Friday, February 11, 2011

the ethnographer in his youth

S’adat Yar Khan “Rangin” (1755-1835), true to his takhallus or nom-de-plume, was a “Colorful” character; “A mercenary, a horse trader, and a poet (Kidwai & Vanita 2000, 221),” he lived and worked and traveled extensively in late-Mughal India. He could also be said to be the first ethnographer-poet, preceding Val Daniel by about two hundred years. He gave the name Rekhti to a genre of poetry that purports to be “women’s speech”, and dwells on women’s lives and concerns (Vanita 2004, 12). While similar poetry had been written before him (Naim 2001, 5), Rangin not only names but also invents, as it were, a new genre of poetry; which is an almost obsessive ethnographic documentation of women’s speech, rituals, beliefs, emotions and sexual practices, written with tenderness, sarcasm, irony and occasionally undisguised wickedness. His introduction to his Rekhti Divan [collection of poetry] describes a decidedly participant observatory approach. In the days of his youth, he declares, he used to spend a lot of time with khangis [married women from respectable households who surreptitiously practiced prostitution], and he used to pay almost voyeuristic attention to them and “pay close attention to the speech of the eloquent ones in that community.” [tamashbini khangiyon ki hi karta tha aur is qaum meN har ek fasih taqrir par dhyan dharta tha]. And due to this, he got much information about their idioms, language and phrases [un ki istilahoN, zabaan aur muhavaroN se bahut si khabar hui], which he then merely set in verse. He then gives the reason for including the Farhang-e Muhavarat-e Begamat, the Glossary of Ladies’ Idioms, in the preface to his book – his friends could not understand what he was writing, for there were words and phrases that they could not comprehend [lekin divan meN lughat aur muhavarat aise aise nazm hu’e the jo aksar yaroN se samjhe na jate]. And so, “Inevitably in this preface this slave has written descriptions of these subtle words in such a fashion that their meaning does not escape those who see and read this book.” [Nachareh jo daqiqi alfaz the in ko bande ne is dibacheh meN taur shar’a kar ke likh diya ke kisi lafz ke m’ani paRhne aur dekhne waloN se reh na ja’eN.]

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