The broadest aim of Fragments is to generate new, integrated ways of thinking about the premodern past. More...

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Volume 4 (2015) Current Issue

Nostalgia, Lahore, and the Ghost of Aurangzeb

Taymiya R. Zaman

In the winter of 2011, Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, was assassinated by his security guard, Mumtaz Qadri, who stated that Taseer’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws was an attack on Islam. In Lahore, a city with a Mughal past, Taseer’s death was understood through invocations of a murder that happened in 1659, when the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb killed his brother Dara Shikoh after declaring him an apostate: Taseer was portrayed as Dara reincarnated and Qadri Aurangzeb. This article argues that images of past kings stem from trauma caused by the loss of kingship and by a century of colonial rule. This article proposes that beneath nostalgia for past kings lies a deeper longing for the intact world kingship sustained. To reconstruct this world, I close-read the account of Bhimsen Saxena, a Hindu soldier who served under Aurangzeb and expressed both anger and loyalty towards his king; in this, he possessed a pre-modern subject’s capacity to hold ambivalence that modern citizens no longer possess. Narrative accounts such as Bhimsen’s can open the imagination to lost capacities for holding pain or ambivalence and bring scholarship on religious violence in modern South Asia into conversation with scholarship on the Mughal past.