Kalidasa’s cloud

Kalidasa’s cloud

For me, Southasia has always been an imaginary landscape. I never thought of myself as a 'Southasian', and never had to deal seriously with the category until, aged almost 40, I went for the first time to England. Despite having travelled to many places in Europe by then, I had studiously resisted the UK, due to an early anti-imperialist political position, which had manifested in me as an almost visceral distaste at having anything to do with the former colonisers. But it was only upon reaching there that I realised how this mulishness had contributed to the retarding of my own political understanding. For it was there that, for the first time, I saw the practical application of the principle of divide et impera (divide and rule).

In London, Birmingham, Bradford, one is physically confronted with the colonial dismembering of the Subcontinent into Hindu, Muslim, Punjabi and Bengali, now re-unified on British soil as 'Southasians'. Over the past 60 years in the UK, and also across the Atlantic in the US and Canada, 'Southasia' is now established as a funding category, particularly in education but also in arts and culture. Indeed, many of those governments, in order to display their alleged 'fairness' to ethnic minorities, end up sanctioning higher grants to Southasian organisations and artists. However, it is interesting to see how this pans out on the Subcontinent itself. Since the 1980s, when the idea of Southasia emerged as a meta-nationalistic category – aspiring to hold its own with other 'basket' geographics such as West Asia, Central Europe, the Pacific Rim and Southeast Asia – every effort has been made to obliterate the fact that the concept of 'Southasia' is, in fact, an illegitimate offspring of colonialism, nurtured strategically to further the hegemonies of surrogate regional supremacy of former colonialists and present-day neo-imperialists. The idea of the region, though, is not all that new or unique. The sheer geographic bounding of the Subcontinent – with the Hindukush and Himalaya blocking it off on the west and north; and the east, west and south being further encircled by waters – made the evolution of an inward-looking civilisation, largely self-conscious of its own location, inevitable.

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Himal Southasian
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