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Monday, 6 March 2006
Fitzgerald on Janaki Bakhle

Hugh Fitzgerald at Campus Watch:

The wife of a Columbia University administrator, Assistant Professor Janaki Bakhle shares the teaching duties for a basic course with Joseph Massad, called "Introduction to Major Topics in the Civilizations of the Middle East and India" in which students explore a "range of cultural issues, institutional forces, textual sources, and figures of authority."

Bakhle's field is Indian Music, a field that one would suspect would not lend itself to politicizing. But even here politics manages to intrude. She has just published a book called Two Men and Music: Nationalism in the Making of an Indian Classical Tradition. As one might expect it is Muslims who were excluded in the "construction" of modern Indian music, which was Hindu, Brahmanic and elitist. The colonial and nationalist "projects" (which along with the term "construction" reduces the overwhelming task of creating a country to something like a hobbyist building a spice rack in the basement) sought classical India's origins, and thus unfairly skipped over Islam's "contribution."

Of course the "colonialism" in question is not that of Aurangzeb and the Muslim conquerors, who were the first on the subcontinent to practice colonialism in the classic sense – with exploitation of local populations, seizure of booty, and transplantation of colonists from outside – but rather the British "colonialists" who restored and revived, by ending Mughal rule, Hindustani culture.

The sinister linkages between colonialism and the present are pervasive in Bakhle's eyes. On April 2, 2004, at the Graduate Students' Colloquium at the University of Pennsylvania, she gave a talk on music and its role "in the process of nation-building in colonial India." She "concluded her talk by pointing out the linkages between the notation/classification of music, its performance and the political history of colonial India."

One has the feeling that Bakhle is interested in Indian music because – well, because she is interested in Indian Music. And one feels further that there is something half-hearted about going through the motions of relating that music to "colonialism." But what can be unrelated to colonialism at Columbia? Perhaps its much-debated plans to expand its campus, although upon further reflection, what could be a more perfect example of Columbia's own colonialism and nation-building?

It is disturbing that Janaki Bakhle, the wife of a Columbia administrator, was part of the Committee chosen to investigate charges of intimidation and indoctrination at MEALAC. She had signed an anti-Israel petition; she is a close colleague of Massad, one of those under investigation, and her future at Columbia depends, in large part, on the goodwill of three senior professors – Khalidi, Saliba, and Dabashi, two of whom have been charged with violating standards of conduct. To make matters worse, Khalidi is a friend, colleague, and long-time supporter of Massad's.

Posted on 03/06/2006 10:40 AM by Rebecca Bynum
6 Mar 2006
Send an emailMarisol Seibold
I had to make an effort to keep my eyes from glazing over while reading the review of the UPenn lecture.

The review completely dances around the point of the book, as described in the OUP link; as a result, Bakhle's presentation sounds even more like one of those computer-generated "papers" in post-modern discourse (keep hitting reload) than it probably was (if the OUP blurb was any indication).

This suggests that the UPenn reviewer either wanted to avoid controversy, did not grasp the subject enough to describe the discussion, or had their eyes glaze over early on, as I had to try and keep mine from doing.

While it's not inconceivable that a newly independent, mostly Hindu India (also newly separated from Muslim Pakistan) would focus on Hindu characteristics, what I'd like to see from Bakhle is some evidence.

Show us some examples of Muslim/Arabic/Persian retentions in Indian classical music. Show us the marginalized, dissident Muslim musicians who kept on doing their thing. Show us examples of Muslim music. It's the idiom, not the player, that defines the music, so even if there was a "preponderance of Muslim practicioners," if they were playing Hindustani/Karnatic instruments and repertoire... why?

Maybe the book does address these things-- maybe both the UPenn review and OUP blurb were just not well written. But both point to more talk than evidence.

I can't claim to be completely fair in my judgement until I've seen the book, if I can manage to find a library copy. But... many red flags have been raised.