Sunday, October 25, 2009

the small voice of history, uncannily present

This is an extract from a paper I gave last week at the South Asia Graduate Student Forum at Columbia.

... Nanhe Miyan is the name of the first jinn which is encountered on entering Firoz Shah Kotla. His place is a small alcove just off what would have been a large entry gate to the citadel... Nanhe Miyan was a name known in eighteenth century Delhi and Lucknow, as Intizar Husain tells us in his literary memoir of Delhi, Dilli Tha Jiska Naam[That Which Was Named Delhi].

“There were some special named jinns who had achieved a lot of fame among the ladies. They were Shah Dariya, Shah Sikandar, Zain KhaN, Sadar e JahaN, Nanhe Miyan, Chahaltan; but the most fame was achieved by Shaikh Saddu. Mention of this can be found in the satire of Sauda [1713-1781]. Rangeen [1755-1835] has also given a reference to this –

Kisi ko ji se hai iKhlas Shaikh Saddu se
Kahe hai aap ko Nanhe Miyan ki haram koi

Someone is sincerely devoted to Shaikh Saddu with their life
Someone calls themselves the sanctuary of Nanhe Miyan

It seems that the celebrity of Shaikh Saddu and Nanhe Miyan was from Delhi to Lucknow (Husain 2005, 115-116).” What might have been the subject of satire in late Mughal Delhi and Lucknow, and later, a subject of censure for the reformist Hali in the 19th century (see Minault 1984), is a source of wonder to me. In a city destroyed repeatedly, the name of a jinn survives. And what an apt name it is too. Nanhe MiyaN. Little Mister. The small voice of history. The presence of the jinn makes possible an archive of the disquiet of the contemporary city, the stories of grief and loss and longing, the stories of the everyday injustices of working class life, which never make it to the newspapers...
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