Various research pathways seem to be leading me towards Pondicherry at the moment.
Firstly, over the last few years I’ve been dragged more and more (not unwillingly) into thinking about the historical geographies of resistance to colonialism in India. I don’t know whether this is something of a typical reaction for the early career academic, as I’ve ended up moving quite far away (in topic at least) from the research I did on contemporary Tibetan politics for my PhD. The paper I posted about last week was part of this transition, thinking about the politics of the RIN Mutiny in February 1946, and comes from research funded by the RGS-IBG a few years ago. This transition towards historical geography has been challenging and interesting – archives don’t present the same problems of ethnographic research which I faced in my PhD, but present plenty of others!
I’ve also been lucky enough to be awarded a fellowship this summer from the British Association of South Asian Studies and European Consortium for Asian Field Study to work in the École française d’Extrême-Orient in Pondicherry. I’m going to be looking at anti-colonial activism across southern India, particularly groups of radical Indians whose activity meant they escaped from British India to hide in exile in French Pondicherry. The most famous of these was Aurobindo Ghosh (later Sri Aurobindo the spiritual leader), but there were quite a few others, and I’m particularly interested at the moment in Subramanya Bharati (sometimes called Bharatiyar) who was a Tamil poet and nationalist writer (who died after being attacked by a temple elephant in Madras!). I’m interested in the ways which these activists were both in exile, yet in their homeland, which throws up some interesting geographical and political questions.
Finally, there’s a project going on in Liverpool at the moment called Envisioning the Indian City. This is run by colleagues from across the University and in India, but also has some Phd funding attached to it (with a deadline of next Monday if you want to apply!). The project has already had some reading group sessions, but there’s one in Liverpool next week, which looks like it has some really great speakers attached to it, including Steve Legg from Nottingham.
All of this means that, from not really knowing much about Pondicherry and French India this time last year, I’m rapidly learning lots! I’ll be based at the EFEO for about 6 weeks this summer, and am really looking forward to spending some time there, and also brushing up on the smattering of Tamil I learned volunteering in a slum in Bangalore after I finished my undergraduate degree! Hopefully, this time will also give me plenty of time to blog a bit more regularly about the research I’m doing, as well as provide loads of great photo opportunities!