19 September, 2018

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Culture Is Political & Politics Is Cultural In ‘Another South Asia’

By Anushka Kahandagama

Anushka Kahandagama

Culture is Political & Politics is Cultural in ‘Another South Asia’; Another South Asia! Pathak, Dev Nath. 2017. Delhi: Primus Books. 

It was at my grandfather’s house where as a child I came to know about Krishna. Krishna was a hunched, short fair middle-aged man who worked in the neighbour’s estate. Most of the time Krishna and I interacted and he shared fruits with me. My grandfather told me about how Krishna came from India to Sri Lanka due to the oppression he encountered. This is one of the earliest memories I have of crossing the boundaries of South Asia. Then, of course there were stories about the LTTE (full form?) leaders crossing borders of India and Sri Lanka in the dead of night. The stories informed us that these border crossing Tigers would go to watch a Tamil movie and have dinner in India and return to Sri Lanka by the next morning. These stories might not be entirely true.  As a student of social anthropology I am not interested in digging out the ‘truth’ content. Truth is in the meanings that emerge from not so true stories., The regional connections are marked in these stories. Much later, after many years, I watched SAARC games as an enthusiastic South Asian teenager. And as the destiny would have it, I ended up studying at South Asian University located in the dusty Delhi in politically volatile India. It is not such a long journey of my idea and experience of South Asia. It entails the early stage equipped with exotic, colourful and exciting images, later accompanied by tedious and mechanical bureaucracy and administration, and very recently the addition of cynicism- South Asia means everything bad. I think this may be true of many of us, our memories and stories, today. In this wake, the book Another South Asia unearths hidden and forgotten histories and shared experiences in the region.

The book took me on a journey, which was partially new to me and unraveled a world beyond the boundaries of South Asia. What is South Asia and what is ‘Another South Asia?’ The word ‘South Asia’ came into being after the Second World War. In the wake of the establishment of area studies in the United States, the ‘Asian continent’ as a space of study came into being. After the Second World War, it was found that there is not much knowledge about the region to deal with it’s economic, political and social issues. During the period of the 1940s – 1970’s, American State Department identified the region as South Asia. However, the word does not emerge within the region but imposed by various administrative bodies’ exogenesis to the region. The strong administrative boundaries created within the region have been naturalized creating a ‘modern myth’ through textbooks, legal documents, etc. The borders and boundaries along the nation-states render the region lifeless bunch of territories. The official idea of South Asia does not see that people share their grand mythologies, civilization, cultures, and languages. They also share the political ills and social evils, not only heroes and virtues. These boundaries are sites of interactions with wanderers, devotees, travelers and others.  The making of the region as an administrative entity has de-historicized the region. The scholars who are blinded by the boundaries of nation-states limit their studies and intellectual imagination to the nation-states. The effort of the book Another South Asia problematizes these administrative boundaries, cartographic borders, and bureaucratic impediments. While editor of the book outlines the rationale to depart from the disciplinary limitations, Sasanka Perera argues in this essay that ‘a more dynamic sense of regionalism and regional consciousness must necessarily emanate from sources exterior to SAARC such as artists, writers, scholars and ordinary citizens’ (page 261). In the other significant essays we take note of the examples of poetic, literature, theater and  practices of Sufis. The book brings together scholars from diverse background and conjures an idea of fluid region.

This is not only about the good things that make South Asia. The book offers a view on shared cultures of the region as well as the conflicts and political struggles. And how these political struggles have become fertile ground for alternative art forms to emerge. With a holistic approach to the study of the region, by presenting the region not only through beautified cultures but also through the non-innocent politicized cultures the book creates a panorama view. This presents a region elevated from the existing imposed boundaries and reflects the networks which connect the region at many levels.

It is true that we should be exploring the shared experiences within the region as the book suggests. However at the same time, there are distinctions and differences in various parts of the region. The differences are revealed in modern politics, economic structures and law. This is precisely due to the distinctions and differences, there is a limit to explore the shared spheres. Under the modern state structure, every nation-state has its own economic and political structure and a legal system and is in an effort of creating ‘national identities.’ Under these circumstances, networks of people, intellectuals, artists and others become secondary. Although South Asia is a shared sphere of people’s experiences, we cannot forget the modern nation-state structures that constraints free mobility. These nation-state structures shape every aspect of people’s lives. It is our challenge to understand the shared spheres within the recently created nation-state boundaries. In such a situation, it is exciting and fulfilling to think of cultural-political South Asia.

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Latest comments

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    Hindu extremists encouraged by Chai Boy Modi are wreaking havoc in India. Some muslims were killed without cause for eating or trading in Beef; which is their livelihood. RSS is now very powerful and threaten anyone who questions their Hinduvta dominance. Hindu Casteists kill people if they defy the parents and marry low caste or muslims. Hindu Hindu Hindu; apparently that is all that matters in India under Modi Sahib now.

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    If you went to JNU then that is cool. One of the top liberal arts Universities in India. There were a couple of Sri Lankans in the 1980s there too.

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