The book Another South Asia! with an assertive exclamation mark in its title requires one to pause, and step back to recall what is South Asia, before one engages with the idea of what could be ‘another’.
The essays in this book explore institutional lapses like SAARC which have not done much about the region, and includes the failure of academics. The book posits the possibility of exploring ‘another’: a soothing, disarming, and yet not credulous, utopia.
It is common to understand the region through the lens of ‘India’s hegemonic power’ — often provides for understanding everything bad in South Asia, be it the Indian Blockade of Nepal or the omnipresence of China’s influence in the region. The book jolts one out of this intellectual stupor, rejecting not just the conventional approach, but also explores a tapestry of lived history woven into the fabric of daily life. It begins to feel that there is more to the idea of South Asia than one realised.
The book explores South Asia through its fluid faiths and intellectual history, cross border bonhomie of artists, revolutionary poets of the region in the framework of ‘organic intellectuals’, and the Progressive Writers’ Association as a case for a South Asian literary imagination.
That is not all. The dramatic and performative traditions of the region show them to be trans-local and deeply melodramatic without being Bollywood-like. It also invites us to see, smell, and savour South Asia far beyond its cartographic territory. Most importantly, this all premises on the idea that the region ought to be understood on its own both as a World Region, a civilisational entity in its own right.
This is a refreshing departure from intellectual preoccupations of scholars, diplomats, bureaucrats, and officials who tend to be in confusion about South Asia. It is not too concerned with finding ‘the other’, but in this strength is also its weakness. Even while the book accepts the predominance of the state in South Asia, it resists an attempt to have a discussion about it. It is perhaps due to the objective of exploring much needed utopian imagination.
The book can only be summarised in metaphor, which is also a metaphor for the history of South Asia. The Jinnah House in Bombay which Indians cannot understand why after insisting on a separate nation, Jinnah said he wanted to spend a peaceful retired life in it after partition. Pakistani diplomats insist that it is a sign of Jinnah’s generosity, and that Indians have misunderstood him. Meanwhile, the biggest builder of Bombay who is also a member of parliament wants to pull it down, and replace it with something ‘better’.
If the gates of that abandoned house were to be opened for people to live in it, and the house was to have a library, one imagines that a copy of this book would find a prized place on the shelves of that library. Another South Asia! Offers that tantalising possibility.
Shray Mehta is a PhD candidate at the Department of Sociology, South Asian University, New Delhi