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19 Nov - "Learning a different language: Reading Shubhangi Swarup’s The Latitudes of Longing and Aimee Liu’s Glorious Boy in the context of anthropological documentation and the consolidation of the Indian nation state" by Dr. Arunima Bhattacharya

European Netias Lecture by Dr. Arunima Bhattacharya, Postdoctoral Research Assistant on AHRC funded project, The Other from Within: Indian Anthropologists and the Birth of a Nation. School of History, University of Leeds. Visiting Research Fellow at IASH (2019-20). The conference of Dr. Arunima Bhattacharya is organized in cooperation with NetIAS, Network of European Institutes for Advanced Study and is part of the European NetIAS Lecture Series.

Nov 19, 2020 from 05:00 PM to 07:00 PM

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This paper aims to read two contemporary novels The Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup and Glorious Boy by Aimee Liu set in the Andaman Islands, on the Bay of Bengal, in relation to the official anthropological documentation and interpretation of the complex socio-ecology of these islands, particularly in the context of post-independence consolidation of the Indian nation state.
The 1940’s was an exceptional decade in Indian sub-continental politics. It is during this decade that the Anthropological Survey of India evolved into a stand-alone body in 1945. Anthropology was used as a tool to ‘scientifically’ document and interpret the Indian subcontinent. Such institutional inquiry and knowledge assimilation were extended into classifying the local environment and relations between human settlements and the ecologies that sustained or confronted them. It was an institution dedicated to document the People of India by assimilating the country’s diversity within categories that broadly contributed to the idea of a consolidated Indian nation state.
The Andaman islands has a unique history of sustaining ancient forest tribes in their native environment secluded and yet in close proximity of the penal colonies set up by the British government and migrant communities from the eastern coast of India, particularly Bengal and Burma. It also was invaded and occupied by Japanese forces during the second world war and finally handed over to the Indian government post-independence. Looking at the settlement in the 1940s sets this place up as a distinctive piece in the puzzle of setting up the Indian nation state. This paper investigates how the island communities speak to mainland India through an archipelago politics of existence and seclusion in contrast of the connectedness of mainland mobility networks. It uses fiction as a mediator to investigate this phenomenal period through the form of a novel that allows for protraction and convergence of different timescales.

Swarup’s novel, The Latitudes of Longing delves into deep time and a geological history of the subcontinent to trace the development of these fringe communities and their social co-existence through specific nodes of the region’s history. Aimee Liu’s Glorious Boy uses direct reference to anthropological methods of documenting experience of a different way of life, a protagonist compares it to, ‘entering a time capsule’. The novel form offers the exploration of the themes of community, migration and rehabilitation related to British empire and the later nation building processes through the spectrum of differently placed narratives.

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Arunima Bhattacharya is a Postdoctoral Research Assistant on the AHRC funded project, ‘The Outsider from Within: Indian Anthropologists and the Birth of the Nation’ based jointly at the universities of Leeds, Manchester, and Edinburgh. This project explores the post-1947 histories of Indian Anthropology and Sociology as distinctive intellectual fields outside western paradigms. It involves an analysis of the research of Indian anthropologists, and the connections between their work, institutions (such as museums), and communities that formed the subject of anthropological research.

Arunima was awarded her doctoral degree in July 2019. Her doctoral thesis titled ‘Representing Calcutta through Handbooks, 1880-1940: Narrativizing City Space’ read into the narrative tropes that structured the narrativization of Calcutta, the capital of British India (till 1911), in relation to the significant historical events that shaped colonial rule in India during the turn of the twentieth century. She was employed (Dec 2018-July 2019) as a Project Support Officer on a Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute (LAHRI) funded Sadler seminar series project titled, ‘Creating/Curating a Decolonial Classroom’ lead by Dr. Fozia Bora. She is also currently serving as an Anti-Casualisation Officer for the University of Leeds UCU branch. Arunima’s forthcoming work includes a chapter ‘Everyday Objects and Conversations: Experiencing ‘Self’ in the Transnational Space of UK’, in Transnational Women of Indian Origin/Heritage: Educational and Migration Experiences in (Re) Negotiating Identities: Perspectives from Australia and the United Kingdom, ed. by Nish Belford et al (London: Routledge, forthcoming). Arunima is also co-editing the volume with Dr. Richard Hibbit (University of Leeds) and Dr. Laura Scuriatti (Bard College Berlin).