Andrew Amstutz

“‘Queen of the East’: Urdu Literature within an Indian Ocean World, 1940-1947”


In the years before the 1947 Partition, the city of Karachi witnessed an outpouring of images and books personifying Karachi as a literary “Queen of the East” (Mallika-e Mashriq), worthy of devotion from Urdu writers and poets from across the Indian subcontinent. This talk explores how Mahmooda Rizvi, an ambitious Urdu author, made a case for Karachi as a new center for Urdu literature within an Indian Ocean world from 1941 to 1947. Mahmooda Rizvi was Karachi’s most prominent Urdu writer in the late colonial era as the port city was transformed from the provincial margins of the Urdu-speaking zone into one of the world’s largest Urdu-speaking cities after the creation of Pakistan. In response to the economic pressures of World War II, Mahmooda Rizvi wrote thirteen Urdu textbooks for schools in Sindh in which she mixed revolutionary critiques of worldly capitalism, dystopian accounts of urban change, and musings on the natural world. Specifically, I discuss two of Rizvi’s travel accounts and the ways she described the natural world and urban change to make the case for Karachi as a new global center for prestigious Urdu literature. The first journey that I will discuss was her sea voyage from Karachi to Iraq in 1944. The second travel account was an imagined journey between the valley of life and the city of death in her esoteric writings. This talk explores how Karachi’s initial marginal position- on the edges of the Urdu-speaking zone, but on the cusp of an Indian Ocean world- shaped Mahmooda Rizvi’s global ambitions in the early 1940s before the creation of Pakistan.


Andrew Amstutz is an A.W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he is part of the “Translation, Transplantation, and Adaptation” cohort. He is affiliated with the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at UW. He earned his PhD from the Department of History at Cornell University in 2017. His research and teaching engage modern South Asian history, global Islam, and the history of science. He received his M.A. in South Asian History from Cornell University and his B.A. in History and Italian from Middlebury College.