Past Events

South Asia Seminar: “South Asia’s Coastal Frontiers”

Sunil Amrith, Professor, History, Harvard University

In the environmental history of South Asia forests, not the coasts or the seas, have provided the focus for accounts of the expansion of state power over nature. By contrast, recent writing on inter-regional mobility has tended to treat port cities in their relations with one another, but abstracted from their material environment. This talk explores the environmental history of coastal India, in an effort to address the imbalance between histories of mobility and immobile histories of power.

Thursday, April 27, 2017 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm
Foster 103

“A Meeting of Two Seas” (Hindu-Muslim Concert)

A concert celebrating the joint contributions of Hindus and Muslims to the artistic traditions of South Asia, followed by a catered dinner.
Sponsors: Hindu Student Sangam, Muslim Students Association, Office of Spiritual Life, South Asian Students Association
This event is the first collaboration between the Hindu Student Sangam and the Muslim Students Association in over a decade!

Saturday, April 22, 2017 - 6:00pm to 8:30pm
Rockefeller Memorial Chapel

TAPSA: “We Can’t Afford to Be Ethical: Professional Aspirations and its Limits in Pakistani News Media”

Ayesha Mulla, PhD Candidate, Anthropology

In 2013, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists surmised that at least 18,000 new journalists had entered the workforce, where almost 70% of these recruits had no formal training in journalism and less than 5% of which were women. Drawing on recent ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Karachi and in-depth interviews with a range of broadcast news journalists – from reporters and producers to executive producers – this paper traces how the professional aspirations of journalists turn on the ambiguous and volatile boundaries of sensationalist television news in Pakistan.
Among the frequent critiques levied at private news channels, the trope of the untrained reporter, dispatched to cover breaking news events, continues to feature regularly in liberal elite commentary. Invariably described as contaminating crime scenes, entering victims’ residences, shoving cameras and microphones into grieving family members faces and asking them inane questions in between their wails, these “unprofessional” and “unethical” reporters often find themselves in precarious dilemmas. Caught between the ratings-race to deliver breaking news footage to their respective newsrooms and simultaneously scapegoated by their corporate management when they step out of bounds, how do employees in the television news industry negotiate their journalistic ethics while operating in a climate of uncertainty that has both fed and threatened their daily work? Tracing these conflicting tensions, this paper will show how the prevailing discourse on the ethics of journalism (as aspirational and yet inadequate), becomes a site through which vulnerable labor in the Pakistani news media industry emerges as most apparent.

Thursday, April 20, 2017 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm
Foster 103

"Music and Moral Being in South and Central Asia"

Questions of music's relation to the moral being of those who make and hear it have occupied the minds of philosophers, theologians, bards, and ordinary listeners since classical antiquity. Richard Wolf will explore these questions in light of the lives, the poetry, and the music of bards and drummers of Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. The presentation is based on approximately 8 years of fieldwork in these countries, drawing texts and interviews in Persian, Tajik, Urdu, Tamil, Kota, and Wakhi languages.
Reception to follow.

Friday, April 14, 2017 - 4:30pm
Saieh Hall for Economics 146

Hereditary Musicians in India and Europe: How to Create Music Exceptionalism

Daniel Neuman, Professor, Ethnomusicology, Mohindar Brar Sambhi Chair of Indian Music, and Interim Director, UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music

As with many other specialist occupations — think of the guilds of medieval Europe or even the family kinship connected trade crafts of organized unions in the United States — music as a profession was often inherited and in North India, this was commonly the case until well into the middle of the 20th century. I want to consider the case of North India in a bit of detail today, not so much as a presumed model of what might have been the case in Europe three centuries back, but as a study of the intersection of musical pedigree with biography, history and what we will sometimes refer to as genius.

Friday, April 7, 2017 - 3:30pm
Fulton Recital Hall in Goodspeed Hall

TAPSA: “Reading the Landscape: Systematic Geography and Disputed Territory”

Kyle Gardner, PhD Candidate, History

This paper focuses on two different colonial approaches to “reading” the northwestern Himalaya and the broader imperial periphery. The first, a top-down approach centered on constructing a bordered territory, is reflected in the development and organization of gazetteers and other manuals of governance. This increasingly technocratic mode of seeing territory built off of earlier surveys that crafted a unified spatial image India. But this image of bounded territory belied deeper uncertainties in frontier locales. The second half of the paper is devoted to case studies that challenge the top-down reading of imperial territory. These include debates over the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir’s jāgīr (rent-free estate) in Tibet, concerns over the triennial Ladakhi “tribute” mission to Lhasa (the lo.phyag), the apparent abduction of a Ladakhi trader by Tibetan authorities, and ongoing debates between Tibetan, Kashmiri, and British officials over where semi-nomadic pastoralists ( were to pay taxes. These examples offer an alternative reading of the landscape, one that is much less legible to colonial administrators and casts doubt on the top-down definition of boundaries assumed in the geographical episteme of the gazetteers and other administrative manuals.

Thursday, April 6, 2017 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm
Foster 103

Chicago Quarterly Review Literary Reading: The South Asian American Issue

Featuring Award Winning Authors: S. Afzal Haidar, Faisal Mohyuddin, Dipika Mukherjee, Toni Nealie, Ravibala Shenoy, Sachin Waikar, Moderated by Elizabeth McKenzie

Tuesday, April 4, 2017 - 6:30pm to 8:30pm
International House Coulter Lounge

"Relief after Hardship: The Turkish Ottoman Model for the Thousand and One Day"

A lecture by Prof. Marzolph.

In his talk, Prof. Marzolph will discuss the complicated relation between the early eighteenth-century French Mille et un Jours (The Thousand and one Days), the fourteenth century Ottoman Ferec baʿd eş-şidde (Relief after Hardship), and a genre of Persian literature that is known as Jâmeʿ al-hekâyât (Compilation of Tales). Since Ottoman Turkish literature proves to be a suitable candidate for the transmission of tales from East to West long before the European translation of The Thousand and One Nights, Prof. Marzolph contends that the early reception of these tales from Muslim narrative tradition might well have had an inspiring impact on the nascent genre of the European fairy tale that has come to know international success today.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017 - 4:30pm
Swift, Lecture Hall, 3rd floor

"Traveling Tales: The Muslim World's Contribution to World Narrative Lore”

A discussion of two tale types which occur in Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, Ottoman and modern European languages. If you would like to attend, please email

Monday, April 3, 2017 - 2:30pm to 4:00pm
Foster 103

South Asia Seminar: “The Postman and the Tramp: Cynicism, Commitment, and the Aesthetics of Subaltern Futurity”

Toral Gajarawala, Associate Prof, Comparative Literature, NYU

This paper will consider two dialectical strains in the battle for representation of the “the caste question” by examining recent attempts to rethink the dissemination of knowledge of caste atrocity. I will mention here Meera Kandasamy’s recent The Gypsy Goddess, which takes up the Kilvenmani massacre of 1968 in rural Tamil Nadu, and the new YouTube channel “Dalit Camera”, which features videos on caste conflict in various contexts, including the village and the university. Kandasamy’s novel begins with the directive to “F*** the postmodern novel” while engaging in a series of formalist and generic ruptures to traditional narrative. The text functions as a retelling of tragedy, a critical appraisal of the role of communism in Dalit movements, as well as a mediation on the limitations of the novel, interspersed as it is with Twitter feeds and newspaper headlines. Dalit Camera follows a strictly documentarist vision, using unedited interviews and other techniques of ethnography. It relies primarily on volunteers, who use donated equipment to track stories ignored in the mainstream media, and to translate witness statements. “The camera has become a tool for our self-respect,” says founder Bathran Ravichandran. This paper will use these ‘texts’ to think through the ideological and aesthetic range of the casteist contemporaneity. Largely revisionist in its approach and presentist in its outlook, I want to ask what kind of radical futurity might be envisioned by the Dalit text, in the form of the novelistic collage, as well as the retro camera.

Thursday, March 30, 2017 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm
Foster 103