Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Monday, November 17, 2014
Remembering Pandian

MSS Pandian 
Generosity. That’s the first word that came to mind when I thought about how to write this difficult reminisce on Pandian’s passing away. Though I had been aware of his many essays in the EPW and had read “The Image Trap” by then, I met Pandian only in the early 1990s when I walked into his office at the MIDS in Adayar. Dressed casually in his bush-shirt and slacks, the thin and boyish guy with a scraggly mustache was a bit hard to square with the mental image I had of him. I was just beginning my research into India’s intervention into Sri Lanka and Pandian opened up a world of possibilities for me. He suggested names and phone numbers of people I should meet; groups in Chennai and elsewhere that I was unaware of; and books and articles to read. His interest in my research – and we met regularly almost every summer thereafter while also exchanging many emails – was deep and genuine. Most importantly, he helped me think otherwise than the nation. His take on Dravidian politics; on the alleged peripheries – both regional and intellectual- of the heartland and the mainstream; on the multiple and varied idioms of resistance to majoritarianism; on the ways in which support for the Sri Lankan Tamil cause in Tamil Nadu was something that could not be adequately understood or calibrated through just the formal domain of politics; and a host of other issues enriched and complicated my thinking in all sorts of ineffable ways. Looking back, what is striking was his patience with me. Especially at the beginning, I had unconsciously and completely ingested a very mainstream and Delhi-centric narrative of India’s intervention into Sri Lanka. Helping me see that, and in a wider sense to “rescue history from the nation,” was something Pandian did almost imperceptibly and as a consequence of our equitable conversations. Most importantly, all our interactions and arguments were marked by his generosity towards and affection for what I was doing.
The students and others you met at Pandian’s office in MIDS were different from the ones you might run into at the offices of most of India’s intellectuals. Very often they were more comfortable in Tamil or in regional languages rather than English, and were not part of that comfortable upper-caste/middle-class/English-educated habitus that dominates our academy. Pandian interacted with them no differently than with the twice-born, whether domestic or NRI or authentically firangi. The outpouring of remembered generosity by a wide diversity of his students from various places – MIDS, JNU, Manoa and elsewhere – is the real testament to his innate egalitarianism and collegiality. And of his respect for interesting ideas and people, irrespective of their provenance in terms of class, accent, language, or caste.  
As shown by his contrarian stance on the cartoon controversy, by his daring resignation from MIDS to become an academic libero for a while in the early 2000s, and his refusal to accept certain regions, cultures, civilizations or individuals as somehow more consequential than others, Pandian hewed to an ethic that came from both within and elsewhere. His was a distinctive voice, and a rare one in the context of India. In these biopolitical times marked by an obsessive and commodified care for the self, Pandian indulged his love for cigarettes, alcohol and the good life in full measure. I am trying very hard not to channel my frustration with his early passing into wishing he had played more by the rules. For Pandian was never about playing by the rules but more about playing with them, as he himself might have said with that delighted gleam in his eye.
Krishna (Profile Picture)
Sankaran Krishna is Professor of Political Science, University of Hawaii at Manoa. He has written extensively on ethnic identity and conflict and identity politics in India and Sri Lanka. Prof. Krishna is the author of Postcolonial Insecurities: India, Sri Lanka and the Question of Nationhood, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999. (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000) and Globalization and Postcolonialism: Hegemony and Resistance in the 21st Century, Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009.

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