2013 South Asia Spring Symposium Presentations

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    Pitting Animal Rights Against Human Rights in Accounts of the Morichjhapi Massacre
    ( 2014-04-22) Ghosh, Monica G.
    This paper recalls an event, and its literary renarration by Amitav Ghosh, to explore ways in which issues related to animal “conservation” and the rights of undocumented peoples are set in tension or mobilized against each other, resulting in progressive cycles of violence. In 1979, the communist government of Bengal massacred refugees from Bangladesh/East Pakistan residing in the West Bengal village of Morichjhapi on the edge of the Sundarbans, also the natural habitat of the Bengal Tiger, and covered up the event. Since most Morichjhapi residents were undocumented, the number killed remains unclear. Twenty years later, Ross Mallick uncovered details of the massacre, in which, in Annu Jalais’ phrase, the victims of the massacre were pitted against“[T]igers, in whose name the massacre of Morichjhapi was committed.” Amitav Ghosh takes up this dynamic by which humans and tigers are embroiled in a struggle for life on the land in The Hungry Tide. Taking a cue from Jalais, he incorporates the precolonial story of Bonbibi from the Jaharnama, of Arab origins, which figures prominently in the orature of Morichjhapi survivors. In doing so, Ghosh reveals cycles of violence that originate with the state against powerless communities. Tiger conservation serves as a pretext for violence against people, who in turn retaliate against tigers, seen here as both living beings and as figures of complex ecopoetical issues.
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    “We Went to the Hills”: Four Afghan Life Stories
    (University of Hawaii at Manoa Center for South Asian Studies, 2013) Weir, Jimmy
    Many begin to understand Afghan culture in terms of the importance of honor. While identifying a complex of mix of ethnicities in terms of a single characteristic present in all cultures unavoidably over-simplifies, it nevertheless suggests a useful question: honor before whom? In a series of life history interviews I conducted with Afghans in 2005 I found many narrating images of themselves and their pasts in a relationship to their sense of anticipated audiences to their lives. In my presentation I will focus on four “ordinary” Afghans from distinctly different backgrounds to identify what I perceive to be a narrative image emerging in relationships to their perception of personally significant audiences, that is a community or social entity important to the narrator’s social and self-identification. A sense of a life takes form before a sense of a community who is deemed a valued judge of honor across, in the Afghan case, a lifetime of acting and reacting to circumstances of severe political conflict. The underlying premise is many, especially older, Afghans are engaged in a process of anticipating others they personally value as judging their lives and assessing their honor and I consider this as it emerges across life narratives for insights into memory and intersubjectivity in Afghan contexts.
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    Padma-aja: The allegory of the lotus and its sensory experience as a cultural expression of Hindu and Buddhist traditions
    (University of Hawaii at Manoa Center for South Asian Studies, 2013) Vallabh, Anita ; Fisher, Elizabeth
    Padma-aja (born from a lotus), a dance presentation focuses on the imagery of the lotus as it unravels the philosophy of Hinduism and Buddhism and draws the senses into historical conversations. The sense-impressions of the lotus allegory is presented in three segments as a choreography of sensations: Motif in representing the sensual experience of being in love/ The psychological impact of the physiological experience of love/ Symbol of the symbiotic process that links humans’ relation with the Universe. Presented as a phenomenological study of lived body experiences through an aesthetic theory of sense perception, the dance confronts the similarities in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Placing sensation in the forefront of aesthetic theory this exploration of sense (as the medium) and sensation (as bodily response) engages: Sound, through mantras and chants/ Touch, through mudras and movement/ Smell, as Breath through pranayama/ Vision, in the imagery of the lotus as ‘unfolding of the self and expanding consciousness.
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    Color, Complexion, and Prognosis in an Early Sanskrit Medical Manual
    (University of Hawaii at Manoa Center for South Asian Studies, 2013) Selby, Martha Ann
    Medical and cultural practices associated with what we might call “prognosis” are a part of daily existence in contemporary India, but prognosis as a medical discipline was first delineated in an elaborate way in the Indriya-sthana, which constitutes the fifth book of the Caraka-samhita, the earliest medical manual in Sanskrit, composed at some point during the first or second century C.E. The Indriya-sthana is called such for two possible reasons. First, the indriyas are the six organs of sense – sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and mind – and this part of the text brings all six senses into account in the prognostic process. The physician must rely on his sensory perceptions in arriving at a prognosis, and must also calculate his patients’ prognoses by evaluating their own sensory faculties, as well. Second, Sanskrit commentators explain that the word indriya is derived from indra, and old synonym for prana, or “vital breath.” This paper will explore various indicators of confounded perception, how the materials in the Indriya-sthana’s twelve chapters form a regular semiotic system, and how they ultimately detail and early formulation of a “poetics” of reading the dying body.
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    Sight and Sound in Popular Historiography: Construction of a National Imaginary in Jodha-Akbar
    (University of Hawaii at Manoa Center for South Asian Studies, 2013) Shahid, Taimoor
    Many scholars have argued that Bollywood should be viewed as India’s “national” cinema, reflecting its policies, ambitions, self-understanding, and its vision for future. However, most of this analysis has taken narrative, as the privileged medium for nation-building, as the centre of its analysis. Taking this as my point of departure, I contend that Gowarikor’s Jodha-Akbar (2008), Bollywood’s last Muslim Historical, uses image and sound rather than the narrative as a two-pronged fundamental device for constructing a national imaginary that formulates Hinduized Muslimness as normative and equates unadulterated Muslimness with evil. All the villains in the film, for example, are portrayed as “devout” Muslims through a) their appearance (beard, turban, robe, head-scarf etc) and b) their Arabized vocabulary and pronunciation of the gutturals, in strong contrast with beardless “good” Muslims who cannot pronounce their gutturals. In another instance, a bhajan, a Hindu devotional song, serves as the final adjudicator in a debate between a Muslim “‘alim” (who is a co-conspirator against the state) and the Emperor. These and other numerous mediations in the sensory use sight and sound to create national “lieux de mémoire”: heterotopic sites of cultural memory which can be visited and revisited by the public. This collapse of history into experiential memory, that serves the identity-forming needs of the nation-state, relies heavily on the sensory as formative, which calls for a move away from cinema-as-narrative and towards cinema as aesthetic, sensory experience. This brings the aesthetic—open to sensory perception—into the idiom of the national which has been associated strongly with narrative as in Benedict Anderson’s seminal take.