29 March 2010

Pitch perfect: A couple of lines from Faiz

A friend of mine recently reacquainted me with a couplet by the Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1911-84):

nahiin nigah mein manzil to justajuu hii sahii
nahiin visaal muyassar to aarzuu hii sahii

If I can't get a glance [of my beloved] then at least I have the search itself,
If union [with my beloved] is impossible then at least I have desire itself.

25 March 2010

To have and have not

For months now, American politics has had the inertia of a banana republic's government with endless machinations that led to no real policy. So today healthcare has been voted on for what feels like the forty-seventh time, and finally, for better or for worse, our government has managed to accomplish something sweeping. I had a taste of two different political worlds today: one in first class on a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago and the second in a Chicago cab with a chatty driver.

13 March 2010

The Tragical History of Sullivan Hyder

Three years ago in the British Library, I came across a remarkable set of letters scattered across the East India Company records having to do with the Company's training policies. The dozen or so letters that piqued my interest deal with Sullivan Hyder, a mixed-race boy born in England in 1811 who became a printer's apprentice and eventually had to leave England because there was no prospect of his finding work there.

I wanted to write an academic article about the status of Indian language teachers in the early nineteenth-century using the documents concerning his family, but unfortunately Professor Michael Fisher beat me to it in his Counterflows to Colonialism. Since Professor Fisher had followed the documentary evidence as far as it would go, I put the story of Sullivan Hyder away. Recently though, as I started planning a historical novel that I am nowhere near ready to write, it occurred to me that Sullivan could be a faithful friend to me if he were the main character in a short story. With Sullivan's help, I can find the right voice for my novel before I start it.