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But slowly the experience of common subjection to colonial rule produced a sentiment of resentment among Indians. Drawing from three entirely disjointed discursive traditions, he produced the defining figure of the Motherland worshipped with a new kind of emotion of tremulous intensity in his song Vande Mataram It is essential to point out, in analyzing this mixture, that although the two other discourses had association of distinctive affects, these were separate and unrelated.

It lacked any suggestion of people belonging to the land or the land to the people. The devotional attitude towards Shakti—though intense—had nothing to do with a sense of space, territory, human inhabitance—not to speak of any form of political belonging.

Thematic Issues

In the original song itself there is an innovative combination of redirection of worshipfulness towards the land. Now she is re-imaged as Mother-land to whom the fierce devotion appropriate to the Mother-goddess could be re-directed. The traditional Goddess was—in principle—a protector of all mankind, particularly of those who have sought her protection. The new Motherland deity is a fiercely parochial and partial goddess: she bestows her affection indiscriminately to all her children; not to others.


The second unusual feature is the resonating emphasis on the inclusion of the population, her children, in herself, with a cascading repetition of large numbers. This is not merely true of the original song, Vande Mataram ; numerous imitative compositions, which mirrored and multiplied this new sentiment, and quoted the phrase, stressed the same numerical and aggregative impulse.

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A Tagore song, composed soon after, went: 2. Ek-i sutre bandhiyachi sahasra-ti man. Ek-i kaje sanmpiyachi sahasra jivan. We have stitched a thousand minds together in a single thread. We have devoted a thousand lives to a single common task. Audience response to this genre tended to not be exacting: what readers and singer wanted was more the intensity of patriotism than poetic quality.

Within a surprisingly short time, this new genre developed an immense corpus. Two trends are notable in the further historical career of nationalist poetry. It did not take long for nationalist poetry to find the path of exaggeration in celebration of the collective self. A song composed by a contemporary of Rabindranath Tagore , Dwijendra Lal Roy , declared India, accordingly, the finest place in the world—a staple of all nationalist poetic tropes:.

Dhana dhanye pushpe bhara amader ei vasundhara. Ihar majhe ache desh ek sakal desher sera. Se je svapna diye tairi se desh smriti diye ghera. In this bounteous earth, filled with wealth, food and flowers,. That land is made of dreams and bounded by memory. In paintings too we find an entirely parallel tendency towards excess and mood of suspended violence towards others.

The gradual centrality of the trope of invincibility and a capacity for violence against enemies develops through an interesting process which requires separate elaboration. Initially, violence and brutality are seen as defining characteristics of the images of others—the enemies, oppressors and aggressors against the peaceable nation. Oppression requires rebellion, injustice requires requital, and these acts presuppose strength. Slowly, the Mother acquires features of violence to act against her assailants.

Through the constantly transactive dynamic between the literary and visual arts, the initial visualization of the figure of the Motherland was portrayed by Abanindranath Tagore of the Bengal School. Influenced by techniques of Japanese painting, this early figure came out as ethereal, non-violent, carrying the associations of beneficence from the literary depiction by Bankim, entirely subtracting the militant, potentially violent features.

In calendar art, which is a true mark of the popularization and simultaneous banalization of an image, the figure is often superimposed on a geographic map of India, and invested with features of grandeur and power—like an ostentatious crown and an array of weapons in her arms.

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Not surprisingly, figures like Vinayak Damodar Savarkar , the founder of modern Hindu nationalism, also composed similar poems to express more intense forms of the modern emotion. What was important in this wave of poetic composition was not the quality of the poetry, but the ubiquity of the sentiment. Poetry is the specialized language of the sacred, almost a dialect of sacrality.

Prose could ordinarily present mere arguments; poetry elicited emotions.

The nationalist sacralization of the land, its elevation, from a mundane expanse of material territory to the lyrical space to which people could attach with an intense filial affect, was accomplished primarily by the shift to the language of poetry and music. Despite the music and the poetry, however, nationalism remained a deeply political project with all the attendant difficulties of political power.

Nationalist art expressed a dream of a nation, but in the colonial context, it was a nation that dreamed of becoming free, in less lyrical translation—of becoming a state. Thus this lyricism and poetry were always destined for eventual frustration, as ultimately, when political independence arrived, nationalist politics became inescapably involved in the deadly business of borders, and the finalist, decisive nationalist stamping of people as citizens. Particularly the brutal reality of partition devastated the tranquil symmetries of the lyrical idyll, and replaced it by a ferocious scramble for land.

In a supreme irony, territorial divisions were often ultimately decided by low-level British officials untouched by the poetry of emotional inhabitance. Political reality made an utter mess of earlier dreams. Dreams of a nationalist future and the reality of independent states collided without any resolution.

Understandably, all states in the region set to the task of creating appropriate vehicles for their new politically inviolate territories by commissioning new poetry or editing old ones. Interestingly, in both India and Pakistan, songs to extol the sacrifices of martyrs in the repeated wars were composed—but these enjoyed more transient and fragile popularity.

The spontaneous connection that dreams and poetry had with the futuristic nation could hardly be established with the institutional materiality of successor states. Authors have already noted that two of the great figures of Indian nationalism, Tagore and Gandhi, were deeply mistrustful of nationalist sentiment, as they observed development of nationalist paranoia in Europe and its slide into the utter inhumanity of warfare.

Both men warned against an imitation of European-style nationalism centered on the state. For example, the poem Bharat-tirtha said:.

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Bhedi maru-path giri-parbat jara esechila sabe. Tara mor majhe sabi biraje keha nahe nahe dur. Amar sonite rayeche dhvanite tar-i bicitra sur. All those who came down the runnels of wars,. For equally understandable reasons, initially Pakistan presented a self-image of a more united, homogeneous nation of South Asian Muslims.

But the stubborn fact of the sociology of diversity against the integrationist demands of the modern state has remained an imaginative difficulty for both states. In both cases the actual politics of the everyday have deployed two kinds of political resources to deal with the problem of identity. Despite the existence of explicit state institutions that emphasize citizenship, in actual social life both politicians and ordinary people depend on and return to the repertoire of graded connection and neighborliness inherited from a very long pre-modern tradition.

We could probably advance a stronger argument. Through long periods of experimentation in Indian history, through a social learning process, empire states fashioned a logic of accommodative relation between political power and popular identities. Empire-states were primarily based on a logic of subsumption , 7 allowing both identities and authority at a higher spatial scale to subsume those at lower levels. The Mughal Empire, the last instance of a pre-modern empire-state in South Asia, exhibited this logic in its states practices, and often, in public debates and statements, its leading figures sought to articulate a theory of this structure.

Colonial history presented a fundamentally different model of the European nation-state to the imagination of local elites. Familiarity and desire for the quite different European model of sovereign nation-states instigated sections of these political elites to try to emulate that structure, based on the logic of sovereignty and cultural homogeneity. Conceptions of radical modernism in India, and of an Islamic state in Pakistan and Bangladesh have periodically mobilized that utopia of sovereignty. In actual political and social life, people depend much more on long-standing traditions of cultural pluralism—which deploys the pre-modern techniques of graded similarity and neighborliness. Social peace in the existing states of South Asia depends on practices of everyday life drawn from pre-modern times to a much greater degree than we ordinarily admit.

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As academics we are familiar with an academic conception of South Asia which emerged typically in the s American academia, driven by the requirements of US foreign policy in the postwar world. This optic aggregated spaces from a geopolitical point of view, disregarding political and cultural differences—which may be significant for their inhabitants, but unimportant for the framing of American strategy. There is considerable literature on the history of this notion which shows how a term prompted by military calculation slowly morphed into a respectable disciplinary entity in academic scholarship.

Gradually its geopolitical connotation was replaced by a different content, as postcolonial states grew and required more serious academic scrutiny. There was a concern to avoid study of the region exclusively centered on India, or one of the other post-colonial states.

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I am skeptical of the cognitive advantages of this move—whether study of India as part of a South Asian department substantially changes how scholars perceive the object of their enquiry. It should encourage more comparative research; but comparative analysis is plagued by an ambiguity in its self-definition.

There is still a great deal of uncertainty about whether the starting point should be the historic similarity of the societies or the dissimilarities of their contemporary political systems.