Giving new look to old traditions

“What I emphasise in my work is not just the region but larger questions of how the past is imagined in South Asia and what it means to write history,” she avers.

She believes that she has a particular standpoint, but what she brings as a Punjabi scholar, a woman and a ‘foreigner’, is something novel — a dynamic exchange of ideas.

Despite having spent 20 years in and out of the Punjab, she says she has a long way to go and is still learning. This while she speaks the language fluently, reads and writes it with considerable élan and t importantly believes she belongs here.

In fact, her dissertation for her PhD grew out of her love affair with Punjab — on how this region imagines its past. Now the book she is working on is also on the same subject.

“The present makes the past so there is no one past. Under the British, the focus was on understanding land and property rights, but prior to that the focus was on construction of relationships, ‘guru seva’ and lineage. The post-colonial period was marked by an amalgamation of both.”

She cites the example of ‘ithiasic vastu’ (historical objects) like weapons or relics associated with the Sikh Gurus. “These things have a history of their own. “If we look at these objects, say from the point of view of museums, these are quintessentially colonial institutions and yet not entirely so because these find representations throughout Asia in the form of preserved relics in families, in communities, maybe not in buildings called museums,” she explains.

She, however, does not deal only with Punjab and the Sikhs, but how South Asia developed its past because there was a distinct view that it had no historical past, she says.

However, this archaic view is changing as more and more Western scholars examine the same history from different angles finding their own insights, just like Anne.

Until the book gets ready, all she wants is to do is to come back again and again to delve into state archives and libraries and to fulfil her “current obsession with ‘paneer’ (cottage cheese)”.

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