Leaping Across a Troubled History – Launch of 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.
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