Literatures of the East: India and Arabia

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSUS1EL9094

Semester and Year Offered: Winter Semester 2020
Course Coordinator and Team: Shad Naved
Email of course coordinator: shad[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in
Pre-requisites: None.

Aim: This course tries to imagine what a ‘native library of India and Arabia’, dismissed by Lord Macaulay in 1835, might contain. It is a modest attempt to acquaint students of English and other disciplines with key texts from the premodern Arabo-Persian and Hindi-Urdu literary corpuses. The course will also train students in the protocols of comparative literature, specifically around the following questions: How do we understand more than one literature as part of our cultural past? How do poetry and tales remain fresh by using the same old themes?
Main modules:
1. Introduction to Al-Hind Some examples of pre-modern India or “al-Hind” as seen in key prose narratives and poems.
2. Tales and Fables The tale is a popular form of prose narrative through which others reflect on India and India reflects on itself.
3. Poems in Two Lines Love poetry is purely subjective and not interested in the world outside. Specimens from the ghazal and Hindi doha tradition will be studied here to rethink this view.
4. India before India We will study some critical essays by scholars thinking about how the imagination of an Indian culture emerged through literatures of the past.
Assessment Details with weights:

  • Response sheet 1 (10%): close reading of a text (22 January)
  • Response sheet 2 (10%): close reading of a commentary on a text (15 February)
  • Mid-term exam (40%): in class examination (1 March)
  • Final written assignment (40%): final submissions will require draft submissions first and reworking these based on the instructors’ comments. (1800 words) In cases where students can demonstrate proficiency in any of the course-readings’ languages, a work of translation may be considered in lieu of the final written assignment; the final decision on this rests with the course coordinator.

Reading List:
Module 1. Introduction to Al-Hind

  • Al-Biruni, Albiruni’s India, trans. Edward Sachau. London: Kegan Paul, 1910 (short excerpt)
  • Habib, Mohammad. Hazrat Amir Khusrau of Delhi. Bombay: D.B. Taraporevala Sons, 1927 (excerpts from Khusrau’s prose works).

Module 2. Tales and Fables

  • Haddawy, Husain, and Muhsin Mahdi. The Arabian Nights: Alf Laylah Wa-Laylah (trans.). New York: WW Norton & Co, 2008. [selections]
  • Jayasi, Malik Muhammad. Padmavati, trans. A.G.Shirreff. Calcutta, 1944 (excerpted stanzas).

Module 3. Poems in Two Lines

  • Selected ghazals from Khusrau, Hafez, Vali and Momin.
  • Bihari’s selected dohas from the Satasai.

Module 4. India before India

  • Sharma, Sunil, Mughal Arcadia: Persian Literature in an Indian Court. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2017.
  • Mufti, Aamir. “Towards a Lyric History of India.” boundary 2, vol. 31, no. 2 (2004): 245-74.

Suggested readings:

  • Jones, William, “On the Poetry of the Eastern Nations”, in Poems, Consisting Chiefly of Translations from the Asiatick Tongues (1772). Said, Edward, Orientalism (1978).
  • Thapar, Romila, Somanatha: The Many Voices of a History (2004).
  • Wink, Andre, Al-Hind: The Making of the Indo-Islamic World (1997