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Universal Within: Local, Regional, National


Seema Alavi

A HUNDRED HORIZONS. THE INDIAN OCEAN IN THE AGE OF GLOBAL EMPIRE
By Sugata Bose
Permanent Black, Delhi, 2006, pp. 332, Rs. 695.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 10 October 2006

This book brings the Indian Ocean forefront to the study of Empire, anti-colonial nationalism and ideas about globalization. It views the Ocean as the site where the local, regional and national intermingled with ideas of the universal. Together they constituted a sub-culture of tremendous economic and intellectual potential that could challenge the western global Empire. Sugata Bose focuses on this sub-culture that was the underbelly of Empire and sees it as an important propellant of anti-colonial nationalism. He laments that South Asian historiography has failed to integrate this referent to its larger narrative of nationalism and the formation of the nation state. He regrets that it has remained outside the purview of ideas of globalization as well.   Bose offers a scathing critique of territorial nationalism that has so far framed the researches of most brands of south Asian studies. And he hits out at the more recent postmodern forays into the history of the nation seen as a ‘fragment’ in what is viewed as an elite western derived nationalist discourse. Instead, Bose admirably connects the history of the Indian Ocean to that of landlocked India. He makes a strong case for seeing the real and imagined nation beyond the confines of territorially bound nation states. According to him territorial nationalism was sustained by its simultaneous contestations with the culturally and religiously defined ideas of universalism that are best enacted in the interregional space of the Indian Ocean. He concludes that the interconnectedness of the land and the Ocean offers a window into the myriad articulations of universalism, globalization and modernity that date the pre-colonial era. They continue, albeit reformulated, in the global age of Empire and make us rethink the monopolistic claim of the West on these concepts.   This book comes as a refreshing breather to students of South Asian history who have had an overdose of colonial subjecthood narratives that have coloured both elite and subaltern narratives of nationalism and the nation state. It opens new ways of looking at the ingeniousness of subjects in the heyday of global Empire. Bose provides answers to questions that all of us have been hesitant to ask so far: How far did people carry the colonial subject burden? According to Bose as unitary sovereignty and princely autocracy substituted the pre-colonial idea of shared sovereignty, colonial India and its subjects increasingly defended Britain’s imperial frontiers: the Gulf sheikhdoms now had British officials ...


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