Talk by Dr Radha Kapuria on
'Between Citizenship and Custodianship: Punjab’s Musicians in post-1947 India and Pakistan’
South Asia’s violent Partition in 1947 resulted in the largest human migration in twentieth-century history. While Partition’s impact on the cultural landscape is immense, scholarship has been limited to literature and cinema. The performative traditions have been mostly ignored and Partition’s effect on the musicians of Punjab has been understudied. My project maps the history of musical exchange across the Indo-Pak border, by surveying how Punjabi musicians’ life-stories, musical production and national identities developed in radically different–if connected–ways in India, Pakistan and the British diaspora after, and in great measure because of, the cataclysm that was 1947. My paper focusses on Punjab’s itinerant musicians in both Pakistan and India during the crucial post-1947 decades of the 1950s-1960s. For musicians, borders are often envisaged as fluid, if not irrelevant, given their historical tendency to be perennially mobile, in search of patronage and audiences. Thus, while acknowledging the disruption caused by Partition on Punjab’s musical cultures, musicians’ agency in responding to it cannot be ignored either. Antagonistic versions of ‘Indian vs. Pakistani’ histories of music were composed and circulated during these years- visible in the postcolonial Islamicisation of music in Pakistan, which attempted to rid music of its Hindu referents, and the concomitant packaging of music in India as an ‘ancient’ Hindu cultural symbol representing the ‘new India’. Apart from, and in direct contrast to, these ‘antagonistic histories’, I will investigate ‘connected histories’ by locating evidence for a broader South Asian ‘musical citizenship’ persisting across borders. Famous classically-trained Pakistani singer Noor Jehan, who had a thriving career in the pre-1947 Bombay and post-1947 Lahore film industries, often publicly assigned custodianship of her vocal talents to an audience seen as being joint guardians across the border. How does this history of cultural exchange across borders enhance our perspectives on the uniquely Indian vs. Pakistani nature of the music that evolved? Or can one detect, at least up to the 1960s, a broader north Indian cultural sphere? In an attempt to answer this question, I examine narratives of nostalgia, processes of musical tutelage and pedagogy in the lives of musicians along with audience reception of music festivals, gramophone records and film music, during these formative years of India and Pakistan.
Radha Kapuria is Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in History at the University of Sheffield, 2019-2022, where she is researching the impact of South Asia’s Partition in 1947 on Punjab's musicians. She was awarded her PhD titled ‘Music in Colonial Punjab: A Social History’, at King’s College London in May 2018, where she was funded by the Commonwealth Scholarships Commission and the Institute for Historical Research, London. Her MPhil in 2013 was conducted at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. She studied History for her Bachelor’s degree in Delhi at Lady Shri Ram College and her Master’s degree at St. Stephen’s College. She has also taught Ethnomusicology at King’s College London and History at the Indraprastha College for Women in Delhi.