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.
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    Horn Do: A Sonic Flâneur in North Kolkata
    (University of Hawaii at Manoa Center for South Asian Studies, 2013) Rath, Richard Cullen
    Since 1994, I have made periodic trips to North Kolkata, and recorded bits and pieces of the soundscape of the neighborhoods and streets: strolling chai wallas, bus conductors, chow mein sizzling on a griddle rhythmically punctuated by the clang of the spatula, weddings and pujas, and the ever present din of horns and bells from every form of locomotion imaginable, all trying to pass. I will present my understanding of this rich soundscape for the purpose of discussion, using it as the grounds for framing the somewhat new and burgeoning fields of sound studies and sensory history to show their pertinence to South Asian studies by opening our understanding of urban space beyond the visual. The ocularcentrism of the academy occludes as much as it reveals about the organization of social relations in this setting, and opening the ears reveals a rich order, perhaps a grammar, to the neighborhood. I approach the subject as an embedded outsider and will use clips from my recordings to present. Perhaps because of a habit of keen listening and a fascination with the sonic in history and everyday life, and perhaps because of my displacement from my linguistic comfort zone, the usual sensory filters are dislocated. I argue that this is not necessarily a problem because the sounds that are normally filtered out and that usually pass unnoticed often resonate with social meaning and a sense of place.
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    Sensory Sacrifice: Staging Class, Effacing Sexuality in Bangladeshi Hijra Dance
    (University of Hawaii at Manoa Center for South Asian Studies, 2013) Rahman, Munjulika
    In 2010, an ensemble of hijra (male to female transgender) dancers performed in the opening ceremony of the International Dance Day event organized by Bangladesh Dance Artist’s Association. My paper explores the careful utilization of the senses in their choreography, which was based on the devotional song “Aguner poroshmoni chuyiye dao…” by the Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore. The song makes references to touch, visual, and aural senses in relation to the physical body, when describing the sacrifices the devotee wishes to make for the deity. In contrast to stereotypical movements such as clapping and gyrating associated with hijras in South Asia, these dancers used slow movements, creating a visually quiet presence on stage. Drawing on the work of Jose Munoz, Pierre Bourdieu, and Philip Zarilli, I analyze issues of class, sexuality, and gender in relation to visual and aural senses in the performance. I contend that the hijra dancers employ Tagore’s song and simplistic, gradual movements to resist stereotypes of hijras as over-sexed and “crude.” But the constrained use of the senses in the performance conforms to upper class, heteronormative performances of “femininity” in South Asian dance. Thus, I elaborate on how “sensory disciplining” enabled this group of dancers to participate in the national event.
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    Sensing Violent, Haunted Pasts: 'Feeling' the Raped Woman of the Bangladesh War of 1971
    (University of Hawaii at Manoa Center for South Asian Studies, 2013) Mookherejee, Nayanika
    This presentation seeks to ethnographically explore the affective aesthetics in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which is haunted by writings, memories and histories of sexual violence of the Bangladesh War of 1971. The formation of Bangladesh in 1971 coincided with the death of 3 million people and rape of 200,000 women (according to official and contested figures) in a span of nine months. After the war women were found in numerous schools, government buildings, army cantonments, bunkers situated in different parts of Dhaka, which had operated as 'rape camps' during the war. Soon after the war, the independent government of Bangladesh also set up Rehabilitation Centres for these women. At the same time, press and literary accounts reported the 'recovery' of women from different sites in Dhaka. The presentation seeks to identify the triangulation and circulation of accounts of sexual violence between these 'rape camps', rehabilitation centres, and press and literary accounts, which account for the haunting presence of the raped woman in these familiar and known sites when visited and revisited. The paper, thus, attempts to examine the affective encounters with the spaces of the displaced raped woman. In the process, it seeks to methodologically address the role of haunting in ascertaining the relation between the built environment of the city and sensory responses to it. Through this, the presentation hopes to provide a critical and gendered understanding of the politics of writing and memory in the context of sexual violence during the Bangladesh war and in relation to the built environment of the city. Alongside, the presentation also seeks to draw theoretically and methodologically on other ethnographic, comparative insights as to how one can sense irreconcilable, violent, haunted pasts.
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    Subtle Bodies
    (University of Hawaii at Manoa Center for South Asian Studies, 2013) Lyles, Sheri
    Subtle Bodies is an exhibition that is driven by a specific creative process and materials that are used to augment my understanding of the cycle of human desire and its source through the senses. I have integrated principles that are informed by Hindu and yogic principles: non-intention, mindfulness, connectivity, and healing, into my artistic process as a method of research using the discipline of painting. My creative process has become a contemplative practice through my effort to create from a position of artistic non-intention. I use turmeric, India ink, rose water, coconut oil, castor oil, silver tempera, sulfur salt and ash to represent the five elements: earth, water, fire, air and space that constitute the manifest world and the human body according to Vedic cosmology. Their differing qualities cause them to react and respond to each other. These interactions refer to existing binaries and oppositional relationships. I use my sense of touch, smell, and sight to interact with materials, submitting control over to their nature of fluidity, dryness, unctuousness, warmth and coolness. My focused observance of their responses to each other provides insight to the cycle of desire. They parallel the responses I see within myself and others. We unite and we disperse. We organize and then create a state of chaos. We become out of balance with each other and with nature and then we strive forth in our efforts to regain peace, balance and equilibrium. The materiality and aesthetics of my work are used to convey these ideas to the viewer.
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    Sensing Transcendence
    (University of Hawaii at Manoa Center for South Asian Studies, 2013) Lamb, Ramdas
    Hindu ascetics and their traditions have long been of interest to westerners, beginning with the Greeks at the time of Alexander. Throughout history, they have been represented in awesome and fearsome ways. In more contemporary times, the chillum smoking sadhu (ascetic) is the most prevalent depiction, someone whose life seems consumed with and by intoxication. For the vast majority of sadhus, the reality is much different. Vows of renunciation of sensual pleasures and experiences are actually among the most important undertakings for most sadhus. These typically frame their lives and define their efforts and goals. Interestingly, sensual renunciation itself can and does provide a sort of sensual experience, although it is not normally be interpreted as such. My paper will discuss the role of vows of renunciation of sensual pleasures, why they are undertaken, what their effects are, and what role they play in the lives of most Hindu ascetics.