Quite simply, Satnami conceptions of the past were entirely coeval with modern historiography, even holding a mirror up to its conceits, rather than signaling yet another exotic exception, as dictated by the imperatives of a hierarchical but singular temporality.
Thus, seeking to understand Satnami articulations of the past, centered on their gurus/preceptors, I found in the group’s myths a modality of historical consciousness which elaborated distinct conventions.
Here were to be found renderings and procedures that accessed and exceeded, in their own way, Brahman kingly and popular devotional configurations, but also imperial and nationalist representations.
Away from the mutual constitution of these critical copulas by their constitutive elements as well as each other, the work of subaltern studies principally rested on keeping the segments apart, bringing into play temporal-spatial demarcations. It unravels how I arrived at inklings and understandings of space and time – alongside those of disciplines and subjects, modernity and identity – that were explored in the Introduction and which lie at the core of this book.
At stake are intimations that are at once familiar and strange.
However, at the time the concerns centered, for instance, on the absolute, even arithmetic, antinomy between the elite and the subaltern.
Now, read through the filters of patricians and plebs in eighteenth-century England or the contours of consciousness of African-American slave subjects in the US South, this opposition within subaltern studies bracketed or short-circuited the making of subalterns and elites – indeed, of class, community, and gender – as relational processes.Specifically, I wished to rescue such negotiations and contestations of authority from their being subordinated – as insubstantial, even epiphenomenal – to the underlying determinations of endlessly economic imperatives and/or principally progressive politics, which abounded in the heroic histories of the time.Rather, at stake was the manner in which the institutions and imaginings of caste, the practices and processes of religion (in this case, Hinduism dominant and popular) could critically structure and shape the actions and expressions of subordinate communities.Such readings could problematize the very nature of the historical archive as well as initiate conversations with other orientations, including those of structural linguistics and critical theory.No less salient were incipient acknowledgments of the innately political character of history writing.Of course, I did not experience or express matters in quite this manner, but the intimations of uncertainty haunted as something of a shadowy presence.Indeed, far from being disabling, the ambiguity was productive. Now, alongside other theoretical tendencies, I critically engaged subaltern studies in order to build on their former sensibilities, which placed dispossessed protagonists as being formatively within history, while querying their later emphases that presented these subjects as, uncertainly, out of time.If reassessments of the pasts of Indian nationalism were often central to such endeavors, on offer equally were other convergences of significance.Especially important were imaginative readings of historical materials: from conventional archival records, including reports of colonial administrators, to earlier ethnographies as sources of history; and from previously maligned vernacular registers of history to diverse subaltern expressions of the past.This suggested, in turn, inadequate, abbreviated articulations of culture and consciousness, of religion and caste, within the project.Unsurprisingly, seeking a research theme for the MPhil in history, also at Delhi University, I was interested in studying the conduct of resistance in a religious idiom.