This page is dedicated to people who, in my mind, reflect this blog, their diverse backgrounds or research or interest or singled out individual view of the world make them worth casting some light about what a cosmopolitan personality really means for me (Daphné Romy-Masliah). You will find here from the newest to the oldest entries some particularly interesting testimonies. Enjoy!
The first piece (i.e. the latest I publish) deals with a scholar I never met, except through what her grieved son, Probal, told me. I hope you’ll enjoy and marvel as much as I did, with one regret, not to have met such a wonderful lady who passed away last month. May she rest in peace and may her work continue speaking for her. (January 9, 2011)
The democratic imagination and Manashi Dasgupta’s legacy
by Probal Dasgupta
Probal Dasgupta, an Honorary Member of the Linguistic Society of America and a member of the Akademio de Esperanto, teaches at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. Two of his mother Manashi’s books (a novel, 2006, and an autobiography, 1989) translated by him into Esperanto have received critical acclaim.
The following piece is Probal’s Obituary about his mother Manashi Dasgupta. Initially published in several Indian national papers and to be a piece of The Hindu’s Literary supplement this coming February.
To present Manashi Dasgupta’s (1928-2010) legacy involves pulling together the academic, cultural and critical strands of a vision that cherishes friendship and intercontextual conversation. It is at this crucial interface, she suggests, that the democratic imagination must make interpersonal sense of institutions.
Dasgupta’s 1962 Cornell University doctoral dissertation brings social psychology to bear on what makes somebody seem interesting to others. She proposes that we imagine narratives about people we meet; perceiving a half-story leaves us intrigued – and interested in the protagonist.
Her 1986-7 research, sponsored by the Indian Council of Philosophical Research, studies India’s literary and institutional handling of friendship. She argues (especially in Jiggasa 11:3.287-301, 1990) that we make friends where we find it possible, in principle, to initiate joint projects.
Dasgupta’s interpersonalist vision identifies a democratic, anti-hierarchical imagination as a prerequisite for modernity. The point is to fashion a friendship-based institutional format outside the patriarchal family paradigm. In Samaaj-Mon ‘Society and mind’ and Monostattwo o Raajniti ‘Psychology and politics’, Dasgupta stresses one specifically Indian question: how to build a family-independent civic episteme that will make nepotism look unnatural.
The academic flows into the cultural in Dasgupta’s work. Her post-Cornell experiences in India convinced her that there was a disconnect between what the apparatus of psychology offers and what her fellow citizens would accept. She detected a widespread denial about the existence and addressability of basic interpersonal problems. Her response was a series of interventions – combining the artistic with the administrative in unusual ways – outside the structures of psychology.
Her favourite art was vocal music. As one of Debabrata Biswas’s early students, she became an exponent of Rabindrasangeet. But her knowledge of the diversity of Bengal’s musical traditions made her want to represent that diversity rather than Tagore alone. Accordingly, Dasgupta focused on Tagore’s contemporaries like Rajanikanta Sen (whose Aami tomaar dhorbo naa haat and Mon re aamaar she chose for her 1970 HMV single), Atul Prasad Sen, Dwijendra Lal Roy. Her knowledge of kirtans and of Bangla film music from the 1930s was encyclopaedic. Few of the friends who picked her brains, however, recognized that this was one of her ways of nurturing intercontextual conversations and thereby feeding the democratic imagination.
Dasgupta’s administrative career framed her artistic interventions. She served as Principal of Shri Shikshayatan College, Kolkata (1963-72, with a brief interruption as Regional Officer of the US Educational Foundation in India), where she initiated musical performance and discussion on an unusual scale. Her next job was to run and upgrade archiving and research at Rabindra Bhavana, Visvabharati, Santiniketan (1972-73, 1975-82). Here she enabled, and herself carried out, research on Tagore that took on board the intricate interpersonal context of his flourishing. Her book Rabindranath: Ek Asamanvita Dvandva ‘Rabindranath: An unresolved tension’ portrays a Tagore trying to bypass the vertical family and establish horizontal structures, but resorting to reverse nepotism as the means to this end – bequeathing his crown of thorns to his son Rathindranath. This point, however, is embedded in an overall argument that analyzes Tagore’s textual and institutional oeuvre and concludes that he wished to build friendly institutions but had to work with colleagues steeped in patriarchal verticality.
Significantly, Dasgupta had this study published in Dhaka. She was one of the many cultural activists who played a role, especially from 1971 onwards, in promoting dialogue between the two Bengals – yet another intercontextual conversation where she provided distinctive input.
We turn now to the third, critical strand in her contribution. Dasgupta’s work combines criticism of patriarchy with a pervasive skepticism about simple-minded radical genres of opposition. She did put herself at stake: the public in 1969 were hardly prepared to accept a woman testifying in court to defend Buddhadeva Bose’s novel Raat Bhore Brishti against the charge of obscenity. What, then, distinguishes her work, including her 2004 book Meyeder Bhumikaa o Bhaashya ‘The roles and rules of women’, from familiar feminisms?
The introduction to her 2004 book answers this question at length. I am forced to summarize, obviously unjustly. She finds contemporary feminism dividing its energies between oversyndicalized activisms and genres of social scientific and literary theorizing that leave each other’s terms of reference unexamined. This worries her. Dasgupta finds it imperative that the public space should use literature as a site of general accountability; she finds feminist writing insufficiently attentive to this use of the literary public space.
Even if space permitted a fuller summary of that particular introduction, it would be misleading to suggest that her 2004 collection of articles about the way literature portrays women at various junctures of Indian literary history is even notionally a complete statement of Dasgupta’s take on women. Let us note instead that Dasgupta’s project involved continuing the work of figures she admired in fiction and in social analysis, especially Ashapurna Debi (Dasgupta wrote a biography of her for Sahitya Akademi) and Iravati Karve.
Dasgupta’s publications on the sociology of caste and on the way canonical literary texts deal with women are in self-conscious dialogue with Karve’s work in these domains. And the sense in which her fiction constitutes a set of self-conscious sequels to Ashapurna Debi’s work becomes clear from the fact that Binu, the protagonist in her first novel Bhelaa ‘Raft’, is handicapped – she has a wooden leg. Her other novels (Trinoguccho ‘Tufts of grass’, Preme Apreme Nae ‘Not in love or unlove’, Anaarabdho ‘The sacrament that failed’, Ghumonto Gharbaari ‘Sleeping homes’), as well as her shorter fiction and autobiographical writings, explore themes that come to the fore once the screaming headlines have been digested. Dasgupta’s worry, made explicit in several of these texts, is that populist voices will keep reiterating the headlines and preempt reflection at the level of theory, leading to broad-spectrum, unfocused social interventions and an overconcentration on inequality at the expense of difference.
Jan. 4, 2009
I read today on a Multiculturalism on Facebook a testimony I found worth reprinting here, with his author’s permission…
I hope it will inspire your own stories. It did inspire me indeed!!!
The question was: how multicultural are you. Here’s Can Sakirgil’s account:
I can happily say that I am quite multicultural. To tell you about my background I will start with pointing of various sides.
My civic (also cultural) identity is Turkish. However I grew up in a very interesting sub-cultural environment. I was born in Antioch (Antakya/Turkey).
Antakya is the place where Christianity spread as some of you might know from Acts 11:26 (And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.) So, I always believe that I am from the remnants of those first Christians. My family is Greek Orthodox, however our church liturgy and vernacular has always been Arabic, this is probably because the city has been under the Syrian/Lebanese influence for a very long time. It was actually a major territorial dispute between Turkey and Syria.
From 1920s till 1938 my hometown was a part of Syria which itself was under the mandate of the French. Then from 1938 till 1939 the region became a de jure republic of its own (Hatay Devleti –Republic of Hatay) till it got annexed to Republic of Turkey.
The city still has a big population of Arabic speaking Greek Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Arabic speaking Alewis, and Sunnis as well as Arabic speaking Sephardic Jews and even some Assyrian Christians.
With all the mentioned political, regional and religious sides I can now tell about the culture of my city and of my own. I will start with my maternal grandma.
My maternal grandmother is Syrian (an Assyrian Catholic) , she grew up in Aleppo and married to my Grandfather (who was born and grew up in Antioch but held Lebanese identity). So as you can guess there was not much difference if you were from Antakya or Aleppo, you could easily be a couple and communicate since the language, religion and the culture is basically the same. My mother was born in Aleppo as well; she always tells me that till she got married she spent a lot of her time travelling between two cities. She is an Aleppoian as well as an Antiochian. Even today she frequently visits her relatives in Syria. So I grew up speaking Arabic and going to churches. I never thought it was strange or anything.
In the building that I grew up there are nine apartments. When I was a kid three of the families living in the building were Orthodox, two Jewish, three Alevi and one Sunni. I recall playing with my Jewish friends, eating Jewish food (purple rice pilaf, hamıt, kukle), celebrating Hannukah with them. I also remember them coming to our house to say Happy Easter or Merry Christmas. I remember the food (kibbe as sac, burani, adis bi hamıt) cooked by my mom or aunt being very different than those of my friend’s moms.
My city’s daily vernacular still has a good Arabic influence, yes everyone knows Turkish, it is our national identity, however one can still shop, chat, and yell in Arabic.
Our weddings and funerals are quite different, than those other parts of Turkey, and even in the city itself. We offer coffee after the funeral, Sunnis offer desert, Alevis on the other hand prefer meat kebaps.
We have a religious wedding then you got to have a big banquet. You are not married unless it is held ceremonially in the church; civic marriage is of secondary importance.
I remember the Moslem Sacrifice Holiday and Christmas coincide on the same date. So, I eat meat given by the neighbors while celebrating a major holiday of my own.
When we commemorate our founder Atatürk’s death on the 10 of November each year, right at 9:05 when he passed away, all around the country the sirens go off and simultaneously the bells of the Orthodox Church ring thirty three times symbolizing someone died.
I lived and still live in such a multicultural, multilingual, multi religion environment that I always try to tell people about it. If four different families of different belief systems are able live in harmony and peace in an apartment building, then why should the world not be the same.
I will later on continue with more details about multiculturalism and me. But if you ask me who or what I am, I usually say, “I don’t know, I am a Turk, I really like it, but I am also of Arabic background and I like it very much, Well, I am a Christian who grew up both with Orthodox and Catholic traditions, I have close friends from various religious backgrounds, so I am very much familiar with this and that… so I am all of the above and very happy to be so.
And here is my reply: