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Leaping Across a Troubled History – Launch of Pratiman

March 3, 2013
Poster of the launch event  for Pratiman

Poster of the launch event for Pratiman

A new research journal in Hindi, Pratiman – Samay, Samaj, Sanskriti, was launched on 28 February 2013, at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi. The occasion was historic in many ways. Given the long and troubled history of the great language divide between Hindi and Urdu and the lost traditions of Hindustani, the fact that the launch was marked by a public lecture by noted Urdu scholar-poet Shamsur Rahman Faruqi cannot but be anything but historic. There is a certain impertinence and perhaps even insolence, in the move to leap across that history of over a century and a quarter, in complete disregard of the custodians of purity on both sides, in the insistence that language is not what the custodians make of it but what lives in the world of creativity and exchange.

It was only befitting of this occasion that Faruqi chose to speak on “Urdu Adabi Ravayat ki Sachchi Triveni.” In what turned out to be a remarkable and breathtaking tour de force, Faruqi turned his scholarly apparatus to the task of dissecting the Urdu poetic and aesthetic tradition in a manner that revealed its three currents (the ‘triveni’) – namely, Arabi, Persian and Sanskrit.Through the metaphor of the Triveni at Allahabad, where the Ganga and Yamuna meet the third river Saraswati, which is invisible but nonetheless ‘present’, Faruqi too perhaps wanted to stress the significance of the third but invisible current of Sanskrit poetics.

Arguing strongly against the Greek and Western tradition’s preoccupation with mimesis/ representation (and therefore truth), Faruqi insisted that the Arabic, and even more so, the Persian and Sanskrit traditions have preferred to see art/poetry in terms of the meanings it creates and the effects it produces. Faruqi’s speech moved effortlessly between Persian, Urdu (and some Arabic) poetry and the formulations of Anandhvardhan, Abhinavagupta and Kuntaka, the great medieval Kashmiri aesthetic theorists.

The occasion is certainly momentous for those of us who have been involved in the process of ‘doing social sciences/ humanities’ in Hindi, in different degrees, over the last ten years. Our task has been more than the simple sidestepping of orthodoxies on both sides; it has involved the confronting, head-on, of the very nature of the language that we have inherited. The last ten years have seen many books published by the Indian Languages Programme of the CSDS (many of them single-handedly by Abhay Dube) and many from the Sarai Programme (including the volumes of Deewan-e-Sarai) – and behind this long journey lies a story of intense debate, often acrimonious quarrels – around individual terms, vocabulary, and the practice of translation itself. Pratiman steps out of the history of sectarian linguistic strife and of attempts to straight-jacket it.  Pratiman is the celebration of the different styles and different accents of Hindi/ Hindustani/ Urdu.

A social science/humanities research journal in a language which has endlessly lamented the ‘crisis of thought’ (‘Hindi Pradesh ka Vaicharik Sankat’, as the title of a well-known debate initiated by the literary magazine Hans, put it in the mid-1990s), is perhaps in itself a moment worth marking. For those aware of the Indian language scene and of the Hindi scene in particular, there is also the accompanying claim often made by detractors that these languages are good for expressing emotions but not quite suited to the task of thought. This question of the ‘absence of thought’ often comes from the search for an academicized social science body of work in Indian languages – which needless to say, is difficult to find. Like everything else, this too becomes a discourse of ‘lack’. Just as our modernity is incomplete, our secularism distorted, our capitalism retarded; just as we have had neither history nor philosophy, we are led to believe in yet another of those endless lacks. This time it is the lack of thought as such. For us, however, the question is not: why there are no social sciences in Indian languages? It is, rather: what are the forms of social thought and intellection in this region and what are the sites in which such activity takes place?

The challenge here is twofold. In the first place, it is of recognizing the specific forms and genres of thought and their styles, that have traditionally marked the world of Indian languages. In the second, it is also one of steering clear of any potential indigenist and anti-West posturing that has often turned out to be quite unproductive now. Thus while it is important to ‘provincialize’ the Western social science knowledge apparatus by remaining attentive to the specific forms of intellection in other traditions and doing social sciences in our own languages, it is no less important to recognize that, potentially at least, we stand at the confluence of many different traditions. If Faruqi’s ‘Triveni’ refers to the confluence of three important traditions, we must add the fourth – that of the West, not any more as the hegemonic and framing tradition but certainly as one among the four.

Thus while it is of absolute importance that our students master the techniques and apparatus of social sciences (and this is what the peer-reviewed journal is meant modestly to contribute to), it is equally important to turn the question of thought around and turn our gaze towards an investigation of the actual sites and forms of thought. It seems to us, on a preliminary research of the Hindi publications of the past three decades, undertaken as part of the larger enterprise of which Pratiman is a part, a lot of exciting and fresh work is happening outside the universities – that is to say, universities as institutions. University teachers have made key contributions but in other forums – in little magazines, in movements, in public debates and so on.

It is entirely possible then, that the attempt to seriously do social sciences (samajchintan, more correctly) in Indian languages might call for taking on a much bigger challenge, namely, that of rethinking the very forms and modes in which it can fruitfully be accomplished in these languages. We do not believe that language is simply the carrier of ideas – and that we can simply translate ‘social sciences’ and continue to work in translatese in the name of some universal experience that it apparently encapsulates. On the contrary, we believe that language is constitutively tied to the ideas it shapes and transmits. Perhaps, one of the reasons why the huge amount of social and political reflection of the 19th and first half of the 20th century gave way, after independence, to a stunted form of academics is that it was to English that the task of social sciences was handed over. Only those who could make the transition to its hallowed world could enter the world of academics properly speaking. If the huge amount of publishing and reading activity in the Hindi region is any indication, it is now poised for a big transformation. Will the enterprise of ‘social sciences’ remain untouched by it?

Pratiman is a bi-annual, peer reviewed, social science journal published by the Indian Languages Programme of CSDS and Vani Prakashan.

Subscriptions are currently not possible online. For further details, please contact:

Abhay K Dube – abhaydubey@csds.in

Ravikant – ravikant@sarai.net

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Vivek permalink
    March 3, 2013 1:46 PM

    How can one subscribe to this journal?

  2. Ramnik Mohan permalink
    March 3, 2013 2:09 PM

    Information about the launch on February 28 too should have been posted on Kafila – though, quite possible it was, and I missed it.

  3. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    March 3, 2013 2:13 PM

    Dear Vivek,
    Unfortunately, at the moment there is no direct online subscription but you could write to any of us. I have given the information and contact email addresses now at the end of the post. Thanks for this.

  4. Pritam Singh permalink
    March 4, 2013 12:58 AM

    Excellent initiative. Best wishes

  5. Shama Zaidi permalink
    March 4, 2013 11:02 AM

    the hindustani tradition is very much alive but not in print. the visual and performing arts refuse to accept this division and carry on regardless.

  6. Anirudh Karnick permalink
    March 16, 2013 6:36 PM

    “If the huge amount of publishing and reading activity in the Hindi region is any indication, it is now poised for a big transformation.”

    Could you give me a few examples of the huge amount of publishing and reading activity? I want to know what kind of publishing and reading activity you mean. From my limited reading, I’ve got the sense that Hindi literature is now less interesting as literature. It may have moved to new subjects/themes but it does not seem to have asked itself what it means to write literature, does not seem to have questioned itself as literature. The Hindi literary magazines that I have read a few issues of – Hans, Naya Gyanodaya and an issue each of a couple of others – have contained material that was mostly very conventional in form, tone, content. New books are not easy to find in either Delhi or Kanpur or Lucknow unless one keeps a very sharp eye out and buys one of the copies published soon after the book is out. Old books aren’t easy to find either, unless a Granthavali is published. I mostly find the same books by the same writers in the same bookstores. Even a classic like Shrikant Verma’s ‘Magadh’, for example, was out of print until recently and I couldn’t find a copy of the volume he published before that – ‘Jalsaghar’ – in most libraries. I presumed, going by the quality of whatever little writing I read that the number of the readers and the activity of the ‘scene’ must have declined over the years (though there need not be a correlation between the two).

  7. Anirudh Karnick permalink
    March 16, 2013 6:57 PM

    I’d also be interested in examples relating to the two following passages:

    1. “It seems to us, on a preliminary research of the Hindi publications of the past three decades, undertaken as part of the larger enterprise of which Pratiman is a part, a lot of exciting and fresh work is happening outside the universities – that is to say, universities as institutions. University teachers have made key contributions but in other forums – in little magazines, in movements, in public debates and so on.”

    What forums, what kind of debates?

    2. “It is entirely possible then, that the attempt to seriously do social sciences (samajchintan, more correctly) in Indian languages might call for taking on a much bigger challenge, namely, that of rethinking the very forms and modes in which it can fruitfully be accomplished in these languages.”

    I’d like at least one or two examples of how one can rethink these forms and modes, how you or others at Sarai or somebody you have read has rethought these forms and modes. In the absence of an example, it becomes an assertion which I nod to because it seems like a nice idea without understanding what you really mean.

    Thank you.

  8. S AkbarZaidi permalink
    March 16, 2013 7:25 PM

    Aditya. Liked your thoughts on this.

  9. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    March 18, 2013 8:07 PM

    Thanks Akbar.
    Aniruddh,
    I think you miss the point of the above post. In the first place, this is a report of an event related to a new project – more in the nature of a news feature rather than a dissertation on the state of Hindi writing and publishing. Secondly, I think you also seem not to get that I refer to non-literary writing, whereas all the instances you give are from literature and literary magazines. I do not want to go into the literary scene here – it is precisely the point of the new initiative to move beyond the literary that seems to have become the predominant form of social thought in Hindi for well over a century. Thirdly, I have already mentioned some forums – like little magazines, movement publications and public debates in general. I have also referred to a range of themes on which writing is taking place in Hindi in more recent years.
    However, there is a problem of distribution – which is equally true, by the way, of English language publications also. Nevertheless, let me mention some of the recent initiatives that have been immensely popular – a visit to any of the book fairs in this region will prove this.
    – Take the instance of Granthashilpi (the publisher) that has over the last close to two decades, made available a vast range of translations of classics of social and political thought from all over the world.
    – Or the instance of Samvaad Prakashan that operates from Meerut and has published a huge number of original works from Hindi and from other Indian languages (often translated directly). All these are serious works of social and political reflection – though they may not in themselves always be theoretical in a self-conscious manner.
    – The numerous volumes published from CSDS, most often sold out in a few months, running into many reprints. While some of these are collections of essays on globalization, dalits and modernity,the secularism debate, reflections on democracy etc, there are others that include the works of first generation CSDS scholars like Ashis Nandy, Rajni Kothari and DL Sheth. There are others still – published by Sarai at CSDS, which include various numbers of Deewan-e-Sarai and works like Wolfgang Shivelbusch’s Disenchanted Nights (Betilism Ratein) and Jacques Ranciere’s Nights of Labour (Sarvahara Ratein).
    – You also need to look at publications brought out by Vani Prakashan – including their other journal, Vaak, and books other than those they have published for CSDS.
    – Perhaps even left-party aligned journals like Naya Path should be mentioned here for their bold initiative in attempting to bridge the Hindi-Urdu divide and move beyond debilitating chasms bequeathed by the last century. One could also list the relatively shortlived but important case of Sandhan, a journal with a clearly theoretical orientation.
    I could go on but let this preliminary list suffice for now. As for your final demand, let me just say that this is the beginning of a journey. We make no claims to have solved in advance the questions of form and modes, At this stage the recognition of the problem, that thought in Indian languages may not simply reflect the familiar forms of social science in English is a precondition for our undertaking. Similarly, our research is on-going and at this stage not ready to be put out in public. The purpose of this post was to inform concerned readers about the initiative.

    • Anirudh Karnick permalink
      March 19, 2013 1:23 AM

      Thanks very much, Aditya. I thought I might have missed the point of the post and that the publishing and reading activity you referred to didn’t have to do with literature, which is what I am most familiar with. I’m glad to learn of the publishing-reading activity outside of literature, however, since I wasn’t aware of it. I will look into Granthashilpi and Samvaad Prakashan.

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