Monday, March 7, 2011

Neeti Nair

Neeti Nair is the author of Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India.

From her Q & A at the Permanent Black blog:

Q: Partition history, like Holocaust history, is a terrain well trodden by some big-name Indian historians, and the archives on it have been considerably mined. What personal reasons and professional ambitions impelled you, a very young historian writing her PhD, to venture David-like among the Goliaths? And which historians/teachers (of Partition or otherwise) did you find most inspiring when setting about becoming a historian yourself?

A: My first seriously inspiring teachers were the Menon brothers—Siddhartha Menon in Rishi Valley School and Shivshankar Menon at St Stephen’s College. Both were able to communicate their love for history, for the unexpected and the complicated. They tended to be tentative in their conclusions, aware that history was open to several interpretations. At Tufts, where I did my MA and PhD, Sugata Bose taught a historiography seminar. I enjoyed his open approach to different schools of historiography and later appreciated his understated approach to publishing: “There is a difference between the thought process and the exposition.”

In my second year of the MA, Ayesha Jalal joined Tufts. She was intellectually rigorous, fiercely combative, provocative, and very different from anyone else I’d studied with. I was working on a seminar paper for her class on ‘Islam in South Asia’ when I became curious about how Punjabi Hindus negotiated their status as minorities in Muslim-majority Punjab. I looked at the secondary literature: there was nothing. I decided to work on it. I had just about decided I wanted to pursue a PhD and this topic began to have a life of its own. Initially I had intended it to be a social history around memories of Lahore, but the kind of material I encountered in the National Archives of India, Nehru Memorial Library, Delhi State Archives, and Punjab State Archives in Chandigarh and Patiala made it more political than social history. Yes, I saw some very illustrious names ahead of mine and it is an intimidating field. But it was simply old-fashioned curiosity that led me down this path, nothing as grand as ambition!

My most important mentor has been...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue