Indian History from Above and Below

TWO ACADEMIC PARODIES

by
Rukun Advani

KAALOO FOR MEN

Note on the Parodies and their Author

THE PARODIES

These parodies on Indian history-writing have been universally condemned, making them compulsory reading for all who wish to be seen as well read, as well as for those who wish to understand how Indian history is now written. It is also meant as a career guide for budding historians in India, all of whom—like all Indians generally—wish to migrate to the USA in order to make a vast fortune there by perfecting the art of writing unhyphenated postcolonial criticaltheoretic marxistfeminist subalternstudies histoires of revolting peasants and other such texts that are believed to inhabit the thirdworld. Dollar $alaries for such historians are now upward of $ 100 million per annum, and rising—in proportion with the degree of incomprehensibility achieved. These parodies are the most lucid demonstration available of how to achieve that nirvanic state of academic bliss known as ‘the Incomprehensible Sublime in the Ivy League’.

THE AUTHOR

Rukun Advani, the author of this symphonic masterpiece of world literature, has been compared, always unfavourably, with Rabelais, Swift, P.G. Wodehouse, Groucho Marx, Karl Marx, and Professor Lavatri Lavatory Spewhack. Dumbstruck by lack of appreciation, he wallows daily in a slough of narcissistic despond, his tears of sorrow contributing considerably and on a daily basis to the above slough. He is married with one dog, Biscoot. She is the only being in the whole world who really loves him. This keeps him going.

Dedication

These parodies are dedicated to

All Bengali intellectuals
and others whose dollar salaries
have risen with the help of
obscurity and jargon

Preface

The two parodies that follow are inspired, respectfully, by Indian historians and Bengali intellectuals, these being more or less the same thing. Writers within this singular category take themselves, as well as the profound thoughts they spout, very seriously. When such people come, they come in torrents. Their seminal outpourings are generally verbal on account of India’s preference for the oral tradition, and, being unfailingly delivered in Bengali (mostly to each other), can be happily ignored as passing verbiage. But fortunately for the profit margins of academic publishers, and less so for unacademic editors, Indian academics and Bengali intellectuals also desire dissemination. They translate their native profundities and paradigms into a clogged, colonial, unfluid flow, full of blocking French noms and plumes and footnotes, e.g.:

Derrida; ibid.; see my recent essay on the modes and moods of Foucault in JPS, III.iii, 3-333; on Lacan, see Lacan, On Lacan; Barthes, How many times a day do you have one in summer?; idem., Do you really? See also differentiated peasantry and undifferentiated peasantry in Exercises for Revolting Peasants, ed. Ranajitda and Gayatridi (Boston: Hardwords University Press, 1969); and for a feminist, though partially anthropologized, hermeneutic-critical discourse on the postcolonial subversive dimensions of the undifferentiated middle peasant in Midnapore district in June 1959, see the provocative controversy between Ranajitda and Amiyada in Gayatridi, ed., Gendered, Gendered, 0h Most Gendered: Epistemology and the Male Menopause in Bengal between June 1959 and July 1959 (Ranikhet: Kaaloo for Men, forty years later).

If the two parodies that follow seem rather full of sewage, it is only because they derive from what flows into a publisher’s pipelines. I start from below and work my way up to the top, i.e. first peasants and subalterns in ‘History from Below’, then elites and intellectuals in ‘History from (Over) the Top’. If this prioritization seems merely a coprological epiphenomenon of the privileging of subalterns and peasants over elites and intellectuals in the current historiography, historiography is obviously to blame. I am grateful to all the friends who have been tickled pink by the ensuing scatology. As one of them, himself a Bengali intellectual, put it, coprophilia is a concealed academic passion. I exempt none of my friends—many of them Bengali academics, and others resigned to the hegemonic Bengalification of Indian academia—from responsibility for the rubbish that follows. All are equally imbricated. If I stop receiving academic manuscripts, I alone cannot possibly be blamed.

An earlier version of ‘History from Below’ appeared in The Statesman many years ago. Widespread condemnation of this by puritan sections of the bhadralok inspired the second parody. Rampant photocopying of both has now forced me to publish and be damned.

1

Indian History from Below: A Swiftian Exploration

In their preoccupation with the ordinary and palatable forms of popular culture, historians of the peasantry have hitherto neglected any proper exploration of an important arena of subaltern existence, namely the history of belching, wind-breaking, and defecation. A strategic intervention within this crucial space therefore seems imperative in order to complete the existing studies of subordination. To name these functions in this specific order—belching, farting, shitting—is in itself to posit a sociological hierarchy, which might more properly be designated a bourgeois hierarchy of disgust with what Marx, in one of his most derisively Derridesque derivations, termed ‘The Asiatic Commode of Production’, and what Ranajit Dumont-Strauss has called the Alimentary Aspects of Everyday Digestion. We will not here consider an important secondary peasant function, namely sweating, because:

(a) this area has already been explored adequately in two recent essays: see ‘Faces and Faeces: Peasant Expressions During Evacuation’, IESHR, Fall Issue, 1988, pp. 1-109; and ‘The Crap Trap: Peasants and Acute Constipation’, idem, pp. 110-209;

(b) because our present concern is not with India’s toiling millions, but with its toileting millions;

(c) because we are not within the confines of this paper concerned with the private space of sweat, but more properly with the more airy public domain within which these most important primary functions are ritually and symbolically, not to mention literally, performed.

Any serious perspective on this lota-pani ‘view from below’ must of necessity commence with a consideration of the olfactory, for it is the olfactory that is most deeply imbricated, if not in peasant consciousness, certainly cross-culturally in the human nostril(s). (Its peculiarly deep embeddedness within the nostril(s) of the present writer is merely an aspect of the subtext of the present discourse; c.f. Lavatri Lavatory Spewhack, Master Disgusted, Native Disgusting: A Perspective on Peasants from 250,000 Dollars per Annum, forthcoming from Kaaloo for Men) We start therefore with a Foucauldian paradox, that whereas the peasant’s overdetermined relative autonomy from the olfactory leaves him, for all practical purposes, immune to the smell of his own excretions, the middle-class sociologist’s relatively indeterminate subject-position within an undifferentiated haute-bourgeoisie leaves him, on the other hand, peculiarly sensitive to the smell of the subject. The obvious connection that this paradox has with the Barthesian notion of the impossibility of critical transcendence by the historian into either the symbiotic acculturation of the pastness—and indeed the presentness—of the peasant-subject, or indeed the even greater epistemological and hermeneutic problems posed by attempting a recreation of the ontological presuppositions of the peasant—all these need mere mention in this context: a more elaborate exposition occurs in the classic essay by Lavatri Lavatory Spewhack, ‘The Postcolonial Lavatory and Its Radical Implications for Nomenclaturing Among Gendered and Subalternized Third World Expatriate Marxist-Feminists in the First and Second Worlds: A Derivative Discourse Decoded’.

Be that as it may, the historian’s (and indeed sociologist’s) crucial, or more properly excruciating, task remains: s/he must, having noted the necessary hermeneutic handicaps involved in cultural studies within this dimension, attempt to grip with gripe, i.e. formulate the requisite strategy for getting to the distinctive sounds and smells of the subject.

While it may within the present conjuncture be premature to be prescriptive with regard to the modalities, and indeed the methodology, desirable in field studies of this kind (note that the term ‘field study’ acquires a certain syntagmatic and phonemic pungency in such a context: peasants in India typically prefer the field for all categories of lavatorial activity), the present writer found, by a judicious deployment of the inductive in preference to the deductive procedure, that the most satisfactory, and indeed satisfying, way of putting the peasant at ease about easing himself was to join him in the act, i.e. by feeling easy oneself about easing oneself in the subject’s company, and at the appropriate conjunctural location on one’s field of study, lota in hand.

The field chosen for field study by this writer was mistakenly described in William deCrook’s ethnographic marginalia on the Etawah region as ‘Tatagarh’. Whether this needs to be decoded as a deliberate misnomer, or should be construed as Victorian prudishness in the face of the unexpected jouissance with which the local lumpens belched out the appellation of their contiguous habitat, or represents a socio-historic paradigm shift with specific metonymic, semantic, and phonological consequences, the fact remains that deCrook’s ‘Tatagarh’ is the present writer’s ‘Tutteeghar’, which is the contemporary designation for a hazardous stretch of land upon which the Etawah peasantry finds relief at all times of the day.

We have perhaps proceeded far enough without either moderating or mediating the paradigmatic structure of our narrative with a subsection. In deference to historiographically temporal and sociologically atemporal notions on the structure of spatial desirables, the matter that follows appears under subsection Two Point Three.

Subsection 2.3

It may be asked why, when Subsection 2.3 has not derived from the logical numerical sequence that it seems epistemologically hermeneutic to expect, this subsection has been so encoded. The answer to this does not lie in the metaphysic of ‘the Other’, as one would expect, but in the physiognomic of ‘the Udder’. In the field of our study the Other is inexplicably absent whereas the Udder is ubiquitously omnipresent, a Lacanian displacement if ever there was one. The reason for the absence of the One and its displacement by the Other, or rather Udder, poses no undue sociological difficulty. It is accounted for by the presence of the holy cow, not of sociology, but of the subject, who typically is in possession of and is in turn possessed by several such holy cows, each with the Udder.

Our sanskritizing peasant wakes each morning to the sound of the Udder which defines his Self. In our field of study he wakes typically to the sound of two or three udders being tweaked with very considerable jouissance by two or three female agnatic affines within his kin/clan descent hierarchy. Hence the value of this affinity, as also the reason for our subsection number 2.3 above, a ratio which defines the quasi-hegemonic hold of bourgeois numbering systems on peasant mentalite. (On the symbolic hegemony of subsection numbers in its relation to the peasant, see Lavatri Lavatory Spewhack, ‘On the Symbolic Hegemony of Subsection Numbers in a Gendered and Subalternized Post-Colonial Context: A Derivative Discourse Deconstructed’, in The Phenomenology of Praxis and the Praxis of Phenomenology in a Postmodern Residential Colony [forthcoming, Kaaloo for Men.]) As may be further expected, what we have chosen here to term ‘udder displacement’ has very considerable consequences, first for sociology and second for the cow. With its udder displaced in the proportion Three is to Two, or conversely Two is to Three, the cow lets forth a gush of wind from both directions which reverberates first through sociology and second through the ear(s) of our somnolent sanskritizing peasant, who jumps nearly out of his skin and then out of bed in order to deliver to his female agnatic affines a kick each which reverberates less through sociology but most strikingly upon the physiognomic space commonly designated in the vocabulary of the vulgar as ‘The Arse’. This privileged intervention upon the posterior of subaltern gendered ladies who are not only gendered but also subalternized and, moreover, in a clearly subject position, with their ‘Arses’ sticking out of the Udder, giving the Other (in this case their Big Brother), the opportunity of defining his unsubalternized and superordinate Self—all this defines the dearly demarcated relations of subordination and domination within our field: an ‘episteme of violence’, so to speak.[1]Marx may, after all, have been in error in his Derridesque derivation, for this might more properly be designated The Asiatic Mood of Production.

Further and detailed explorations of these multifaceted activities are and should properly constitute the obvious field of further and detailed explorations by future historians of the peasantry. The presence of the Anal School of History notwithstanding, the absence of discussion on the effect of sugarcane upon the quality of aureo-anal release in the Gorakhpur region is, for instance, not merely a lamentable lack, it is more truly a Lacanian lacuna. Even the more sensitive treatment given to the subject of gas in history by Bhashan Deo Maropadhyay’s two volumes, The Odour of History from Burke to Burpe, and The Wind in the Bellows: How to Become an Oral Historian—reveal the oedipal impossibility of frontally tackling the noxious vapours of regulated psychobiographarting. It is worth noting that the latter volume simply relegates discussion of the effect of Raga Tilak Commode upon the peasant rectum to its appendix. To wind up by, as it were, putting the wind up, we might say that these of course are holes which need not so much to be filled as looked up into. Our modest task in the present paper has merely been to air our thoughts by opening the hole in the field.

[1]The origins of this phrase seem to lie mostly clearly in Lavatri Lavatory Spewhack, ‘The Violence of Steam and the Episteme of Violence: Foucault’s Views on Hot Air Balloons’, in Obscurata, Fall Issue, forthcoming (in your next life). See also L.L. Spewhack, ‘Can the Subaltern Squeak?’, in Hiss and Tell: The Loud Ladies’ Journal (forthcoming, any day now).

(1993)

2

Bankim’s Bunkum: Indian History from (Over) the Top

In Bengal, in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with Bankim (pronounced Bonk ’im). Nothing much existed in the world before Bonk ’im, except Bengal. But even this cannot be read axiomatically, for the chicken-and-egg debate among modern Bengali intellectuals has taken the form of arguing over what came first—Bonk ’im or Bengal. Recent theorists have taken what many consider the correct view, that all life is made up of socially constructed and gendered semiotic signs, from which it follows quite logically that Bonk ’im must have come first. They argue that the Word was not so much with Bonk ’im as that it was Bonk ’im. Therefore Bonk ’im was not created by Bengal: for it was He who created Bengal. In their words ‘Bonk ’im made possible the semiotic creational (as well as creative) discursive possibilities that, pace Althusser, particularize the universal within a materiel spatio-temporal localite.’ By this they mean both that Bengal came into being because Bonk ’im realized, reified, particularized, unified, and fried Bengal into being in the frying pan of His fiction, as well as that Bonk ’im wrote some very nice fictions which are so good because they were enabled to be so good by Bengal.

So Bonk ’im scratched Bengal’s back and Bengal scratched back Bonk ’im’s back. In academia this is known as a symbiotic relationship. And the place in which this vigorous scratching happens is known as the pubic sphere. The pubic sphere was imagined into being by Habermas. Habermas was followed by Benedict Anderson, who wanted to think beyond the pubic sphere. Like God, who revealed Immaculate Conception to the Virgin Mary, Anderson revealed how whole countries can get imagined into being without so much as scratching yourself in the pubic sphere. But as all Bengalis know, Habermas and his pubic sphere and Anderson and his imagined pubics were both anticipated by Bonk ’im, who created the heavenly land known as Bongland, and who was in turn enabled by a pubic sphere which has a hegemonic colonial misrepresentation known as the Black Hole of Calcutta in the middle of it.

How come Bonk ’im? This is what all cretins, i.e. all nonBongs, often ask, the question itself being a Barthesian and Lacanian semiotic sign of their socially constructed and gendered cretinism. The answer to this query is simple. Being the first seditious native who articulated a socially constructed and gendered critique of hegemonizing colonialism from within its bureaucratic portals, thereby creating the semantic possibilities of slippages and displacements in the very structural locus of the above colonialism, or colonialism from above, Bonk ’im Babu was the first native who unified all colonials in the use of a single expletive, namely ‘Bonk ’im’. Historians, particularly those who favour deconstruction, point out that in this respect Bonk ’im may in some senses be seen as a socially constructed and gendered signifier of all Indians (if it is conceded that there is such a thing as India outside Bengal) because all colonials wanted to bonk not just ’im but all Indians. But since they wanted to bonk ’im even more than they wanted to bonk all the Other(s)—to the extent that Bonk ’im had for the rest of His immortal life to carry the socially constructed and gendered crucifix of this name Bonk ’im—He may be seen as a semiotic signifier of the Oppressed Native.

The cretinous detractors of Bonk ’im, who draw their conceptual prioritizations and orientations from the vicious Orientalism that has the unmistakable Seal of Cambridge, argue that Bankim derives not so much from Bonk ’im as from the ungendered Anglo-colonial word Bunkum. They point out that as prestigious a publisher as the sacred Oxford University Press, publishers of Bengal’s most sacred text, the Oxford English Dictionary (the diachronic semiological system without which there could have been no Nirad Babu), offered at one point to publish the Collected Works of Bonk ’im under the title Bankim’s Complete Bunkum. The sacred OUP had suggested handing over this text and all its subtexts (without pretext) to a gendered team of critical editors led by the master critic Professor Lavatri Lavatory Spewhack, who would have had them properly dusted and deconstructed, it being a well-known fact that Professor Spewhack specializes in Complete Bunkum.[1] It had also been felt that not since a racially constructed semiotic sign known as Curzon caused the objective fact of the Partition of Bengal had there been a Bengali calamity of this intellectual dimension—the complete absence of any proper deconstruction of Bonk ’im. Other theorists are indignant about this typically neo-colonial appropriation of Native History to suit the white man’s historiographical paradigms, and moreover to suit what they, correcting Kuhn, call the West’s paradigm shiftiness. For though all life is nothing Other than an arbitrary and subjectively ordered series of semiotic signs, it is also objectively true that since Bengali is the mother of all languages, including English, Bonk ’im must have come before Bunkum. Bonk ’im, in other words, ‘ironically created the Intellectual Space, even as he Problematized, the phonetic possibilities of neo-colonial honorific obverses such as Bunkum.’

This may be taken as the discursive double helix of all modern Indian history. Bengalis lament the fact that the seminal, semantic, and semiotic work by Ranajit Dumont-Strauss titled The Alimentary Aspects of Everyday Digestion (Ranikhet: Kaaloo for Men, 1983) stopped well short of tracing the structural principles of peasant insurgency to Bonk ’im’s Bunkum because its author failed to realize that Bonk ’im comes first, colonial structure second, and peasant insurgency third. Even the neo-Taylorian managerial imperialist Henry Ford, they point out, had the good sense to state that ‘ALL HISTORY IS BANKIM’. In that sense Ranajitda’s work ignores History. But the problem with Ranajitda’s interventionist deconstruction is actually more fundamental than that it stops short of both Bonk ’im and Bunkum: it is that it fails to enunciate the most elementary principle around which all modern Indian historiography is structured, which may be boldly stated as follows:

All Indian historiography of the period after the Battle of Plassey must consist in showing how the dastardly colonials screwed the heroic natives and how the heroic natives resisted the dastardly colonials.

Once this axiom is internalized, it explains all modern history to the lay reader. Every modern history monograph is then a variation on this basic theme, or, more appropriately, a signifier which has its locus within this hegemonic grammatical field. This is indeed an imprisoning grammar, for no parole is possible to those who speak this langue. For instance, ‘colonials’ may be discursively displaced (i.e. substituted) by ‘the colonial state’, and ‘natives’ by ‘subalterns’, so that it might be more profoundly revealed that it wasn’t colonials screwing natives at all but the colonial state screwing subalterns, and lots of times vice versa, even if the colonials didn’t seem to notice it. The word ‘resisted’ then takes on subtle shades: it can mean plain sullenness or rebellion, which in turn can be active or passive, everyday or apocalyptic, conscious or subconscious, economic or cultural, gendered or castrated. The possible types of this activity are far from exhausted, for no historian has so far discussed rebellion as a posthumous activity, indulged in by peasants only after death. This is not only to ignore the spirit of History, it is also to ignore the spirit of the dead; a proper exploration of this area might give new life to the notion of spirited resistance.[2]

Having understood this fundamental axiom of modern Indian history, the historian of modern India now needs only to locate a suitable field untrammelled by all previous historians, where he can dwell on the fascinating regional variations on the general grammar of this long and singular colonial rape of countryside natives. If Macaulay recorded the lays of ancient Rome, Indian historians, following Bonk ’im’s exhortations, are busily recording the ‘laying’ of modern India. The length and singularity of this ungendered experience, where sexual rape serves as the metonymic synecdoche of exploitation at all levels of the colonized body, only goes to prove that if History had a shape in modern India, it was that of the colonial phallus. This was the discursive displacement of the sword of Damocles in Bonk ’im’s Bengal, the shape that hung over Bank ’im, every ready to Bonk ’im. It is the image, furthermore, of the metaphoric possibility for a penetration that serves, once again, as the metonymic synecdoche for the many levels of penetration that were both achieved and resisted in the colonial period.

Notwithstanding the obvious fact that this maleficent object (i.e. both male and efficient) is a peculiarly colonial construct and is moreover only a latter-day discursive displacement of the signifier known as Shiva’s lingam in the historiography of ancient India, its frightening dimensions perhaps explain the reluctance of historians to get to grips with this elementary form that they themselves have laid bare within their discipline. But by grasping now that in the beginning there was Bonk ’im, and that He defines the colonial phallus as His Other, Indian historians are on the threshold of the most seminal and successful form of discursive rebellion that is epistemologically conceptualizable—a sweet, posthumous, gendered, socially constructed, intellectual revenge against the colonial organ(s) that threatened all our fathers who art in Bonk ’im.

[1]See her autobiography, The Larger than Life of Lavatri Lavatory Spewhack: chapter titled ‘My Collected Phonecalls and Faxes’. See also the epigraph to her chapter titled ‘Bhabha, Black Sheep, Have You Any Bull?’ (Kaaloo for Men, forthcoming).

[2]See also Lavatri Lavatory Spewhack, ‘“Goosey Goosey Gender”: Semantic Slippages, Metonymic Misconstructions: The Pubic Sphere and the Female Bawdy-Politic as Nationalist Playground’ (Kaaloo for Men, forthcoming until further notice).

(1995)

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