Events

Past Event

Anand Taneja | The Other Asad

March 4, 2019
4:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Faculty House, Columbia University

The Other Asad: Ghalib and the Ethical Work of Urdu Poetry in Contemporary IndiabyAnand Taneja
Religious Studies and Anthropology
Vanderbilt University

This lecture explores the work that Urdu poetry does in contemporary India—affectively, aesthetically, and ethically—in creating forms of interiority and self-expression, of creating forums for debate and dissent, and of articulating political, theological, and affective stances unimaginable solely in contemporary religious or political discourse

As Shahab Ahmed (2016) points out, poetry, while long neglected in academic accounts of the “discursive tradition” of Islam, has long had a central role in meaning-making and self-expression for Muslims. This holds true for contemporary India as well. In a seeming paradox, at a time when the minority Muslim community in India is facing extraordinary levels of bigotry and violence enabled by a Hindu majoritarian central government, poetry in Urdu—long considered a “Muslim” linguistic register and cultural form—is undergoing a huge renaissance, and growing popularity amongst Muslim and non-Muslim poets and audiences. And yet the language, tropes, and figures that animate Urdu poetry remain deeply connected to the Islamic tradition. In this paper Prof. Taneja explores the work that Urdu poetry does in contemporary India—affectively, aesthetically, and ethically—in creating forms of interiority and self-expression, of creating forums for debate and dissent, and of articulating political, theological, and affective stances unimaginable solely in contemporary religious or political discourse. In particular he looks at the work that Urdu poetry does in creating a shared Islamic ground for thought, affect and ethics for poets and audiences across the divides of class, sect, technological literacy, theological orientation, and religious identity. He does this by focusing on the lively debates and interpretations in contemporary Delhi centered on the work and personality of Mirza Asadullah Khan “Ghalib”, the beloved nineteenth century Urdu poet who used both “Asad” and “Ghalib” as his takhallus or pen-name(s).