Third Frame: Literature, Culture and Society, a new quarterly journal seeks, according to its editors, to provide a platform for ‘voices and concerns from developing societies’. The journal attempts to generate ideas across disciplines by focusing on issues, concepts and theories that have been seminal in the formation and evolution of the culture and society of the developing world and been reflected in its literature. The journal is not peer reviewed. The journal publishes thought-provoking short stories and poems relevant to our times. In Volume 1, No. 3, Manju Kak’s story ‘The Colour Caller’ draws attention to the human and cultural tragedy of Kashmir, the loss of Kashmiriyat and the hope that it would be revived. Similarly, in Volume 1 No. 2, Asghar Wajahat’s sensitively told story ‘I am a Hindu’ underscores the fact that the genesis of communal riots is not religion but rather the exploitation of religion by some.
The latter is a translation from Hindi by Rakhshanda Jalil, highlighting the importance given by the journal to initiating a dialogue across languages and cultures. Keki Daruwalla’s highly evocative poems also set up a dialogue across space and time and those of Rachna Joshi are reflective of globalism and diasporic existence.
The articles cover diverse issues ranging from music and religion to foreign policy and media. Madhu Khanna, in the article ‘Satyameva Jayate: A Convenient Truth!’, makes a fervent plea for the inclusion of Religious Studies in university programmes in India, believing that such a lacuna, if left unfilled, will result in either the dissemination and consolidation of orientalist perceptions of eastern religions or the resurgence of fundamentalist positions. Thus, it is contended that the space for exploring the worldview of diverse religious communities hermeneutically, which would lay the foundations for inter-community harmony and societal resilience, is seriously eroded, if not lost altogether, in the absence of Religious Studies from the curricula. The secular democratic ideal is the common thread running through many of the articles. The Pakistani freelance writer, Raza Rumi’s article ‘The Unorthodox Trinity of Love: Kabir, Bulleh and Lalon’ on the Sufi and Bhakti tradition with its emphasis on humanistic values that transcend religious dichotomy serves to deepen this impression. The songs/poems discussed are revolutionary in character since they reject religious orthodoxy and ignore hierarchies of caste and creed. Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s poetry of resistance, with which Pranay Krishna engages in the article ‘Poetry, Passion and Politics: Some Observations on Faiz’ echoes this same notion of modernity. Krishna critiques Gopi Chand Narang’s poststructuralist reading of Faiz that reduces this poetry to mere aesthetics stripping Faiz’s work of its powerful political content, which rouses the people to protest against their oppressors. Tabish Khair’s article ‘The Modernity of Ahmed Ali’ questions the stereotyping of change as the aping of western modernity and adherence to tradition as obscurantism since all societies across time and space are marked by flux. He also touches on the power of language to impact reality and in this context hails Ahmed Ali as a ‘bilingual, multicultural, rooted, cos-mopolitan, traditional and modern, national and international’ (p. 54, Vol. 1, No. 2).
In his article ‘Religion, Society and Politics during the Nehruvian Era: Profiling India’s Muslim Communities’, Mushirul Hasan throws light on the heterogeneous nature of Islam and provides an overview of the nationalist discourses and the emergence of nationalist Muslims. Mushirul Hasan revisits this theme in his contribution to the third issue, entitled ‘Pluralism on Trial: Reform and Revivalism in Late Nineteenth Century North India’. After delineating the regional rootedness of Muslims who imbibed the linguistic and cultural uniqueness of the regions that they were an integral part of, Hasan concentrates on the writings of Sayyid Ahmad, Zakaullah, Nazir Ahmed, Ameer Ali, Hali and Ghalib, demonstrating that they believed in the coexistence of religious institutions and religions, fostering cultural pluralism.
Mukul Kesavan’s article ‘The Elephant in the Room’ also celebrates India’s pluralist nationalism while critiquing its shortcomings and asserting that the world can learn from India in this area. It is through this unique pluralist prism that India views the world.
After a reading of the several articles on Islam, the impression of a monolithic, unified Islam disintegrates. Ian Bedford in his article ‘Islam in Pakistan and the Islam of the State’ distinguishes Islam as practised by the people of Pakistan and the fundamentalist approach as propogated by the state under Zia ul-Haq. Thomas Gugler’s article ‘Public Religiosity and the Symbols of the Super Muslim: Sunna and Sunnaization in Muslim Faith Movements from South Asia’ dwells on the competing and rival movements within Islam. Naseer Habiib has written on ‘The Tradition of Deoband and the Pragmatism of Ubaid Allah Sindhi’.
The two articles on Bangladesh and the one on India’s West Asia policy have been written by former members of the Indian Foreign Service—Rajendra M. Abhyankar, Muckkund Dubey and Veena Sikri. Abhyankar suggests that India should exploit the potential of the relationship with West Asia and ensure that the region becomes an integral part of India’s immediate neighbourhood. Muchkund Dubey deals with democracy and government in Bangladesh, whereas Veena Sikri focuses on democracy and the people of Bangladesh. Saima Saeed’s article ‘The Theatre of 9/11: News Media, Public Diplomacy and the “War on Terror”’ analysing as it does the role of the media in the War on Terror is particularly pertinent in the light of the attack on Mumbai on 26 November 2008.
Martha Nussbaum in her article ‘The Clash Within: Democracy and the Hindu Right’ avers that Huntington’s thesis of the ‘clash of civilizations’ is absolutely inappropriate in this context. She posits that in India the values of the Hindu Right are an import of European fascism. She argues that violence perpetrated by the right stems from intolerance and the inability to coexist with others who are different. Her thesis is grounded in the ‘Gandhian claim that the real “clash of civilizations” is a clash within the individual self, between the urge to dominate and defile the other and a willingness to live respectfully on terms of compassion and equality. . . .
The article by the Pakistani human rights activist, Asma Jahangir, ‘Honouring the Lawyers’ Movement in Pakistan’ is very informative and suggestive of the possibility of a mutual learning experience through exchange of information and ideas between members of the civil society of the two countries especially with regard to peoples movements. It is intended that one issue annually be devoted to a theme. The theme of the inaugural issue is 60 years of India’s Independence in which the qualities that define India—its rapidly growing middle class, the Hindu right wing, the Naxalbari movement, Pakistan as the other, secularism, pluralism, music and its development all find a mention. However, It is not a good idea to excerpt from books which is the case for two articles in the first issue, viz., that of Pavan K. Varma’s ‘The Indian Middle’s Class’ and of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘The Clash Within: Democracy and the Hindu Right’.
Chitra Harshvardhan is Assistant Professor, Centre of German Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.