In popular imagination and even works of scholarship, the names of the six Great Mughals—all male—dominate the narrative of the Mughal Empire in the history of India. School textbooks name them, detail their conquests, their religious tolerance or intolerance, the art and architecture they ushered in, and the gardens they left behind. That Nur Jahan, the 20th wife of the fourth emperor Jahangir (the son of Akbar the Great), was co-sovereign is missing from even the trivia people know about the carefree Prince Salim, the later Emperor Jahangir.
The prolific American geopolitical analyst Robert Kaplan in his book Monsoon wrote that the Indian Ocean region is the new “pivot” of global politics in the 21st century. China’s emergence as America’s peer competitor in East Asia and potentially beyond has magnified the importance of South Asia in global geopolitics.
Using the 2014 Scottish referendum to separate from the UK as a touchstone, this book examines the fluidity of identity and tensions regarding languages and belonging in a modern, global world where peoples, ideas and cultures migrate and interact on a scale never before seen in human history.
For fifty years after the independence, Indian scholars looked at 1947 as a year of “triumph and tragedy”. Freedom from the British rule was the triumph of the nationalist movement and the Partition of the subcontinent into India, East Pakistan and West Pakistan was the tragic co-effect of the independence. It took about half a century for Indians to realize that there has been an uncanny silence around the riots that affected millions of people trying to escape to a land of a safer religion or to hold on to the place they felt they had always belonged.
Mention of the British East India Company brings to mind visions of imperialism, exploitation and oppression of colonial peoples in Asia, and India as the “jewel in the British crown”. The Company was all that and more.
When Jeet Thayil writes a book about chocolate saints, one knows it will not be the kind populated with Easter eggs and Willy Wonkaian characters. Rather, think Umberto Eco acid-tripping on a couch punctured with cigarette burns in a moldy basement.
Asia has a long history of the printing and dissemination of news. In his book on origins of modern journalism in India, Andrew Otis mentions bulletins published by the Chinese, handbills by the Japanese and newsletters distributed by runners. Ever since the introduction of the printing press in India in the 16th century by the Portuguese Jesuits, the European colonists and missionaries used the technology to print their newsletters.