To be frank I’m not sure if I learned that much…and I don’t know much about South Asian history after 1945. But, it reaffirmed my intuitions that some of the ideologues who bandy extremely high casualty rates are doing a disservice to the real tragedies that have marred the subcontinent over the past century.
In any case, I do recommend this book to the 50% of the readers of this weblog who are not South Asian.
Note: I don’t have the time or interest to read Guha’s India After Gandhi. Also, my friend Reihan Salam has indicated to me it’s a more tendentious work than most are willing to admit.
[Kabir’s note: A change of pace from the usual topics. As Zack says there is no need to be so confrontational all the time]
During the mid-nineteenth century, European composers experienced a vogue for depicting the Orient on stage. Not only was the Orient an exotic location, but the operas set there spoke to the imperial anxieties of various European nations. In their essay published in Imperialisms: Historical and Literary Investigations, Linda and Michael Hutcheon write: “Opera may not appear at first to be quite the same as these other Western means explored by [Edward] Said of ‘dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient’. But it is important to recall that Opera was a powerful discursive practice in nineteenth century Europe, one that created, by repetition, national stereotypes that, we argue, are used to appropriate culturally what France could not always conquer militarily” (Hutcheon 204).
In this paper, I will analyze two French Grand Operas from this period—George Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers (1863) and Leo Delibes’s Lakme (1883)—in order to determine the stereotype of the “Oriental” that was being presented to French audiences. As a point of contrast, I will also discuss Indrasabha (The Heavenly Court of Indra), an operatic drama written by the Urdu poet Agha Hasan Amanat and produced in 1855 in the palace courtyard of Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Oudh. This contrast will serve to illuminate how the operatic tradition was adapted by Indians themselves as well as the differences in the narratives about the Orient as conceived by the Occident as opposed to the Orient itself.
The Pearl Fishers is set on the island of Ceylon—the modern nation of Sri Lanka. The opera tells the story of of how two men’s vow of eternal friendship is threatened by their love for the same woman. This woman, in turn, faces a dilemma between secular love and her sacred oath as a priestess. The score is perhaps best known for “Au fond du temple saint”, the “friendship duet” for Tenor and Baritone.
In his essay “The Pearl Fishers and the Exotic”, musicologist Ross Hagen writes that “the orientalist musical language of Le desert, The Pearl Fishers, and similar works became essentially a catch-all signifier for any foreign culture full of danger, violence, superstition, taut tanned bodies and permissive sensuality.” He further argues that “the accompaniments of ‘exotic’ melodies often relied on drone pitches and fairly static rhythms as a way to lend a ‘primitive’ touch” (Utahopera.org).
Presenting such a work in the early twenty-first century has its challenges. As Hagen argues, the fact of globalization “doesn’t do these exoticist works any favors… Indian culture is also much less alien to an opera audience today than it would have been in nineteenth century Paris” (Utahopera.org). He argues that presenting a period-faithful production in which a cast of white singers attempts to look “Indian” risks being perceived as an exercise in “brown-face”. However, setting the opera in a blank “postmodern” space seems dishonest. He concludes his article by noting that: “Regardless of the path taken by an individual production, it is useful to remember that The Pearl Fishers was designed to appeal to the imaginations, prejudices, and preconceptions of a nineteenth century Parisian audience. Acknowledging the desires of the original audience perhaps creates a measure of critical distance and allows the audience to appreciate the opera without denying its place in the lineup of vaguely colonialist and patronizing works from the time period” (Utahopera.org). As John Mackenzie notes in his book Orientalism: History, Theory and the Arts: “Again perhaps, it might be possible to see the central plot conceit of a sacred virgin yielding to love as somehow parallel to the seductions of European imperialism, but it was a favorite Romantic theme and in the opera it takes place purely within a Ceylonese context” (Mackenzie 151). Thus, it is debatable whether simply setting a work in a foreign culture such as Sri Lanka makes the opera inherently colonialist.
Unlike The Pearl Fishers— in which all the characters are Sri Lankan–Delibes’s Lakme revolves around the romance between Gerald, a soldier serving in British India, and the Hindu priestess, Lakme. As Mackenzie states: “Here a British officer loves an Indian woman who sacrifices herself to save him. The imperial interpretation is obvious: the indigenous woman as sacrificial victim for the greater good of the civilizing mission, though the theme of cross-racial love is movingly portrayed in the music” (Mackenzie 151). In their own discussion of Lakme, Linda and Michael Hutcheon note that: “By the time of Lakme, the French and the British, on the other hand, had been fighting each other militarily over India and other overseas territories for more than a century… it is as if the French were seeking ways to explore other aspects of imperialism by means of the safety afforded by distance and displacement” (205).
The Hutcheons note that Gerald infantilizes Lakme. He calls her a child and believes his fellow officer when he assures him that he can leave the Hindu priestess with impunity because “These children don’t know how to suffer”. They write: “In the discourse of French imperialism, ‘peuples enfants’ was a common positive term for the colonized—seen as simple, capricious but capable of devotion and loyalty” (209). They cite Raoul Girardet’s argument that in the 1870s, France developed “a moral, economic and political doctrine and discourse of imperialism… Perhaps by contemplating the difficult situation of the imperial British in India, French audiences could consider, with greater distance, the tensions involved in their own colonial efforts somewhat more easily” (210).
Another important point made by the Hutcheons is that in these operas it is the men who act violently to protect their religion “but it is the women who articulate the immensity of the religious and cultural differences”. This connects with the general Romantic fascination with the femme fatale. Lakme commits suicide for the love of a European man. The Hutcheons cite Binita Metha’s argument in Widows, Pariahs and Bayaderes: India as Spectacle that “the sacrifice of the (subject) woman is the formulation upon which the colonial (male) ideology of temptation and duty are resolved” (211).
India is ranked 136 (behind many tinpot dictatorships with no freedom of speech or freedom of press) by Reporters without Borders in the World Press Freedom Index. US is ranked 43 (behind many countries with little freedom of press.) This is a post modernist hatchet job. The real criteria of ranking is how post modernist a country is and whether it conforms to post modernist politically correct thought police.
One reason India ranks so bad is because India protects freedom of speech of muslims to some slight degree . . . which is unheard of in the modern world. By contrast, Nordic countries don’t protect the freedom of speech of muslims (through the guise of Orwellian rubrics such as hate speech), which is a major reason the Reporters without Borders ranks them so highly.
India is the only country in the world that has a TV programs on a national network (hosted by Tarek Fatah) where muslims openly discuss and critique the holy Koran. Including taboo topics such as the Korans burnt by Uthman, the version of the Koran that was created by Ali, and how Uthman and Aisha assembled the modern Koran. They also openly discuss the ordering of the Koran and the context of verses. Many episodes of this show had over 100 million viewers as muslims around the world eagerly watched. While many muslim Imams and muslims scholars are eager to discuss this in private, they say it is too dangerous to talk about in public. This is indescribably sad. 🙁
India is a land of amazing freedom of thought and questioning, including on all the most controversial philosophical, existential, religious and spiritual topics. The most ancient eastern texts are about inquiry, questions, answers, conversation. The East for thousands of years was a beacon of freedom of art and thought which was exported to Europe during the European Enlightenment. The only other country in the world with similar freedom of thought to India I can think of is the US. Some say Israel is another example. While Israel might be, I don’t know enough about Israel to validate if this is true.
The UK and most of Europe lack freedom of thought (if it is politically incorrect) and as a matter of state policy do not protect the freedom of speech of European muslims. Europe is heavily controlled by post modernist thought police.
Canada has more freedom of press, speech, thought than Europe, but less than India or America:
Canadian Senator Grant Mitchel is clearly a very dangerous sectarian demagogue who supports Islamists against muslims. It is hard to exaggerate how Muslims around the world–especially Indian muslims or minority muslims or liberal/reform/secular/agnostic/atheist muslims–cringe in deep fear and horror at this clip. He tried this against Tarek Fatah–one of the most loved and respected muslims in India, Pakistan and Canada. Tarek Fatah is one of the world’s greatest living Koranic and Islamic scholars.
Before every mosque service, there is a prayer in Arabic for the military victory of the faithful (or “real”) muslims against the nonmuslims and the minority (fake) muslims. Yes, this means twelvers, sixers, fivers, Ahmedis, Kurds, Sufis. The prayer doesn’t come from the Koran. Many muslims are well aware of this problem and want to remove the prayer . . . but they are afraid of getting killed (and their mosque blowing up) if they remove the prayer. This is what Senator Mitchel is talking about.
Freedom of thought and freedom of dialogue are everything for muslims. Reporters without Borders is opposed to muslims having freedom of thought and dialogue. Without freedom of thought, there cannot be dialogue between good muslims and Islamists. Without freedom of thought the fourteen century Islamic civil war that has killed over a 100 million muslims cannot end.
The post modernists are slowly taking over many very powerful global organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center (which until recently doubled as an anti muslim hate organization), Reporters without Borders, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International to harm muslims and harm the world as a whole. Perhaps the world will finally begin to awaken to the global post modernist threat. They are no longer only targeting muslims, darkies and India, but are now attacking America too.
In May, U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston released a report saying the United States has the highest rates of youth poverty, infant mortality, incarceration, income inequality and obesity among all countries in the developed world, as well as 40 million people living in poverty. Alston accused President Trump and the Republican Congress of deepening poverty and inequality in the country, citing the Republican tax law passed last fall.
“The policies pursued over the past year seem deliberately designed to remove basic protections from the poorest, punish those who are not in employment and make even basic health care into a privilege,” Alston wrote in the report.
Alston is a post modernist with little economics understanding engaged in a clearly inaccurate piece of propaganda, [which might be elaborated on in future articles] much the way the UN has engaged in dangerous propaganda attacks against many darkie countries all over the world for decades. Post modernism was created as an imperialist attempt to oppress European colonies. They colonize the mind in an attempt to divide and conquer, and reduce self confidence to create inferiority complex. They try to discredit, negate and replace all ancient cultures, civilizations, values and religions with post modernism. And they do enormous damage to poor people all over the world. Articles at Brown Pundits related to post modernism and nonmuslims harming muslims include:
This is a really interesting video because Nas asks the question that why don’t secular Muslims eat pork.
It taps into the old Jesuit saying “give me a child till 7 and I will show you the man.” In fact it’s supposedly Aristotle who said it but the idea that initial childhood impressions form our adult views.
Back to the questions of Muslims & pork; it’s the ultimate shibboleth. Allegedly Quaid-e-Azam ate pork; I don’t really know if there is a good quality pork in the Subcontinent but perhaps it was different in the Raj.
In all religions there is that red line of apostasy. In Islam it is pork, in the Baha’i Faith it’s alcohol, for Hindus it’s beef and for Sikhs I guess it would be not wearing the turban?
Like most other chefs I know, I’m amused when I hear people object to pork on nonreligious grounds. “Swine are filthy animals,” they say. These people have obviously never visited a poultry farm. Chicken—America’s favorite food—goes bad quickly; handled carelessly, it infects other foods with salmonella; and it bores the hell out of chefs. It occupies its ubiquitous place on menus as an option for customers who can’t decide what they want to eat. Most chefs believe that supermarket chickens in this country are slimy and tasteless compared with European varieties. Pork, on the other hand, is cool. Farmers stopped feeding garbage to pigs decades ago, and even if you eat pork rare you’re more likely to win the Lotto than to contract trichinosis. Pork tastes different, depending on what you do with it, but chicken always tastes like chicken.
I was stirred by Rep. Jayapal’s evocative speech on the ongoing child separation crisis on the US border:
“It is about the president of the United States who has chosen to take this democracy to its very bottom. This is the bottom. This is abuse. It is a human rights violation, and we must end it. He must end it.” – @RepJayapalpic.twitter.com/ygrSyILExm
Should Amy Chua and Michael Shermer be added to the list of leaders for the Intellectual Dark Web? They discuss the rise in global tribalism (caste) and victimhood and how it is threatening the entire world. Amy Chua implies that the opposite to caste tribalism in global classical liberalism, which has not really caught on around the world. Most people who self identify with European enlightenment values unconsciously retain nationalism and many other forms of tribal (or caste or cultural) identity.
Amy Chua has written 5 books. Her first four were very well written. No doubt her fifth, which I haven’t read, is too.
What does everyone at Brown Pundits think is driving the dangerous surge in global identitarian caste tribalism? I think post modernism is the largest. Are there are other drivers too?
The Honorable former U.S. ambassador to India David C. Mulford’s summary of why India is rapidly becoming a great global superpower and why PM Modi might become the best PM in Indian history. My estimate is that India will have more billionaires than America in less than a generation. When this happens what is to stop post modernists from decrying “Asian supremacy”, Asian hegemony, Asian exploitation, Asian empire, Asian imperialism, Asian oppression, Asian racism/bigotry/ sectariansim? How to reduce jealousy of Asia? Or is this dark future inevitable?
The government in Kashmir has fallen. What’s next for this troubled province?
As an aside my own preference is the LOC is a soft border between India and Pakistan. I don’t want any redrawing of the map whatsoever. I would rather Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan be able to act in Bollywood and Pakistani players play in the IPL. I can understand that for some Kashmir is a hot topic but I’m far too invested in Rising India as it is.
However if I see this post degenerate into low quality jingoism on either side; I’ll arbitrarily delete comments.
Comments are free but facts are sacred. If I see unnecessary emotionalism I’ll just remove it- the BP threads have turned into an Indo-PAK flame war and I have stayed my hand but in my own threads I’m going to be much more pro-active.
This is a very simple poll. I posted a couple of these questions on Twitter (@omarali50) and want to do the same here. The idea is to test a hypothesis (not about what will happen to the Indian religious landscape, but what do readers of this blog THINK will happen to it, and why) which will be part of a later blog post I plan. For now, please take this very simple 3 question survey by scrolling down within the survey below.. and comment on the post as you see fit.. We may learn something, or at least have some interesting discussions..