Relating (to) the Past: Piro's Story in Many Hues

Tuesday Seminar
Event Speaker: 
Anshu Malhotra
Event Time: 
03:30 PM to 05:00 PM
Event Venue: 
Committee Room (MS 610)

Historians today are more aware than ever before of the elusive nature of the past, as of the dynamic ways in which it is represented and used in the present, or the manner in which memory is constructed. The professional historian is no longer the purveyor of "the past as it happened," but rather recognizes her limited and contested corner to espouse one among the many possible discourses about the past. In this presentation I will look at some aspects of the "popular" forms in which Piro's story, which has caught the imagination of the Punjabi peoples at this contemporary moment, is being circulated among them. Two plays on her - Piro Preman (Shahryar, 1999) & Shairi (Swarajbir, 2004) - have been written. Her poetry has also been collected by a contemporary Gulabdasi guru along with its exegesis, but more importantly with a long Introduction meant to guide the reader to perceive her in appropriate way. Sant Kavyitri Ma Piro (Sant Vijender Das, 2011) is thus cast in a devotional métier. The autobiographical nature of a very important piece of Piro's writing further complicates the question of access to the past and its representation. In this situation of the many voices relating the past, and helping us relate to the past, what is the role of the historian?

Anshu Malhotra is Associate Professor in the Department of History, University of Delhi. She holds a Ph.D from SOAS, University of London. She is the author of Piro and the Gulabdasis: Gender, Sect and Society in Punjab (2017) and Gender, Caste and Religious Identities: Restructuring Class in Colonial Punjab (2002). She has co-edited Punjab Reconsidered: History, Culture and Practice (2012); Speaking of the Self: Gender, Performance and Autobiography in South Asia (2015); and Text and Tradition in Early Modern North India (2018).