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Asma Rasheed

THE FIRST FIRANGIS: REMARKABLE STORIES OF HEROES, HEALERS, CHARLATANS, COURTESANS & OTHER FOREIGNERS WHO BECAME INDIAN
By Jonathan Gil Harris
Aleph Book Company, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 317, Rs. 495.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 10 October 2015

This archives’ role in the subsequent writings on Indian history and historiography are valuable. In another essay, ‘The Policing of Tradition’, Dirks shows how the category of ‘brahman’ was defined by a variety of interventions by colonial authorities. His work is also valuable as a comment by a serious historian on the historiography of India as well. In another essay, ‘In Near Ruins’, Dirks casts a broad look on the twentieth century from a postcolonial perspective. Other essays look at the role of the study of South Asia in the American academe. The wider interests of Dirks while engaging with critical theory also become evident in the lecture on Franz Boas that is included in this collection. (Boas was the founding father of anthropology at Columbia University). The book is a terrific introduction to the versatile scholarship of Dirks presenting a precise summary of his ideas. The fact that some of these essays have not been published in these forms before should be an added incentive for them to be read. Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed has a postgraduate degree in history from the University of Oxford and is currently a journalist with Frontline based in Bangalore. he First Firangis tracks the lives of people who are not even non-footnotes in History: men and women who travelled to the Indian subcontinent as hakeems and healers, jewellers and painters, poets and priests, slaves and soldiers before and alongside the advent of ‘official’ colonialism. Gil Harris’s verbal montage and shifts turn a reader’s gaze from one scenario to another, as the narrative unravels mainstream ways of understanding these lives. Above all, though, The First Firangis draws on the elasticity of the 16th and 17th century origins of the word firangi in ‘counter-intuitive’ ways to ask: who, or what, does it mean to be ‘authentically Indian’? The book’s narratives cut across lives that journeyed, from Africa, Central and West Asia and Europe, to different regions of the subcontinent over different times: from Ahmadnagar, Bombay and Goa in the west to Hyderabad, Madras, Kottakal and Kanyakumari in the south, to Agra, Delhi and Lahore in the north to Chittagong in the East. Gil Harris organizes these lives around ideas or elements— becoming another, arriving, running, renaming, re-clothing, swerving, weathering, being interrupted—and juxtaposes, briefly, his own life and work in twenty-first century India through each of these sections. This deft strategy allows the ...


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