Beyond Tranquebar: Grappling across Cultural Borders in South India

Research output: Book/ReportAnthologyResearchpeer-review

Standard

Beyond Tranquebar : Grappling across Cultural Borders in South India. / Fihl, Esther (Editor); Venkatachalapathy, A. R. (Editor).

New Delhi : Orient BlackSwan, 2014. 644 p.

Research output: Book/ReportAnthologyResearchpeer-review

Harvard

Fihl, E & Venkatachalapathy, AR (eds) 2014, Beyond Tranquebar: Grappling across Cultural Borders in South India. Orient BlackSwan, New Delhi.

APA

Fihl, E., & Venkatachalapathy, A. R. (Eds.) (2014). Beyond Tranquebar: Grappling across Cultural Borders in South India. New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan.

Vancouver

Fihl E, (ed.), Venkatachalapathy AR, (ed.). Beyond Tranquebar: Grappling across Cultural Borders in South India. New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan, 2014. 644 p.

Author

Fihl, Esther (Editor) ; Venkatachalapathy, A. R. (Editor). / Beyond Tranquebar : Grappling across Cultural Borders in South India. New Delhi : Orient BlackSwan, 2014. 644 p.

Bibtex

@book{273949bb93514d5db5ebc1ac436fb6e4,
title = "Beyond Tranquebar: Grappling across Cultural Borders in South India",
abstract = "Book review - Economic & Political Weekly, november 1, 2014, vol xlix nos 43 & 44In the second book Esther Fihl and A R Venkatachalapathy give us a very valuable compilation of essays which promote the idea of a total social fact, as Marcel Mauss advocated a century ago.The invitees to this volume are able to work with the idea of a large span of time, which concerns itself with the overlordship of Denmark, over a sea port which came to be known as Tranquebar. How delightful, therefore, to receive this major contribution to our understanding of the Danes in India, thought to have been passive colonisers in contrast to the British and the Portuguese, and the Danish contribution to education and politics. The most obscure facts are highlighted, the most intricate histories are unravelled.I do find it odd that the writers, except a few, have not referred to Gross, Kumaradas and Liebau’s monumental work of 2006 Halle and the Beginning of Protestant Christianity in India but what may be a classic to some may seem out of the boundary for others. It is unlikely this work was not available readily to the writers most of whom are of Danish origin, or live in Denmark.Leaving that minor point aside, I would say that the mission history essays are interesting because the pattern of struggle of individual missionaries, the very early history of printing, the dilemmas of language learning, the portfolio of knowledge including native scholars and translators and native catechists, seems now a well-worn trajectory in comparative history and ethnography. Yet, biographies are interesting, and the volatile relationship of differing cultures and the variability of these histories because it is real people we are reading about, makes each essay extremely valuable. There is not a dull moment, since conventional historiography is dispatched with by juxtaposing a wide variety of cultural frames of reference. The linearity of historical readings which could give one a sense of d{\'e}j{\`a} vu is made astonishing by the extravagant use of material culture as an index of one’s grasp. This could be about kingship and the use of scientific knowledge, as much as it is about proximity and friendship and the love of books. It could be about the metal stylus and the palm leaf as vectors of new meanings and new scripts, or about the way in which previous texts enter new ones, when printing makes its presence felt in the first decade of the 18th century.Dexterity and PassionEach author has an obsession, and he or she takes the reader into the smallest whorl of his/her imagination. Behind this lies a great deal of dexterity and passion, which will make this book a good read for lay people as much as academics. The technical insights into what was thought to be a passive colonialism lasting about two centuries, and overlapping with French, Portuguese and British interests are quite unusual. Who would have thought that peasant communities in Denmark imported indigo in the 18th century because they found the ink to be more dramatic than the woad dye they got from their own gardens. Museums exhibiting these textures are still rapt with the vibrancy of those hues, which were thought to be a consequence of the success of trade.The contemporary readings of caste, class and occupation in Taragambadi, (a place name known to locals, but not to be found in the book’s index!) are also useful, since they highlight the issues relating to nature and culture, by looking at how people demand to be identified and resuscitated when there is a danger of cultural or demographic extinction. Fihl’s essay is remarkable in discussing the fisher people and the 2004 tsunami in consummate detail, with regard to aid strategies on both sides of the coin. Similarly, the essays which look at the politics of gift giving in medievalism when the ambassadors try to establish a rapport with the local king Serfoji are really engaging. Nothing could be more amusing than the lack of understanding, or perhaps the subtle way in which the exchanges represent the ambiguity of relationships, the desires and the baulking of them. What seems desirable to one may very well be an insult to the other in a hierarchy which is read on different planks.Similarly the essays which establish that concepts can be transformed if we attempt to rework them in modern terms, while analysing the contexts in which they were first generated are extremely interesting. This could be with regard to material culture, or to political relations. It could define how people view one another in various roles and relations. What is gift, what is tribute, what is a tax, what is booty, what is a threat? The author of these versatile texts on how kingship defines relationships in an instant is confident that if we are to understand imperial histories, it must not be from the point of view of the coloniser only, but essentially from those who do not see themselves to be colonised and emancipate themselves into a dialogic role by default. The history of many relationships may be thus confounded, where the enemy becomes the protector, by his charm, his guile, his willingness to adapt to the new circumstances. Indians are very familiar with this tactic, where overlordship cannot be understood in a single facet; it draws in a whole array of actors and contestants. Max Weber’s multicausality is thus reorganised in terms of the historical moment which is really that of accident or of probability. Do we have control over the facts?Persuasive QualityThe authors in this volume use experientiality as their test case of what it means to be human. There is a certain pliancy, a persuasive quality to the construction of narratives, and each writer draws you into the postmodern trapeze of working with the familiar, but setting up a trope which establishes the uniqueness of the project. Since it is a collaboration between writers who know each other collegially, they feel confident about intermeshing their interests, almost colloquially and without jargon. This is probably because their familiarity with the archives in Copenhagen and in Tamil Nadu are predisposed by a homogeneous project: making what is familiar to them, familiar to us. For these reasons, the book reads like an integrated volume, a task which is usually very hard to accomplish, rather than a mere compilation of essays.Its shadow or penumbra lies in the lack of focus on how the transition between the Dutch and the British happened. Any schoolbook would say that the tumultuous years of war ranging from the Battle of Plassey onwards make the domination of the British in India paramount. What the Danish scholars seem to be inscribing is the multi vocality of the real history, and the crossing over of borders, either through conquest or famine. This history is still to be written for Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The contours of it are suggested by the authors, but the real post-mortem of Collingwoodian type history is something desirable, when the boundaries are understood to be cultural boundaries, and not physical ones. Of course, the Dutch in Sri Lanka have appeared to us in fiction and anthropology, and that kind of intricate detail is not yet available to Indians for this long forgotten past.Since the collection has been edited very consummately, each essay flows well into the next, so that the repetitions of data are almost non-existent. I found Venkatachalapathy’s comment “Further exploration, based on the fashioning of prose in the Tamil Language, the creation of a new vocabulary to express Christian theology, the changing nature of translation, etc, is also possible” a little obscure (p 492). Was he conjuring the ghost of that amazing historian of religions, D Dennis Hudson of Smith College, Massachusetts, who wrote some of the most amazing works on this subject in the 1970s?Similarly, Rajesh Kocchar gives us the biographies of missionaries and institutionalisation of western education, but does not point to the real debate around how secularisation takes place, as an aspect of mission history and colonialism, since the relation between Macaulay and Bentinck is too complex! If the volume with its largeness of scope, and its myriad interests is to be highlighted, these blurred paragraphs, so far and few, must be ignored, and the new texts, made possible through multi-linguistic endeavours, and perhaps European unification, made immediately available to classroom teaching in the humanities and social science. Congratulations to the editors for no printers’ devils.Susan Visvanathan (susanvisvanathan@gmail. com) teaches at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.",
keywords = "Faculty of Humanities, Danish colonialism, Cultural heritage, Post-colonial studies, Cultural Encounters, print culture, Christian mission, Space Perception, Place perception, Tsunami, economic transactions, disputed moralities, Untouchability, Caste, temple women, First contact, Ziegenbalg, scientific network, Nicobars, Serampore, Tamil Nadu, Tharangampadi, 2004 tsunami, cultural heritage tourism, Protestant Christianity, missionary history, printing press, India, Danish empire, colonial history, ethnography, history, Cultural studies, Cultural contacts, cultural encounters",
editor = "Esther Fihl and Venkatachalapathy, {A. R.}",
note = "Book Description by BahriSons Booksellers: A rare Indian colony of the Danish empire. A place that fostered the modern printing press and Protestant Christianity in the subcontinent. A tourist haunt that was ravaged by the tsunami in 2004. This is Tranquebar, known as Tharangampadi, a charming coastal town in present-day Tamil Nadu.",
year = "2014",
language = "English",
isbn = "9788125054375",
publisher = "Orient BlackSwan",

}

RIS

TY - BOOK

T1 - Beyond Tranquebar

T2 - Grappling across Cultural Borders in South India

A2 - Fihl, Esther

A2 - Venkatachalapathy, A. R.

N1 - Book Description by BahriSons Booksellers: A rare Indian colony of the Danish empire. A place that fostered the modern printing press and Protestant Christianity in the subcontinent. A tourist haunt that was ravaged by the tsunami in 2004. This is Tranquebar, known as Tharangampadi, a charming coastal town in present-day Tamil Nadu.

PY - 2014

Y1 - 2014

N2 - Book review - Economic & Political Weekly, november 1, 2014, vol xlix nos 43 & 44In the second book Esther Fihl and A R Venkatachalapathy give us a very valuable compilation of essays which promote the idea of a total social fact, as Marcel Mauss advocated a century ago.The invitees to this volume are able to work with the idea of a large span of time, which concerns itself with the overlordship of Denmark, over a sea port which came to be known as Tranquebar. How delightful, therefore, to receive this major contribution to our understanding of the Danes in India, thought to have been passive colonisers in contrast to the British and the Portuguese, and the Danish contribution to education and politics. The most obscure facts are highlighted, the most intricate histories are unravelled.I do find it odd that the writers, except a few, have not referred to Gross, Kumaradas and Liebau’s monumental work of 2006 Halle and the Beginning of Protestant Christianity in India but what may be a classic to some may seem out of the boundary for others. It is unlikely this work was not available readily to the writers most of whom are of Danish origin, or live in Denmark.Leaving that minor point aside, I would say that the mission history essays are interesting because the pattern of struggle of individual missionaries, the very early history of printing, the dilemmas of language learning, the portfolio of knowledge including native scholars and translators and native catechists, seems now a well-worn trajectory in comparative history and ethnography. Yet, biographies are interesting, and the volatile relationship of differing cultures and the variability of these histories because it is real people we are reading about, makes each essay extremely valuable. There is not a dull moment, since conventional historiography is dispatched with by juxtaposing a wide variety of cultural frames of reference. The linearity of historical readings which could give one a sense of déjà vu is made astonishing by the extravagant use of material culture as an index of one’s grasp. This could be about kingship and the use of scientific knowledge, as much as it is about proximity and friendship and the love of books. It could be about the metal stylus and the palm leaf as vectors of new meanings and new scripts, or about the way in which previous texts enter new ones, when printing makes its presence felt in the first decade of the 18th century.Dexterity and PassionEach author has an obsession, and he or she takes the reader into the smallest whorl of his/her imagination. Behind this lies a great deal of dexterity and passion, which will make this book a good read for lay people as much as academics. The technical insights into what was thought to be a passive colonialism lasting about two centuries, and overlapping with French, Portuguese and British interests are quite unusual. Who would have thought that peasant communities in Denmark imported indigo in the 18th century because they found the ink to be more dramatic than the woad dye they got from their own gardens. Museums exhibiting these textures are still rapt with the vibrancy of those hues, which were thought to be a consequence of the success of trade.The contemporary readings of caste, class and occupation in Taragambadi, (a place name known to locals, but not to be found in the book’s index!) are also useful, since they highlight the issues relating to nature and culture, by looking at how people demand to be identified and resuscitated when there is a danger of cultural or demographic extinction. Fihl’s essay is remarkable in discussing the fisher people and the 2004 tsunami in consummate detail, with regard to aid strategies on both sides of the coin. Similarly, the essays which look at the politics of gift giving in medievalism when the ambassadors try to establish a rapport with the local king Serfoji are really engaging. Nothing could be more amusing than the lack of understanding, or perhaps the subtle way in which the exchanges represent the ambiguity of relationships, the desires and the baulking of them. What seems desirable to one may very well be an insult to the other in a hierarchy which is read on different planks.Similarly the essays which establish that concepts can be transformed if we attempt to rework them in modern terms, while analysing the contexts in which they were first generated are extremely interesting. This could be with regard to material culture, or to political relations. It could define how people view one another in various roles and relations. What is gift, what is tribute, what is a tax, what is booty, what is a threat? The author of these versatile texts on how kingship defines relationships in an instant is confident that if we are to understand imperial histories, it must not be from the point of view of the coloniser only, but essentially from those who do not see themselves to be colonised and emancipate themselves into a dialogic role by default. The history of many relationships may be thus confounded, where the enemy becomes the protector, by his charm, his guile, his willingness to adapt to the new circumstances. Indians are very familiar with this tactic, where overlordship cannot be understood in a single facet; it draws in a whole array of actors and contestants. Max Weber’s multicausality is thus reorganised in terms of the historical moment which is really that of accident or of probability. Do we have control over the facts?Persuasive QualityThe authors in this volume use experientiality as their test case of what it means to be human. There is a certain pliancy, a persuasive quality to the construction of narratives, and each writer draws you into the postmodern trapeze of working with the familiar, but setting up a trope which establishes the uniqueness of the project. Since it is a collaboration between writers who know each other collegially, they feel confident about intermeshing their interests, almost colloquially and without jargon. This is probably because their familiarity with the archives in Copenhagen and in Tamil Nadu are predisposed by a homogeneous project: making what is familiar to them, familiar to us. For these reasons, the book reads like an integrated volume, a task which is usually very hard to accomplish, rather than a mere compilation of essays.Its shadow or penumbra lies in the lack of focus on how the transition between the Dutch and the British happened. Any schoolbook would say that the tumultuous years of war ranging from the Battle of Plassey onwards make the domination of the British in India paramount. What the Danish scholars seem to be inscribing is the multi vocality of the real history, and the crossing over of borders, either through conquest or famine. This history is still to be written for Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The contours of it are suggested by the authors, but the real post-mortem of Collingwoodian type history is something desirable, when the boundaries are understood to be cultural boundaries, and not physical ones. Of course, the Dutch in Sri Lanka have appeared to us in fiction and anthropology, and that kind of intricate detail is not yet available to Indians for this long forgotten past.Since the collection has been edited very consummately, each essay flows well into the next, so that the repetitions of data are almost non-existent. I found Venkatachalapathy’s comment “Further exploration, based on the fashioning of prose in the Tamil Language, the creation of a new vocabulary to express Christian theology, the changing nature of translation, etc, is also possible” a little obscure (p 492). Was he conjuring the ghost of that amazing historian of religions, D Dennis Hudson of Smith College, Massachusetts, who wrote some of the most amazing works on this subject in the 1970s?Similarly, Rajesh Kocchar gives us the biographies of missionaries and institutionalisation of western education, but does not point to the real debate around how secularisation takes place, as an aspect of mission history and colonialism, since the relation between Macaulay and Bentinck is too complex! If the volume with its largeness of scope, and its myriad interests is to be highlighted, these blurred paragraphs, so far and few, must be ignored, and the new texts, made possible through multi-linguistic endeavours, and perhaps European unification, made immediately available to classroom teaching in the humanities and social science. Congratulations to the editors for no printers’ devils.Susan Visvanathan (susanvisvanathan@gmail. com) teaches at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

AB - Book review - Economic & Political Weekly, november 1, 2014, vol xlix nos 43 & 44In the second book Esther Fihl and A R Venkatachalapathy give us a very valuable compilation of essays which promote the idea of a total social fact, as Marcel Mauss advocated a century ago.The invitees to this volume are able to work with the idea of a large span of time, which concerns itself with the overlordship of Denmark, over a sea port which came to be known as Tranquebar. How delightful, therefore, to receive this major contribution to our understanding of the Danes in India, thought to have been passive colonisers in contrast to the British and the Portuguese, and the Danish contribution to education and politics. The most obscure facts are highlighted, the most intricate histories are unravelled.I do find it odd that the writers, except a few, have not referred to Gross, Kumaradas and Liebau’s monumental work of 2006 Halle and the Beginning of Protestant Christianity in India but what may be a classic to some may seem out of the boundary for others. It is unlikely this work was not available readily to the writers most of whom are of Danish origin, or live in Denmark.Leaving that minor point aside, I would say that the mission history essays are interesting because the pattern of struggle of individual missionaries, the very early history of printing, the dilemmas of language learning, the portfolio of knowledge including native scholars and translators and native catechists, seems now a well-worn trajectory in comparative history and ethnography. Yet, biographies are interesting, and the volatile relationship of differing cultures and the variability of these histories because it is real people we are reading about, makes each essay extremely valuable. There is not a dull moment, since conventional historiography is dispatched with by juxtaposing a wide variety of cultural frames of reference. The linearity of historical readings which could give one a sense of déjà vu is made astonishing by the extravagant use of material culture as an index of one’s grasp. This could be about kingship and the use of scientific knowledge, as much as it is about proximity and friendship and the love of books. It could be about the metal stylus and the palm leaf as vectors of new meanings and new scripts, or about the way in which previous texts enter new ones, when printing makes its presence felt in the first decade of the 18th century.Dexterity and PassionEach author has an obsession, and he or she takes the reader into the smallest whorl of his/her imagination. Behind this lies a great deal of dexterity and passion, which will make this book a good read for lay people as much as academics. The technical insights into what was thought to be a passive colonialism lasting about two centuries, and overlapping with French, Portuguese and British interests are quite unusual. Who would have thought that peasant communities in Denmark imported indigo in the 18th century because they found the ink to be more dramatic than the woad dye they got from their own gardens. Museums exhibiting these textures are still rapt with the vibrancy of those hues, which were thought to be a consequence of the success of trade.The contemporary readings of caste, class and occupation in Taragambadi, (a place name known to locals, but not to be found in the book’s index!) are also useful, since they highlight the issues relating to nature and culture, by looking at how people demand to be identified and resuscitated when there is a danger of cultural or demographic extinction. Fihl’s essay is remarkable in discussing the fisher people and the 2004 tsunami in consummate detail, with regard to aid strategies on both sides of the coin. Similarly, the essays which look at the politics of gift giving in medievalism when the ambassadors try to establish a rapport with the local king Serfoji are really engaging. Nothing could be more amusing than the lack of understanding, or perhaps the subtle way in which the exchanges represent the ambiguity of relationships, the desires and the baulking of them. What seems desirable to one may very well be an insult to the other in a hierarchy which is read on different planks.Similarly the essays which establish that concepts can be transformed if we attempt to rework them in modern terms, while analysing the contexts in which they were first generated are extremely interesting. This could be with regard to material culture, or to political relations. It could define how people view one another in various roles and relations. What is gift, what is tribute, what is a tax, what is booty, what is a threat? The author of these versatile texts on how kingship defines relationships in an instant is confident that if we are to understand imperial histories, it must not be from the point of view of the coloniser only, but essentially from those who do not see themselves to be colonised and emancipate themselves into a dialogic role by default. The history of many relationships may be thus confounded, where the enemy becomes the protector, by his charm, his guile, his willingness to adapt to the new circumstances. Indians are very familiar with this tactic, where overlordship cannot be understood in a single facet; it draws in a whole array of actors and contestants. Max Weber’s multicausality is thus reorganised in terms of the historical moment which is really that of accident or of probability. Do we have control over the facts?Persuasive QualityThe authors in this volume use experientiality as their test case of what it means to be human. There is a certain pliancy, a persuasive quality to the construction of narratives, and each writer draws you into the postmodern trapeze of working with the familiar, but setting up a trope which establishes the uniqueness of the project. Since it is a collaboration between writers who know each other collegially, they feel confident about intermeshing their interests, almost colloquially and without jargon. This is probably because their familiarity with the archives in Copenhagen and in Tamil Nadu are predisposed by a homogeneous project: making what is familiar to them, familiar to us. For these reasons, the book reads like an integrated volume, a task which is usually very hard to accomplish, rather than a mere compilation of essays.Its shadow or penumbra lies in the lack of focus on how the transition between the Dutch and the British happened. Any schoolbook would say that the tumultuous years of war ranging from the Battle of Plassey onwards make the domination of the British in India paramount. What the Danish scholars seem to be inscribing is the multi vocality of the real history, and the crossing over of borders, either through conquest or famine. This history is still to be written for Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The contours of it are suggested by the authors, but the real post-mortem of Collingwoodian type history is something desirable, when the boundaries are understood to be cultural boundaries, and not physical ones. Of course, the Dutch in Sri Lanka have appeared to us in fiction and anthropology, and that kind of intricate detail is not yet available to Indians for this long forgotten past.Since the collection has been edited very consummately, each essay flows well into the next, so that the repetitions of data are almost non-existent. I found Venkatachalapathy’s comment “Further exploration, based on the fashioning of prose in the Tamil Language, the creation of a new vocabulary to express Christian theology, the changing nature of translation, etc, is also possible” a little obscure (p 492). Was he conjuring the ghost of that amazing historian of religions, D Dennis Hudson of Smith College, Massachusetts, who wrote some of the most amazing works on this subject in the 1970s?Similarly, Rajesh Kocchar gives us the biographies of missionaries and institutionalisation of western education, but does not point to the real debate around how secularisation takes place, as an aspect of mission history and colonialism, since the relation between Macaulay and Bentinck is too complex! If the volume with its largeness of scope, and its myriad interests is to be highlighted, these blurred paragraphs, so far and few, must be ignored, and the new texts, made possible through multi-linguistic endeavours, and perhaps European unification, made immediately available to classroom teaching in the humanities and social science. Congratulations to the editors for no printers’ devils.Susan Visvanathan (susanvisvanathan@gmail. com) teaches at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

KW - Faculty of Humanities

KW - Danish colonialism

KW - Cultural heritage

KW - Post-colonial studies

KW - Cultural Encounters

KW - print culture

KW - Christian mission

KW - Space Perception

KW - Place perception

KW - Tsunami

KW - economic transactions

KW - disputed moralities

KW - Untouchability

KW - Caste

KW - temple women

KW - First contact

KW - Ziegenbalg

KW - scientific network

KW - Nicobars

KW - Serampore

KW - Tamil Nadu

KW - Tharangampadi

KW - 2004 tsunami

KW - cultural heritage tourism

KW - Protestant Christianity

KW - missionary history

KW - printing press

KW - India

KW - Danish empire

KW - colonial history

KW - ethnography

KW - history

KW - Cultural studies

KW - Cultural contacts

KW - cultural encounters

UR - https://www.orientblackswan.com/BookDescription.aspx?isbn=978-81-250-5437-5&txt=Beyond%20Tranquebar:%20Grappling%20Across%20Cultural%20Borders%20in%20South%20India&t=d

M3 - Anthology

SN - 9788125054375

BT - Beyond Tranquebar

PB - Orient BlackSwan

CY - New Delhi

ER -

ID: 103329113