Lecture by Margrit Pernau "Emotions and Modernity in Colonial India"

Using the category of emotions, Professor Margrit Pernau of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, elaborated upon the Kanpur Mosque incident in pre-Partition India in 1913. She started off by elaborating on how a study of the history of emotions opens new ways of looking at historical developments. According to her, while modernity has most commonly been seen as a force for disciplining emotions, research indicates that modernity has, in fact, also enabled excess of emotions, nationalism being a prominent example. Using this lens, Professor Pernau spoke about the Kanpur Mosque incident, whereby the colonial government in Kanpur made a decision to demolish the washing area of a mosque in the city’s Machli Bazar in order to expand an existing road. What ensued were protests, in print and in person, that eventually led to multiple deaths. These protests revolved around the notion of “josh” (passion), aroused in the public through a whole campaign of articles and speeches in Urdu that lamented the destruction. She also discussed the relation between emotions and will, invoking the writings of Abdul Majid Daryabadi, a Muslim scholar and mufassir, who began translating texts on psychology into Urdu around the same time as the mosque incident, and eventually reached the conclusion that emotions are not affected by will; rather, they affect it. The question and answer session examined other fascinating aspects of the history of emotions in South Asia.