, where Muhammad Habib, father of Irfan Habib, began a “secular” and left-leaning tradition of historical research in the 1920s. “When I entered the portals of the Allahabad University in 1940 as an undergraduate,” recalls Satish Chandra, “the University had established its reputation as a centre . . . which attracted in large numbers those who aspired to enter the sanctum of the civil services.” The Department of History, “considered one of the leading centres of historical research in the country,” had Sir Shafaat Ahmad Khan at its head. Khan, who became India’s high commissioner in South Africa in 1940, was one of the main adversaries of Sir Jadunath Sarkar through the 1920s and the 1930s. After Khan’s departure from the scene, the intellectual leadership of the Allahabad school of historians passed on to Professor R. P. Tripathi, who, having trained with Harold Laski in London, was extremely critical of Sarkar’s focus on rulers and their ideas and characters. Apart from Sarkar’s personal dislike of Shafaat Ahmad Khan, what fueled this criticism was also the publication of the third volume of Sarkar’s History of Aurangzib in 1916, which had a heavy emphasis on Aurangzeb’s orthodox Islamic policies. Many read the book as a straightforward indictment of Islam. “Apparently,” writes Chandra, “R. P. Tripathi wanted . . . a critical study of the causes of the fall of the Mughal Empire” that would put Sarkar’s exclusive focus on Aurangzeb’s “religious policy” in “proper perspective.” For “it was well known that the Allahabad school of history”—and this must have included its founding leader, Sir Shafaat Ahmad Khan— “was bitterly opposed to Sir Jadunath Sarkar’s representation of Aurangzeb as a religious fanatic and his view that in a truly Islamic state religious toleration was an impossibility.” They never put their criticisms into print, but, as Chandra remembered it, “he was not spared in the lectures.” Sarkar returned the compliment later when Chandra, as a research student, went to work in Sarkar’s library. Sarkar, while generous in giving Chandra unfettered access to his library, also said to him: “The students of the history department at Allahabad are good and hard- working . . . but your teachers are lazy.” Chandra thought this a “gibe at R. P. Tripathi’s easy lifestyle,” but, as will become clear to the reader of this book, it could have been aimed at Shafaat Ahmad Khan as well. It is entirely possible that Tripathi owed some of his criticisms of Sarkar to discussions with his close colleague Khan.

In the past few decades, however, beginning perhaps with the late J. F. Richards’s Mughal Administration in Golconda (1975), the tide has slowly turned for Sir Jadunath. Richards began his acknowledgments in the book with a glowing tribute to Jadunath Sarkar: “I have relied again and again on the writings of that master historian, Jadunath Sarkar. Today, in 1974, his narrative approach and his intellectual concerns appear a bit old-fashioned. Only a historian who has tried to develop an accurate narrative of political and public events, using fragmented sources typical of this period, can appreciate the magnitude of Sarkar’s contribution. He set the narrative frame for the late Mughal period virtually single-handed. Because I have been trying to fill in a peculiar regional gap in his narrative, I am most aware of his skills.” Similarly, Irfan Habib’s preface to a “second, revised” edition of his Agrarian System mentions Sarkar directly in the text as one of the pioneers to whom Habib now feels indebted: “In the preface to the first edition, I especially acknowledged my debt to W. H. Moreland and P. Saran. . . . My consciousness of the debt to them and to others like H. M. Elliot, S. H. Hodivala, Jadunath  Sarkar and Ibn Hasan, has only grown with time.” Muzaffar Alam’s new introduction to a forthcoming edition of his The Crisis of Empire carries a detailed analysis of precisely the very sources that he once thought exposed the likes of Sarkar to the danger of simply reproducing the “biases” of the eighteenth-century chroniclers who wrote out their own experiences of the decline of the Mughals. But these changes have been slow to come. The consensus about Sarkar that one comes across in histories written in India even today reflects the dominance of the historiography established by the Aligarh and Allahabad schools. From questions related to the “character” of the emperor to “causes” and “structures” of the Mughal decline, the main direction of the historiographic movement away from Sarkar was clear. It is also entirely understandable that in postwar decades, when academic history was emerging globally as a branch of the social sciences and favored sociological explanations over literary ones, historians working on the decline of the Mughal empire should find accounts that assigned a determining role to the character of emperors limiting and restrictive. Indeed, the new consensus against Sarkar found a nice summary in S. K. Srivastava’s 1989 book on Sir Jadunath, which was based on his thesis submitted to the University of Delhi: “Jadunath in his efforts to highlight the religious orthodoxy in Islam as a factor for Aurangzeb’s failure, has totally overlooked some of the important aspects [sic]— the inherent contradictions of the Jagirdari and Zamindari systems, the tensions and contradictions within the nobility, and the social tensions which existed in the agrarian community.” If Srivastava’s position may be regarded as reporting what stood as the left consensus in India on Sir Jadunath in the 1970s and the 1980s, Peter Hardy, an English historian of Muslim India, who wrote a foreword for Srivastava’s book, provides an interesting case showing how long the post-independence consensus against Sarkar held. Writing as early as the 1950s under the intellectual influence— a little too heavy an influence, one might say— of Collingwood’s The Idea of History (1938), Hardy once accused the likes of “Doctors Lane- Poole and Vincent Smith, Sir Wolseley Haig [all colonial amateur historians] and Sir Jadunath Sarkar” of depicting “the history of medieval times as a succession of battles, rebellions and of depositions of one Muslim soldier of fortune by another.” These were, in Hardy’s eyes, antiquated approaches: “The working hypotheses of most modern historians— that a society must be studied in its own terms and that all aspects of the life of a people, a society or civilization are to be assumed to be interconnected and interdependent—seem not have greatly influenced . . . [their studies] of medieval Indian history.” Hardy’s position appears to have solidified further in the late 1980s, when he wrote a foreword to Srivastava’s book. Sarkar now looked to him like the epitome of a colonized intellectual— a middle- class person, “Indian in colour and blood, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect”— a realization of Macaulay’s imperial dream. Not only was Sarkar someone who simply recycled British, colonial propositions about “medieval” Indian history— propositions that made the British feel good about themselves as rulers of India— he was anachronistic as well. He assumed “human nature” to be the same “in the present and the past”— that humans were “motivated by much the same passions and inclinations and prejudices”— and was therefore always engaged in “hurrying on his historical personages past their own contexts into his.” Hardy was convinced that C. A. Bayly’s Rulers, Townsmen, and Bazaars: North Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion, 1770– 1870 had “shown Sarkar’s representations of the eighteenth century to be more rhetorical than historical.” While Sarkar’s work, Hardy thought, was still “essential reading for the tiros,” it was “vital” that he should be shown to have (“as have the rest of us,” Hardy qualified) “feet of clay,” so that “subsequent historical investigation” was not “trampled into the earth.”