In the aftermath of crushed political revolution, forms of protest become curiously circular and conflicted. Drawing on literary and visual representations of the Indian Mutiny of 1857, this essay analyzes new circuits of demands that break with the project of successful revolutionary ends and demonstrate an investment in the satisfying interminability of protest that cannot be suppressed or punished. It brings into view a range of protesting figures engaged in an ongoing alteration of the colonial relation to argue that the eccentric gaps between process and purpose are useful for thinking through the satisfactions of anticolonialism.
Removed from home at bayonet point, an editor salvages the manuscripts of a dead author only to degrade them through fraudulent correction (Azad 49–367). Interned on a penal island, a jurist mourns the absence of affection from which come daily jabs to his gut as he is “given warm water instead of the love of bosom friends”; his prison poem denounces the “instigations of Satan” but puns on the pricks and spurs of wild ideas to affirm what is decried (Khairabadi). On the eve of drumhead trials, a prince hosts a nightlong poetry recital “to stay away from sorrows,” and the next morning, dons to the gallows “a tunic of dewy cotton and finely embroidered shoes” to “mutiny” against mourning when he is fitted with the noose; in a deferred coincidence plot, an old man suddenly remembers he was a wine server at the last recital preceding mass hangings, and faints on seeing “a bone and a shred” of the dismembered prince, some fifty years later (Bates and Carter 353–55). Pushed from deep pockets into a lifetime of “tattered rags,” “matted hair” and “jaundiced face,” a courtier in a short-story cycle sets out to beg for alms after sundown; he solicits donations in “a portentous voice” that scares benefactors instead of inclining them to charity (Nizami 17–56). A veiled dowager empress parleys over the visual form of her internment only to position the wife of her prison guard as her heir apparent in the photographs (Roe 105).
These vignettes from the aftermath of the Indian Mutiny of 1857 show that the violent defeat of political revolution hardly suppresses the ongoing alterations of protest by the actors punished for it. Rather, new objects of satisfaction appear when the objectives of revolution disappear. Drawing on a counterinsurgent period in colonial history, this essay analyzes the performative contradictions, structural tautologies, urgent redundancies, and other self-collapsing forms of protest that make up the literary and visual texts of the affected community. It argues that when besieged figures address their tragic transformation from affluent citizens to destitute deportees, they move through interminable circuits of curious demands that serve no ends but the endlessness of protest. Archival inquiry and close reading together reveal how the shock of expulsion and the paralysis of internment are recalibrated toward impossible satisfactions that arise and go awry in eccentric objects without objectives. Instead of being a minor infraction that is administered into submission, protest after protest latches on to the unpunishable surplus of extraneous demand, going to great lengths for satisfactions in the absence of political success. Neither pleasantly affirming nor particularly feasible for the punished, the protests outlined again and again in Mutiny materials are distinct from wisely subversive behavior camouflaged in obedience, summarized by James C. Scott as “hidden transcripts” in the truism, “When the great lord passes, the wise peasant bows deeply and silently farts” (v). Far also from the successfully disguised transgression that Homi Bhabha calls “sly civility” in how paranoid it makes the colonizer, the forms of protest seen here are premised on their own conflicted compulsion and collapse in the wake of the knowledge and lacunae of epochal devastation (71). Establishing the difference between success and process in anticolonialism reveals its disrupted pleasures, as this essay shows by reading the moments of protest in texts of noted scholar of Urdu literature Muhammad Husain Azad, India’s former dowager empress Zinat Mahal, and Sufi historian Hasan Nizami that range from 1870 to 1930.
In May 1857, financial and religious grievances caused infantry regiments in North India to rise against their employer, the East India Company (eic). The eic was a private corporation whose private army annexed territory for profit. The infantry’s protest, known as the Sepoy Mutiny, swelled into a mass civilian uprising (Dalrymple; Gopal; Robins). It started when the eic’s poorly paid infantrymen or sepoys (from sipahi/soldier) disobeyed orders, refusing rifle cartridges rumored to contain cow and pig fat. The public perception of the tarnished caste and religious status of the sepoys and the eic’s court-martials of dissenting regiments incited a mutiny. Supported by civilians, the army defectors stormed Delhi to reinstate Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II to the political sovereignty his ancestors had ceded to EIC’s board of directors. The rebels took the sovereign as figurehead and hostage, coopting his dynastic authority to endorse their disaffection.1 But wageless and hungry, the rebels could not hold the city for long. In September 1857, a British Siege crushed the armed uprising in Delhi. Then came the misery of collective punishment for the residents, regardless of their participation in the rebellion. The occupying army expelled civilians and royals overnight (when it did not execute them), destroyed much of the cityscape, and looted thousands of deserted residences to reassert colonial power. By 1858, the British Crown convicted the emperor of treason and deported him and empress Zinat Mahal to indefinite internment in British Burma, where they died in destitution. Blamed for the revolt and banished from Delhi in 1857, Muslim civilians were not issued permits to return home until 1860 (Dehlavi; Pritchett; Russell). The Siege exacted payback for the anticolonial uprising by marginalizing Islam from the body politic of Delhi; it set into motion future threats of the revocation of Indian citizenship from Muslims much like those issued by the current regime. The counterinsurgent ruination of Delhi shaped Muslim-Indian literary investment in witnessing the suffering of the old elites. But the framework of witness bearing does not account for textual operations that feature besieged figures in inexplicable and undeterred pursuits.
In self-portrayals of the expelled feudal elites and lettered bourgeoisie of Delhi, the object of protest transforms into a perpetual circuit of demands. Protest is no longer a means that accomplishes a substantive end, as it was in the Mutiny’s defined goals (civil liberties, fair wages, and Mughal imperial succession). Rather, the sense of nonconformism shifts from punishable revolutionary purpose to interminable psychosocial satisfactions in post-Siege texts. Feeding on an almost automatic subversion that gives no rest, and only the fantasy of fulfillment, stricken figures introduce new and creatively complex demands that cancel themselves perpetually and remain in play repeatedly. Protest lacks an attainable end but nonetheless visits with urgency, becoming a record of minute self-alteration in the everyday life of punishment. The distinctive movement of the “aim-inhibited” satisfactions of the drives, circling a void, separates out what is most striking in the post-Siege archive.2 This movement is seen in the first section, below, on literary canon formation, where pioneering scholar of Urdu literature Muhammad Husain Azad pursues fame for a dead poet while soldiers oust him from his home, but then he degrades the manuscripts of the master through a mortifying forgery. In the next section on photographic portraiture, the last empress, Zinat Mahal, observes the laws of veiling while in punitive custody but then fights to have a white cositter in her internment portrait after she has unsuccessfully refused the camera. A newly found photograph of the empress changes our understanding of her iconic internment photograph as well as redundancy in the Mutiny archive. Finally, Sufi postmemory in elegiac fiction uses the suffering of elites to teach self-knowledge in humility but slips into a gothic terror of fragile delusion that is less about mourning the loss of affluence and more about realizing the loss as jouissance. In privileging baffling compulsions that lack inherent significance, post-Siege texts trope protest as an avenue of inconvenient alterity marked by pleasures, gaps, compulsions, and derailments for the colonial subject and relation.
Canon and Fabrication
Sabotage and hyperbole go hand in hand with canonicity and vulnerability in the anecdotal anticolonialism of Muhammad Husain Azad. A scholar and refugee, Azad saw his journalist father executed at a sham trial and his infant daughter killed by a stray bullet during the Siege. So it is no surprise that secreted within Azad’s field-founding text on Urdu poetry and criticism, Water of Life (Ab-e-Hayat) (1880), is the memory image of forced removal. Azad recalls staring down the barrel of a gun in his home invaded by the occupying army. In that shocking moment of reckoning, he forges a binding assessment that the love lyrics (ghazals) of Zauq, whom he worships as a touchstone of poetry, are the only irreplaceable artifacts in his home:
My situation was that the soldiers of the victorious army suddenly entered the house. They flourished their rifles: “Leave here at once!” The world turned black before my eyes. A whole houseful of goods was before me, and I stood petrified: “What shall I take with me?” My eye fell on the big bundle of the Ustad’s [master poet’s] ghazals. I thought, “Muhammad Husain, if God is gracious, and you live, then everything can be restored. But where will this very Ustad come from, who can compose these ghazals again? Now only his name lives. If his name has life, then it is only because of these. While these exist, he lives even after his death; if these are lost, his name cannot survive either.” I picked up the bundle and tucked it under my arm. Abandoning a well-furnished home, with twenty-two half-dead souls I left the house—or rather, the city. (367)3
The fugitive editorship that Azad exercises over the ghazals of Zauq averts an apocalypse of erasure. The moment of responsibility enlarges a rapidly narrowing world of poetry history with messianic grace. It authorizes canonicity by wagering lives.
Deciding that “everything can be restored” but the master’s patronymic, the Azad of the action flashback risks all. He places the homosocial endurance of the great literary tradition adjacent to the heterosexist reproducibility of the damaged homeland signified in “the twenty-two half-dead souls” of the deported family. But despite the testimony of spontaneity here, the decision to save, above all, the name of Zauq, is no mere impulse. The “bundle” of haphazardly stored manuscript pages that the editor retrieves in an inspired and risky outburst of action is already a volume of collected works [divan] that he is compiling, correcting, and “cleaning” at too “leisurely” a pace when the Mutiny changes Delhi (Azad 450). The overwhelmed and sluggish pace of editing before the Mutiny informs the emergency measures of decisive salvage during the Siege:
There were parcels of individual ghazals, and big, big bundles. There were many bags and earthenware pitchers. Whatever he used to compose, it was as if he thought this was the safest thing. Organizing them caused not sweat, but blood, to flow. Because all his poetry, from childhood to the time of his last breath, was in them [. . .]. Accordingly, first we sorted out his own ghazals and odes. This work took a number of months to complete. In short, first we began to make clean copies of the ghazals. I confess my error in that although I began the work, I did it at a leisurely pace. How could I know that all at once the page of the times would be turned in such a way, and the world would become topsy-turvy, and the blood of vain longings would flow? The heart’s yearnings will stay in the heart itself. Suddenly the Rebellion of 1857 came. (366–67)
Doing justice to the prolific Zauq, who left behind unruly stockpiles of illegible poems, requires a blood offering from Azad even before the book of the world turns upside down in “vain” and more blood flows in the violent surprise of political revolution. In this forlorn account of the Mutiny, the unexpected arrival of its “vain longings” silences the long-existing “heart’s yearnings” for the literary consolidation of Zauq’s oeuvre. The process and project of revolutionary politics block the satisfactions of a passionately pursued protest against the loss of the master’s lifework. Bursting with compensatory and defensive addresses to himself, Azad’s vignette fashions a new self-image of the anxious and hindered protestor engaged in editorial salvage that is threatened by the lacunae of anticolonial militancy itself, and not only by the violent expulsion during the Siege.
But the historical gaps and epistemic voids of the Mutiny are also Azad’s. They speak through his disavowals. They constitute the opposition he sets up between the self-aware yearnings of his heart and the futile longings of the mutineers. Frances Pritchett’s Nets of Awareness identifies this constitutive opposition as one of the “favorite themes” of Water of Life: poets versus kings, imaginative cultural power versus sovereign political power. Analyzing the “steady undercurrent of criticism” that Urdu poetry critics directed against Water of Life since its “incomparably influential” publication in 1880, Pritchett argues, “It is ‘Zauq worship’ that makes him vulnerable. Certainly Azad had complex uses for an ustad like Zauq” (48). The defenselessness of Water of Life derives from the gap between how fully Azad alters Zauq’s texts without claiming to and what he does claim about Zauq’s irreplaceable canonicity. Most infamously, Azad secretly adds a number of his own ghazal compositions into the Divan-e-Zauq he edits and “modernizes” from 1857 to 1888. Pritchett finds “decisive evidence” of this extraordinary forgery from a survey of early- to mid-twentieth-century Urdu criticism, where Azad is seen as disrespecting the master whom he overtly but unnecessarily venerates as a singular touchstone of poetry but whose lifework he covertly worsens by unattributed reform/improvement (islah). The addition of the drafts of the editor-pupil (shagird) to the collected works of a master (ustad) is a profound insult because only the master can “gift” such reform to a pupil’s poetic career without claiming authorship, explains Pritchett:
While it is a permissible part of the teaching process for ustads to radically alter, or even entirely compose, ghazals that are then recited under the names of their shagirds, it would be an almost unheard-of piece of insolence for a shagird to compose ghazals and attribute them to his ustad. Yet this is what Azad did. While editing the bundle of Zauq’s ghazal manuscripts that he had rescued from Delhi, he not only tampered with the texts, seeking to “improve” them and modernize their language, but even composed whole new ghazals himself, which he added to the volume. (49)
Azad extends the life of Zauq literally, keeping him writing posthumously, overhauling his classical idiom, and composing updated poems in the name of canon formation during moments of disaffection with his dead idol, his lost homeland, and their antiquated literary history.
Azad’s protracted exertions on the divan move over a repeatedly derailed path of satisfaction: “[C]onclusive proof has been found of marked-up first drafts of some of ‘Zauq’s’ ghazals—on the backs of letters and papers dated thirty years after his death,” Pritchett continues, “But since Zauq was a much better poet than Azad, the effect of Azad’s tampering was ironic” (49). In pursuit of an impossible satisfaction in lasting lyric canonicity for his own new idiom of poetry, Azad leaves behind the constantly shifting image of a protestor-saboteur and a legacy of self-persecutory impersonation in the work of poetic judgment and canon formation. This image of canonized adaptability, which he offers to supersede the fickle objectives of revolutionary change, is backdated through Zauq. The forms of the slow lie and the fast rescue—the former clandestine and the latter self-publicized—are indissociable. Circularly, they attach the pursuit of literary modernism and the cover-up of culpable scholarship to the memory image of a divergent form of protest in the instant of expulsion from a revolutionized homeland. Editorial fraud aligns with the insistence of aesthetic responsibility in banishment. In the autobiographical recapitulation of Water of Life, the only “error” to which Azad “confesses” is the error of lethargic correction. He already forgives this fault by staging a twin confrontation with maniacal “pitchers” of pourable ghazals inside the house of the late Zauq and with a revolutionary movement of armed disaffection outside his own. His mea culpa in this chaos screens the protracted lie of Zauq’s modernist excellence, a lie that wants to disallow the necessarily aged language of composition. The inexplicable surplus of satisfaction released in and through sabotage attests to the lacunae of epochal devastation structuring his demand that Zauq, whom he saved, speak like him. Conflating a salvaged right and a fugitive wrong, the penname Freedom (Azad) saves/tampers with the text of exquisite Taste (Zauq) in the Water of Life. Protest’s object-exigency—the rescue of Zauq to confer literary canonicity to Azad’s modernizing impulse—diverges from revolutionary ends with a structure defiant of its own purpose.
Through the risk of manuscript retrieval in martial invasion, the work of the master and the life of the editor are made “equipotential,” to use Leela Gandhi’s term in The Common Cause, for an “imperfectionist” ethics that descends voluntarily into a deliberate fellowship with things and ideas, at no little cost to the human actor (154). The equipotentiality continues in the occult communing of an older Azad with the spirits of dead poets who spoke to him—one of the many hallucinations for which he was confined to a psychiatric institution eventually, but not before he did a notorious and misguided stint as a British spy (Faruqi 70–97). Confronting death at the hands of the army, the younger Azad leaps from frustration with his lethargic output of editing to satisfaction with the unquestioned good of salvage, but defers constantly the desired goal of editorial completion, merging with his idol in the unhurried and endless nature of modernization that descends to falsification. The embarrassing mechanism of imperfection driving the counterfeit manufacture of canonicity results here from neither a wholly purposive failure nor a wildly unscrupulous predisposition. Zauq is the object of protest summoned to no anticolonial end even as he is saved from total colonial erasure and altered for a sabotaged literary end. Far from being unique to Azad’s text, forms of creatively derailed protest make a mark on literary and visual representations of the punitive curtailment of revolution. Nonpurposive and interminable satisfactions in the charged orbits of urgent nonconformism transform the meanings and practices not only of the literary canon but also of the veil and the camera, and of natalism and elegy, in narratives that record the devastation of the elites.
Portrait and Proximity
Here the ex-Queen [Zinat Mahal] is seen in her age, when the fires of intrigue had burned low [. . .]. It seems that difficulty was experienced in persuading the ex-Queen to pose for her portrait, and that she only consented on the condition that Mrs. Wheeler sat with her.—F. Gordon Roe
Source material collections of the administration of the Indian Mutiny are not insubstantial. But they seem formidable due to a bureaucratic history of “excessive documentation” and “duplicate” record keeping across multiple departments of colonial communication, according to Rosemary Seton’s The Indian “Mutiny” 1857–58 (iii). Even after an official “weeding” process between 1858 and 1860—when the paper domain of counterinsurgency was “ridiculed” for its annual “wagon-load of documents” that no functionary could “pretend to read,” and, consequently, “[o]ver 300 tons were sold as waste paper”—the Mutiny papers at the British Library still amount to tens of thousands of records (iii). The collections in London include recondite proceedings, monotonous dispatches, and “letters, telegrams, reports, military orders, detailed narratives of events, casualty lists, intercepted rebel messages, reports from spies and so on” (ii). Necessarily unread in their entirety by the employees whom they addressed, the bulky enunciations of counterinsurgency offer, in the words of Ann Laura Stoler, “genealogies of their redundance” (268). But the anticipation of systemic redundancy ensures its manifestation, foreclosing the hard-won import of colonized figures who flit from protest to protest in an excess of disarray and derailment without acting out the punishable orthodoxies of revolutionary purpose. The genealogy of redundance may thus comprise granular alterations of protesting figures whose textualized actions circle around impossible satisfactions in a time of political stupor. It is impossible to know beforehand when redundance is itself and when it holds in reserve the eccentricity of protest without end.
In her appraisal of primary Mutiny records completed in 1986, Seton lists “Two photographs of Zinat Mahal, Queen of Bahadur Shah, taken in exile at Rangoon c 1872” and stored in the British Library collections (87). The question of whether Seton’s calculation of two accounts for a duplication has to be set aside because archival accumulation is its own mode of obliteration, and currently, the collection holds only one photograph of Zinat Mahal (see fig. 1). Archive-based histories of the Mutiny consider it to be “the only surviving photograph” of the last Mughal empress, who earned much revulsion and infamy as an “intriguing and unscrupulous” actor of the Mutiny and the Siege (Dalrymple 422–23; J. Wheeler, Letter 1871, 2). So complete is the data erasure that the latest catalog and finding guide do not register a missing second photograph. It is Seton’s apparently obsolete survey that illuminates the present exclusion. Her bibliography points to a series of letters from British family donors to the curators of the British Library in the 1920s.4 The letters discuss the provenance of two historical photographs of the interned Zinat Mahal and grapple with an unstated paradigm of redundant duplication. From this exchange can be patched together a maddening story of mistaken donations, garbled deposits, ambiguous call requests and their equivocal fulfillment in the archive. The deictic shifts and non sequiturs in the letters make clear that the discussants have two distinct photographs in mind, not duplicates, as they talk at cross purposes before finally realizing their error. But the trail goes cold after this exchange, suggesting an archival dislodgment sometime after Seton’s survey—a loss that shapes the unmarked displacement of the second photograph today.
Needless to say, the odds against knowing what is missing and where to search for it—which is to say, the odds against being pressured by the powerful particulars of displacement—are overwhelming due to the “sheer quantity” of source materials and copies in a single collection at a single site, not to mention the transcontinental range of the dispersed archives of Mutiny materials from the uk to India to Myanmar (Seton i). But the scattering and reproduction of source materials across multiple sites create a useful entropy in otherwise static scenarios, overpowering both the expectation of redundancy and the fact of displacement, and enabling archival research to succeed by yielding to chance. Not knowing what I did not know, it was as much the fantastic accident of stumbling upon Seton’s timeworn bibliography while browsing library stacks as the frenetic and sustained reconstruction of the trail of aporetic deposits in the British Library that led me to the elusive second portrait (see fig. 2). A periodical of antique collectors and collecting, The Connoisseur: An Illustrated Magazine for Collectors, carried it in one of its nine issues in 1929 (Roe). There it waited unobtrusively, even redundantly, until the chaotic archival traces constellated before my eyes into a photographed face of protest with a historical claim.
Buried in the “notes” section at the end of a glossy magazine showcasing antiques and artworks to whet the appetites of collectors, an unassuming black-and-white portrait the size of a visiting card (3 × 2.2 in.) is easy to overlook. A note by F. Gordon Roe identifies Zinat Mahal’s cositter as his aunt, Mrs. J. Talboys Wheeler. Connecting their lineage to Thomas Roe, the first English ambassador to the Mughal court in the seventeenth century, Roe contextualizes the double portrait as a last and “strange intermingling of East and West” made possible by the new visiting-card technology of the nineteenth century. A partially veiled Zinat Mahal sits in the gray world of punitive detention with her memsahib guard Emily Wheeler, wife of officer in charge James Talboys Wheeler, striking the same pose and wearing the same clothes as in the prominent solo portrait. Both prison photographs are puzzles. Dominating them is Zinat Mahal’s opaque demand that Emily Wheeler act as her cositter in the portrait of her internment (see epigraph to section). The point is not that the double portrait is an incarnation of mutual animosity or regard between the sitters, illuminating what is not seen, but, rather, that the double portrait form of protest, which is an inexplicable object of insistence for the queen in her captivity, instigates a queer moment out of nothing, revealing what is not. Whether or not the demand for cositting is an offshoot of an existing rapport between Zinat Mahal and Emily Wheeler, a fantasy of fulfillment is staged in the image of anxious and disaffected proximity between them.
The well-known solo portrait of Zinat Mahal has abandoned its roots in administrative tedium and gained digital ubiquity (see fig. 1). It is a study in taut and sedentary detention. In the Wheelers’ drawing room in Rangoon, the last empress of India “pinched with sharp poverty,” looks at the camera of General Alexander Ruxton McMahon, deputy commissioner of British Burma and artist-ethnographer from Suffolk (J. Wheeler, Letter 1871, 4).5 There could not be a more striking contrast between the glistening silks of bygone sovereignty and the punitive cruelty of endless custody. The luster and texture of the long headscarf around her face catch the light in the tight frame. Creases in the top-left corner indicate the temporary installation of an achromatic cloth screen that closes the pictorial space of the drawing room. The wrinkles in the screen confirm a makeshift studio, not a commercial unit prefitted with an elaborate range of backdrops. A tasseled cushion peeks from behind her shoulder and the bejeweled handrest of her seat repeats the angle of her right hand. It is cropped on frame left, throwing the composition off balance. As for the still life in the carceral image, the possessions are angled to perfection: a decorative Burmese box stands upright and open on a high base.6 Its flared leg is an inanimate and diminutive echo of the torsion of her raised right leg. A lid large enough to stretch over the upright box lies next to the base; embellished and chased metalwork protruding from the top of the lid faces the camera obliquely. Mughal attire and Burmese props in the British drawing room provoke an aesthetic discord to symbolize the chain of crime and punishment in a nonnarrative medium.
Against the neutral backdrop, Zinat Mahal’s pose, attire, and expression season the portrait with an agonizing dynamism, weighing down the lower left corner. The raised knee and perpendicular fold of the right leg call attention to themselves. Obtuse and inscrutable, the raised knee produces a new vertical axis in the field of vision. It adds standing room for the skirt lined with shining pleats; a horizontal border runs along the hem and falls below the seat in a supple movement. The leg of the begum stirs the claustrophobic air. It cites from the orientalist repertoire of dreamy harem scenes. In colonial visuality, the partial squat—balanced with a water pipe (hookah)—is a gestural referent of incorrigible harem women.7 But it is not only a general codification that the leg of the begum invokes; rather, the pose is a direct citation of a previous independent sitting from which comes the only identified realist illustration of Zinat Mahal done before the Mutiny (see fig. 3). The lithograph of the Mughal imperial harem by missionary and travel writer Helen Mackenzie is a kinship portrait of Zinat Mahal and her son. The empress wanted her son installed as heir apparent in defiance of British laws of primogeniture. Mackenzie sketched the contested lineage of sovereignty in a camera obscura seven years before the Mutiny. The visual exaggeration of the leg of Zinat Mahal in both captivity photographs resets and repeats the orientalist pose of sovereignty from the harem scene twenty-two years earlier. If poses were reducible to an exhaustive transmission of protracted personal intent, the play of repetition and difference might create the impression of a covert message of resistance deposited by the captive sitter for the future reader of anticolonialism.
In Mackenzie’s color lithograph of the empress, the perpetual fetish of the accentuated feminine leg is evangelized into pictorial boredom. The stock props of apparently unbridled Eastern pleasure—intricate lattices, distant flora and fauna, shimmering baths, gossamer textiles, and the contorted flesh of confined women—are distilled here to a minimalist numeric series of domesticated exoticism: one subdued carpet, two symmetrical peacock-feather fans, three frames of wall art, and four nearly faceless attendants in a shallow space that rejects the voyeur. The only depth of field comes from the recessed attendant standing on the left. A dull evidentiary gaze overrides the scopic pleasures usually associated with the harem scene despite the sensational promise of the unseen countenance of a veiled Muslim empress brought to the public through the camera obscura. Zinat Mahal leans back, flanked by hookah and heir. Prop and pose, water pipe and cross-legged sitting, together articulate an essentialized difference from Victorian bourgeois respectability. Yet, the scandalous tip of the pipe balanced on the raised right knee morphs into a neatly folded botanical umbrella—a green stem laden with buttery buds—before it reaches her lips. This is a world of de-eroticized fetishism. The illustration achieves inessential precision by sacrificing luscious pleasure.
The orientalist portrait-study makes its truth claim in the sparseness of graphic detailing, setting up the later grammar of the internment photographs. Readable in the quashing of finery and frisson is a particular imaginary of the memsahib artist: a sparer colonialism that wants to be excised of decadent exuberance and pornographic subordination. The prosaic sobriety of bourgeois British women’s depiction of the oriental ordinary, argues Mary Roberts in Intimate Outsiders, fuels the fiction of an ethnographic exceptionalism: privileged access to gender-segregated spaces (12). Roberts finds that the Victorian imaginary of intimacy with the forbidden and sacred aspects of Islam—figural representation and feminine visibility—fashions a different kind of harem in nineteenth-century travel writing. The verifiable harem, according to Roberts, undermines the luxurious masculinist dreamscapes of artists who were not permitted entry but who, nonetheless, trade on documentary modes of immediacy to excite the observer. The mission of refuting the deceitful images of the harem backs the memsahib into a corner of austerity. Suspicious of the visual sign, orientalist artwork opts for a placid minimalism, as if mere precision safeguards against the indictment of representational duplicity. It is this austerity of de-eroticized colonial investment in ethnographic tedium, not the frisson of the raised leg, that informs the prison photographs of Zinat Mahal taken by McMahon in Rangoon. The detention shoot repeats the pose of the hookah-smoking royal but subtracts the all-essential hookah. Postural tautness disconnects the unveiled feminine from leisure time in the imperial harem and fastens it to the tedious privation of the senses in indefinite custody. In the dismal end zone of power and glory, the history of lost sovereignty haunts the repetition of the pose and the difference of the narcotic utensil.
While Roberts’s broad-spectrum argument about the verifiable harem is crucial to understanding the de-eroticized figuring of the begum’s leg in Mackenzie’s lithograph and McMahon’s photographs, the history of Indian photography provides another harem scene that expands the gendered respectability of the veil [purdah] to include within modesty laws the photographing of unveiled aristocratic women by men. In 1862, Lieutenant James Waterhouse instantiated a crossgender intimacy in interracial looking. He and his veiled sitter played with protocols of aristocratic exposure to permit what was previously proscribed, proving the mutual redefinition of veiling and photography. Enlarging the scope of the veil through the nongendered eye of the camera apparatus, Waterhouse claimed to have shot his distinguished portrait-studies of Shah Jahan, daughter of a British loyalist queen, without having seen her. John Falconer recapitulates the shoot in The Waterhouse Albums:
How Waterhouse arranged the photographing of Shah Jahan is unclear, since although a number of portraits were made, in one of his notes, Waterhouse briefly mentions that her photograph was “taken in purdah, so I did not see her.” Presumably the general arrangements for the photograph were made in her absence, possibly with a stand-in, and then Waterhouse withdrew, leaving an assistant to make the actual exposure, or perhaps operated the camera himself, while concealed behind a curtain of some sort. (48)
When photography observes the laws of veiling, it fabricates a subject of harem portraiture that is indexed optically without being seen profilmically. The unseen sitter of portraiture is a figural paradox built on the idea that there is nothing irreversible or indecent about revealing the aristocratic woman’s face to the camera (as opposed to the male-identifying photographer). In Waterhouse’s portraits of Shah Jahan, the optical breach of modesty laws is exonerated, if not corrected, by a new theatricality of harem photography that controls key aspects of production, such as the employment of an uncredited woman photographer whose work is subsumed under his name or the temporary veiling of his own face behind a perforated curtain to prevent unmediated proximity.8 It is unclear how McMahon positioned himself with respect to Zinat Mahal. It is unknown if Emily Wheeler photographed the solo portrait for which McMahon then assumed authorship. But the precedent of the camera-driven redefinition of modes of segregation and proximity between the genders makes the photographs of Zinat Mahal acceptable within customary laws. However, the precedent does not explain the insistence on Emily Wheeler’s presence in the frame as the price of Zinat Mahal’s consent, especially after the interned dowager empress is recorded to have declined photography previously.
As late as 1871, officer-in-charge James Talboys Wheeler complains that he could not persuade Zinat Mahal to permit photography amid her reportedly abrupt reversals of consent: “I should have been glad to have also forwarded a photograph of Zenauth Mahal; but although that lady readily agreed to be taken in the first instance, she subsequently declined, and it was not deemed right or expedient to press the matter” (7). Her vacillating relation to the camera suggests she might have perceived it impossible “to be taken in purdah,” making her now-recovered articulation of conditional consent even more relevant. When Zinat Mahal alters her position on photographic intrusion a year later, attaching the peculiar rider of cositting to her self-image, she awaits a decision on her petition for release from exile on the grounds of declining health.9 The bureaucratic regime of decorous and defined petitioning plays with the notion of an unruly protest without definite purpose. In Document Raj, Bhavani Raman argues that petition grammar instituted a new kind of dissenting but disciplined juridical subject whose speech stepped away from revolution only to always gesture to that suppressed terrain. Raman writes, “Petitioning created a world of officially acceptable dissent under colonial rule; but that always referenced a parallel world of the informal, the indecorous, and the disorderly” (191). If Zinat Mahal hoped that permitting photography might improve the prospects of her petition, her compliance only frustrated her plea in actuality. The long pending request was rejected two months after Wheeler mailed out six copies of her now-iconic solo photograph to the commissioner of British Burma.10 In its role of a well-mannered bargaining tool for colonizer and colonized in the petition regime, the photographic rider of the empress demanded behavioral adjustments that modified the referent of internment and yet only disrupted and wrecked the purpose of protest.
Unlike the solo portrait that presents the spirit-breaking isolationism of punitive captivity, the double photograph tethers unveiling to the fantasy of genealogical proximity between an elite prisoner and her warden. Rather than simply consolidating the power of colonial supervision, the group form pushes the boundaries of prisoner-warden relations in the optical system by manipulating the object of the look and expanding the possibilities of surveillance to include in its crosshairs a representative of the race that surveys without letting itself be surveyed. Visual compliance as quid pro quo for an odd stylistic demand also suggests an overinvestment, an underexplained satisfaction, in marionetting the unseen memsahib into the specific formation of cositting where she appears in the place of the heir apparent, recalling Mackenzie’s harem scene. In the doubled form of surveillance-based queer proximity, a surplus of nonconformism blurs the distinctions between captive and free subjects, challenges the powerlessness of the interned, brings the colonizers into the internment image, and upsets the agentive sanctities of the various participants of portraiture. The act of photographic unveiling here is neither shot through simply with what Frantz Fanon famously calls the “para-neurotic brutality” of the colonizer nor is it emblematic of the benign, self-affirming, consensual choice of the colonized (46). When conditional consent exchanges unveiling for queer cositting, the form of protest reveals the limits of arguing the transgression or elasticity of the veil in historical anecdotes of photography. The group form, an unpunishable photographic protest in punitive detention, is a circuit of satisfaction without success. In not coexisting with the project of revolutionary ends, it appears as an object of protest forged in new creative, juridical, religious, and libidinal stakes of dispossession.
The extant record of the empress’s prerequisite of the double portrait comes to us not from the colonial bureaucratic archive but from The Connoisseur, and Roe’s family romance of colonial celebrity by association after the deaths of the historical actors in question. In fact, when James Talboys Wheeler mailed the solo portrait in 1872, he did not mention Emily Wheeler’s participation in the photographic scene (5). Recording only the existence of a solo portrait and undermining, postproduction, the contract of cositting, Wheeler inscribes the figure of his wife with the averted gaze of the veil, shifting the curtain from the begum to the memsahib. He withdraws the latter from visibility and reshapes her position as an illegible artifice of photography rather than its ready instrument. Instead of doing away with the concealment protocols of the veil, colonial bureaucracy makes the memsahib an obscured sitter requiring exposure and elaboration time and again after the empress puts herself before the lens conditionally. But the group form does imply a possibly unauthorized creation of the iconic solo portrait. In his letter to the colonial librarian at the India Office in 1921 (to which Seton points), the Wheelers’ son Stephen Wheeler recalls that Zinat Mahal categorically refused to be photographed at first but complied later on the condition that his mother pose with her. His letter goes so far as to speculate that the solo portrait may be a consequence of image manipulation: “For a long time the old lady refused to sit and then would only consent if my mother sat with her. I have a photograph showing them both. In the enclosed photograph, either my mother’s figure was obliterated, or Zinat Mahal gave another sitting.” A comparison of the aspect ratios, angles of the sitters’ faces, and drawing room furnishings across both photographs dispels the idea that the individual portrait was created by editing the group portrait. But it does not confirm that Zinat Mahal gave an individual sitting for the solo portrait. The awkwardly sized solo photograph, at 4.1 × 2.7 in., may well have been cropped from another group portrait.
The captive’s complicated path to satisfaction involves repurposing the British wife of her surveillance officer into her heir apparent instead of providing the British Raj with a solo framing of her own isolation. In the tedium of passivity enforced by exilic custody and the sensory deprivation of punitive surveillance, the double portrait is a disorderly simulation by which a Mutiny prisoner passes as free and sovereign transiently. The impression of passing is predicated not on racial or sexual disguise, or on an error or deficiency in perception, but on the phantasmatic production of a social bond that, in fact, forces the hand of the colonizing bourgeoisie while speaking the effects of her subjugation to a petition regime. From a recorder of captivity, the camera turns into a motor of porous boundaries. The group form injects the surveillance apparatus of unveiling with ambiguity. Like quicksilver and for a short time, it switches unveiling from racist masculinist eroticism to the homosocial self-presentation of women while playing with the border between the ordinary sociality of free individuals and the violent, nonconsensual experience of a lifetime detainee. While the double portrait is no antidote to the solo mugshot, the obscure promptings of homosocial interracial cositting and the repetition of an orientalist pose mark the eccentricity of protest without end.
Elegy and Annihilation
Hasan Nizami’s “Sakina Khanam” is a lesser-known short story from a collection of his early twentieth-century fictional testimony about the suffering of the elites, translated by Jagdish Chandra as Tales of 1857 (1857 Ki Kahaniya). Elegizing the destroyed homeland of anticolonial militants, Sufi historian Nizami maps the transformed conditions of Delhi’s elites who were thrown overnight from a wealthy lifestyle of decadent pride to a homeless existence of annihilative piety. In “Sakina Khanam,” macabre catastrophes of home management strike the housewife in a formerly affluent family of rebels on the eve of the British occupation. Pregnant war widow Sakina Khanam is forced to crosshatch her parturition with burial arrangements for her father-in-law, a rebel soldier killed in the Siege. Then, she is abandoned by fickle servants who steal her unnamed newborn son as well as the cash box, leaving her alone in an empty house with the unburied corpse of the mutineer father-in-law. After no fewer than four separate fainting spells brought on by the discovery and rediscovery of the corpse, Sakina, the sitting target, is dragged away by vengeful soldiers who invade her home as part of the colonial expulsion operations. A diegetic jump to three decades later and she is found a pauper begging for alms in the city of Rohtak by the author Nizami who crosses into the hermetic universe of the survivors of the catastrophe and sees her fortuitously reunited with her lost son in this post-Siege melodrama. (No one can accuse these “histories” of undue concern over narrative probability.) The missing newborn and his dead mutineergrandpa function as spectral doubles in the fiction. As nonequivalent genetic substitutes, the newborn and the corpse—one who has been disinterred from the womb and the other who cannot be interred in the tomb—interrupt the ideologies of natalism and nationalism, mortality and martyrdom that inform the Mutiny. The sentimental genre of Sufi short fiction prepares the bourgeois Muslim woman for a vagrant lifestyle through the language of involuntary and intractable psychosomatic symptoms. The elegiac fainting of Sakina yokes the demise of the reflexive individual to the destruction of the anticolonial home. The blackouts of the titular protagonist absorb the shock of a historical dispossession and put her on the path to a Sufi revaluation of ego annihilation in which the satisfactions of transformative piety are such that they bring rewards when they are not pursued.11
As an imposition of the colonial regime, the suffering of the elites was no voluntary dispensation. Yet, Nizami revisits the political catastrophe of removal with the lessons of a volitional dispossession that are key to discourses of Sufi piety. An expression of Islamic mysticism usually in the form of devotional poetry, Sufism champions an ecstasy gained in the annihilation of the ego and its material supports. It is a record of the struggle of the self to overcome pride in wealth and worldliness, writes Syed Akbar Hyder, since both are seen as “impediments to spirituality and piety” (10). Within its framework, poverty and humility are not situations to escape; instead, they are deliberate sites of a self-destructive merging with the divine. Since Sufi literature is positioned to question the bourgeois state and the religious establishment, it “has historically provided that safe space wherein subtle and enduring forms of resistance to oppression and injustice could be forged” (135). Thus, the literary effects of annihilation on political struggle amount to more than a celebration of pleasure in one’s own subjection, although that, too, plays a role in the ecstasy reshaping elegy. Nizami’s testimonial fictions maneuver the collective experience of historical suffering in the aftermath of the Mutiny from a nebulous invocation of catastrophe toward a precise literary category of sentimental excess that blames the Mughal establishment for its hubristic decadence while crying about its cruel destruction. The tears of elite Mughal women who witness the Mutiny dead, without achieving martyrdom themselves, are also tears of their conversion to humility in which is found the capacity to shatter the ego (Hyder 4, 123). The literary commitment “to weep and make weep” (rona aur rulana) figures protagonists who move inexorably from one tragedy to another (Tignol 564). But when intertwined with gothic conventions, such as uncanny doubles, live burial, and revolutionary terror, the Sufi didacticism of “Sakina Khanam” represents apocalyptic conquest in the impossibility of fully experiencing it while living through it, let alone consciously speaking of it (Sedgwick 9). Sufi-gothic sentimental terror puts in limbo the lessons about the telos of regime change, mapping Mutiny and Siege as strange concatenations rather than as progression of crime and punishment. It presents an ideal Sufi subject of homeless destitution who survives the cul-de-sac of the Mutiny to become free of the pursuit of satisfaction until a divine intervention—the restoration of maternal desire—resolves the narrative of a character who had been apparently cured of the drives.
The night of the occupation brings the corpse of an ancestral militant to the doorstep of widow Sakina Khanam, who happens to be giving birth when she glimpses the corpse arrive home. Consequently, she has four fainting spells whose structure is spaced coherently and rigorously. As if the nocturnal synchronicity of childbirth and deportation, of biological extrusion and political expulsion, were not desperately horrific, the visiting corpse is kin. It is the newborn’s paternal grandfather, whom the soldiers of the occupation later recognize as “a great militant” (Nizami 41).12 The visitation of the rebel corpse is a homecoming, but no less an upheaval of domestic order and an invasion of privacy for being a return home. The opening sentence of the narrative signals the wire crossing of life and death, nesting the mortal within the natal: “When the corpse of insurgent Nawab Foulad Khan came into the house from the battle on the ridge, his daughter-in-law was in labor [. . .]. When he entered the house—drenched in blood, eyes shut, and the shadow of death on his face—the world went dark for Sakina Khanam [. . .]. Wailing, she fainted” (37). The militant kin causes fainting spells in the protagonist not only because he is deceased but also because his face is a grotesque mask of injury, an archetype of a blood-soaked sleepwalker trailed by death, not quite alive but never lifeless enough. The Mutiny lives in the ancestral cadaver that wreaks havoc on the last surviving member of the rebel family. The agentive corpse shows the perverse automatism of the Mutiny on the eve of mass eviction and political repression.
How do the fainting spells interrupt anticolonial militancy? Listing the four blackouts that punctuate the plot of “Sakina Khanam,” it becomes clear that the temporary voiding of subjective consciousness plays to a patterned time-signature organized in four distinct beats: first, Sakina loses consciousness in response to the hair-raising arrival of the insurgent corpse; second, she faints directly after the birth of her newborn; next, she blacks out when she sees the corpse in the courtyard; and, finally, she swoons when she finds herself all alone in the darkness appearing to entomb her. While fainting from shock or exertion is common as mud, the literary syncopation of unconsciousness as a twilight zone between rebel agency and nonvolitional action—between the intact individual of phenomenology and the split subject of poststructuralism—is worth a look. At first, the swoon shields its subject from distress and revulsion but then transforms swiftly into an intense lamentation over the ancestral symbol as well as its alienating return, punctuating the eerie silence of lost consciousness with the sound of her wail. The last two faints, unlike the first two, force a revision in the understanding of the anticolonial home since they derive from the flickering presence of the unburied corpse in Sakina’s field of vision after the abduction of her newborn. The impossible substitution of the oppositional occurrences of birth and death reworks the political figure of regime change. Instead of positing that the transition from the Mutiny to the Siege is a teleological replacement of one regime with another, this fiction takes political catastrophe as the perverse coincidence of rites and rituals that ought to be kept separate. Drained of her strength and out of her mind with terror, Sakina is responsible for the labor of birthing and burial at once, torn between ancestor and descendent. The lament elicited by the familial kin foreshadows the interruption of burial rites and mourning rituals rather than their completion. Indeed, so rhythmic, stabilizing, and exact is the repetition of elegiac fainting that attentive readers might expect a fifth swoon by the end of the story. However, the fifth and final anticipated faint, one that the rhetorical melody of bodily disarray has set into motion via predictable spacing, is displaced onto the invasion of loyalist soldiers. With the last anticipated swoon that does not occur narratively, the occupation not only cuts off the series of faints but also suggests that the four previous beats forestalled the occupation, thus placing the swoon in alliance with the militant corpse without being a technique or position of revolt. The narrative protest of the fainting spells connects the indeterminacy of life and death in crushed revolt to a reproducing body politic of psychosomatic excess in exhaustion.
Prior to the punishment meted out by the soldiers of the occupation, the servants of the bourgeois home put the ideal of anticolonial elite domesticity through the wringer of disinheritance. They upend property relations after being subject to their mistress’s derision. Within hours of the difficult birth and the news of imminent martial takeover, Sakina’s trusted housekeepers and maidservants steal her unnamed newborn, removing her from the matrix of bourgeois maternal satisfaction. Evidently, the collapse of the leisured classes could not be properly apocalyptic without the treachery of their servants. Between the second and third swoon, the servants abscond with the legacy of Nawab Foulad Khan in cash and kin: “Eventually the four women servants took the cash and the child, and departed for their destinations, leaving Sakina alone in that house where there was no one but a corpse” (Nizami 40). The bereaved and isolated Sakina—who ordinarily commands a battalion of attendants—becomes catatonic each time she finds herself alone with the corpse, which is much too frequently since she has no strength to bury it. By its visibility, the corpse calls out for the honor of concealment in burial, distracting her from the frantic rummaging for her absent child in whose stead she finds only ghastly substitutes, like pillows: “She lifted up the lids of water pitchers thinking that her boy might be inside one of them. She took the pillows off the bed and embraced them to her chest [. . .]. She forgot to keep searching for the missing infant and confronted the thought of burying the corpse” (40). The socioeconomic crisis of the Delhi elites produces a bad filial relation between the speechless zombie grandfather and the purloined infant grandson—antagonistic changelings who meet each other only at the blurred edges of memory and sentience, routine action and exceptional tragedy. Home is where no experience is shared, not even the catastrophe of dispossession.
The night of the occupation is so dark and the house so vacuously claustrophobic that Sakina believes she is buried alive and trapped in a subterranean mausoleum, when, in reality, the dead and defeated ancestor lies next to her above ground:
When she came to consciousness at eight in the night, the house was immersed in darkness. Wide-eyed, she looked all around. When she still could not see anything, she thought she was dead and the darkness was that of a tomb. Suddenly she started reciting the profession of faith [kalima]: “My religion is Islam and my god Muhammad [. . .]. Leave not my coffin in darkness. Show me the light of paradise.” After a while, on seeing stars shining in the sky, she understood she was alive. (Nizami 40)
Through live burial, Nizami forges a path from the involuntary symptoms of catastrophe to the rote-based, customary ritual of prayer.13 Custom and ritual are usual targets for the Sufi cautionary tale that preaches the end of the egoistic self. In dogmatic dictates of religious perfection and worldly comfort, the “I” forgets to seek the lessons of access to God via the humility of the destitute. While the prayer helps her know she is alive, the textual lesson of humility will also be consolidated in the act of prayer, but paradoxically, through its very limit.
It speaks to the remarkable elasticity of the gothic-Sufi recombinatory melodrama that there is no letup in the intensities of conquest and catastrophe until the stunning reward of the conclusion that restores maternity. While the track of gothic sensationalism shows the transformation of Sakina’s opulent house into a mysterious abyss of darkness—graveyard and birthplace of bad kinship stemming from revolutionary violence—the track of Sufi sentimentalism valorizes humiliation and poverty as sufficient precursors to the curbside reunion of a chastened and destitute Sakina with her beloved grown-up son, decades after the Mutiny. The found family in the conclusion makes the former crescendo of tribulations bearable, distinguishing the mystical asceticism of Sakina from mere vagrancy via the power of ego-effacing love that is rewarded without expectation, even though the reward overturns the condition for reaching it. The occupying army is a hinge between the gothic grammar of the first half and the Sufi grammar of the second. Indian soldiers loyal to British rule bifurcate the plot to remove the distraught mother violently from her home:
Sakina Khanam was still prostrate in prayer [sajde me thi] when the door opened and four soldiers in khaki uniform [ khaki vardi] came inside. She quickly raised her head from the ground and, seeing strange men walking towards her, veiled her face. Fearful, she wanted to hide in a corner, but the soldiers were already in the room. They grabbed hold of Sakina and forcibly unveiled her, exclaiming collectively that they had caught a young one whose face was beautiful. (41)
Aggressively breaking the laws of sexual segregation—including the interdiction on unrelated men looking upon the faces of upper-class women—the soldiers disrupt Sakina’s last remaining comfort: the habit of prayer.
As Sakina is dragged out of her home to an army camp, never to return to the ideologies of acquisition, settlement, proliferation, and generational wealth transfer, she takes her leave of the rebel corpse: “Salutations to my father-in-law, bereft of the shelter of coffin and cemetery” (Nizami 41). Voice and face acquire the etiquette of the veil when Sakina becomes unattached from domestic space. With the martial occupation, her shift from catatonic collapse to decorous salutation indicates a reining in of the excesses of elegiac fainting and frantic rummaging. In a stark discontinuity between the Sufi and gothic tracks, the blank frenzy of terror mingled with fainting does not resurface in the presence of the military uniforms of the Siege. Instead, the metabolisms of hunger, thirst, and postpartum affliction are symbolized through speech as Sakina petitions the soldiers to let her go because of her innocence. Her appeal to the trespassers is reasonable: “I am a woman who has just given birth. Have mercy on me. I am hungry. I am thirsty. I belong to your nation, to your religion. I am without fault” (42). The sequence of qualifiers, from postpartum, hungry, and thirsty to compatriot, coreligious, and innocent, submits to the model of empathy in desperation. Her entreaty to the captors for a change of heart cites Islamic solidarity in nationhood, the recognition of a debt, and the potential for consolation. It is to no avail, of course. The spirit of rebellion stays in domestic place while the reproductive future of anticolonialism (including the living inheritors, Sakina and her child) is exorcised from home to bring the lessons of austere suffering to the affluent classes. After the army enters the dwelling to punish her, the rhetoric of Sakina’s embrace of an inert subjectlessness only sets up a reaffirmation of maternal satisfaction.
In the aftermath of Sakina’s abduction by the soldiers, the crescendo of horrors comes to a grinding halt via a narrative leap. The text jumps to the scene of its testimonial authority. An internal eyewitness, Nizami locates Sakina, now an ascetic wandering the streets of Rohtak, bridging “now and then” formulaically, like the other stories in his volume: “No one knows how Sakina, who once bore a child, spent the days of the Mutiny. When I found her, she had become a vagrant” (42). He underscores vagrancy by drawing attention to her worn-out clothes, stumbling gait, starved appearance, and the decline of fundamental motor functions such as walking, dressing, and looking:
Her feet were bare. Her trousers were torn, her tunic dirty and covered with mended patches. Her head cover was in tatters. She looked as if she had been starving for days. Her skin stuck to her bones. Pools of darkness surrounded her eyes. Her hair was unkempt. There were traces of a beauty that had been stolen from her face. The God-given splendor of her eyes was there in desolation. She stumbled as she walked and rested her shaky hands and head against the wall every now and then.
In this curious version of Sufi unveiling, revelation reveals nothing, but it stimulates somatic movement. The “God-given splendor of her eyes” is not new vision. It does not change the desolation of her life. The new asceticism works in not thinking or remembering or meditating, but rather, in simply stumbling in and out of inanimacy without any object insistence.
A denouement “witnessed” by the author rewards Sakina for her tribulations with a chance recovery of her now adult son, whose last focalization through Sakina involved her mistaking a pillow for her newborn before forgetting him altogether. At this point, the retrieval of the lost son has little to do either with the active intention and psychical longing or the energy expended in rejecting that intent and longing. An unmotivated trope and a surplus trick, the return to motherhood happens after Sakina has withdrawn cathexis in home, class, nation, religion, and son. The literary construction of ascetic satisfaction—not wish-fulfillment—in Nizami’s genrebending tale about the apocalypse visiting the Mutiny wife, is less about a fight for a mastery over the ego and more about the constitutive helplessness of ego formation. Here, maternal satisfaction comes by way of the enforced, nonmaternal reassembly of daily activities such as dressing, eating, speaking, stumbling and resting in an impossible humility, at the incalculable limit of meaning, outside of the reward of duty or pain. “Sakina Khanam” springs the diegetic trap of motherhood when the protagonist has given up on the language of desire, the prestige of sacrifice, and even on the fantasy of complete inanimacy in her alchemy into nothingness. The conclusion restores to her a reproduction of protest without objective, in line with the fainting spells of her haunted parturition, after she has disappeared into narrative blankness.
This essay has shown that coexistence cannot be assumed between protestor satisfaction and revolutionary success in anticolonial situations of minor contestation. Self-cancelling urges that are wholly extraneous to demands of the Mutiny tax the subject of counterinsurgent misery almost mechanically and very precisely in the literary-visual afterlife of expulsion and internment. Some feature an aesthetic impulse of poetic celebrity and photographic proximity tangled with the unmet needs of survival, while others present the possibility of a survival without drives, only to renege on that fictional premise in the denouement. A conceptual framework of bearing witness to the catastrophic decline of the aristocratic classes does not fully address the imperative to a constantly undone, eccentric surplus of protest that defines self-portrayals of the period of punishment. Moreover, the relation between the punished subject and the discourse of shock, disaffection, tedium, and torpor in punishment reveals volatile fantasies of fulfillment voided and replayed again and again in testimony about colonial devastation. As the stricken figures of the Siege protest without aiming to effect sociopolitical change, they push us to read anticolonialism as structured by the tautological and interminable transformation of the objects and ends of satisfaction, separate from the objectives of protest actions. How the post-Siege period of cultural production gives the lie to assumptions of anticolonial agency and colonial victimhood is instructive for theorizing protest at the limit of conscious reason and historical outcome.
The complicated paths to satisfaction drawn out in the texts about carceral exile and homeless destitution rewrite ideologies of domesticity. In Anglophone literary and gender studies of the Mutiny that were formative of postcolonial critique in the 1990s, representations of the sexual subjugation of women were key to the analysis of punishment aesthetics, a paradigm set by Jenny Sharpe’s Allegories of Empire, and including but not limited to Nancy L. Paxton’s “Mobilizing Chivalry” and Jane Robinson’s Angels of Albion. Where Urdu cultural production focuses on witnessing the suffering of the old elites, feminist Victorian Mutiny studies has analyzed the traumatic gendering of counterinsurgent violence. The latter’s focus has been the wounded counterinsurgent attachments of the British empire: the use of a vulnerable white femininity to justify extreme reprisal against the militant colonized. Attention to the satisfactions of objectiveless objects bound to shock breaks with problematics of both nostalgic witness bearing and intimate subjugation to reveal an ongoing and active recalibration of the colonial relation during the expulsion, a time apparently emptied of anticolonialism. Beyond accounting for the complex paths to, and derailments of, new demands in the textual outcries against removal from homeland, this theoretical shift from subjugation to satisfaction enables a photo-literary history of protest after protest between the 1860s and the 1920s, a period of waves and troughs of armed insurrection and retributive repression before the Gandhian mass courting of punishment excoriates both nonviolently. The shift from witnessing and subjugation to satisfaction has larger payoffs in bringing the figure of the self-altering and half-knowing protestor, gripped by upheaval and chasing eccentric and impossible satisfactions, to studies of revolutionary change.
For the relationship between disaffection and critique in the late-Victorian empire’s definition of anticolonialism as a criminalized negative affect, see Agathocleous.
On repetition itself as “motivator”—“the drive of the drive”—in the Lacanian death drive model of “pulsating negativity,” see Zupančič.
Dalrymple’s translation includes a sentence from Azad omitted in Pritchett and Faruqi’s rendering of Ab-e Hayat: “All the jewels and jewelry were locked in a box and thrown into a well” (374).
Seton’s call number points to a file named “Photographs of Henry Beveridge (1837–1929), Indian Civil Services, Bengal 1857–92; Zinat Mahal Begum, wife of the last King of Delhi; and a drawing of Tantia Tope, with letters relating to their deposit including one from Mrs. Annette Beveridge.” But contrary to the title, there are no photographs of Zinat Mahal in the file.
For an analysis of the benevolent and paternalist positioning of James Talboys Wheeler in relation to Zinat Mahal’s daughter-in-law Zumanee Begum, see Farooqui.
Burmese box identified by Divia Patel (Senior Curator, South Asia, v and a Museum).
The opening of women-only studios replicated veiled spaces and advertised the privacy afforded by high walls and other architectural proscriptions. These studios hired women employees, including, at times, white women, for all photographic operations: positioning of sitters, lighting of the space, processing in the darkroom, retouching and finishing of the photos, as well as decisions about the destruction or surrender of negatives and copies to the sitter. See Dewan and Hutton 31–32; Ghosh; and Pinney 83.
This petition is referenced in Zeenut Mahal.
On the timing of the denial of her petition, see this passage in Zeenut Mahal: “So in our letter No. 28C.P., dated 28th October 1872, the Chief Commissioner was requested to inform the ex-queen that the Viceroy and Governor-General ‘declined to permit her to return to any part of India.’ ” Wheeler’s letter to the Chief Commissioner, to whom he gives an account of the photography sitting and the solo photograph, is dated August 28, 1872, putting two months between the sitting and the decision.
On the shock of the Mutiny and the revolutionizing of the modern sensorium, see Chaudhary 73–106.
My translation here and henceforth.
For a psychoanalytic challenge to behaviorist ideas of habitual repetition, see Copjec 143–75.