Pragmatism and Steel: For Monica

by Karin Zitzewitz, Michigan State University

I “met” Monica, first, as the author of “Reclaiming the Public Sphere: Husain’s Portrayals of Saraswati and Draupadi,” a compact and astute art historical commentary on the accusations of obscenity that were lodged by Hindu nationalist agitators against Indian artist M. F. Husain, beginning in 1996.[i] A graduate student in anthropology, I was interested in visual culture as public culture—as a site of debate and contestation, and of complex and layered signs—and in Hindu nationalism. By the time I got to them around 3-4 years later, the attacks on Husain were a kind of classic of the Hindutva genre. They had been preceded by several similar, if less spectacular campaigns and followed by a constant stream of what we can anachronistically recognize as culture-war clickbait. Husain was a nearly perfect target: he was wealthy but approachable, a prominent supporter of the Congress party, and among the most famous Muslim public figures outside of Bollywood. Whether the nature of his artistic work was one of the attractions for the Hindutvavadis—followers of the ideology that underpins Hindu nationalism—was cause for significant debate. And it was that conversation in which Monica’s piece intervened. Continue reading “Pragmatism and Steel: For Monica”

Sardul Singh’s Chatri: Multiplicity and Intertextuality of Architectural Memory

by Saumya Agarwal, India Foundation for the Arts

Before starting my PhD at Heidelberg University, I had been a literary studies scholar. For my PhD, I chose to research the wall paintings of Shekhawati in Rajasthan. Unsure of which academic discipline this research should be pursued under, I was guided by Professor Monica Juneja, who encouraged me to conduct this study under the aegis of transcultural studies, supporting me by graciously accepting a student with no prior training in art history. True to the theoretical aspects of transculturality, her guidance allowed me to create research that is not neatly contained within the analytical and methodological boundaries that define disciplines.

Her own scholarship has been instrumental in familiarizing me not only with art historical analytical frameworks but the possibility of analysing the visual with and beyond these frames.

In this article, I would like to discuss an idea that Professor Juneja has engaged with previously—the layered multiplicity of architectural memory.[i] For this purpose, I will briefly analyse the mural programme decorating a mid-eighteenth century chatri (cenotaph), from North East Rajasthan, and its intertextuality with the performed tradition involving painted scrolls known as pars. Continue reading “Sardul Singh’s Chatri: Multiplicity and Intertextuality of Architectural Memory”

The India International Centre: Building for Communication

by Margrit Pernau, Max Planck Institute for Human Development Berlin

Buildings are more than mere stone and concrete; their design shapes the encounters taking place within and around them, while they, in turn, become infused with the memories of these encounters.  The India International Centre is one such space, and as so many other South Asia academics, Monica Juneja and I have spent many hours there, sipping tea in the lounge or sitting outside, exchanging the latest news, or planning new activities. Our conversations were always punctuated by friends and acquaintances passing by nodding their greetings or joining us, the rule limiting the number of chairs you are allowed to pull to your table gently enforced by the staff. We have shared many meals in the dining hall and the buffets that accompanied conferences and seminars there, and, of course, participated in the formal and informal discussions of these academic events.

The front entrance and driveway to the main building of the India International Centre in New Delhi. Author: Death Star Central, 2020. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons.

Continue reading “The India International Centre: Building for Communication”

An Unfinished Democratizing Intervention: History Lessons in the 21st century for School Children in India

by Kumkum Roy, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

I do not remember when I first met Monica. However, from the 1980s, when I first began teaching in a college at the University of Delhi, I do remember hearing about a bright, energetic teacher and scholar. Our more systematic interactions started when I joined the Department of History at the University. Monica was already teaching there, and with her I learned to negotiate the nitty gritty of academic life, participating in exciting and intense discussions around texts that she initiated with students which were rigorous, demanding, challenging, insightful, and nuanced.

Some years later, we met again as part of a large, unwieldy yet enthusiastic team of historians, teachers, and administrators, trying to put in place a new curriculum for Indian school children to be developed through a series of fresh textbooks. Monica’s contribution, a chapter on the French Revolution for students of Class IX, remains one of my favorites. Apart from her own contribution, she was constantly available over e-mail responding promptly, efficiently, and precisely to all kinds of queries; verifying, clarifying, qualifying, and refining half-baked chapters, with energy and professional commitment that was remarkable. It is this combination of deep and reliable scholarship, presented imaginatively and creatively, along with her warmth and affection that makes Monica special.

Book Cover of India and the Contemporary World I: Textbook in History for Class IX. © by NCERT 2006.

 

In what follows, I reflect on the moment in 2005 when the National Curriculum Framework for India was revised, and turn to the implications and possibilities that opened up for the Social Sciences. I will be discussing Monica’s chapter, locating it within a larger framework, and draw attention to subsequent developments which indicate that the intervention of 2005 will most probably be reversed in the near future. Continue reading “An Unfinished Democratizing Intervention: History Lessons in the 21st century for School Children in India”