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Published by historyjournal.lsr, 2019-05-17 17:52:34



VOL. 6, 2019



Annual Academic Journal
Volume 6, 2019

Department of History

Ijtihad is the annual academic journal of the Department of History, Lady Shri Ram College for
Women. Besides its religious association, “Ijtihad” means the “independent interpretation of legal
sources.” True to its name, the journal seeks to reflect this spirit of an unhindered, ceaseless quest for
the many contemplations of the ‘historical truth.’ Started in 2014, the compilation invites undergradu-
ate student research papers covering various historical themes for publication; with an aim to nurture
historical imagination and critical thinking among young scholars.


L a j p a t N a g a r I V, N e w D e l h i – 1 1 0 0 2 4

Published in New Delhi by
Department of History

Lady Shri Ram College for Women
Lajpat Nagar - IV, New Delhi
Delhi - 110024
Ph. 011 - 26434459

c Department of History, Lady Shri Ram College for Women, 2019

The moral rights of the contributing authors are reserved. These are the views of the authors themselves
and are not intended to make assertions on the sensitivity of any community or social group. No part
of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without prior
permission in writing from the Department of History, Lady Shri Ram College for Women, New

Dr Sonali Mishra Editor-in-Chief
Ms Nayana Dasgupta Shikha Dwivedi
Dr Vijayant Singh
HISTORY UNION (2018-19) Kriti Shrivastava
Akshita Sinha, President
Ushni Dasgupta, Secretary Mallika Goel
Siddhidatri Mishra, Treasurer Areeba Hasan
Nayantara Singh
Mou Sarmah

Typeset in LATEX

Printed by Amit Electrostat
G-3, Kundan House, 16, Nehru Place

New Delhi - 110019


The legend of the Tower of Babel is not only a tale of human vanity but also of curiosity –– curiosity
to know the unknown. It is this sense of wonder, the thirst for wisdom, the uneasiness with the
existing ideas, the spirit of questioning and the desire for newer interpretations which find home in
Ijtihad. As a journal, it carries no agenda but to provide a space to those who wish to challenge
the existing beliefs and construct their own versions of the past. Encouraging students to find the
contradictions within, it seeks to comprehend not merely the order in chaos, but also the chaos in
seemingly orderly narratives. Thus, as you turn the pages of this issue of Ijtihad, you will find a
whole spectrum of alternative views — from the ecological repercussions of the Great Leap Forward
to the gender biases in the innocent fairy tales, and from the complex role conflicts in the lives of
modern working women to the representations of elephants and roses as insignias of imperial authority.

For any historical understanding, perspectives play an imperative role. Keeping this in mind, we
conducted a series of lectures on historiography to acquaint the aspiring researchers with major
approaches used to reconstruct the past. As the Department indulged in ‘deconstructing vernaculars’
in its annual academic fest ‘Maazi-o-Mustaqbil’, we took the opportunity to extend its boundaries
to explore the convolutions of ‘multicultural coexistence.’ Through the annual paper presentation
competition, we attempted to perceive multiculturalism as products of prolonged historical processes,
embodying conflict, resistance, negotiation, integration, or marginalization among different groups.
The editorial board commends Ms Sharvi Maheshwari for presenting an engaging paper based on her
critical reading of the Ramayana in search of Surpanakha’s agency, for which she was awarded the
first prize.

Our endeavour to kindle the spirit of research in students could not have been possible without
the wholehearted support of our staff advisors and the other faculty members of the Department
who played a foundational role in stimulating a culture of discussion in classrooms, corridors and
beyond. I further extend my gratitude to the Department Union for being the buttress of all our
undertakings during the year. It would be unwise to not appreciate the efforts of all the students
who ventured forth into the realm of inquiry and submitted their creations to Ijtihad’19, which
made it a highly competitive selection process. I must also extend my appreciation for the members
of the editorial board whose hard work and unwavering dedication went into the making of this journal.

In the tumultuous times we are living in, accessibility to varied narratives has become even more
pertinent for us to formulate opinions and engage into meaningful discussions. I hope that as you,
dear reader, pick up this copy of Ijtihad, and delve into the sea of diverse opinions spread across its
pages, you too become a part of the dialogue we have attempted to elicit.

May we always revel in our diversity!

Shikha Dwivedi

Cover design by Shikha and Areeba
Cover art: La tour de Babel by Endre Rozsda (1958)
(Used under the terms and conditions of the license -

And they said,
“Come, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven;

and let us make us a name for ourselves,
lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth”

(Genesis 11:4)

The representation on the cover of Ijtihad Vol. 6 draws inspiration from the Biblical myth of the Tower
of Babel and finds resonance in the theme of Maazi-o-Mustaqbil 2019: “Deconstructing ‘Vernacu-
lar’: Complexities of Resistance and Identity Formations.” Although it was originally meant to be a
dystopian narrative, wherein the curse of God destroyed the Tower of Babel, confounded the speech
of the people and scattered them around the world, we cherish this diversity and seek to decrypt the
chaos that it supposedly engendered.

1. Tracing the Evolution of Fairy Tales: A Gendered Perspective
Kriti Shrivastava & Saswati Sarkar 16
2. The Great Leap Forward: 32
A Catalyst for the Great Chinese Famine (1958-62)?
Divya Godbole 40

3. The Lost Generation: The Great Gatsby and the American Society 49
Mallika Goel
4. Gul-e-Mughal: Examining Roses in the Context of the Mughal World 60
Ushni Dasgupta

5. Kingship and Divinity:
Some Ideas on the Persistence and Retreat of Elephants
Vipashayana Tanwar

6. Media Portrayal of the African-Americans:
A Comparative Study from Slavery to Contemporary Times
Yashika Choudhary

7. Ways Around and Working Through:
A Close Look at the Familial Lives of Three Professional Women
Arushi Mukherji

8. Mutilation of Surpanakha
Sharvi Maheshwari

9. Examining the Development of Tamil Devotion in Colonial India
Johanna Rabindran

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 1

Tracing the Evolution of Fairy Tales: A Gendered Perspective

Kriti Shrivastava & Saswati Sarkar
Department of History, Lady Shri Ram College for Women

Our childhood has been imprinted by various fairy tales and their subsequent Disney productions.
They act as a curtain to the many worldly lies that one wants their child’s psychology to not encounter.
However, these tales have had a history of their own - a long-standing tradition of various interpola-
tions across centuries. It is these incorporations that have fossilised in many ways the contemporary
gender norms – to such an extent that the patriarchal ideals of an ideal woman still reign as almost
absolute truths till date. Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel – all, argumentatively,
do end up serving as role models in a little girl’s dreams; perhaps not so much on the suffering, but
definitely on the “happily ever after.” What we ignore, to some extent, is the stereotyping of other
genders too. The Prince is always “charming” and “riding on a horseback”, there to “save a damsel
in distress.”

This gendering hence, needs a deconstruction and this research dedicates itself to that very cause.
This piece traces the various compositions of fairy tales over time, attempting to provide historical
background to the genesis of the most acclaimed and commonly remembered of the stock - the
Grimm’s Fairy tales, and to comprehend the various gendering intricacies prevalent underneath their
creations - for the stories which we tell our children in their early years have an everlasting impact on
their psychology and future social behaviour in some way or the other.

According to Collins English dictionary, “a fairy by the writers of the Renaissance period such as
tale is a story usually for children about elves, Giovanni Francesco Straparda and Giambattista
hobgoblins, dragons, fairies or other magical Basile – and stabilised through the works of later
creatures. It is considered to be a part of the folk- writings of different collectors across Europe –
lore genre.”1 notably Charles Perrault in France and the Broth-
ers Grimm in Germany.2
Unlike legends and epics, they usually do not
contain more than superficial references to reli- In the evolution of these tales as a reflection of
gion and actual nuances like people, places or popular culture, the terminology and the genre
events. They take place “once upon a time”, giv- itself can be traced back to the first wave of the
ing a sense of ambiguity to its reality – which at French collectors in the late seventeenth century
times makes it more acceptable to popular belief when Madame de Aulnoy (Marie Catherine de
structures. Aulnoy) invented the term contes de fees or fairy
tales, which were gathering quite a lot of audi-
Jack Zipes mentions that the roots of this genre ence in the French Salons. Charles Perrault, an-
come from different oral histories passed down in other prolific collector and writer of this age, to
European cultures. This genre was first marked whom most of the famous tales are credited, in-
cluding Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Little Red
1“Collins English Dictionary,” Accessed March 1, 2019, 2Jack Zipes, Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion, (New
tale . York: Routledge, 2006).

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 2

Riding Hood and Puss in Boots, published the 1.1. Rapunzel
first edition in Paris in 1697, for the literary Sa-
lons of the aristocratic French audience. The major turning point in the story is when the
lovesick Prince and his escape plans with Rapun-
Maria Tatar mentions in her book that it is the act zel are given away by the protagonist. This dif-
of handing down from generation to generation fers in most editions. The Grimm’s first edition
and its genesis in the oral traditions that give folk gave away the idea of Prince’s visits when Ra-
tales an important mutability. Versions of tales punzel mentions, “Why her clothes are getting
differ from region to region, picking up bits and tighter and it’s difficult to fit into them” – an al-
pieces of local cultures and lores. 3 lusion to the fact that she is pregnant. This infu-
riates the witch who cuts off her hair, and make
The Grimm Brothers, who represented a pure her wander off.6
form of national literature and culture, were
among the first to try to preserve the features of Over the years, the sexual annotations were sub-
oral tales. They had seven editions of their col- tly removed from the dialogues and inferences
lections. Between the first edition of 1812-1815 which helped the plot unfold – which also led
and the final edition of 1857, they revised their to the changing of the story quite a bit. Those
collection many times, so that the number of sto- editions which mention her being pregnant at
ries grew from 156 to 200, with not all being in- the time of the cutting of her hair mentions the
cluded in the later editions. birth of twins – girl and boy - whereas later ver-
sions just mention her wandering off into the
Tatar comments on the changing nature of fairy desert/woods on her own.
tales and says that originally these tales were
meant for adults as well, as an equal audience, Another minute detail that deserves attention is
but in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the reference to the neighbour as “fairy” (a clear
Fairy Tales became the literature associated with positive reference) in earlier editions and as a
children.4 She also adds that Grimm Brothers ti- “wicked witch Dame Gothel”7 in the later ver-
tled their later editions as Children’s and House- sions. The development of characters and women
hold Tales, and rewrote their stories after com- as villains has been discussed in the later part of
plaints that they were not suitable for children. the paper.
The moralising strain in the Victorian era altered
the classical tales to teach lessons, the best exam- 1.2. Little Red Riding Hood
ple being the rewriting of Cinderella in 1854 by
George Cruikshak to contain temperate themes.5 The act of the wolf following the little girl is
a subtle reference to predator and prey. When
Following will be the case studies of four Charles Perrault wrote it, he clearly made a ref-
classical fairy tales, exploring their mutation and erence to the wolves as sexual predators or men
evolution over time: who were trying to “prey on young girls who

3Maria Tatar, The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales 6Ibid., 244-46.
7The “Fairy” remains anonymous, while the christening of
(New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2003). the villainous character might imply an attempt to immor-
4Ibid., xiii-xxiv. talize her memory in the public opinion for the neighbor
5Ibid. to be remembered as a witch instead of a fairy.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 3

were walking through the forest.”8 1.4. Beauty and the Beast

All wolves are not of the same sort. There is one This tale was created during the second wave of
with a kind of obliging and gentle disposition, the French Fairy Tale writers by Madame Suz-
following young maids in the streets into their zane de Villeneuve. She was influenced by the
homes.9 The original idea was that the girl gets first wave writers – Madame de Aulnoy and Per-
in bed with the wolf and gets devoured. There rault – and the idea of “an animal bridegroom”
is no happy ending. By the time Grimm Broth- (The Frog Prince). This story of hers addressed
ers wrote the tale, the little girl had a way out the issues of the women of her day.
of this devastation of being preyed upon, when
her huntsman father comes in at the right moment Chief among these was a critique of the marriage
and kills the wolf. system in which women had few legal rights; no
right to choose their husband; no right to refuse
This evolution was interesting but it only, in a the marriage bed and no right to divorce. Often
way, tried to curb the sexual nuances and make it the brides were 14 to 15-year olds and were given
more children-friendly whereas at the same time away to men who were much older.11
warning the girls not to wander off in the forest-
“the dangers of not listening to one’s mother Sharply critical of such practices which pro-
(stay on the path).” moted the idea of love and fidelity between the
sexes, hers, along with the other women au-
1.3. Sleeping Beauty thors’ tales reflect the realities they lived with and
their dreams of a better life. The animal bride-
The most acceptable version is by Grimm Broth- groom stories, in particular, embodied the real-
ers, even though Perrault’s was the first. In Per- life fears of women who could be promised to
rault’s version, Aurora never falls in love with total strangers in marriage and who did not know
anyone. After the curse is activated, time stops whether they would find a beast or a lover in their
and everyone around Aurora is made to fall in marital bed.
a deep slumber – hundreds of years go by and
there comes a prince who falls in love with her De Villeneuve’s Beauty and the Beast was
and rapes her. She gives birth to two children mainly for adult readers because of the follow-
and it is when one of them suckles on her breasts ing:
that she wakes up.
• Beauty’s father gives her away to the Beast
There are clear undertones of sexual violence in to save his own life.
Perrault’s version. But these were toned down
and presented with a mild passion of a mere kiss • The Beast is truly a fierce figure – not a gen-
– very polite on the Prince’s part.10 tle soul. The emphasis is on the transforma-
tion of the beast back to his humanity which
8Jack Zipes, “A Second Gaze at Little Red Riding Hood’s only “Beauty” can do.
Trials and Tribulations,” in The Lion and the Unicorn,
ed., Louisa Smith,, (The Johns Hopkins University over the years – the child’s to his mother; a lover’s kiss;
Press, 1983). and the latest 21st century Maleficent’s kiss to Aurora.
9Charles Perrault, “Little Red Riding Hood,” University 11Terry Windling, “Beauty and the Beast,” Jour-
of Pittsburgh, (Retrieved in 2003), Accessed February 28, nal of Mythic Arts, Accessed March 7, 2019,
10The interpretations of a true love’s kiss have also altered

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 4

• In the original version, the final transforma- 2. Elaboration of the Sub-Themes
tion did not occur until after Beauty wed the
Beast and their marriage is consummated, 2.1. Attributes of the Fairy Tale Princesses and
“waking up in the marriage bed to find a the Construction of the Ideal Women
human prince beside her”, suggesting the
change in the nature she has brought about The German folklore teaches the child-centric
in the Beast through physical relation.12 audience that a woman’s beauty rather than her
personality is the quality most appreciated by the
Despite all the multiple variations and interpre- princes. The princess protagonist is not pursed
tations in the characters, fairy tales bind all our for her actions, but hated and envied by the fe-
childhood in a common thread. The Grimm’s male antagonist for her physical appearance and
Fairy tales serve as the foundation to many of the youthfulness.
stories that are common in a variety of medium.
Rather than being a mere reflection of societal Besides, women continue to remain passive ob-
values, these tales perpetuate patriarchal con- jects of gaze in men’s hands. The best example
cepts as a means of maintaining the gender hier- is that of Snow White who is constantly consid-
archy. They have never been part of the bedtime ered an object: when she first meets the seven
stories; rather, they have morphed into an effec- dwarfs, she is asleep and becomes vulnerable to
tive means of exercising power over women and their gaze.14
maintaining gender inequality.
Interestingly, the voice of the mirror in the folk-
Henceforth, the following section will focus on lore of Snow White again, is clearly seen as a
the historical background and the gender aspect voice of patriarchy, notes Maria Tatar.15 It sym-
of these fairy tales. The preliminary focus will, bolically envisages the voice of patriarchy as a
however, be on the German Fairy tales composed male judge comments on the female body. There
by the Grimm Brothers and thus, the spatial con- is a clear stratification of gender roles too. The
text will remain the West. power of the mistress of the house does not ex-
tend beyond the domain of the private sphere.
The Grimm Brothers had started collecting their Snow White is given shelter by the seven dwarves
first fairy tales from the German women during only on the premise that she would perform the
early years of the nineteenth century, in a bid daily chores such as making food, washing, etc.,
to preserve the German oral traditions. These and not step outside the domestic domain.16
women were mostly spinners, for spinning at that
time was dominated by women and done com- Marriage as a reward comes into foreplay here
munally. The original text of the Grimm Broth- and is normalised as a dream particularly femi-
ers’ fairy tales was published without illustra- nine. It is considered a bliss for women who are
tions and received far less fanfare, perhaps be- victims of abuse. Importantly, the entire concept
cause the targeted audience was adults and not of a “happy ever after” derives from the above
children.13 manipulation to ensure marital bliss, the woman

12Ibid. hohonu/volumes/documents/Vol07x07HappilyEverAfter.
13Alice Neikirk, ‘ “...Happily Ever After”(Or What Fairy- pdf.
14Tatar, op.cit., 28-29.
tales Teach Girls About Being Woman),’ Anthropology 15Ibid.,154.
324 Essay, 38-42, 16Ibid., 29.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 5

has to have the virtues of a good wife, a good stepdaughters are forever offered roles of inno-
mother and if she dies, the prince would remarry cent scapegoats and obedient sufferers. The step-
and out there would come the evil, ugly, shrewd mothers on the other hand, might find themselves
stepmother. within the status of sadist tyrants.19

2.2. Women Villains and Witches The most interesting aspect regarding the formu-
lation of the these fairy tales entails a gradual
The fairy tales have had a tradition of portraying transition to a patriarchal Germany wherein the
ambitious women as devilish, dominating, “ugly imagery of a father trying to forcefully impinge
and scheming, wielding over other women and upon his daughter an incestuous relationship is
men.”17 Instances can be cited quite instinctively replaced by the female villains in the form of
from the likes of Snow White where the evil step- stepmothers and witches taking the centre stage
mother represents an epitome of jealousy, the one as the main antagonists.20 For a war torn country
in Cinderella is torturous, and in Hansel and Gre- constantly haunted by the Franco-Prussian wars,
tel she is demonstrated as a soulless woman who this transformation of the imagery served as a
leaves the children all alone in the forest. If these perfect symbolism for the immediate background
are not enough to paint the zenith of monstros- context and the contemporary international war
ity, the possession of knowledge about magic and prone situation in Europe as well.21 Perhaps this
sorcery add its own bit to the negativity cap of the representation would have been well directed to-
vile stepmother.18 wards the child-centric audience, many of whom
had been deprived of the maternal love.
The Grimm’s fairy tales enforce the motherly
stereotype staunchly by creating female demonic 2.3. Portrayal of Masculinity in Fairy Tales
figures whose viciousness and fiendish persona
stand in sharp contrast to that of the tending The discussion around the fairytales always en-
qualities equated with a maternal figure. How- tails the construction of the ideal woman imagery
ever, not all these female villains devour human and the stereotypes imposed upon females by the
flesh and some amongst them exhibit immense patriarchy. But what remains of sporadic enlight-
prowess in weaving spells. It is noteworthy that enment is the issue of masculinity perpetuated by
the Grimm’s fairy tales equip almost all the char- these tales and how men too remain subjected to
acters with supernatural powers and yet stereo- certain limitations being imposed on their perfor-
typically, it is the stepmothers who remain the mances and in their domain. 22
primary instruments of witchcraft in all these sto-
ries. Such is the level of portrayal that a “good” Western Civilisation prescribed differing stan-
stepmother is scarcely found in all these fairy dards of behaviour for the males correspond-
tales. ing to the varied historical periods. Most epics

Interestingly, the stepmothers in these stories 19Ibid., 140-43.
never victimise their stepsons; it is only the step- 20Tatar, op.cit., 145.
daughters who are relentlessly oppressed. The 21The Franco Prussian War was an attempt towards Ger-

17Dr. Silima Nanda, “The Portrayal of Women in the Fairy man Unification, driven by the spirit of nationalism, not
Tales,” The International Journal of Social Sciences and only in Germany, but throughout Europe. It was this
Humanities Invention, vol.1, issue 4 (2014): 246-50. spirit of nationalism that created new patriarchal foun-
18Ibid., 247. 22The study of masculinity gained prominence in the
1970s, thanks to the masterpiece work of R.W.Connell.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 6

abound in anecdotes and sub-plots and in gen- ageries for women. While some are given sub-
eral remain the precursor to the folk and fairy servient status with obedience as the ideal virtue
tales. Interestingly enough, this reason re- for them, there are others who are headstrong,
mains the primary basis for which the epic and shrewd and devilish. But despite such antithe-
chivalric male attributes entailing action, physi- sis prevailing through and through, it is the fe-
cal strength, courage, loyalty (in case of epics) male agency in some cases that retains impor-
and self- sacrifice, service to the lady (in case tance. But even this agency is used for enhancing
of chivalric) gain importance and popularity in the patriarchal structure so much so that a woman
these fairytales. However, the clergy male char- victimises another through physical and mental
acteristics which seem to have co-existed along- humiliation. It is for this obvious reason that the
side the chivalric males in the twelfth century second wave of feminism vehemently opposes
completely remain conspicuous by their absence, the characterisation of women in these folklores
thanks to the history of Protestantism in the Ger- including their victimisation.24 The picture of
man soil, which is also the primary source for the women sufferers remains rampant through-
these folklores.23 out the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales, with slight
alterations here and there.
The women, henceforth, remain the “nurturers”
and the men continue to perform as the “doers” The third wave of feminism however has an inter-
which in turn resorts back to the Victorian ide- esting take on these fairy tales; it sees them from
als of gender, contemporary to Grimm Brothers’ the perspective of sexuality, gender and power.
writings. There is no emphasis on the beauty of The third wave feminist activists have brought
the males unlike the females and could some- in the concept of surrealism into the domain of
times procure the roles of beasts too. Despite these stories.25 For instance, the story of Cin-
such a deviation, they still ended up harbouring a derella gives out two very important details –– on
woman’s attention like in Beauty and the Beast. one hand is her victimisation because of physical
and mental trauma and on the other hand is her
In the aforementioned fairytale the plot focuses gradual self-realisation of individual self-respect,
on the encounter between the father and the thanks to the efforts of the fairy godmother. Al-
beast, with the father representing benevolence though this emancipation is short lived, but still
and the beast an epitome for rage and violence. that tiny ray of hope can work wonders if inter-
This contrast between the civilised face of preted in an efficient way. Also, quite interest-
paternal goodwill and that of beastly malice ingly, in Sleeping Beauty there has been a gen-
remains quite dramatic. The ending of this first der neutral assignment of roles by making 5 the
phase gives way to the second one in which the witch in it endowed with strength and power.26
girl, realising her captor’s humane qualities, falls
for him, and this eventually turns him to a man. In the similar case of Cinderella, according to
feminist point of view, the common theme in
3. Feminist Reception of the Fairy Tales the story is the conflict between feminine pow-

The fairy tales harbour quite contrasting im- 24Luma Ibrahim Al-Barazenji, “Women’s Voice And Im-
ages In Folk Tales And Fairy Tales,” IJASOS - Interna-
23Each 5 of the historical periods have had advocated cer- tional E-journal of Advances in Social Sciences, vol. 1,
tain forms of masculinities which have been revoked time no. 1 (2015): 144-50.
and again.
26Ibid., 146-47.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 7

ers. The role of godmother helps Cinderella to who by their destructive deeds are in fight with
transform her fear of independence into a visi- those of godmother fairies. Interestingly, these
ble image and a speakable voice. The fairy god- fairytales give space to certain antagonising
mother performs as a saver who contributes an- multicultural identities in two ways - on the one
other image for Cinderella than being passive and hand there is a shared space between the two
victimised.27 polarising feminist forces, vaguely compartmen-
talised as “good” and “bad” with their interaction
However, despite such favourable propositions, mainly resuming the form of a conflict; on the
many feminists also consider, quite justifiably, other hand there is an evolution of these spaces,
that the main female role in Cinderella is a both private and public, giving birth to new
destructive one because it represents woman’s identities in the old characters, sometimes
submission to the patriarchal authority. To femi- concretising the gender norms and sometimes
nists, Cinderella finds her only outlet in marriage unconsciously granting them their independent
as a reward for her long patience, but not another agency. With the changing times, therefore, a
option to develop or create an identity which new fairytale needs to be rewritten from that of
would boost up her individuality.28 In addition, a woman’s perspective through the writings of
this also promotes the idea that only a wealthy female writers. Perhaps a new Cinderella or a
man could bring and make a woman happy, Snow White or a Rapunzel or for that matter
regardless of any emotional respects. Tracing Sleeping Beauty must come into the horizon.
from this trajectory, one can always argue that This means that the female characters are not
despite there being an urge for recognising the waiting for the prince anymore and are actually
importance of femininity as depicted or perhaps being the heroine instead of the ”damsel in
thought to have been, the whole construction distress.” As societies evolve, a reinterpretation
of fairy tales as the one done by the Grimm of gender roles should also continue to find ex-
Brothers remains constricted under the gamut of pressions through this fascinating narrative genre
patriarchy.29 From the creation of certain beauty and this can only happen through a proper mass
norms to that of the imagery constructions of an consciousness towards this societal construction
ideal wife, motherhood and women in general, of gender biases.
patriarchy engulfs all.

4. Conclusion Bibliography

After analysing the gendered perspectives of Al-Barazenji, Luma Ibrahim. “Women’s Voice
these fairytales, one can easily conclude that the and Images in Folk Tales and Fairy Tales.”
overall identity construction of women in these IJASOS-International E-journal of Advances in
fairytales has been done by men. Women are Social Sciences 1, no. 1 (2015): 47-53.
mostly divided into two categories in fairy tales
– the good, victimised and submissive women, Ashliman, D. L. The Grimm Brothers’ Children’s
and the bad, wicked, and authoritative women, and Household Tales. (1998).

27Ibid., 148. “Collins English Dictionary.” Accessed March 1,
28Ibid. 2019,
29Ibid., 149. ary/english/fairy-tale .

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 8

Nanda, Silima. “The Portrayal of Women in the
Fairy Tales.” The International Journal of Social
Sciences and Humanities Invention, vol. 1, no. 4
(2014): 246-250.

Neikirk, Alice. “... Happily Ever After’(or What
Fairytales Teach Girls about Being Women).”
Hohonu: A Journal of Academic Writing 7
(2009): 38-42.

Perrault, Charles. “Little Red Riding
Hood.” University of Pittsburgh. (Retrieved
in 2003). Accessed February 28, 2019. ˜dash/perrault02.html.

Tatar, Maria. The Hard Facts of the Grimms’
Fairy Tales. New Jersey: Princeton University
Press, 2003.

Windling, Terry. “Beauty and the Beast.” Jour-
nal of Mythic Arts. Accessed March 7, 2019.

Zipes, Jack. Fairy Tales and the Art of Subver-
sion. Routledge, 2012.

Zipes, Jack. “A Second Gaze at Little Red
Riding Hood’s Trials and Tribulations.” In The
Lion and the Unicorn, edited by, Louisa Smith
and Jack Zipes. The Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1983.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 9

The Great Leap Forward: A Catalyst for the Great Chinese Famine (1958-62)?

Divya Godbole
Department of Sociology, Lady Shri Ram College for Women

The Great Leap Forward was a mammoth economic change-up initiated by Mao in 1958. He believed
that the scheme would catapult Communist China into the league of the developed world. The
repercussions of the Great Leap Forward in the rural hinterland, though, were largely ignored by the
Politburo. The neglect of the agriculture belt led to mass starvation, leading to the Great Chinese
Famine, which neatly coincided with the implementation of collectivization and industrialization
helmed under the Great Leap Forward. Official Chinese records rationalize the famine using
ecological factors but ignore the anthropogenic causes that accelerated starvation. I investigate three
important man-made factors in the foregoing pages. These are – intense agricultural collectivization,
the rural-urban divide and Mao’s need to master nature. The paper attempts to underscore that
environmental issues never arise in vacuum but are always contingent upon the human civilization
within it. The Great Chinese Famine appears to be no different.

1. Introduction of cannibalism, death by disease and stories of
the consumption of dogs and insects. The puni-
The Great Chinese Famine of 1958-62 was one tive measures taken to punish people who stole
of the severest periods of starvation that the Chi- food were torturous.4 What makes the famine of
nese nation had seen. A famine is a mass star- 1958 unique is not just the scale of mortality in
vation of people that can occur with or without a its wake but also its anthropogenic causes. The
drop in aggregate food production. In the case increased mortality rate was not a purely natural
of mid-twentieth century China, the leaders of fact but also a result of human actions.
the government (members of the Politburo) ex-
plained the lack of food using ecological evi- It is the state’s prerogative to ensure that its cit-
dence and historical weather patterns.1 Cyclical izens make it through such periods of trial. For
changes in the weather and the flooding of the Amartya Sen, democracy can act as a success-
Yellow River or “the river of sorrow” were re- ful bunker against the destruction of life through
portedly the causes of the decline in food avail- famines.5 But the ten-year old rule of the Chi-
ability. Despite the lack of official figures that nese Communist Party (CCP) was too unstable to
have been verified by a recognized body (Frank allow for recognition of the plight of the people.
Dikkoter says that official Chinese numbers can- Consolidation of power was the only goal and the
not be trusted),2 approximately 20-45 million CCP remained blind to the annihilation that its
people lost their lives in those four years.3 Tales own policies were causing.6 This deliberate igno-
of misery were widespread. There were stories rance of the starving masses coupled with an in-

1Chris Bramall, “Agency and Famine in China’s Sichuan 4Ibid.
5Amartya Sen, Poverty and Famines, (Oxford: Clarendon
Province, 1958-1962,” The China Quarterly (2011): 990-
Press, 1981), 45-86.
1008. 6YY Kueh, “Mao and Agriculture in China’s Industrial-
2Jonathan Fenby, “Mao’s Great Famine by Frank
ization: Three Antitheses in a 50-year Perspective,” The
Dikkoter,” The Guardian, September 5, 2010, 1.
3Ibid. China Quarterly (2006): 700-23.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 10

creasingly stringent application of the Great Leap socialist lines was also disconcerting since too
Forward has caused scholars to call the famine of much interference in local modes of production
1958-62, the “Great Leap Famine.”7 can prove to be disastrous. Judith Shapiro says
that the Maoist stance towards nature was an
Considering this context of a nascent Communist extreme case of modernist understanding of
state and the established environmental contin- humans as fundamentally distinct and separate
gencies of food production in China, the author from nature.9 The lack of knowledge of local
wishes to establish that the Chinese famine was practices and a poor provincial leadership was
caused by, or at least had been accelerated by the unable to streamline agriculture.
Great Leap Forward. Grain shortage or essen-
tially poor harvests usually tend to be the causes 2. A Contextual Rendering of the Great Leap
for large-scale starvation of this kind. But the Forward
policies implemented by the Chinese Commu-
nist Party during the Great Leap Forward under Before developing on the reasons for the famine
Mao’s leadership, created conditions for mass and the dubious agricultural practices that the
starvation. The environmental implications of party enforced, it is important to look at the
this man-made famine were far reaching because causes of the Great Leap itself. Why would a na-
of the excessive human intervention and organi- tion that has just freed itself from foreign occupa-
zation of agriculture in rural China, as well as its tion and has survived a civil war want to imple-
repercussions on future generations. ment such grave policies of agricultural collec-
tivization? What drove it to set up its economic
The Great Chinese Famine ties in with the envi- prowess at the cost of its people? Why was in-
ronmental concerns and environmental history dustrialization a priority over feeding its citizens?
on primarily four axes. These are – the intensi- Most of these answers are political in nature.
fication of human intervention in agriculture, a
distinguishable rural-urban divide, an increased The victory of the communist party over the
focus on industrialization and Mao’s inclination Kuomintang in 1949 and its opposing views on
towards the control of nature as a principle of how Marxism must be implemented, motivated
socialism. The apparent urban bias and the the CCP to bring about an economic revolution to
importance given to the city led to grain supplies garner support from the people it was now con-
being diverted to the cosmopolitan cities of the trolling.10 The Sino-Soviet split or the sudden
east coast such as Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing deterioration of China’s relations with the Soviet
and Guangzhou.8 The marginalization of the Union created an unprecedented situation. Now,
peasantry and creation of a clear distinction the question of who would guide other ambi-
on the basis of the place of residence was tious socialists to revolution arose. The PRC was
antithetical to the socialist ideas of a classless adamant on being the spearhead of a Communist
society. Further, when it comes to looking at movement across the world. Chiang Kai-Shek
nature as natural resources only, it is always and then later Mao also announced in 1949 that
those closest to these reserves who are affected. the nation’s “century of humiliation” had come to
The sudden zeal for organizing agriculture along

7John Keay, China: A History, (London: Harper Collins, 9Judith Shapiro, Mao’s War Against Nature. (Cambridge:

2009), 480-507. Cambridge University Press, 2001), 94-118.
8Ibid., 1. 10Keay, op.cit., 515.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 11

an end under the new leadership.11 The “century Communes were set up across the rural land-
of humiliation” was a period in the nineteenth scape, with communal kitchens so that women
century when Chinese territories were distributed could also be used as labour. A commune is
amongst the British, Japanese, Americans and a community of people who have intentionally
French. This historical revival called for eco- come together in order to share property and re-
nomic measures, along communist lines, to get sponsibilities. People lived together, ate together
the nation back on track. Lastly, despite its losses and worked together. Nothing was voluntary
in World War II, Japan bounced back as the about the Chinese commune though. The com-
world’s second largest economy. The Japanese munal kitchen meant that the private ownership
occupation of China and its long-standing enmity of food had been disallowed. In 1958, China
with Japan caused the Chinese leadership to spur had a bumper harvest and this meant that the
into action to reach Japan’s level. The party also communes were supplied with large quantities of
had plans to overtake the British steel production. grain, for both consumption and sowing. But ow-
ing to the unrest among the peasantry and the
The aforementioned causes are important to lack of ownership they had over their own har-
form the context in which the zealotry of provin- vests, they indiscriminately consumed the grain
cial officials and the adamancy of Mao in not that had been allotted for sowing as well. Com-
retracting the policies of the Great Leap are to mune authorities were so preoccupied with iron
be seen. Without the political and economic and steel manufacturing in the autumn of 1958
processes that preceded the Great Leap, the that they unintentionally neglected to harvest the
pseudo-genocide of the Chinese Famine cannot crops, which were simply left to rot in the fields.
be understood. It is also important to constantly This, along with the conversion of farm imple-
be aware that the famine was never isolated or a ments into factory tools and the redirection of
result of the failure of policies over a short period farm labour to factories, meant that not only were
of time. The famine was caused by conscious there no new crops to sow but also no one to har-
agency, was widespread and prolonged. vest the existing crops.13

3. Environmental Implications of the Great But the commune as a cause of grain shortage
Leap Forward is only half the picture. The parallel economic
decisions taken by the Politburo to reduce food
3.1 Agricultural Collectivization and Industri- imports and increase grain export proved to be
alization a death sentence. In order to lend support to
nascent Communist states, China exported grain
A surplus harvest in 1957 heralded in a re- to North Vietnam and North Korea free of charge.
newed vigor within the Chinese Communist Also, in order to compel a quick industrializa-
Party, which then set to work consolidating its tion of the hinterland, Mao followed a policy
power in the hinterlands. The seemingly well- of only sowing one third of the land available.
meaning policies of early 1958 had been hastily Bumper crop projections made him overconfi-
implemented with no safeguards for food or pro- dent in the productive capacity of the land itself.
duction shortages.12 The droughts in 1959 and floods in 1954 meant

11Matt Schiavenza, “How Humiliation Drove Modern Chi- 13James Kai-Sing Kung and Justin Lin, “Causes of China’s
nese History,” The Atlantic, October 25, 2013, 1. Great Leap Famine,” Economic Development and Cul-
tural Change (2003): 51-73.
12Kueh, op.cit., 711.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 12

that most grain crops – rice, wheat and maize “Entitlement Theory” fits well into this lose-lose
were deluged. This meant that the output in pre situation.18 Chinese peasantry went through a
revolutionary China was greater than in the 50s.14 period of “entitlement failure” during 1959-62.
The Food Availability Decline theory has been
The Great Leap Forward (1958-60) reduced grain countered by modern day revisionist looks at the
production from its 1958 peak of 198 million Great Chinese Famine. An Entitlement bundle
tons to a trough of 137 million tons in 1961.15 is a collection of services that every individual
The fall reflected reduced sown area, ill-advised is entitled to have. With the onset of starvation
changes in cropping patterns (dense planting, and despite aggregate grain production remain-
double rice-cropping and attempts to grow wheat ing the same (as in the early years of the Chinese
on land previously used to store water during the Famine), it is the gradual reduction in the enti-
winter), the diversion of labour from farming to tlement bundle that causes starvation. The com-
steel production, and poor weather.16 mune stripped the Chinese farmer of his individ-
ual livelihood; even the pleasure of family had
The Great Leap Forward created a very clear hi- been taken away.19 He was not allowed to utilize
erarchy between industrial and agricultural out- the grain for himself and was made to fulfill fan-
put. It was evident that China could become tastic quotas. The marginalization of the farmer
an economic superpower that would overtake would be the biggest contributor to the famine.
Britain within two years only if it used its well-
oiled agricultural machinery to acquire industrial 3.2. The Rural-Urban Divide
equipment.17 Mao was adamant on following the
Soviet map of economic success. “Backyard fur- One of the fundamental takeaways from environ-
naces” were set up in the homesteads that the mental history is the neglect and marginalization
farmers had been forced to abandon, to produce of communities that are physically closest to nat-
iron. The farmers, unskilled in such work, began ural resources. These groups of people are con-
producing low quality pig iron in their inexper- sidered to be dispensable in the greater scheme of
tise. This was not the steel that the government things. The rise of the nation could be achieved at
was interested in acquiring. Further, procure- the expense of the farmers, the tribals and those
ment quotas were also imposed on the iron (apart who lived in villages. There is an implicit as-
from those on grain). It was as if, the CCP was sumption in the actions of the state that the rural
working under the naive assumption that agri- populace is obligated to accept unfairness for the
culture would look after itself. The overzealous greater good. This is exactly the ideology that the
pride in the land of their nation was not backed CCP was working with in 1958.
by the knowledge of ground realities. The State
could not create a surplus that would finance the Not only were the peasants intellectually weak,
industrial jump the party was aiming for. they were also politically unaware.20 Therefore,
it was very easy for officials to set up the first
The farmers, hence, had to deal with a two- communes in hinterlands. The communes would
pronged attack on their survival. Amartya Sen’s fulfill a two-fold agenda of grain procurement
and surveillance of the political sentiment in ar-
15Ibid. 55. 18Ibid.
16Ibid. 19Eberstadt, op.cit., 1.
17Nicholas Eberstadt, “The Great Leap Backwards,” The 20Kung and Lin, op.cit., 53.

New York Times, February 16, 1997, 1.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 13

eas away from the Party stronghold. Socialism, despite being diametrically opposed
to the ideologies of Capitalism, never rejected the
The Hukou system of internal passports was re- industrial mode of production itself. The social-
newed to stop the migration of the people from ists contemplated on alienation and exploitation
the interiors to the cities where there was an without any criticism of industrialization. The
abundance of food. People were not allowed to Communist states that cropped up in the 20th
move – especially from rural hukuos – to more fa- century, continued following the industrial eco-
vorable residential complexes. This renewal was nomic structure.24 The Industrial Revolution was
once again an imitation of Soviet internal pass- possibly the biggest watershed event in world
ports. Mass labour mobilization and communes history that completely changed man’s relation
meant that all people were accounted for and the with nature. For the socialists, the only way to
old Chinese fear of rural migration (taohuang) establish equality was through the control of the
would not take place.21 economy. For the accomplishment of this pur-
pose, the use of natural resources to run the in-
According to Kung and Lin, another indication dustries was sanctioned.
of a deepening of the urban bias during the Leap
was an increase in provincial grain exports grew According to Shapiro, ancient China had three
as grain output fell.22 Urban bias already existed main streams of ideologies on mankind’s rela-
before the Leap, in view of the fact that the three tion with nature. These were the Daoist tradition
municipalities – Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai of accommodation of nature’s “will”, a Buddhist
collectively took in close to half, or 45.4 per- tradition of reverence for all living creatures, and
cent of the provincial grain imports. Liaon- lastly a Confucian school of thought based on the
ing, a highly industrialized province in northwest control of nature.25 Mao’s chosen path is clearly
China that was proving to be the epicenter of the delineated here.
Chinese industrial revolution, accounted for an-
other 21 percent. Together these four centers ab- Mao was never the one for the protection of na-
sorbed two-thirds of the overall grain transfers ture. Nature was to be exploited. As a part of the
exported from the “surplus” provinces. With- Great Leap policies, the Four Pests Campaign or
out making allowance for the indiscriminate con- the Great Sparrow Campaign were launched. In
sumption in city-centers, procurement quotas for order to achieve higher agricultural productivity,
1959 continued to be set at hopelessly unrealis- the Communist Party decreed that the Eurasian
tic levels; even without the drought of that year, Sparrow be exterminated.26
the cold and rains of the next, and the inevitable
Yellow River flood, the state’s requisitions could The sparrow was seen as a pest that ate the grains
only be met at the expense of the communal on the crops. In order to rid the rural landscape of
kitchens,23 leaving the peasant family starving sparrows, the provincial officials resorted to us-
but working for meeting the food requirements ing schoolchildren. They were told to beat pans
of the urban population. and pots till the sparrows died of the noise. The
government did not realize that apart from eating
3.3. Mao’s Need to Master Nature
21Kueh, op.cit., 711. 25Shapiro, op.cit., 99.
22Kung and Lin, op.cit., 55. 26Michael McCarthy, “Nature Studies with Michael Mc-
23Keay, op.cit., 526.
Carthy: The Sparrow that Survived Mao’s Purge,” The
Independent, September 3, 2010, 1.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 14

grains, the sparrows also ate insects and so when devastated by the death in his own province but
a locust epidemic hit Chinese crops, there was no suffered the same fate as Dehuai.30
natural barrier to their spread.
Three provinces were worst hit by the famine.
In 1960, the sparrow was removed as a threat These were Sichuan, Henan and Anhui.31 Henan
and instead bed bugs were added to the list. The was then and still continues to be one of the
Great Leap Forward, through grotesquely misap- poorest provinces in China. The first commune
plied agricultural policies, led to famine in which under the Great Leap Forward was set-up here.
perhaps 30 million people died, and the affair of One of the reasons for the severity of the famine
the sparrows might seem trivial in comparison, in these regions was the Yellow River.32 Passing
were it not for what it represents. The indus- through both Henan and Anhui, the Yellow
trialization craze clouded the “revolutionary” vi- River is in its lower reaches in the provinces
sion of the Communists. It seems paradoxical of southeast China. The high amount of silting
that the followers of socialism were most inter- because of the river’s course here causes frequent
ested in control (of people and nature) when the flooding. 1958 too saw a flood that coincided
ideology was founded on relinquishing power to with the Great Leap. The mortality rate more
the proletariat. Michael McCarthy highlights that than doubled within a span of one year.
Mao’s slogan was Ren Ding Shen Tian or Man
Must Conquer Nature. 27 4. Conclusion

To add insult to injury, the link between the abuse The Great Chinese Famine is an exemplification
of people and the abuse of nature became unusu- of three ideological shortcomings. The first is
ally stark and transparent under Maoist China. the misgiving that the reallocation of land and
The “backyard furnaces” were fuelled by tim- uniform type of agriculture across the country
bre from forests yet to recover from their overuse would prove to be productive. The second was
during the Qings. Poorly constructed hydroelec- the assumption that man was born to control na-
tricity projects caused more damage than wel- ture and that industrialization was the best man-
fare. Revolutionary China’s environmental prob- ifestation of man’s superiority. The third was
lems arose out of over-extraction of resources that the imbalance between the grain stocks pro-
and impoverishment of the land’s productivity.28 vided to the hinterlands and the cities would have
no consequence. If only the CCP had the metis
Despite opposition from fellow ministers, Mao to recognize their fallacy in interfering in agri-
sped ahead with his policies and refused to ac- culture production at a nation-wide scale, and
knowledge that he was conducting a mass mur- had it not overestimated production, the starv-
der. During the Lushan conference in 1959, ing masses might have been saved. Not only did
Peng Dehuai raised an alarm over the number of the Chinese famine reflected the incompetence
deaths. But he was removed and exiled.29 This of the CCP but also provided a reality-check on
was the first instance of a direct attack against the grand schemes of ecological organization that
Mao’s schemes by a member of the Politburo. were bound to fail.
Later, Liu Shaoqi, the prime minister, too was
30Keay, op.cit., 527.
27Ibid., 5. 31Bramaall, op.cit., 999.
28Shapiro, op.cit., 114. 32Ibid.
29Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Peng Dehuai,” November

25, 2018, 1.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 15

Bibliography McCarthy, Michael. “Nature Studies with
Michael McCarthy: The Sparrow that Survived
Bramaall, Chris. “Agency and Famine in China’s Mao’s Purge.” The Independent. September 3,
Sichuan Province, 1958-1962.” The China Quar- 2010.
terly, 2011: 990-1008.
Schiavenza, Matt. How Humiliation Drove Mod-
Dikkoter, Frank. “Mao’s Great Leap to Famine.” ern Chinese History. The Atlantic. October 25,
The New York Times. December 15, 2010. 2013.

Eberstadt, Nicholas. “The Great Leap Back- Sen, Amartya. Poverty and Famines. Oxford:
ward.” The New York Times. February 1997. Clarendon Press, 1981.

Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Chiang Kai- Shapiro, Judith. Mao’s War Against Nature.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
Shek.” Accessed October 6, 2018.


Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Great Leap
Forward.” Accessed October 1, 2018.

Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Peng De-

huai.” Accessed November 15, 2018.


Fenby, Jonathan. “Mao’s Great Famine by Frank
Dikkoter.” The Guardian, September 05, 2010.
maos-great-famine-dikkoter-review .

Keay, John. China A History. London: Harper
Collins, 2009.

Kueh, YY. “Mao and Agriculture in China’s In-
dustrialization: Three Antitheses in a 50-year
Perspective.” The China Quarterly, 2006: 700-

Kung, James Kai-Sing, and Justin Yifu Lin.
“Causes of China’s Great Leap Famine.” Eco-
nomic Development and Cultural Change, 2003:

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 16

Finding the Lost Generation: The Great Gatsby and the American Society

Mallika Goel
Department of History, Lady Shri Ram College for Women

“The parties were bigger, the pace was faster, the shows were broader, the buildings were higher,
the morals were looser and the liquor was cheaper.”1The 1920s, known variously as “The Roaring
Twenties”, “The Jazz Age” and the “Era of Wonderful Nonsense”, were a complex time which saw
American society undergoing several changes. The surge of economic prosperity following World
War I, combined with the desire of returning soldiers to seize the day, led to a decade of decadence
and materialism, which came to an abrupt halt with the Great Depression. The above quote by F.
Scott Fitzgerald encapsulates how the new society was perceived by a group of contemporary writers
called the Lost Generation, who, through their work, criticised this increasingly consumerist society,
with no space for meaningful relationships and personal growth. In this paper, using ‘The Great
Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald, I have attempted to explore how these writers used literature to express
their dissatisfaction with society, while analysing their accuracy. I have tried to correlate the various
societal developments of this period with their portrayal by these writers, to argue that these changes
were not silently accepted by people, but were constantly critiqued and reinterpreted. This paper
argues that the literature in this period had a tremendous cultural impact which actively helped people
to find their place in an increasingly changing world.

1. The Lost Generation ten wrote scathing works about the Lost Genera-
tion, while interestingly enough, being a part of
Before analysing the literature of this period, it it themselves. The best known amongst these are
is important to understand the background of its F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and John
writers. During the 1920s, a group of writers Dos Passos.
known as “The Lost Generation” gained popu-
larity. This term, coined by Gertrude Stein and Romantic cliche´s were abandoned for ex-
popularised by Ernest Hemingway, denoted writ- treme realism and complex symbolism. Com-
ers who came of age in this period, and more mon themes included decadence, the frivolous
generally, referred to people of the post-war gen- lifestyle of the wealthy, changing gender roles,
eration. In the literary context, the Lost Gen- lack of morality and the withering of the Ameri-
eration denoted American authors who lived in can Dream. It can be said that the works of these
Paris in the 1920s. Disdainful of the pre-war writers were autobiographical, based on their use
Victorian notions of morality and disillusioned of mythologised versions of their lives.3 Like
by the materialistic culture of post-war America, in Fitzgerald’s case, they often embodied exactly
they felt that America was not conducive to per- what they were critiquing – alcoholism, partying
sonal and artistic fulfilment and sought a more
Bohemian lifestyle.2 These expatriate writers of- Case of the Lost Generation,” Twentieth Century Litera-
ture, vol. 49, no. 1 (2003): 90.
1F. Scott Fitzgerald, My Lost City: Personal Essays 3Allie Baker, “Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds and the Lost
1920-1940, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Generation: An interview with Kirk Curnutt,” Accessed
2014), 112. September 16, 2018, http://www.thehemingwayproject.
2Carolyn Durham, “Modernism and Mystery: The Curious com/2018/08/14/hemingway-the-fitzgeralds-and-the-lost-
generation-an-interview -with-kirk-curnutt-3/.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 17

and aimlessness. I will address some of these the economic boom of the 1920s.5
themes in the context of The Great Gatsby, which
is essentially about the moral decay that lay be- This economic prosperity was accompanied by
neath the glitz and glamour of the elite. the desire for pleasure. The senseless brutality of
the War popularised the idea of seizing the day,
To give a brief overview of the story, the nar- best characterised by the saying, “eat, drink, and
rator, Nick Carraway, rents a house at West be merry; for tomorrow we all die.”6
Egg on Long Island. His neighbour there is the
enigmatic Jay Gatsby, a self-made millionaire The attitudes of the returning soldiers greatly
from the Midwest who lives a high life from the shaped the society. Their new experiences from
profits of his minor criminal activities. Gatsby’s around the world had changed their perspective
infamous parties are attended by many guests of life. After seeing Europe, they wanted some
who do not know their host. Nick becomes of the finer things in life; many even decided to
cynically fascinated and transfixed by Gatsby, leave behind the small towns they came from.
and their friendship nurtures many confidences. The 1920 census revealed a startling statistic: for
Carraway learns that Gatsby and Daisy had been the first time ever, the United States was more
in love, but that Daisy had not waited for him than fifty percent urban.7
to return from the war and had married another
man. Nick arranges a meeting between the two, However, the war had also taken a huge psycho-
and their romance rekindles. Daisy’s husband logical toll on the returning soldiers. Men in
Tom, himself already involved in an affair with a the 1900s were expected to be “masculine” and
garage-owner’s wife Myrtle, becomes jealous of repress their emotions.8 Emotional breakdowns
Gatsby’s attentions to his wife. This culminates were unacceptable and in some cases, this led
in a violent climax, as Gatsby is betrayed by them to being locked away in asylums. As a cop-
his own dreams, which have been nurtured by a ing mechanism, it is possible that some soldiers
meretricious society.4 tried to lose themselves in pleasure and intoxica-
2. Economic Prosperity, Decadence and
Frivolity of the Rich Decadence is one of the main themes of The
Great Gatsby, best exemplified by the lavish par-
To provide context, the 1920s were a decade of ties that Gatsby organises every weekend at his
change. World War I marked the rise of the U.S. mansion. It is almost like Gatsby’s parties are
to the level of major world power. This was
mainly due to the large amount of money that 5John A. Moore, “The Original Supply Siders: Warren
Europe owed to the United States after the end Harding and Calvin Coolidge,” The Independent Review,
of the War. The United States, being the main vol. 18, no. 4 (2014): 598.
wartime supplier to Europe, developed one of the 6Frederick Lewis Allen, Only Yesterday: An Informal His-
most productive industries in the world. The pro- tory of the Nineteen-Twenties, (New York: Perennial Clas-
business policies of the Republican Presidents sics, 2000), 71.
Harding and Coolidge also helped contribute to 7Joseph A. Hill, “Some Results of the 1920 Population
Census,” Journal of the American Statistical Association
4Francis Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, (Ware, Hert- vol.18, no. 139 (1922): 352.
fordshire: Wordsworth, 1993). 8Robert A. Nye, “Western Masculinities in War and
Peace,” The American Historical Review vol. 112, no. 2
(2007): 432.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 18

a microcosm of the Jazz Age America.9 Almost kind of money. Gatsby will never be able to guar-
all the guests that attend Gatsby’s parties are peo- antee her the security that Tom provides her, or be
ple whose only concern in life is to go from one accepted by the elitist society of East Egg, who
party to another and get drunk. They do not know would gladly take advantage of his hospitality but
Gatsby, but that does not prevent them from at- not accept his self-made status.
tending his parties and taking advantage of his
liquor and his food. Gatsby’s parties reveal the Despite their great fortunes, they do not know
degradation that the American upper class had what to do with their lives, just as Daisy states,
reached. At the parties, we find men who cheat “What’ll we do with ourselves this afternoon and
on their wives with younger girls, and women the day after that, and the next thirty years?”11
who are indignant at their sober husbands want- Tom and Daisy, typical examples of the old elite,
ing to take them home when they are having a are always on the move, in search of happiness.
good time. All of them benefit from Gatsby’s Fitzgerald criticises the fact that those who pos-
hospitality but only one guest, the owl-eyed man, sess the means lack the will to pursue a dream
attends his funeral. and those who really have a dream cannot make
it real because their money is not “respectable,”
It is important here to mention the clear divide as is Gatsby’s case.
between the old elites and the newly wealthy.
Fitzgerald makes use of the characters of Tom 3. Consumerism and the American Dream
and Daisy Buchanan to paint a harsh picture of
the former, who are born immensely rich, some- In order to enjoy the “here and now”, people de-
thing that allows them to feel not just econom- manded more and more items that satisfied their
ically but socially superior to the world around immediate needs. Thus, many consumer indus-
them. tries prospered during the Twenties, mostly in
urban areas, especially the automobile industry.
They were careless people, Tom and Daisy In the years preceding the War, the automobile
- they smashed up things and creatures and was considered a luxury item, only available to
then retreated back into their money or a few. However, this situation changed when
their vast carelessness or whatever it was Henry Ford succeeded in inventing the Ford T,
that kept them together, and let other peo- the first affordable family car for the American
ple clean up the mess they had made.10 middle class. The proliferation of electricity led
to inventions like the refrigerator and the vacuum
Trapped in a loveless marriage, Daisy turns to cleaner, all of which contributed to making life
Gatsby. Once she discovers that Gatsby’s for- much easier for thousands of Americans, partic-
tune has been recently acquired and not inherited, ularly women.12
she chooses her husband over him, thus choosing
money over love. Gatsby never realises how ten- Being aware of the great purchasing power that
uous his relationship with Daisy really was, how the majority of the population had accumulated,
much it depended not just on money but the right businessmen rapidly began to look for new meth-

9Brian Way, F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Art of Social Fic- 11Ibid., 75.
tion, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1980), 88. 12Nathan Miller, New World Coming: The 1920s and the
10Fitzgerald, op.cit., 114.
Making of Modern America, (Cambridge:MA Da Capo
Press, 2004), 274.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 19

ods to increase sales. Advertising became very American Dream, which originated in the early
significant. People began buying things not for days of the American settlement, with mostly
necessity but just for the sake of owing it which poor immigrants searching for opportunities. It
became the latest fashion. Now, the working was first manifested in the Declaration of Inde-
and the middle classes also had access to aes- pendence, which stated that “all men are created
thetic pleasures once limited to aristocracies.13 equal and that they are endowed with certain un-
Economic prosperity gave way to an increasingly alienable rights, among which are life, liberty
consumerist and materialist society, where one and pursuit of happiness.”14 However, getting
could gauge another’s value through their posses- bombarded by images of what “having made it”
sions. is supposed to look like meant that the traditional
vision of the American Dream, that hard work
Consumerism is a very important theme in The led to success, had become corrupted. “Living
Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald uses the character of the dream” was no longer about simply building
Myrtle Wilson to describe and criticise the ab- a self-sufficient life, but about getting stunningly
surd consumerist spirit of the period. Myrtle is rich by any means necessary.15
a middle-class woman who desperately seeks to
leave her dull existence behind. Her husband, Gatsby symbolises both the corrupted and
George Wilson, who is often described as a “spir- uncorrupted versions of the Dream. He sees
itless man”, runs a garage in one of the most wealth as the solution to his problems, pursues
depressing areas of New York — The Valley of money via shady schemes, and reinvents himself
Ashes. Myrtle, who has always wanted to be an to the extent of becoming hollow, disconnected
upper-class lady, thinks that she will gain sta- from his past. However, the underlying forces
tus through the acquisition of material goods, that drives him towards corruption are love for
deceived by magazines and advertisements that Daisy and hope for a better life. His failure does
promise the status of a distinguished woman. not dismiss the American Dream. Instead, it
Fitzgerald describes the plethora of consumer shows the perils of being so consumed by the
items Myrtle gathers in her overcrowded New Dream that the very values it stands for, like hard
York apartment to convince herself that she leads work and integrity, no longer matter. Gatsby’s
a glamorous and exciting life. She wears three American Dream was not to be rich, but to get
different dresses in a single day, and lets four Daisy. His vision of Daisy was perfect, and
taxis pass before selecting one that is painted Daisy, being an ordinary woman, was flawed and
lavender, a fashionable colour according to the could never live up to his expectations. Similarly,
magazines of the time. Myrtle’s behaviour is the American Dream is not rosy and perfect, and
a clear example of how commercial culture de- has its own flaws. The Great Gatsby is a cau-
ceived people by making them believe that they tionary tale to remind people not to lose sight of
could be something they were not. Consumerism themselves and the people they love in its pursuit.
and materialism often led to destruction; the fact
that the automobile, the ultra consumerist sym- 14“Declaration of Independence: A Transcription,” Na-
bol of the 1920s, is what puts an end to Myrtle’s tional Archives and Records Administration, Accessed
life, makes a strong statement. September 18, 2018,
Consumerism also changed the perception of the
15Zamira Hodo, “The Failure of the American Dream in
13Ibid., 151. ‘The Great Gatsby’- Fitzgerald,”’ European Journal of
Multidisciplinary Studies, vol. 6, no. 2 (2017): 299.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 20

4. The Position of Women envisioning of her newborn daughter’s future
is very revealing. “I hope she’ll be a fool -
Another change in the morality of the society that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world,
could be seen in the position of women. During a beautiful little fool.”18 Here, Fitzgerald seems
the War, women entered the workforce in sig- to lament his generation’s creation of a society
nificant numbers, in previously male dominated which largely devalued intelligence in women.
fields. They worked in offices and factories, in The role of an “ideal woman” had changed from
stores and governmental agencies. They were one who was docile and subservient, to one
earning higher wages than ever, but there was still whose only aim was mindless pleasure-seeking.
a significant wage gap16. The 19th Amendment In both scenarios, women were defined by what
of 1920 gave women the right to vote, which men perceived as attractive, and what they
gave women an increased sense of confidence wanted them to be. While she seemed to bemoan
and independence. This led to the emergence her generation’s view of gender roles, Daisy
of the ”flappers” — women who exchanged the confirmed to them, acting as a “fun girl” to avoid
old restrictive clothes like corsets in favour of the consequences of choosing her true love,
short skirts, short hair, and bright makeup, which Gatsby.
was earlier worn only by prostitutes. Many of
them wore men’s clothing. They smoked, drank, 5. Prohibition and Organised Crime
played tennis, and danced wildly in jazz clubs.
They were sexually active and some were openly The new morality provoked reactions from tra-
lesbian.17 ditionalists, who had deep respect for long-held
cultural and religious values. They viewed ma-
In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald shows women terial culture and new technology as damaging
of all classes who are breaking out of the moulds to the moral fabric of society, and were strongly
that society had placed them in. Myrtle, for in- against the jazz and flapper cultures.19 In this
stance, wishes to climb the social ladder, and so light, there were several attempts to “reform” so-
she is determined to do so at all costs, includ- ciety, like Prohibition, or the ban on alcohol.
ing an affair with a rich married man, Tom. Jor-
dan Baker is an emancipated woman. She passes However, given the lax enforcement of the law,
time as a professional golfer, a profession made many Americans viewed it as something of
possible largely because of the social and eco- a joke. Bootleggers smuggled liquor, while
nomic progress of the period. She represents a speakeasies, or underground bars in every city
new sporty, yet feminine woman. provided alcohol illegally. Prohibition mainly
impacted the beer-drinking working classes who
Daisy too attempts to break away from the could not afford bootleg liquor. There was an
restrictive society in which she was raised, yet increase in organised crime, and gangsters con-
she is too embedded in the system, and falls trolled the distribution of alcohol in major Amer-
back into the only thing she knows – money. Her ican cities. Prohibition, dubbed the “Noble Ex-
periment of the 1920s”, failed to curb the prolif-
16Alice Kessler-Harris, Out to Work: A History of Wage- eration of alcohol and was more of a “symbolic
earning Women in the United States, (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2003), 230. 18Fitzgerald, op.cit., 13.
19Kessler-Harris, op.cit., 318.
17Joshua Zeitz, Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style,
Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern,
(New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006), 106.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 21

reform” which gave recognition to the norms and Blacks, Catholics, Jews and immigrants.22
values of rural, Protestant America, while the
average American became more enamoured by There are incidents of racism discourse in The
wealth.20 Great Gatsby, such as when Tom states that “it’s
up to the dominant race to watch out or these
Although Prohibition is never mentioned ex- other races will have control of things.”23 The
plicitly, it is clear that Gatsby, like the other story took place in a time of radical changes.
numerous bootleggers that arose in this period, Tom, and others who were currently wealthy, re-
acquired his immense fortune through smug- sisted change because it threatened their comfort-
gling alcohol. During Prohibition, doctors could able way of life. They were at the top of the
prescribe “medicinal liquor” for their patients food chain and did want this order to change.
for dozens of ailments, including alcoholism. As Tom and Gatsby fight over Daisy’s love, Tom
Gatsby sees this as an opportunity and estab- claims that: “Nowadays people begin by sneer-
lishes a chain of drugstores with the help of ing at family life and family institution and next
gangsters and corrupt politicians, like Meyer they’ll throw everything overboard and have in-
Wolfsheim. termarriage between black and white.”24

6. Nativism and Religion The absence of religion is also significant.
The billboard located over the Valley of Ashes
Interestingly, drinking alcohol was seen as un- depicting the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg
patriotic. Beer was traditionally brewed in Ger- symbolises how God is watching the decay as
many — America’s rival in the War, while vodka a mute spectator. The fact that God himself is
was seen as the drink of Bolsheviks in Commu- an advertisement demonstrates to what extent
nist Russia. This reflected the nativist and even materialism had damaged the society. Fitzgerald
white supremacist trends of 1920s. After World criticises how wealth had become the new “reli-
War I, there was a tendency to look inward, that gion” of America, that despite the new liberty of
is there was a lot of suspicion towards immi- the 1920s, there was a definite conflict between
grants. In the famous Red Scare, 6000 immi- tradition and novelty.
grants, suspected of being Communists, were ar-
rested and some were deported.21 Laws limiting 7. Conclusion
immigration were signed by President Coolidge
who declared, “America must be kept American.” We see that the American society of the 1920s
The period also saw a resurgence of the Ku Klux was highly conflicted. While the avenues for
Klan, a group of white terrorists who committed pleasure had increased for more people than ever
many violent, brutal acts against anyone differ- before, there was an increasing sense of futility,
ent from the White Protestant majority, including isolation and existentialism. In this atmosphere,
literature assumed enormous significance. Nov-
20Mark Thornton, “Alcohol Prohibition Was a Fail- els of the Lost Generation not only portrayed life,
but also provided markers of how to negotiate
ure,” Cato Institute, Accessed September 24, with life. They reassured people that they were

2018, 22Miller, op.cit., 50.
23Fitzgerald, op.cit., 11.
analysis/alcohol-prohibition-was-failure. 24Ibid., 83.

21Stanley Coben, “A Study in Nativism: The American

Red Scare of 1919-20,” Political Science Quarterly, vol.

79, no. 1 (1964): 73.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 22

not alone, and helped them find meaning in the Bruccoli, Matthew J and Emory Elliot eds. New
chaos of the new, modern world. Essays on The Great Gatsby. Cambridge Univer-
sity Press, 1985.
Through books, readers of the 1920s were inter-
preting themselves. After the War, several peo- Coben, Stanley. “A study in Nativism: The
ple had lost their sense of identity. Instead of American Red Scare of 1919-20.” Political Sci-
simply being a means of escape or solace, books ence Quarterly, vol. 79, no. 1 (1964): 52-75.
assumed the role of cultural signposts, guiding
readers on finding their place and navigating their Curnutt, Kirk, ed. A Historical Guide to F. Scott
lives in the new world around them. Fitzgerald. Oxford University Press, 2004.

At the end of the novel, Fitzgerald writes, Durham, Carolyn A. “Modernism and Mystery:
The Curious Case of the Lost Generation.” Twen-
Gatsby believed in the green light, the tieth Century Literature, vol. 49, no. 1 (2003):
orgastic future that year by year recedes 82-102.
before us. It eluded us then, but that’s
no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, Fitzgerald, F. Scott. Fitzgerald: My Lost City:
stretch out our arms farther. And then Personal Essays 1920-1940. Cambridge Univer-
one fine morning—So we beat on, boats sity Press, 2005.
against the current, borne back ceaselessly
into the past.25 Fitzgerald, F. Scott. Echoes of the Jazz Age.
Charles River Editors via Publish Drive, 2018.
Despite his cynicism regarding the 1920s and
all that they encompassed, Fitzgerald shows Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Ware,
measured optimism in the human spirit to fight Hertfordshire: Wordsworth, 1993.
for a better future, in spite of constantly being
pushed back by one’s circumstances. He likens Hill, Joseph A. “Some Results of the 1920 Pop-
this struggle to rowing a boat upstream, and ulation Census.” Journal of the American Statis-
argues for a level of individual agency in im- tical Association, vol. 18, no. 139 (1922): 350-
proving one’s life, even when everything else is 358.
pitted against it. Although the horizon cannot be
reached, the effort put in is certainly not futile. It Hodo, Zamira. “The Failure of the American
was this spirit of resistance, that above all, was Dream in ‘The Great Gatsby’-Fitzgerald.” Eu-
the way to salvation for the Lost Generation. ropean Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies, vol.
2, no. 7 (2017): 299-305.
McParland, Robert. Beyond Gatsby: How
Allen, Frederick Lewis. Only Yesterday: An In- Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Writers of the 1920s
formal History of the Nineteen Twenties. New Shaped American Culture. Rowman & Little-
York: Perennial Classics, 2000. field, 2015.

25Ibid., 115. Nye, Robert A. “Western masculinities in War
and Peace.” The American Historical Review,
vol. 112, no. 2 (2007): 417-438.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 23

Way, Brian. F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Art of
Social Fiction. St. Martin’s Press, 1980.

Allie Baker. Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds
and the Lost Generation: An Interview with
Kirk Curnutt. Accessed September 16, 2018.

Moore, John A. “The Original Supply Siders:
Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge.” The In-
dependent Review, vol. 18, no. 4 (2014).

Miller, Nathan. New World Coming: The 1920s
and the Making of Modern America. Cambridge:
Da Capo Press, 2004.

National Archives and Records Adminis-

tration. “Declaration of Independence: A

Transcription.” Accessed September 18,



Zeitz, Joshua. Flapper: A Madcap Story of
Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made
America Modern. New York: Three Rivers Press,

Kessler-Harris, Alice. Out to Work: A History of
Wage-earning Women in the United States. Ox-
ford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Thornton, Mark. “Alcohol Prohibition Was a
Failure”. Cato Institute. Accessed September 24,

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 24

Gul-e-Mughal: Examining Roses in the Context of the Mughal World

Ushni Dasgupta
Department of History, Lady Shri Ram College for Women

At its zenith, the imperial Mughal state brandished symbols of authority and legitimacy which outlived
the contemporary era to form an integral part of the historical discourse. The state promoted the
crystallisation of traditions, practices and ideals around several entities, which were later integrated
into the state ideology. One such entity, which has found multifarious manifestations throughout
cultural, political and religious spheres, is the rose. This paper is an attempt to provide a general
analysis of the form, decoration and surroundings of the rose in Mughal imperial culture, through
an examination of a combination of Mughal chronicles and normative texts. The paper tries to
demonstrate that the usage of the rose in the imperial ideology and culture drew its roots in the
Persianate culture and contributed to the larger dialogue of symbolism in the Mughal state.

The rose has been a perennial symbol of beauty Mughal world, the rich corpus of texts from the
and transience. It has stirred the poetic imagina- Mughal court, including the memoirs of Babur,
tion of countless people, representing the under- Gulbadan Begum and Jahangir, and the chron-
pinnings of a complex and vibrant culture, and icles of A’bul Fazl, provide vivid, albeit lim-
has contributed to the epistemological study of ited, description of roses in the various aspects
aesthetics in the medieval Islamic world. Behind of Mughal lifestyle.
its striking physique and exquisite aroma, there
lies a long history of “curative, culinary and spir- The aim of the present paper is to examine
itual uses.”1 It would be critical to quote Ed- and analyze roses within the context of the
ward A. Bunyard2 here, who has succinctly re- Turko-Persian Mughal world. In the first section,
marked that “the history of the rose is intimately various facets in which the usage of rose has
interwoven with the movements of civilization, found expression – in etymology, architecture,
the march of armies and the gradual knitting to- food or traditions – has been examined. The
gether by mutual needs of the countries of the second half of the paper aims to locate the
world.”3 Due to the pervasiveness of oral tradi- rose in the Islamic traditions, which continues
tions and a lack of textual sources, the recon- to metamorphose and discern itself in widely
struction of the history of roses in Indian his- varied geographical, historical and cultural
tory is quite complicated. In the context of the milieu (incorporating a variety of manifestations
and simultaneously continuing generic social,
1Jennifer Celik, “The Rose: A Flower With Deep Roots in religious, cultural and political traits). The paper
Turkish Culture,” Daily Sabah, Accessed March 17, 2019, shall conclude with a comprehensive under- standing of the usage of the rose in the imperial
rose-a-flower-with-deep-roots-in-turkish-culture . ideology, and the greater role played by it in the
2Edward Ashdown Bunyard was an English food writer complex trajectory of Mughal symbolism.
and apple enthusiast known for his books – The Anatomy
Of Dessert, A Handbook of Hardy Fruits and The Epi-
cure’s Companion.
3Samuel Marinus Zwemer and Margaret Clarke Zwemer,
“The Rose and Islam,” The Muslim World, no. 31 (1941):

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 25

1. Revisiting the Rose in the Mughal “Al- expression finds root in the philosophical tenets
Janna” of the art which flourished notably at the Timurid
court, the art of landscape design. Gardening,
The damask rose, with its intoxicating and po- of its very nature, was the most transient and
tent fragrance, made its way to the Mughal court evanescent of art forms. The garden type that we
with the advent of Babur. In his memoirs, Babur- think of today as characteristically “Islamic” is
nama, we find an account of his inquisitiveness, in fact the Timurid garden. Historically, this tra-
and a careful exposition of the natural wonders dition, in its Timurid expression, had bifurcated:
he saw on his way towards the east. In praise of going south to produce the Persian garden and
Kabul, “open-lands of Baran, the plain of Chash- east to produce the Mughal garden.7
tupa, and the skirt of Gul-i-Bahar,”4 he writes the
following: Islam conceives of paradise as a garden, the Ko-
ranic term being al-janna, i.e., the Garden ––
Kabul in Spring is an Eden of verdure and the garden par excellence. Burial in a garden
blossom; amounts to material anticipation of immaterial
bliss, and the closer the garden approximates the
Matchless in Kabul the Spring of Koranic model the more effective is the analogy.8
Gul-i-bahar and Baran.5 Mughal garden, populated with nard-anointed
houris and balmy air perfumed by flowers, must
Babur’s love for roses is epitomized in the ode have approximated the divine archetype pretty
composed at the end of this excursion: closely.

My heart, like the bud of the red, red rose, In Babur’s accounts, we find names of sev-
Lies fold within fold aflame; eral gardens which adorned Samarqand in the
fifteenth century –– “the Bagh-i-Naqsh Jehan,
Would the breath of even a myriad Springs Bagh-i Shimal, Bagh-i-Bihist...and the Bagh-i-
Blow my heart’s bud to a rose?6 Jehannuma.”9 Babur abided with the Timurid tra-
dition of developing sites for recreation and plea-
It is believed that he was so enamored with the sure, and in Baburnama, narrated his endeavors
beauty of roses that he named his daughters, to build gardens in India. At one point, he pro-
borne by his Timurid wife Dildar Begum, after vided an account of his undertakings in garden
roses; namely, Gul-rang (Rose-hued), Gul-chihra architecture at Agra:
(Rose-cheeked) and Gul-badan (Rose-body).
So ugly and displeasing were they, that the
Upon arrival in India, the garden-loving Babur idea of making a Charbagh in them passed
decried the lack of symmetry, and the absence of from my mind, but needs must! As there
charm, shape or form that characterized Hindus- was no other land near Agra, that same
tani –– both “Hindu” and “Muslim” –– architec- ground was taken in hand a few days later...
ture (as contrasted, presumably, with the archi- The beginning was made with the large
tecture of the Timurid cities of Central Asia). His
7James Dickie, “The Mughal Garden: Gateway to Par-
4Zahiru’d-din Muhammad Babur, The Baburnama, Trans. adise,” Muqarnas, vol. 3 (1985): 129.
Annette S. Beveridge, (Luzac & Co. 1922), 320. 8Ibid., 131.
5Ibid., 321. 9James, op.cit., 129.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 26

well from which water comes for the Hot- Peter Mundy,13 visiting Shah Jahan’s court, has
bath, and also with the piece of ground also written extensively about the Mughal gar-
where the tamarind-trees and the octag- dens in his chapters on Agra. Mundy completed
onal tank now are...after that (came) the his account with a thorough description of plant-
private-house (khilwat-khana) with its gar- ing, significant herein is his mention of beds of
den and various dwellings; after that the roses seen in abundance:
Hot-bath. Then in that charmless and dis-
orderly Hind, plots of gardens were seen ..This square Garden is againe devided
laid out with order and symmetry, with into other lesser squares, and that into other
suitable borders and parterres in every cor- like bedds and plots; in some, litle groves
ner, and in every border rose and narcissus of trees... In other squares are your flowers,
in perfect arrangement.”10 herbes, etts., whereof Roses aboundance,
Marigolds (theis scarse only in Mootee ca
Understandably, the immaculately tended rose baag) to bee seene; French Mariegolds;
bushes emerged as a prominent attraction in the Poppeaas redd, carnation and white... all
archetypical Mughal gardens. A similar fasci- watered by hand in tyme of drought, which
nation for flora, fauna and minerals, driven by is 9 moneths in the Yeare..14
an aesthetic sense which matched beauty (husn)
with strangeness, is found in Jahangir: at the core 2. Beyond “Gul-i-Bahar”: Rose Garden Im-
of whose curiosity laid the marvels of the Cre- agery and Trope
ation, known as aja’ib in the medieval Islamic
world and as mirabilia in the contemporary Oc- This great love for rose gardens and floral im-
cident.11 The various collections gathered by Ja- agery pervades the art and architecture of the
hangir, and his patronage of gardens, powerfully Mughal dynasty. It is documented that while
embodied this particular taste and inclination to- in Kashmir, Jahangir commissioned his artists to
wards nature. In his memoirs, he writes: draw over a hundred flowering roses. From this
period onwards, “flowers filled the gardens of
On Wednesday I went to the Path Garden Mughal court and spilled over into paintings and
to see the roses. One whole bed was in full textiles,” and by Shah Jahan’s reign became the
bloom. Roses do not grow much in this more stylized version of Jahangir’s natural ren-
land, and to see so many in one place was ditions. The magnificent marble inlay at the Taj
an opportunity not to be missed...After a Mahal, built in 1635, shows Shah Jahan’s prefer-
pleasurable four-day stay in the garden, I ence for flowers (roses and poppies) as a primary
returned to town on Monday the twenty- subject. Two types of floral compositions pre-
fourth [February 2]...12 dominated during his reign: floral sprays, read-
ily identifiable as iris, roses, lilies, and peonies
10Babur, op.cit., 532.
11Corinne Lefe`vre, “Recovering a Missing Voice from 13Peter Mundy was a seventeenth-century British merchant
trader, traveller and writer. He was the first Briton to
Mughal India: The Imperial Discourse of Jaha¯ng¯ır record, in his Itinerarium Mundi, tasting Chaa in China
(r.1605-1627) in His Memoirs,” Journal of the Economic and travelled extensively in Asia, Russia and Europe.
and Social History of the Orient, vol. 50, no. 4 (2007):
475. 14Paula Henderson, “’Elysian Fields Such as the Poets
12Jahangir, The Jahangirnama: Memoirs of Jahangir, Em- Dreamed Of: The Mughal Garden in the Early Stuart
peror of India, trans. Wheeler M. Thackston (Oxford Mind,” The British Art Journal, vol. 10, no. 3 (2009):
University Press, 1999), 249. 38.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 27

among other varietals; and trellis patterns, within and trees that are “symbolically sensual and that
which a blossom was featured.15 are linked to the desired features of the beloved:
eyes like narcissi, cheeks like roses, and a tur-
The rose garden imagery and trope has been the baned head bowing down like a tulip.”18 There-
subject of artistic expression in various Persian fore, through such references of nocturnal tryst
poetry and paintings. For example, Sa’di’s Gulis- in gardens and the usage of venereal tropes in
tan notes an episode in the rose garden,16 which Persianate literature and painting, the rose tran-
inspired the creation of the work itself. In numer- scends its rudimentary interpretations.
ous Persian poems, as well as in the Gulistan, the
garden is a place of passion and desire, where The significance of roses in Mughal cuisine
the natural blends with the human, the floral with is equally remarkable. In Akbarnama, A’bul
the corporeal. Sa’di has stated that in medieval Fazl provides detailed accounts on the usage of
Persian poetry the garden “is not a place of soli- rose-water: “...sweetmeats and comfits prepared
tude,”17 and the setting frequently symbolized from candy (qand) and refined sugar (nabat)...and
love itself. The Mughal manuscripts of Gulis- rishta-i-khatai (Chinese threads), which shall
tan, with Govardhan’s illustrations, reflect the have been perfumed with rose-water, musk and
underlining erotic environment in the rose gar- grey ambergris...”19 Undoubtedly, the rose-water
den. Moreover, in such paintings, we can iden- became a salient feature of Mughal cuisine, a fact
tify botanically varied flowers, fragrant herbs, that later also found a political expression. His-
torically, food has also served as an instrument
15Erum Hadi, “Flowers of Paradise A Symbol of of political intercourse. In the farman issued by
the Mughal Empire’s Supreme Power”’ (2017): the Shah of Iran to his Governor, enumerating of Paradi the arrangements that were to be made to wel-
se A Symbol of the Mughal Empire s Supreme Power. come Humayun, there is a clear attempt to im-
docx . press the Mughal emperor with the symbolic us-
age of a recognizable ingredient: “...when they
16The tale begins with the author recalling that one day he arrive have served rose sherbet prepared with
was feeling depressed and contemplating retiring from lemon syrup and chilled with ice and snow... and
the company of humankind to go into seclusion. His try to have all beverages passed before the em-
friend, who was trying to dissuade him from his her- peror’s sight, and have them mixed with rose-
mitic decision, convinced Sa’d´ı to get out of the city and water and ambergris so that they will taste and
refresh his thoughts in a garden. Upon reaching an en- smell good.”20 Akbar, who is popularly known
chanting rose garden in bloom, the two men decided to to have been vegetarian three times a week, had
spend a night in that grove. The next morning, when they his own kitchen garden which he nourished with
realized that they had to return to the city, Sa’di noticed rosewater, so that the vegetables would be fra-
that his companion had collected roses, basil, hyacinths, grant when cooked.21
and herbs from the garden as souvenirs and mementos of
the night they had spent together. The author approached 18Ibid.
his friend and said: “Flowers, as you know, do not last, 19Abu’l Fazal, The Akbarnama, trans. Henry Beveridge
and the garden has no fidelity. The wise have said, ‘What
does not last is not worthy of attachment.”’ The friend (The Asiatic Society, 1907), 423.
asked, “Then what is to be done?” Sa’d¯ı replied with a 20Medhavi Gandhi, “A History of Mughal Cuisine Through
remarkable promise to his companion: “I may compose
a book of a Rose Garden [Gulistan] whose leaves can- Cookbooks,” The Heritage Lab, last modified January
not be touched by the tyranny of the seasons, and whose 23, 2017,
delight will not be changed by time.” history.
17Mika Natif, “Renaissance Painting and Expressions of
Male Intimacy in a Seventeenth-Century Illustration
from Mughal India,” Renaissance and Reformation, vol.
38, no. 4 (2009): 48.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 28

Foremost amongst all manifestations of rose in a gulzar (a rose-garden).”24 The incipient m¯ırza¯
the imperial lifestyle is the discovery and con- is advised against putting flowers in his turban
sumption of the rose or Jahangiri attar. Jahangir to avoid being regarded as effeminate. Interest-
provides a vivid account of the discovery of the ingly, the m¯ırza¯, “...a [masculine] blessing”, was
scent in his memoir: allowed to put “a gul-i mutlaq [rose] which is
made of the holy sweat drops on his head,”25 jus-
It is an invention made during our reign tifying that the rose, as the flower of Muhammad,
by Nurjahan Begam’s mother. While she would look particularly nice.
was making rose water, grease formed on
the utensils she was using to get the hot Chronicles allude to the treatment of roses in sev-
rose water out of the pot. Little by little eral ritual observances. The a˜b-pashi (ceremony
she collected the grease, and when a lot of the sprinkling of rose-water), embodied in a
of rose water had been made, there was a miniature painting by Govardhan, was a regu-
palpable amount of grease. In fragrance lar practice in the Mughal court. Jahangir has
it is of such a degree that if one drop is written that soon after his coronation, a rose wa-
rubbed on the palm it will perfume a whole ter spraying party was held. In his words, it
room and make it seem more subtly fra- was “a favorite custom of the ancients.” Gul-
grant than if many rosebuds had opened at badan Begum has recounted similar ceremonial
once. It cheers one up and restores the soul. rites at a feast held by Maham Begum: “... (My
As a reward for this invention I gave the lady) had prepared a tent-lining and a kannat
inventor a pearl necklace. Salima-Sultan and sar-i-kannat of Gujrati cloth-of-gold, a ewer
Begam —God rest her soul —was present for rose-water, and candlesticks, and drinking-
and named the oil ‘jahangiri attar.’22 vessels, and rose-water sprinklers — all of jew-
eled gold.”26
The fascination with this particular floral scent
is reproduced in the M¯ırza¯na¯mah, a mid- Allegories in textual sources point to a dynamic
seventeenth-century normative treatise on how repository of literary expressions, which created
to be a proper m¯ırza¯ or aristocratic gentleman, connotations of “eternal rose” and had symbolic
which returns to the matter of flowers repeatedly manifestations within the context of the imperial
and ties their proper appreciation and use to a ideologue of legitimacy. For example, Chandar
man’s character, sophistication, and masculinity. Bhan “Brahman”27 has provided a description of
It enumerates that, “The best perfume for this
time of the year (summer) is high-class Jahangiri 24Ibid., 105.
argaja. It is the best perfume for this season, ex- 25Ibid., 106.
cept for rose, which is also the perfume for this 26Gulbadan Begum, The History of Humayun – Humayun-
season.”23 Additionally, the nascent m¯ırza¯ is ad-
vised to “set a garden wherever possible in the nama, trans. Annette S. Beveridge (Royal Asiatic Soci-
compound of equal in numbers (ham-’adad) to ety, 1902), 113.
27Chandar Bhan “Brahman” (d. c.1670) was one of the
22Jahangir, op.cit., 163. great Indo-Persian poets and prose stylists of the 16th-
23Aziz Ahmad, “The British Museum M¯ırza¯na¯ma and the 17th century. His life spanned the reigns of four dif-
ferent emperors, Akbar (1556-1605), Jahangir (1605-
Seventeenth Century M¯ırza¯ in India,” Iran, vol. 13 1627), Shah Jahan (1628-1658), and Aurangzeb ’Alam-
(1975): 104. gir (1658-1707). As a high-caste Hindu who worked for
a series of Muslim monarchs and other officials, Chandar
Bhan’s experience bears vivid testimony to the pluralistic
atmosphere of the Mughal court, particularly during the

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 29

various public assemblies and festivals “contain- a significant position in the imaginations of Ara-
ing all the freshness and succulence of the roses bic and Persian poets alike. This is evidenced by
of eternal spring in this everlasting empire.”28 a poetic tradition ascribed to Muhammad: “The
In a different context, the ruler of Iran wrote white rose was created from my sweat on the
to Jahangir, “May breezes of prayers, whiffs of night of the nocturnal journey (mi‘raj), the red
response to which cause the rosebud of desire rose from the sweat of Gabriel and the yellow
to open and perfume the nostrils of unity...”29 rose from that of al-Buriiq.”32 In Sufism, the
A’bul Fazl’s text is replete with expressions rose, attached to a long thorny stem, symbol-
such as the “rose garden of fortune [the Akbar- ised the mystical path to Allah,33 as articulated
nama]”, “rose tree (gulbun) of the rose garden by Rumi, “What is the scent of the Rose? The
of the spring of the Khilafat”, “rose garden of breath of reason and intelligence, a sweet guide
sovereignty” and “hundred-leaved rod rose.”30 A on the way to the eternal kingdom.”34
critical analysis of such expressions is necessary
to understand whether such metaphors were Beginning with the single layered rosette carved
understood beyond the Mughal paradigm. For in the gable end of the entrance to the tomb
example, Jahangir’s letter to James I begins with, of Cyrus the Great,35 to the Sassanian portraits
“How gratious is your Majestie, whose greatnes deemed inadequate without a rose held delicately
God preserve. As upon a rose in a garden, so between the index finger and thumb, the fas-
are my eyes fixed upon you.”31 This seemingly cination for the rose found political expression
raises the question whether such paraphernalia throughout Persian history. In a closer time-
and emphasis on garden imagery would have line, al-Mutawakkil monopolized the cultivation
been appreciated by James. What was such an of roses with these words, “I am the king of sul-
important metaphor to the Great Mughal may tans and the rose is the king of the sweet- scented
have failed in impressing the British king, who, flowers; each of us therefore is worthy of the
unlike his wife and sons, had never shown much other.”36 In Persian art, the rose was frequently
interest in gardens. used as a decorative motif on tiles and porcelains,
“though very frequently so conventionalized that
3. Decoding the Persian Influence: Rose in the it resemble(d) a zinnia more than a rose.”37
Imperial Ideology
The Mughal rulers, drawing from their Turkish
The place of rose in the Mughal world may often roots and seeking to integrate Persianate tradi-
seem like an ostentatious attempt of legitimiz- tions, proselytised the rose in their imperial di-
ing imperial lifestyle, by wielding objects held alogue. As an imperial embodiment, the rose
in reverence in Persianate society. After the Arab
conquest of Syria, the rosa damascene carved out 32Zwemer, op.cit., 362.
33Ibid., 63.
reign of Shah Jahan. 34Merit-Amun, “Classic Rose Poems and Quotes”
28Rajeev Kinra, Writing Self, Writing Empire – Chan-
Givnology, last modified July 18, 2013,
dar Bhan Brahman and the Cultural World of the
Indo–Persian State Secretary, (University of California and-quotes-1 .
Press, 2015), 66. 35Sam Kerr, “The Legendary Rose of Iran,”
29Jahangir, op.cit., 383. Avesta, last modified July 12, 2005,
30Fazl, op.cit., 53-669. legendary Rose of Iran.
31Henderson, op.cit., 42. pdf .
36Zwemer, op.cit, 365.
37Ibid., 367.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 30

condensed complex meanings into a single ex- alty of the men of talent to the central figure
pression. Appealing to intuition, rather than in- of authority — the emperor. The emperor’s au-
terpretation, the rose justifiably demonstrated the thority, reinforced in the first instance by mili-
Mughal ruler’s strength and dexterity, as he “con- tary conquest, was then perpetuated by an elabo-
tinually engaged in pleasing God, and...watered rate structure of symbols and rituals. These were
the rose-garden of sovereignty with the stream of stylised patterns symbolising the imperial author-
justice.”38 ity, or the embroidered image of the emperor.
The dispersion of the rose throughout the Mughal
As a poetic image, Mughal bagh represented timeline reflects this complex procedure at work.
order and beauty: the timeless link between Within the Mughal state, the gul manifested itself
heaven and earth. Persian poets extended the in various spheres. The overall review of the his-
external image of the garden as an earthly par- tory, iconography and material culture has there-
adise (bahisht or firdous) to create symbolic im- fore revealed that the rose –– its form, structure,
agery, emphasising the mutual embedding of na- gardens, attar and disposition –– were not just
ture and architecture that characterized Mughal a royal indulgence, but a symbol of supremacy.
culture.39 Ebba Koch has articulated this phe- When we recall all this about the rose, as well as
nomenon in Shah Jahan’s reign, where the court its diffusion within the imperial ideology, we can
poets called him the mujjadid, under whose just understand the curious reference of Hafez:
rule “Hindustan has gradually become the rose
garden of the earth and his reign...has become the How
spring season of the age in which the days and Did the rose
nights are young.”40 The ever-blooming Mughal Ever open its heart
rose gardens were intended as an image of the And give to this world
reign, as garden paradise of the ideal king.
All its
The discussion on Mughal symbolism suggests Beauty?
that the rose trope was an active tool of imperial It felt the encouragement of light
conquest. The Persian expression of the rose Against its Being.
integrated several layers of imperial and divine Otherwise,
symbolism to closely resemble an archetype of We all remain
state-sponsored symbols of authority that en-
shrined and justified the Mughal rule. Therefore, Too
the rose created a paradisiacal ambience, which Frightened.41
became the trademark of the Mughal state’s
ideology. Bibliography

4. Conclusion Ahmad, Aziz. “The British Museum M¯ırza¯na¯ma
and the Seventeenth Century M¯ırza¯ in India.”
At its cusp, the Mughal Empire rested upon a Iran, vol. 13, no. 1 (1975): 99-110.
firm base of military power, sustained by the loy-
Babur, Zahiru’d-din Muhammad. The Babur-
38Fazl, op.cit., 646. nama, Translated by Annette S. Beveridge.
39Natif, op.cit., 48. Luzac & Co., 1922.
40Dickie, op.cit.,159.
41“Quotable Quote,” Goodreads, last modified September
16, 2016,
how-did-the-rose-ever-open-its-heart-and-give .

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 31

Celik, Jennifer. “The Rose: A Flower Natif, Mika. “Renaissance Painting and Ex-
With Deep Roots in Turkish Cul- pressions of Male Intimacy in a Seventeenth-
ture.” Daily Sabah. April 12, 2015. Century Illustration from Mughal India.” Renais- sance and Reformation/Renaissance et Re´forme
the-rose-a-flower-with-deep-roots-in-turkish- (2015): 41-64.
Zwemer, Samuel Marinus, and Margaret Clarke
Dickie, James, and Yaqub Zaki. “The Mughal Zwemer. “The Rose and Islam.” The Muslim
Garden: Gateway to Paradise.” Muqarnas, vol.3. World, vol. 31, no. 4 (1941): 360-370.
(1985): 128-137.

Fazl, A’bul. The Akbarnama. Translated by
Henry Beveridge. The Asiatic Society, 1907.

Gulbadan. The History of Humayun – Hu-
mayunnama, Translated by Annette S. Bev-
eridge. Royal Asiatic Society, 1902.

Hadi, Erum. “Flowers of Par-

adise A Symbol of the Mughal Em-

pire’s Supreme Power” (2017), 1-10. of

Paradise A Symbol of the Mughal Empires Sup

reme Power.docx.

Henderson, Paula. “ ‘Elysian Fields Such as the
Poets Dreamed of’: The Mughal Garden in the
Early Stuart Mind.” The British Art Journal, vol.
10, no. 3 (2009): 35-45.

Jahangir. The Jahangirnama: Memoirs of Ja-
hangir, Emperor of India. Translated by Wheeler
M. Thackston. Oxford University Press, 1999.

Kinra, Rajeev. Writing Self, Writing Empire:
Chandar Bhan Brahman and the Cultural World
of the Indo-Persian State Secretary. University
of California Press, 2015.

Lefe`vre, Corinne. “Recovering a Missing Voice
from Mughal India: The Imperial Discourse of
Jaha¯ng¯ır (r. 1605-1627) in his Memoirs.” Jour-
nal of the Economic and Social History of the
Orient, vol. 50, no. 4 (2007): 452-489.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 32

Kingship and Divinity: Some Ideas on the Persistence and Retreat of Elephants

Vipashayana Tanwar
Department of History, Lady Shri Ram College for Women

The resplendent image of the elephant – celebrated, feared, admired and honoured – is a key part of
the Indian ethos and collective conscience. The elephant in Indian culture has been a crucial symbol
of many ideas like power and intelligence. Elephants, due to their astounding physiology became a
vital part of the army and as an animal to both impress and terrify. The linkage between the elephant
and kingship, along with its need of forest in a situation where captive breeding is unfeasible, has been
discussed in the paper. The paper surveys major periods of Indian history and the role of coalescence
of instrumental and symbolic factors in the persistence of elephants. The usefulness of the elephant,
the taboo on its killing, the rise and spread of the worship of Ganesha, the role of king’s enamor for
the giant, the spread of the institution of the war elephant in various parts have been closely examined.
Moreover, a comparison of India and China too has been attempted to see the difference in the ethos
and land ethic of the two critical socio-political and cultural entities. The paper also discusses the
newly emerging theoretical framework of ethno-elephantology which places keen interest on local
cultures and critiques humanist polarities of nature and culture.

The story of elephants in India is the story of The gestation period of the elephant too is very
kingship and culture. The elephant as a sym- long, often 18 to 22 months, and mostly it re-
bol of many ideas represents the largest terres- sults in the birth of only one elephant. All these
trial mammal on earth. Its retreat from many biological features make the captive breeding of
parts of the world, but persistence in India, is a elephants infeasible and the best strategy that re-
point of curiosity for many. Elephants in India mains is the capture and training of wild ele-
for centuries have been sources of both pleasure phants.2
and terror, with complex symbolic and utilitarian
values. The size of the elephant has always been Another vital point about the biology of the an-
celebrated in Indian poetry and prose, and is fre- imal is the state through which every male ele-
quently connected to royal authority and power. phant goes once every year which is called in
Some discussion on the biological peculiarities Indian languages as musth and often incorrectly
of the elephant is vital as it is the “anatomy that translated in English as ”rut.” Musth state can
might be said, is destiny.”1 Massive size, the last for a few days or even months, depending
most visible aspect of the animal, also means on the individual elephant. During this period,
massive intake of food, requiring heavy expen- the elephant gets extremely irritable and aggres-
diture for kings to maintain them for the army. sive.3 Musth elephants were highly esteemed as a
Elephants do not have sweat glands all over its
body except some on its feet, and therefore, the 2Thomas R. Trautmann, Elephants and Kings: An Envi-
cool and the shade of forests are extremely im- ronmental History (Chicago: The University of Chicago
portant for its persistence. Press, 2015), 26-46.
3Biologically, there is a surge in testosterone and there is
1Dan Wylie, Elephant (Reaktion Books: London, 2018), a flow of a fluid near the temples of the elephant from its
27. temporal glands. This state is neither seasonal, nor coor-
dinated with other males or even estrous in female. There-
fore, musth cannot be equated with the rutting season of

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 33

war machine in both ancient and medieval India elephant and its ancestral kin like deinotheres,
due to its inherent combativeness, unlike many paleomastodams, woolly mammoths and platy-
other societies which saw the musth as a possi- belndons disappeared. The “overkill hypothe-
ble source of threat. Since this state appeared sis” of Paul Martin seeks to establish the corre-
only once a year, it was often artificially induced lation between human (genus Homo) arrival and
through noises of battle preparation, and even in- the extinctions. Other non-human factors, most
toxicants.4 importantly climate change did play a role, but
largely the anthropogenic character of the extinc-
The persistence of elephants in India has been tions is now being established to suggest large
explained in many ways. Most scholars tend scale hunting and butchering and subsequent re-
to see utilitarian or instrumental and symbolic treat of elephants and its kin around 11,000 years
reasons for its persistence. What I mean by ago.5
utilitarian factors is largely the tangible roles of
elephants, for example, in the army, as royal con- What is of interest to the scholars is the persis-
veyance and haulers of heavy building material. tence of elephants in Asia. In Asia, due to mon-
Symbolic factors signify the importance of ideas, soons, there are three major seasons –– hot, cold
like the elephant representing wisdom, strength, and monsoons. Because of this peculiar seasonal
royalty and even divinity. The first section of nature of what is called “Monsoon Asia”, there
the paper outlines the association of elephants are deciduous forests in the continent (though ev-
with kingship, the second analyses the rise and ergreen forests too are found). The deciduous
spread of worship of the elephant headed deity forests are the most suitable for elephants, as it
Ganesha. The third part of the essay tries to has space for browsing, shrubs for eating and tree
understand the medieval and modern period in cover for shade. The climate fluctuations in early
Indian history, a close examination of which Holocene were far gentler in Asia and Africa.6
sheds light on major differences. Finally, a com-
parison is attempted to see the divergent histories Elephant paintings have been found from sites
of China and India in the fourth part. Also, the like Bhimbetka which date back to prehistoric
last section examines the future of persistence times. Further, there are several images of the
of elephants with an emphasis on the newly pachyderm from the Indus Valley Civilisation,
emerging understandings that shatter humanist though there are no clear evidences of whether it
dualisms. The paper is broad and sweeping was a symbol of kingship as very little is known
in quality covering large periods of history about the military and political character of the
and different temporal and regional contexts to civilisation. Moreover, the script awaits complete
show the larger processes and trajectories of the decipherment, therefore, no plausible evidence is
pachyderm’s retreat and persistence. available.7

1. Kingship, War and the Forest The decline of the Indus civilisation from about
1800 BCE and the subsequent arrival of the
The earliest evidence of the retreat of elephants Aryans in successive waves of migration till
comes from North America and Europe where about 1400 BCE are important as the Aryans had

other animals. 5 Ibid., 29.
4Ibid., 27-62. 6Trautmann, op.cit., 54.
7Ibid., 95.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 34

a distinctive warrior culture where chariots and As noted earlier, due to many factors (like mas-
horses were profusely used. Most scholars to- sive expenditure on feeding, long gestation pe-
day argue that the Rig Vedic Aryans did not use riod, and lack of sweat glands requiring constant
elephants, and it might have been a curiosity for shade), the captive breeding of elephants was not
them. They did not have a special name for the economically feasible, and kings in ancient In-
elephant; they simply called it mrigahastin: an- dia consequently developed the strategy of cap-
imal with a hand (i.e. trunk).8 Moreover, the turing wild elephants. This also led to the saving
gods in the Rig Vedic hymns are represented as of forests.
riding chariots driven by horses. Also, the gifts
given to priests and other entities does not have Trautmann emphasises on this linkage of king-
a mention of elephants. As Trautmann opines, ship with elephants and forests and even for-
the institution of the war elephant emerged in est peoples who were trainers and handlers. It
the later Vedic times, when even Indra’s vahana must be kept in mind that these states were nei-
from a chariot became the divine elephant Aira- ther “green kingdoms” nor environmentally con-
vata, and in gifts given to officiating priests, ele- scious. Rather, their need for war elephants, and
phant began to occur frequently. Moreover, in elephants in general for conveyance, processions
the period between 1000 to 500 BCE, north India and display led them to save the animal’s habi-
underwent a transition from chiefdoms to incip- tat too.13 The Arthas´a¯stra make a clear link-
ient states, where the institution of war elephant age between the elephant and kingship by not-
along with a new culture of kingship gained im- ing, “A king’s victory is led by elephants, for ele-
portance.9 phants with their lethal onslaughts can crush the
enemy’s troops, battle-arrays, forts and military
The primacy of Magadha in all the mahajan- camps.”14
padas was, among other reasons, due to the pres-
ence of elephants on the eastern edge of North In South India, the sangam literature (both akam
India, which was densely forested, compared to and puram genres) of the first three centuries
the western edge of the Gangetic belt.10 The of the Common Era attests the importance of
Mauryas too depended on war elephants, as at- elephants, both as symbol of love and a mili-
tested by the account of Megasthenes. The Mau- tary asset representing royal authority. Chola,
ryas created an armed peasantry (growing sur- Chera and Pandya kings are repeatedly referred
plus and paying taxes), a landless warrior class to as possessors of angry elephants. The ele-
(paid through taxes) and a monopoly of the king phant symbolises various metaphors and alle-
by ownership of elephants, horses and arms.11 gories, therefore, showing its significance in the
The Arthas´a¯stra recommends creation of eight cultural ethos of the times.15
elephant forest called gajavana or hastivana.12
With the firm establishment of the war elephant,
8Romila Thapar, The Penguin History of Early India: many treatises on elephants, their management,
From Origins to AD 1300, (New Delhi: Penguin, 2003),
114. University Press, 2016): 77.
9Trautmann, op. cit., 47-49. 13Trautmann, op.cit., 46.
10Thapar, op. cit., 155. 14Olivelle, op. cit., 84.
11Trautmann, op.cit., 198. 15Raman, Usha,”‘References to Elephant as Gleaned from
12Patrick Olivelle, “ Science of Elephants in Kautilya’s
Arthas´a¯stra,” Rethinking Human Elephant Relations in the Sangam Literary Works,” Asian Elephants in Culture
South Asia, ed. Piers Locke, et al. (New Delhi, Oxford and Nature, Centre for Asian Studies, University of Ke-
laniya, Sri Lanka (2016): 261-70.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 35

feeding techniques, training, capture were writ- South East Asia.
ten down, like Gajasastra of Palkapya, Gajasik-
sha of Narada, Matangalila of Nilkantha, etc. 2. Divinity and Ecology: The Rise and Spread
These texts, although written by Brahmanical of Ganesha
authors, did contain information derived from
elephant handlers, trainers and even forest peo- Apart from the idea of kingship that helped in
ples.16 the persistence of elephants and preservation of
forests, the other crucial factor was the rise and
In the post-Maurya phase, with the coming in spread of the worship of Ganesha.
of Indo-Greeks, Kusanas, Sakas, Pahlavas and
their large cavalry based armies, the significance His characteristic elephant head separates him
of elephants in war did not wane. Elephants in from other gods in the large Puranic world.
early historic and early medieval period contin- Ganesha as a significant deity emerged fairly late
ued to be a dominant asset in army, as royal con- i.e. in the fifth century CE, in what can be labeled
veyance or vahana of the king, as perches to as the early Gupta period.19 There are several
hunt game and as symbols of authority, power theories of the origin of Ganesha,20 but the one
and kingship itself. The role of elephants in presented by Raman Sukumar gives an ecolog-
building temples and other monuments was cru- ical reading on the emergence of the elephant-
cial as they transported heavy materials. There- headed deity. He argues, like many others, that
fore, the architectural treatises like the Shilpa cultural taboos emerge from the ecological con-
Ratnakar, Diparnav, Mayamtam and others pre- dition of a particular space and time. He tries
scribed the building of a plinth of elephants or to find the deification of the elephant in specific
the gajsthar/gajapitha to celebrate the gentle gi- socio-political and ecological processes of an-
ant and its contribution in creation of temple.17 cient India. With the rise of kingdoms and re-
publics in sixth century BCE, there was a con-
Indian elephants and elephant management tech- stant demand of elephants in the army. Since ele-
niques also spread to other parts of the world. For phant breeding in captivity was not feasible, the
example, the Seleucids received Asian Elephants need to maintain wild elephants was felt. The
from the Mauryas. The Hellenistic nomencla- large elephant armies meant large captures too,
ture for the mahout was Indos. The Carthagini- and therefore, a taboo on killing elephants was
ans used elephants against the Roman Empire in force since early Maurya times. Asoka, in his
in the three Punic Wars. Julius Caesar, as per edicts, famously remarked that no living beings
some fragmentary evidence, sat on an elephant, to be killed for consumption. The elephant at this
making it his royal mount to impress the far-
away natives in Britain. Trautmann feels if this 19Paul Courtright, Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Be-
was true, it can “represent the farthest reach ginnings, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985):
of Indian Model of Kingship.”18 Similarly, the 9.
war elephant was adopted by the Ghaznavids,
Sri Lankans and the “Indianizing” kingdoms of 20Most scholars argue the Ganesha emerged outside the
Brahmanical fold and the symbol of an elephant may
16Trautmann, op. cit., 74-180. have represented the totem of a pre-Aryan tribe. Other
17The massive rock-cut Kailasnatha Temple of Ellora, built theories argue that Ganesha’s acceptance and adoption
by Shiva meant the defeat of the tribe that originally wor-
in the eighth century CE, has an impressive gajapitha, shipped the elephant god and later incorporation in the
honoring the pachyderm and its services. Brahmanical fold. An originally threatening god as it ap-
18Trautmann, op. cit., 248. pears from the Dharmashastras was assimilated as part
of Brahmanical synthesis. See Ibid., 9-16.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 36

stage, both as a beast of burden and a formidable Timur’s invasion of North India in 1398-99, there
war machinery, was more useful alive than dead, were fairly less elephants; yet they continued to
and thus, the prohibition. be a part of the army along with the larger cavalry
based armed contingents.
The taboo on elephant meat may have arisen
independently but this was also the time of the The Ain-i Akbari of Abu’l Fazl offers several im-
spread of Jainism and Buddhism, both of which portant insights for the Mughal period. It men-
expounded vegetarianism. Elephants seen as tions that there was a reserve of 101 elephants
raiders were initially feared by the Aryans. But for the use of the emperor alone. Akbar was a
with the systematic harnessing of elephant’s connoisseur of elephants and gave them Hindi
energy, it was celebrated and seen as a positive names like Gajaraj and Gajendra. Abu’l Fazl
force. Therefore, the taboo on elephant meat saw elephants as crucial for pomp of the king
and the rise of Ganesha are contemporaneous and success of a conqueror.24 Irfan Habib has
processes which can be located in the ecological mapped several places in Mughal India, where
milieu of the time.21 Apart from the images and elephants were found. This includes many parts
worship of Ganesha, other religious traditions of Central India, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Dec-
like the Buddhist lore shows deep familiarity can East and West, and South India.25 Rosalind
with the elephants. In the Jataka tales, elephants O’Hanlon argues that Akbar used elephants to
symbolise both the agony of sexual desires display courage and continued the earlier tradi-
and the goodness or commitment.22 In the tion of possession and staging of elephants as
Buddhist lore, it is a white coloured elephant symbols of kingship. Akbar’s riding of the musth
that impregnated Maya, and resulted in the birth elephants, therefore, meant not only the personal
of the Buddha.23 strength and heroism of the emperor but also “his
transcendent proximity to God.”26 The Mughals
3. Musth and Timber Elephant: The Pachy- adopted many elements of North Indian setting
derm in Medieval and Modern India to fashion themselves as legitimate sovereigns
of Hindustan like the idiom of Braj Bhasha,
A discussion on the elephants in medieval and and practices like Jarokha Darshan and Tuladan.
modern times follows in this section. The me- Therefore, it is not very difficult to believe that
dieval period too used the elephant as a war as- the Mughals accepted elephants too, which had
set. The Delhi sultans possessed 3,000 elephants always been an irresistible symbol of kingship.
in their pilkhana (elephant stables). Most of
these elephants were captured or obtained as trib- The British, on the other hand, did not imbibe
ute from Bengal, Orissa, Deccan and even the the local ideas of veneration of elephants, and
Pandya land in the deep south. This also shows killed them because of their perceived linkages
that by this time elephants of north India had to manliness which was closely tied to the idea
declined considerably. Although at the time of of medieval chivalry. The killing of the ele-
phant, the largest terrestrial mammal, symbolised
21Sukumar, op. cit., 70-75. the British conquest of the subcontinent. More
22A story of a wild elephant extremely committed to his
24Trautmann, op. cit., 172-73.
mother and when she dies, he joins the sangha is ex- 25Ibid.,17-19.
tremely popular; often Jataka tales give human charac- 26Rosalind O’Hanlon, “Kingdom, Household and Body
teristics to elephants.
23Wylie, op. cit., 73-74. History, Gender and Imperial Service under Akbar,”
Modern Asian Studies (2007): 889-923.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 37

importantly, in the modern period, the reign of Republic are those in a few protected en-
the “timber elephant”, however short, is signif- claves in the Southwest, up against the bor-
icant. Its importance in logging operations can der with Burma.29
be gauged from the elephant preservation acts
of the late nineteenth century. The sharp de- He tries to explain the retreat of the elephants by
mand of tropical hardwood, mainly for railroad, what he calls “humans vs elephants: the three
sleepers, steamships and decks revived the use of thousand years war” and “the great deforesta-
elephants post their demise as the war elephant. tion.”30 Elvin, by examining a variety of liter-
However, this was only for a short period. 27 ary information, observes that the Chinese cul-
ture was hostile to forests and was fond of only
Trautmann, by comparing maps of forests individual trees. The story of China, according
containing elephants as described in the to him, is the spread of Han political and cul-
Arthashastra and Ain-i Akbari with the map tural systems, with ecological transformations in-
of present day reserves of elephants in India, cluding clearing of forests, extension of agricul-
points out that the era of war elephants is also ture, garden type farming, water control systems
the phase of the persistence of elephants. He and later commercialization. He argues that even
also highlights that when the institution of war though cooling down of the climate in the first
elephant declined, the number of elephants also century CE was important for retreat of the ele-
declined simultaneously. The phase of the most phant, yet when the climate warmed up later, the
drastic decline of the elephants is the British era, elephants still did not recover as “Chinese farm-
when the demise of the war elephant is most ers and elephants do not mix.”31 Other factors
evident.28 like the expansion of agriculture in the Bronze
Age, killing of elephants by farmers, and mas-
4. Conflict, Cooperation and Coexistence? sive deforestations for hydraulic systems played
a role in retreat of the elephant.32
The institution of the war elephant spread in var-
ious parts and was accepted by Seleucids, Ghaz- The land ethic practiced in China encouraged
navids, Romans, Persians, kingdoms in South- farmland creation, as opposed to kings in India
East Asia, etc., but never accepted by China. Be- who preserved forests and therefore, wild ele-
sides, while the case in China is that of the retreat phants, even if it was against the interest of the
of elephants, in India it is totally the opposite –– farmers. Overall economic interest led to the de-
that is of persistence. The comparison of the In- struction of forests and subsequent retreat of the
dian and the Chinese cases yield vital insights. In elephants.33 Moreover in China, pastoralism and
China as Mark Elvin observes: agriculture were always mutually exclusive and
hostile to each other. Mary Tregear notes that the
Four thousand years ago, there were ele- pastoral economy of the north-west and agricul-
phants in the area that was later to become turists of river valleys were divided by the Great
Beijing (in the Northeast), and in most of
the rest of what was later to be China. To- 29Mark Elvin, The Retreat of The Elephants, (London:
day, the only wild elephants in the People’s Yale University Press, 2004): 3.

27Sukumar, op. cit.,78. 30Ibid., 9.
28Trautmann, op. cit., 313-329. 31Ibid.
32Ibid., 11-18.
33Ibid., 32-36.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 38

Wall. Contrarily, in India, farm lands, mines, Influenced by the “animal turn”, where inter-
forests, pastures and trade routes all existed to- species intimacy is studied, a new theoretical
gether and were connected to cities. Though con- framework is emerging. Piers Locke has called
flict was also known between different economic it “ethno-elephantology.” Locke moreover,
practices, a complete separation between them critiques the anthropocentric approaches in the
was unknown.34 study of animals, and calls for a non-human
personhood in the case of elephants. He incor-
Therefore, the persistence of Indian elephants porates this idea in his own study of elephants
can be located in a number of complex factors and elephant management in Nepal, and makes
which are intangible, symbolic, instrumental and a strong case against the ontological dualism
utilitarian. The future of elephant’s persistence of humanism.37 Studying elephant keeping
is not very bright. Conservation of elephants cultures, which implicitly have “more-than-
requires preservation of its habitat, prevention animal” approach like the Khatmis in Arunachal
of fragmentation of forests with a complex net- Pradesh or in Nepal, it is important to keep
work of corridors, reduction of man-elephant this idea of non-human personhood in mind.38
conflicts. Some solutions offered for these in- Therefore, the Judeo-Christian traditions and
clude – barriers like trenches and electric fences the Enlightenment which focused on human
(electric shocks are non-fatal and non-injurious), exceptionalism cannot work while studying local
anti-poaching plans for each state, provision of cultural ethos, where interspecies cooperation,
arms, ammunition, communication apparatus to conflict, negotiation and coexistence has stayed
anti poaching squads, recognition of the impor- for a millennia.39
tance of field level staff like watchmen, guards,
foresters with better pay scales, testing of water 5. Conclusion
quality in summers, etc. 35
To conclude, the story of elephants in India yields
Apart from these measures, to ensure future per- interesting insights as it enables us to understand
sistence of elephants, many argue for preserva- the coalescence of several factors that led to the
tion of elephant-keeping cultures, where lives of creation of an ethos which was conducive for the
humans and elephants are intrinsically linked and persistence of elephants. As a war machine, the
intertwined. The techniques of these cultures elephant was celebrated as a much valued asset
will perhaps be useful in future. The need to- in the army. Moreover, since its anatomical and
day is not to separate man and elephant but to biological features did not allow captive breed-
sustain cultures where both coexist and collabo- ing, it led to the preservation of forests too. In
rate. Separation of elephants is seen increasingly the medieval times, though many of north Indian
by many as “ghettoization” that would encourage forest were lost (many continued too as shown
more poaching.36

34Trautmann, op. cit., 10-11. (2018): 8.
35Raman Sukumar, “A God in Distress: Threats 37 Locke, Piers, “Elephants as Persons, Affective Appren-

of Poaching and the Ivory Trade to the Asian ticeship and Fieldwork with Non Human Informants in
Elephant in India,” Asian Elephant Conserva-
tion Centre, Indian Institute of Science, Banglore, Nepal,” Journal of Ethnographic Theory (2017): 357.
(1997), Accessed May 1, 2019, http://www.wpsi- 38Laine´, op. cit., 7. god in distress.pdf. 39Sessions, George, “Anthropocentrism and the Environ-
36Laine´, Nicholas, “Elephant Keeping Cultures” Seminar
mental Crises,” Humboldt Journal of Social Relations

(1974): 72.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 39

by maps of Irfan Habib based on the Ain), but the graphic Theory, vol. 7, no. 1 (2017): 353-376.
institution of war elephant did not fade.
O’ Hanlon, Rosalind. “Kingdom, Household and
The elephant, celebrated and feared is an animal Body History, Gender and Imperial Service un-
of contradictions. Its gentle, benign nature der Akbar.” Modern Asian Studies, vol. 41, no. 5
has been useful to man, but its destructive (2007): 889-923.
angle, especially in the state of musth has been
valued by the ruling elite as a desirable trait, Olivelle, Patrick. “Science of Elephants in Kau-
but feared by the agriculturists. Elephant, in tilya’s Arthas´a¯stra.” In Conflict, Negotiation and
a way, symbolises multiple aspects of Indian Coexistence: Rethinking Human-Elephant Rela-
cultural ethos –– from being the symbol of royal tions in South Asia. Edited by Locke and Buck-
authority, to power, strength, wisdom, memory, ingham, 75-91. Oxford University Press, 2016.
knowledge, wealth, sexual desires, etc. Today,
with the emergence of ethno-elephantology, the Raman Sukumar, Ashok Kumar, Vivek and
humanist dualism of natural animal and cultural Menon. “A God in Distress: Threats of Poach-
human have been severely questioned and the ing and the Ivory Trade to the Asian Ele-
need to sustain elephant-keeping cultures has phant in India.” Asian Elephant Conservation
been advocated. The elephant in Indian history Centre, Indian Institute of Science, Banglore,
enables us to see the story of a gentle giant or (1997). Accessed May 1, 2019. http://www.wpsi-
a ferocious raider through waves and phases of god in distress.pdf
negotiation, conflict, cooperation, coexistence
and more importantly inter-species intimacy. Raman, Usha. “References to Elephant as
The animal, revered as god, feared as raider, Gleaned from the Sangam Literary Works”,
celebrated as an asset, perceived as a companion Asian Elephants in Culture and Nature, Centre
and distinguished by its anatomy stands truly as a for Asian Studies, University of Kelaniya, Sri
symbol of India’s civilisational ethos and culture. Lanka (2016): 261-270.

Bibliography Wylie, Dan. Elephant. Reaktion Books, 2009.

Courtright, Paul B. Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles, Sukumar, Raman. The Living Elephants: Evo-
Lord of Beginnings. New York: Oxford Univer- lutionary Ecology, Behaviour, and Conservation.
sity Press, 1985. Oxford University Press, 2003.

Elvin, Mark. The Retreat of the Elephants: An Sessions, George S. “Anthropocentrism and the
Environmental History of China. Yale University Environmental Crisis.” Humboldt Journal of So-
Press, 2008. cial Relations (1974): 71-81.

Laine´, Nicolas. “Elephant-keeping cultures.” In- Trautmann, Thomas R. Elephants and Kings: An
dia Seminar, no. 651 (2013): 70-75. Environmental History. University of Chicago
Press, 2015.
Locke, Piers. “Elephants as Persons, Affective
Apprenticeship, and Fieldwork with Non-human
Informants in Nepal.” HAU: Journal of Ethno-

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 40

Media Portrayal of the African-Americans: A Comparative Study from Slavery
to Contemporary Times

Yashika Choudhary
Department of English, Lady Shri Ram College for Women

Slavery as a social phenomenon and as the collective trauma of a single ethnic group has managed
to sow its seeds into all aspects of life of the African-American community. The role of media in
this regard becomes unique due to the constant striving the international community has expressed
towards increased communication. Media as the facilitator of this increased communication can
be seen as both entrenching as well as disproving stereotypes in and around slavery. Concepts like
Black Humour, Blackface in theatrical representations, and attempts at an alternative narrative by
the African-American community through print media are issues that will be closely examined in
this paper as facets leading to entrenchment and questioning of stereotypes. But more importantly,
the paper seeks answers to the questions that face this community today, with regard to on-screen
space, stereotypical portrayal in daily shows and the recruitment of members for fulfilling trope
roles. This draws attention to the change in public preference, where non-linear content (available
on applications like Netflix) is prioritized. Attempt has been made to examine representations and
trope characters from non-linear content, in order to gauge differences, if any, from mainstream
media. Further, museums are scrutinized, not as strict examples of media, but as extensions to the
way a narrative is set in society about the African-American community, through representation or

There is also a conscious attempt to link ideas raised throughout the paper, to more concrete
psychological studies, to legitimise the experiences and phenomena mentioned. Finally, keeping the
aforementioned overarching thematic topics in mind, the paper seeks to answer imperative questions
like – do collective experiences form the basis of stereotype formation? Can stereotypes be changed
or eradicated, or do they simply evolve? And does expression through forms of media have any
emancipatory value for the African-American community?

1. Psychological Backing only provides important cultural insights into a
form of media, but is also indicative of the ex-
We begin analysis into the realm of media and its tent to which a simple and widespread medium
impact on the African American community by like film, can affect as well as reflect the culture’s
ascertaining the psychological influences of me- attitude towards a group or community. The
dia and the importance of the same in context of African-American community, in this regard, is
the community. Through extensive research on subject to stereotypes stemming from beliefs that
Brazilian Films, it has been concluded that films originated with the practice of slavery. While the
exemplify common ways in which narratives pro- structural form of slavery is no longer practiced,
pose new understandings of social groups.1 This the beliefs that it led to, have evolved and become
perspective, as given by Richard A. Gordon, not part of common stereotypes today.

1Richard Allen Gordon, Cinema, Slavery, and Brazilian Social psychology helps us comprehend the ways
Nationalism, (University of Texas Press, 2015), 1-11.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 41

in which the social identities of the viewers may identity. An important result of this collective
be malleable, and by extension how a viewer’s identity was that it led to the creation of hid-
identity might change when he or she is exposed den social networks, which enabled the African-
to certain kind of stimuli.2 This phenomenon American community to survive in the aftermath
draws attention to three possible conclusions — of slavery.4
first, the malleability of stereotypes indicates that
the prejudice which stereotypes are based on may As McMurry writes, “On many plantations and
change due to exposure to new pieces of informa- farms, the slave community functioned as an ex-
tion. Second, if stereotypes are malleable, then tended family. In freedom those informal sup-
what aspect of their creation contributes to their port networks became structurally organised as
overwhelming negative nature? And third, the church groups or benevolent organisations and
stereotypes reflected through media act as pow- provided aid to families in crisis.”5
erful determinants of the changing perceptions of
the viewers, thus, making them instruments lead- This sense of collective identity also functioned
ing to the evolution of stereotypes. as a way towards emancipation. With a rise in
communication, in addition to the introduction
This hypothesis is supplemented by the So- of the first black-owned newspaper in 1827,
cial Identity Theory, proposed by psychologists newspapers became an important medium
Henri Tajfel and John Turner. The African- through which self-definition could be debated
American community share a social identity ow- and a new, post-slavery collective identity artic-
ing to the shared trauma of slavery. Ron Eyerman ulated.6 It was this sense of identity amongst the
elaborates on the nature of this “trauma”: community that led to certain forms of “media”
like songs coming up, while at the same time
The “trauma” in question is slavery, not as contributing to a sense of establishing firm iden-
institution or even experience, but as col- tity through a new source, i.e. the newspaper.
lective memory, a form of remembrance Slavery had been the root circumstance of black
that grounded the identity-formation of a identity, and was previously a condition and an
people. There is a difference between identity formulated under conditions of extreme
trauma as it affects individuals and as a cul- alienation, as well as white control. Music and
tural process. As a cultural process, trauma other oral forms of communication had also
is mediated through various forms of rep- been central to the formation of black collective
resentations and linked to the reformation identity during slavery as they articulated an
of collective identity and the reworking of imagined community as well as the hope of a
collective memory.3 better life.7

It was this nature of the trauma of slavery which 2. Black Face, White Guilt
worked as a binding factor to unite African-
Americans, and in turn lend them a collective 4 Ibid., 1-2.
5Linda McMurry, To Keep the Waters Troubled, (New
2Ibid., 1-11. York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 20-21.
3Ron Eyerman, Cultural Trauma: Slavery and the Forma- 6Eyerman, op.cit., 30.
tion of African American Identity, (Cambridge University 7Angela Davis, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism, (New
Press, 2001), 1. York: Pantheon, 1998).

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 42

The 1800’s and 1900’s saw a reverential rise in the category of race from skin colour. These fac-
the use of “Blackface” as a theatrical tool. In- tors implore us to ask two questions. What is
dividuals indulging in this imitation were almost the direct result of a culture systematically plac-
always white men, and the character(s) they por- ing whiteness over blackness? And is it possi-
trayed adhered to the common notions that the ble or even necessary to disentangle race from
White community held towards the Black one. skin colour? In order to adequately answer these
Here, it is imperative to look closely at the sym- questions, we look at the way mainstream media
bolism behind the word, “Race Change:” was structured in this society:

The term is meant to suggest the traversing Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn (1942) encap-
of race boundaries, racial imitation or im- sulates the point of this chapter, even as
personation, cross-racial mimicry or muta- it provides a reminder of the longevity of
bility, white posing as black or black pass- blackface as America’s favourite form of
ing as white, pan-racial mutuality. Over race change. Wearing burnt cork, Crosby
the past several decades, Americans have here dances the part of (a now “African-
been repeatedly informed by psychologists American”) President Lincoln with his
and sociologists that the classification of companion appearing as a parodic pick-
peoples into Asians, blacks, Hispanics, and aninny complete with cornrows, pinafore,
whites has no basis in science or biology, and pantaloons. As is often the case late
but such “folk taxonomies” persist, indi- in its history, the use of blackface has pre-
cating how many individuals have not re- sumably only been justified by the need for
ally been able to internaline such a propo- a disguise: In an earlier scene, a jealously
sition.8 possessive Crosby broke out the “boot-
blacking” so as to hide his attractive danc-
The induction of a word like ”Race Change”, as ing partner from his rival, Fred Astaire.
well as its exclusive manifestation in American But as also often happens, an excess of
society and behaviour, is indicative of a larger meaning attends the assumption of burnt
social phenomenon, which is often the basis of cork, in this instance after the blond-haired
discrimination and racism in the United States, dancer bemoans the make-up as a “punish-
even today. Susan Gubar states two factors de- ment” visited upon her for dreaming about
termining race change, which are important to “how pretty” she would look at the Inn on
this discussion. First, the ways in which a culture the occasion of Lincoln’s birthday. Not at
that systematically devalues blackness and estab- all a mimetically realistic disguise, her race
lishes whiteness as the norm, effectively endorses change contrasts black skin with white wig
and even enforces black-to-white race change; to make her look like a singular anomaly.9
and second, that historically such racial meta-
morphoses nevertheless (and paradoxically) con- Berlin’s Holiday Inn (1942), went on to become
stituted a crucial tactic used by civil libertarian one of the most well received films of the time.
activists and artists as a means of disentangling Today, many Broadway adaptations of the film,
in the form of musicals have found their way to
8Susan Gubar, Racechanges : White Skin, Black Face in
American Culture, (Oxford University Press, 2000), 5-6. 9Ibid., 53.

Ijtihad | Vol. 6 | 43

mainstream media. However, an important con- been the concept of “white psychology” and
troversy the film sparked was based on the ac- “white guilt.” We, thus, seek to explore what
knowledgement of blackface as offensive. Even aspect of “white psychology” predisposes them
though most adaptations of the film have re- towards the usage of blackface. The following
moved the song which features blackface and excerpt from Gubar’s essay is illustrative in re-
race change, it is crucial for us to analyse the sponse to our query:
context in which the representation of blackface
came about in the film, and also the narrative it ...perhaps blackface performances, which
sent. justify white oppression of blacks (by mak-
ing African Americans look so evil or so
The excerpt from the film draws our attention to foolish that they must be the guilty party),
two factors, which also answer the questions we dramatize a horrific return of the displaced
had set forth earlier. First, the direct impact of a black body— now paradoxically borne on
culture systematically placing “whiteness” over and reborn in the white body. Such a
“blackness” wherein blackness being seen as an return or mimetic mirroring provides ev-
anomaly and as a defect. In Holiday Inn, black- idence of white consternation about the
ness is used as a form of disguise, that requires transparency of the lie blaming African
the character to act ridiculously and fulfill the Americans for their own suppression. In
trope guidelines of a “black” individual. More- Zizek’s terms, whites who have refused to
over, black skin is shown as reducing attractive- pay their debt or admit their liability to
ness of the individual. With mainstream media the (African-American) dead continue to
portraying blackness as an anomaly that accom- be haunted by them. Uncannily, as we shall
panies unattractiveness, the narrative sent out is see, this haunting took the form of a re-
two-fold –– (i) blackness is a defect that cannot enactment that encased the white actor in-
be overcome or “cured,” and (ii) the black com- side the black’s role as scapegoat.10
munity is inherently at an inferior position vis a`
vis the white community. While speaking of the whites, haunted by the
“ghost” of the past in which they lay the blame
Second, the disentanglement of race from skin of suppression on the blacks, we see the rise
colour becomes complex as the American soci- of an important idea, that of an undiluted past,
ety is systematically structured to recognize and returning time and again, and demanding that
differentiate on the basis of race, whether it be justice be meted out. Here, we pay attention to
African, Asian or American. This feature of the whether the portrayal that a white actor lends to
society is brought forth in mainstream media, the black character he plays, is a portrayal driven
where usage of words like “black”, assuming a by guilt with the aim of ensuring representation
person’s ethnicity based on appearance (like call- or if it is a portrayal driven by simple ridicule.
ing all Asians Japanese or Vietnamese) are com- We often find the latter to be the case, in a
monplace. So, even though scientifically, it has space where a black character is labelled and not
been proven time and again that differentiation allowed to transgress those boundaries, we see
on the basis of colour and race has no concrete the drawing of concrete stereotypes, spurred by
grounds, this differentiation continues to exist.
10Ibid., 56.
Another important facet of the psychology of
using blackface in theatrical representation has

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