Farina Mir

The Punjabi Literary Formation: Language and Affect in a Vernacular Culture

This talk explores the contours of a colonial-era “Punjabi literary formation” in India, by which I mean those individuals who shared in the practices of producing, circulating, performing, and consuming Punjabi literary texts. I argue that the Punjabi literary formation’s pragmatic engagements with colonial institutions were far less important than the affective attachments its adherents established with a place, with an old but dynamic corpus of stories, and with the moral sensibility that suffused those stories. The talk will first address the peculiar relationship forged between the colonial state and Punjabi language and literature. On the one hand, the state recognized Punjabi as the sacred language of the Sikhs, while on the other hand it actively worked to replace Punjabi with Urdu as the Punjab’s vernacular language. I will conclude with a consideration of how the Punjabi literary formation established affective ties with a spatial milieu whose imaginative co-ordinates differed from those addressed by nationalist activists at the time.

Farina Mir holds degrees in English and Asian & Middle Eastern Cultures from  Barnard College (B.A., 1993) and in History from Columbia University (Ph.D., 2002). Trained as a historian of colonial and postcolonial South Asia, her research has focused on the social, cultural, and religious history of latecolonial north India. Her forthcoming book, The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab is a study of the Punjabi language and its literature under colonialism (from 1849–1947), with a
particular focus on qisse, or epic stories/romances. Mir has published in Comparative Studies in Society and History and the Indian Economic and Social History Review, and has been the recipient of fellowships from the Social Science Research Council, the Fulbright Program, the American Institute of Pakistan Studies, the Ford Foundation, and the Whiting Foundation. She is currently an Assistant Professor of history at the University of Michigan, where she teaches courses on early modern and modern South Asia.