Prof. Prem Poddar

China in India: Himalayan Kalimpong

August 2021 – January 2022

Research Description:

China in India: Himalayan Kalimpong aims to extend scholarly understanding of the eastern Himalaya as well as China-India relations from a political-historical and borderland perspective. Using postcolonial optics and transcultural approaches, with their critique of conventional historiographies and methodological nationalism, the project investigates a neglected region in the Indian Himalayas. It specifically looks at the town of Kalimpong or Galunbao (噶伦堡/ काल िंप िंग) set up as a hill station by the British in the mid-nineteenth century. Consequently, the place emerges as a cosmopolitan hub for trade, politics, espionage and cultural exchange in the early and mid-twentieth century until its present slippage into a ‘postmodernist’ dystopic space.
Using archival sources, newspaper and media accounts in Mandarin and English, recent interviews and field notes, and primary and secondary literature, it draws together original research on imperial history, post-war politics and culture, the Bandung spirit of collaboration along with the ‘Tibet question’ finally culminating in the 1962 war. The argument running through the work is that the hill station emerges as a metonymic stand-in for the problematic relationship between China and India. Working from cultural studies and  China-India studies, the projects serves to reflect the interdisciplinary and historical dimension of contemporary debates.

Legacies of interactions and disagreements between the players mediate the writing of this history. In this sense the politics of the border, or cartographic anxieties if you will, and interpretations accruing from these boundaries  serve as markers and indicators of entanglements in the larger sphere of political conflicts. History in this case does constitute identities both of Chinese diasporic subjects as well as Indian ideas of the nation. Rethinking these histories opens up spaces for refashioning those notions. The  analysis I am doing showcases the impetus provided by the “discursive power of the political”.

The contribution connects to wider issues about the nature of nationality, governmentality and the relationship between the colonial past and postcolonial present, a post-independent India and a post-revolution China. Given the unprecedented importance and interest in China-India relations today, the analysis will further facilitate scholarly research into the area.

 

Bio: 

Prem Poddar is Professor in Cultural Encounters at Rosklide University in Denmark. He has been an Humboldt Senior Fellow, AHRC Fellow at Southampton and Carlsberg Fellow at Cambridge University. He has taught in India, Britain, and Denmark as Associate Professor in Postcolonial Studies. He is the author of many articles and books including Violent Civilities (2002) and Postkolonial Contra-modernitet: Immigration, Identitet, Historie (2004). He has also edited Translating Nations (2000); A Historical Companion to Postcolonial Thought (2005/2008), Empire and After: Englishness in Postcolonial Perspective (2007/2010); A Historical Companion to Postcolonial Literatures —Continental Europe and its Empires (2008/2011) and Gorkhas Imagined (2009). His forthcoming series of articles and a monograph investigate India-China relations through the lens of a border town across the Himalayas. His continuing interest in ‘state’ and ‘nation’ as conceptual contexts for analyzing cultural representation forms the centre of his work  on the politics of the passport.

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