Conversations with the Animate ‘Other’ Historical Representations of Human and Non-Human Interactions in India emerged out of conversations that scholars and students from different disciplines, located in different parts of the country and abroad, had over the duration of a team-taught Seminar course at the University of Hyderabad on this theme during the summer-autumn of 2021. As mandated by the IOE guidelines faculty from three academic schools of the University the course was open to students throughout the University and to students from other Universities in India. This was the first inter-disciplinary course launched under sponsorship of the IOE. The course was incubated in the Department of Sanskrit Studies at the University of Hyderabad, and Prof Aloka Parasher Sen, Prof Emeritus was the course coordinator.
The idea of this book was born for each one of us to look deeper into the maze of immense possibilities that a theme on human non-human interactions over historical time could offer. The pandemic had opened up this possibility and as the course progressed it emerged that none of us wanted the conversation to end. The continuous background buzz in contemporary intellectual discourses created by an ‘invisible’ virus provided a poignant moment on why we need to understand the past interactions between humans and non-humans in all their dimensions.
Apart from the contributors to the book, inputs to the Seminar course that have informed this book were provided by insightful special lectures given by Professor Kathleen Morrison (UPenn) and Dr. Andrew Bauer (Stanford) who provided archaeological perspectives, by Professor Uma Chakravarti (Delhi) and Professor Vasanthi Srinivasan (UoH) for their intricate reading of ancient stories, by Dr. Sita Reddy (Hyderabad) and Dr. Kirtana Thangavelu (UoH) for their powerful reading of visual histories, by Professor Mahesh Rangarajan (Ashoka) and Dr. Annu Jalais (Krea) for their incisive presentations on the environment and nature and by Dr. Jolly Puthussery (UoH) for his intense narration of folk tales around this theme. I sincerely thank all of them to have graciously participated in this conversation and, in many unknown ways, their views have percolated through the pages of this book. Innovative ideas that were articulated by Professor Raghvendra Gadagkar (IISc Banglore) from within the space of the biological sciences and by Professor Dipesh Chakrabarty (Chicago) with his long- term historical perspective, provided a rock foundation for us to problematize the theme of this book for which I shall be ever grateful.
This book looks at time and space over the longue duree to highlight the continuous engagement of humans with nature, animals and landscapes in varied ecological settings. It has endeavored to offer a new way to read human histories that are intrinsically entwined and entangled with that of the non-human to argue that without the non-Human, the histories of the Humans are self-obsessed and incomplete. We have contextualized these histories in different regions of the subcontinent – Bengal, the Thar, Central India, the Deccan, the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu, Kerala to share a civilizational perspective from texts, inscriptions, archaeology, art, folk narratives, perspectives from ethnographies encompassing various Indic traditions intertwined with our present concerns.
Contributors to the book have deftly handled different kinds of sources to shift the gaze to the non-human but, in doing so, they have had to contextualise the relationship of humans and non- humans to emphasize on their entanglement. The book argues that negotiating this space meant sharing, which impacted economic strategies, religious experiences, cultural interactions and oral performances that humans have strategized and preserved. This intersectional theme, through individual case studies, ultimately provides us the civilizational ethos of the Indian sub-continent on how human non-human relations informed it. Rather than imposing one way of looking at the past, it is consciously attempted to present layers of information that must necessarily be the prerogative of readers to unravel.
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