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Just out: Muzaffar Alam's THE MUGHALS AND THE SUFIS

 This book examines the complex evolution of relationships between the Mughal court and two dominant modes of Islamic mysticism in early-modern India: one centred around conservative orthodoxy, the other around a more accommodating and eclectic approach to spirituality. Based on Persian texts, court chronicles, epistolary collections, and biographies of Sufi mystics, this book outlines and analyses Islamic religious and theological worldviews. It does so in order to show their influence on – and differences with – Mughal political culture and imagination. The relationship between Mughal power and Islam’s Indian variants has long been oversimplified. The Mughals and the Sufis complicates and nuances the connections and disconnections between thrones and theocracies. Muzaffar Alam’s penetrating reflections reveal an intricate and intimate picture of the calculated strategies of mystics and rulers, their negotiations, conflicts, and reconciliations. They show also a shifting terrain – fro
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Religion, Narrative, and Identity in the Sikh Tradition After a spell away because of lockdowns and printing holdups, we are back with long-awaited title. It was originated and edited here at Permanent Black, and we have sold rights for the world except South Asia to State University of New York Press (SUNY) which will publish it for North America and elsewhere.   Read an excerpt in Scroll Indian historiographical praxis has long been problematic. Al-Biruni, the eleventh-century polymath, was puzzled by how people in the subcontinent treated the protocols of history, not seeing that Indian narratives of the past, embedded in kavya traditions, represented a radical departure from historical narratives in the Islamic, Sinic, and Greco-Roman worlds. Where others tended to search for “facts”, people in South Asia looked for “affect”. This alternative for comprehending and evaluating the past – through aesthetics and gradients of taste – generated a different variety of historical consciou

Love and Laughter in Lockdown

ARITRA GHOSH, winner of the  Kosambi Memorial Book Prize 2021, awarded every year by Permanent Black , gives us a student's guide to surviving final year locked away from friends.   " I suppose the story of my experience of the pandemic year as a student is still a work in progress. Too early to pin down, as we say in history" When I had to return home to Delhi for the mid-semester break around February-March last year, I had no idea that I would not be returning to the University for the whole year and more. By May, I was in disbelief and denial. Maybe that is why I chopped off my hair. It was a terrible decision.       By June, I was fuming and by August, I was considering how and who to bargain with so that the virus would simply cease to be. By September, my humour had begun to become like, you know, the kind of strange stuff you expect from tired adults. Clearly, that was because I had spent a significant amount of time around my parents. By December, as best as


Last year we turned 20 and to mark our birthday, we started a history prize.  The Kosambi Memorial Book Prize.       The prize also celebrates the excellent series of scholarly books we co-publish with Ashoka University. The Hedgehog and Fox series is edited by Rudrangshu Mukherjee and now has 81 titles.  The prize is given to the best student of ancient history at Ashoka University. It is partly funded by a bequest from the historian Meera Kosambi and is given in memory of her grandfather, the historian Dharmanand Kosambi. The winner is nominated by the university. In its first edition the prize was awarded jointly to Revanth Ukkalam and Haritha Govind. (Read our post about it here.) This year the value of the prize is Rs 25,000 and the winner is . . . well, you have to wait till Wednesday 3 February to find out.  

Sunil Kumar: In Memoriam

SUVIR KAUL Yes, I know that Sunil did a great deal to change the way in with the period of early Islamic rule in North India is understood: he thought of authority in terms of processes and flows, not as singular and unchanging; he did not think of the imposition of Muslim rule over a Hindu land, but demonstrated the multiple motivations that guided local rulers to consolidate their power, including their attempts to define themselves against the confessional, juridical, and philosophical ideas they had inherited; he believed in reading archives creatively and fully, rather than mining them selectively for evidence to buttress prior, and inevitably, partisan, ideas. But there is so much more before all that: There is the walk on the roof of the dining hall at St. Stephen’s College, where both of us, dressed in black trousers and white kurtas, acted as the minor guards bringing up the rear when Hamlet and Horatio see the ghost of Hamlet’s father (we cowered most effectively, we thou

Four Recollections of Sunil Kumar (1956–2021)

    by Muzaffar Alam, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Nayanjot Lahiri, Rukun Advani WATCH: Sunil Kumar speaking on Delhi   RUKUN ADVANI   Fourteen years ago, Sunil Kumar held a copy of his first big book in his hands: The Emergence of the Delhi Sultanate (Permanent Black, 2007). He hadn’t bothered trying to publish it with any of the big American or British university presses, though they’d all have taken it like a shot. It had been very long since anything substantially new and eye-opening had been written on the Delhi Sultanate, and Sunil, reckoned a dilatory perfectionist whose motto was much too fervently “Better Never Than Now”, was known to have been writing it for more than a decade. He could have had his pick of publisher. Some years later, he emailed saying he’d had enough of being a Reader at SOAS. He could have been in London forever, or moved on from there to the redder-leaved pastures of the Ivy League. By this time his book had brought him recognition as a s

Premchand and a bunch of keys

The new year is off to a good start with two great reviews of The Book of Indian Essays by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra: "The names here are very good, and their work is delightful. The subjects dealt with are varied..." C. P. Surendran in Hindustan Times "You find within the purview of the anthology the sparkle of academic intellect alongside humour, personal opinions and reflections that engage both the critical eye as well as a non-academic audience" Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury in Scroll The book is like a jar of sweets with many different flavours. If you put your hand in, you pull out something delightful and different each time. Here is an extract from Sara Rai's ON NOT WRITING in which she writes -- with great eloquence -- about finding a voice, language, and subject. About this essay, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra says: "Coming, on her mother’s side, from a feudal Shia Muslim background, similar to Hosain’s, Sara Rai’s Hindi is laced with Urdu words, bu

A foretaste of HARJOT OBEROI's second book, WHEN DOES HISTORY BEGIN?

THERE AREN'T TOO MANY HISTORIANS who write such a fine first book that the recovery time needed to write the second is twenty-five or more years. Harjot Oberoi's The Construction of Religious Boundaries (1993), won the Best First Book Prize of the American Academy of Religion and the Killam Prize, the highest research prize of the University of British Columbia. His book was widely recognised as pathbreaking for Sikh Studies in the way that, a generation earlier, Hew McLeod's pioneering work had been. Thereafter, however, Oberoi was (as is well known) besieged by problems: the orthodox did not merely disagree with the argument of his book -- that modern Sikhism had been constructed from a fluid variety of identities in the Punjab region by the Khalsa Panth over a relatively short period in the eighteenth century -- they also threatened to silence him for marshalling the evidence for such an argument. And they sought actively to terminate his professorship at the Universit


“The definitive history of the Chipko Movement” RAMACHANDRA GUHA   In India, modern environmentalism was inaugurated by the Chipko Movement, which began in 1973. Because it was led by Gandhians, included women participants, occurred in “spiritual” Himalayan regions, and used innovatively non-violent techniques of protest, it attracted international attention. It also led to a major debate on Indian forest policy and the destructive consequences of commercialisation. Because of Chipko, clear-felling was stopped and India began to pay attention to the needs of an ecological balance which sustained forests and the communities within them. In academic and policy-making circles it fuelled a wider debate on sustainable development – on whether India could afford to imitate the West’s resource-intensive and capital-intensive ways of life. Chipko’s historians have hitherto focused on its two major leaders, Chandi Prasad Bhatt and Sunderlal Bahuguna. The voices of “subalterns” – ordinary men

The Arvind Krishna Mehrotra interview: First Post

The Arvind Krishna Mehrotra interview | 'There’s a lack of historicity in way we think, talk, write about Indian literature'  by Aditya Mani Jha In The Book of Indian Essays: Two Hundred Years of Indian Prose , Mehrotra collects some of the best Indian essays of all time — including works by old favourites like GV Desani, RK Narayan, Nissim Ezekiel and Shama Futehally, all the way up to contemporary luminaries like Pankaj Mishra and Amitav Ghosh. Your introductory essay ‘When the Gas Cylinder Comes’ talks about Indian ‘little magazines’ with a great deal of affection, acknowledging the role that they played in nurturing literature. During your teens you published one such magazine, damn you, along with your friends Amit Rai and Alok Rai. In the book Partial Recall, you characterise this phase as one of discovery, wherein you were exploring different literary universes, “trying to inhabit each as my native place”. Could you tell us a bit more about what that line meant to you?