Emotions and Modernity in Colonial India: German Scholar Speaks on “Jazbat” at Jamia Millia, New Delhi

WordForPeace.com Special

October 15, 2019

Mapping the history of emotions in India between the uprising of 1857 and World War I, German scholar Margaret Pernau from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, brings the ‘history of emotions’ approach to South Asian studies. Situating the prevalent experiences, interpretations, and practices of emotions of the time within the context of the major political events of colonial India, the book goes beyond the dominant narrative of colonial modernity and its fixation with discipline and restrain, and traces the contemporary transformation from a balance in emotions to the resurgence of fervor.

An extension lecture on “Jazbat: The Birth of the Modern Subject” was organised by the Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI).  The lecture was given by Professor Margaret Pernau, Senior Researcher at the Centre for the History of Emotions at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin.  It was preceded by a welcome address by Professor Nishat Zaidi, Head, Department of English.

Drawing on her latest publication, Emotions and Modernity in Colonial India (2019), Professor Pernau’s lecture mapped the history of emotions as well as their interpretations and practices as contextualised within major political events in colonial India, particularly the struggle for freedom.

Professor Pernau delved into the history of the word ‘Jazbat’(emotions), claiming that the word does not come up before the 1870s which tells a lot about the change happening during that time which was so strong that people could not grasp it any longer with the vocabulary they had on hand and they had to use new words.

 ‘Jazbat’, she said, comes from the concept of ‘Jazb’ in Sufism, referring to the way Sufi disciples travel towards the Divine when He attracts him, so ‘Jazbat’ always has this underlying implication of being drawn by some entity in a certain direction, not out of one’s own will in most cases.

She established a link between emotions and nationalism, citing the Aligarh Movement as a viable instance. Nationalism, she said, is something which comes about in the modern age and is something which we cannot understand if we don’t look at emotions.

The lecture was attended by faculty, researchers and students from both the Department of English and History. It was followed by a discussion and question-answer session. It ended with a vote of thanks by Dr. Shuby Abidi, Assistant Professor, Department of English, JMI.

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