The Case of the Vanishing Maharaja: Urdu Travel Literature and Princely Politics in South Asia

25/11/20166:00 pm-7:30 pm
Soorty Lecture Theater

Arzu Center Website

Abstract of the Talk:
In 1851, the young Tukoji Holkar, Maharaja of Indore, went missing under suspicious circumstances. Some said his mentor and regent wanted him out of the picture. Others speculated that he’d been kidnapped and taken to Calcutta by nefarious colonial agents. The truth was that he’d simply slipped away during a hunt to make a clandestine tour of Delhi, Agra and Haridwar. On his return, Holkar did something that was, at the time, doubly unprecedented for a Persian-speaking court: he wrote a travelogue, and he wrote it in Urdu. Following his lead, other princes across the region began to write their own, increasingly elaborate travel accounts, also typically in Urdu. By the end of the 19th century, the princely travel account had become a recognizable sub-category of the safarnama genre. This talk will examine how and why princely travel writing appeared in mid-nineteenth century South Asia. Focusing on two narratives in Urdu from 1851, it will argue that the decision to write a travel account – and to do so in Urdu – reflected the princely states’ desire to use literature to stabilize their legitimacy at a time when colonial predations had rendered it increasingly precarious.

About the Speaker:
Daniel Majchrowicz is an Assistant Professor of South Asian Literature and Culture at Northwestern University. He received his PhD from Harvard University in 2015. He is currently at work on two manuscripts. The first is a study of Urdu travel writing from 1830-1950, tentatively titled Travel and the Means to Victory: Travel and Travel Writing in Modern South Asia. The second is a collaborative project aimed at producing a scholarly anthology of Muslim women’s travel writing from across the world, entitled Veiled Voyagers.