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  • State of Archiving in Southasia

    06.04.2014

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    Sharing the last set of articles from the online series ‘Archives of Southasia’; first published in Himal Southasian quarterly

    CHASING A LEGEND
    By Vikram Sampath

    Reconstructing the life of flamboyant 19th-century singer Gauhar Jaan involved an immersion in her loves, her passions, her demons and her music.

    She was the stuff of fairy tales: a flamboyant singer much sought after by British India’s nobility; a socialite who threw lavish parties; a hedonist who went about town in expensive horse buggies; a model whose image appeared on matchboxes made in Austria. And then, the inevitable end for someone leading a life as feisty as this: self-destruction, penury and a lonely death. She was Gauhar Jaan – the Subcontinent’s first musician to record commercially on the gramophone when the technology came calling in 1902. Despite the cult status she achieved in her lifetime, she is a forgotten figure in the world of Indian classical music, and roams the annals of Hindustani music as a barely discernible ghost. She does have a few admirers though – old-timers and record collectors who treasure her shellac discs and speak about her heyday in superlative terms. But none of this is commensurate either with her pioneering contribution to the world of Hindustani classical music or with the dramatic life she led.

    Read more: http://himalmag.com/chasing-legend/

    SOURCING CRITIQUE
    By Geoff Myint

    Excavating Burma’s rich intellectual past, carefully preserved by private collectors, can contribute to the ongoing debate on the country’s controversial march towards neoliberalism.

    In Burma today, there are whisperings of the need for critical analysis of the country’s accelerating neo-liberal turn. The sites of this questioning are varied: a dusty side-street in Mandalay; a closet in a high-rise Yangon condo; a cramped apartment overlooking Burma’s oldest cathedral; long-locked chests in the remote monasteries of the Chindwin Valley. In a country emerging from 50 years of authoritarian socialism, how do we confect a critique of global capital without dredging up painful reminders of dark decades past? The vocabularies of the internationalist left(s) are wont to repel, even in this nation where ‘socialism’ was an extraordinarily thin veil for the pulsing threat of military repression. Where, then, to locate the materials for a different way forward?

    Read more: http://himalmag.com/sourcing-critique/

    POSTER PIETY
    By Yousuf Saeed

    Mass production of posters and calendars of Muslim saints and Sufi shrines has allowed the devout to take home the holy. But has it contributed to a tame devotion that is wary of diversity?

    Calendars, posters and street murals in India reveal much about the power of colourful images to entertain, inform, devote and inspire on a daily basis. Although Hindu religious posters remain a dominant sight in India’s public sphere, Islamic and secular themes are not far behind. Hindu images depicting gods and goddesses (such as Lakshmi, Ganesha and Saraswati), their attributes and myths and continue to utilise narratives handed down from ancient times. Although artists may be copying the now-standardised styles of the Ravi Varma Press or the Calcutta Art Studio, the evolution of Islamic themes in calendar art has taken rather different trajectories. The posters of Hindu gods mostly served the purpose of worship or darshan (devotional gaze), whereas Islamic images were treated more as symbols of religious identity or popular piety, since worship was not their goal. But when it came to exploring a larger repertoire for its Muslim clients, the print industry was not limited to the icons of Mecca and Medina, the most standard religious images all over the Islamic world. In India, the depictions of Sufi shrines and local Muslim legends have been of equal importance.

    Read more: http://himalmag.com/poster-piety/

    Gauhar Jaan in a rudimentary recording studio in Kolkata. (year unknown). Vikram Sampath
    Illustrations: Paul Aitchison
    The naqsha, or map, of Saint Moinuddin Chishti’s shrine at Ajmer, Rajasthan, with labels for important sites. Artist and publisher unknown, circa 1995
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