This panel will investigate the social, cultural, and political connections that linked Iran and India during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As recent scholarship has shown, the historiographic divide between “Middle East” and “South Asian” studies— as well as the divides that have defined nationalist narratives of modern history— have worked to obscure the connected histories of Iran and India.
The four papers that comprise this panel will use innovative empirical sources and creative conceptual strategies to highlight the connectedness of Iran and India during this period. The first paper (“Reading Outside the Lines”) will investigate the legacy of textual exchanges between Iran/India in the late 19th and early 20th century. In contrast to conventional arguments that emphasize a sharp decline of exchange as a result of nationalist language politics, this paper will detail the dynamic exchange of Persian language texts between India and Iran, well into the 20th century. The second paper (Reveil de l’Iran) will focus on new forms of cultural exchange that were enabled by orientalist conceptions of artistic and architectural aesthetics. Looking at the role of Freemasonic institutions in India and Iran, this paper will argue that modern networks of masonic exchange connecting the Indo-Iranian world enabled new aesthetic understandings of a classical past shared by Iranians and Indians. The third paper (“The Iranian Migrant Poor”) will focus on the social and economic context of migration from Iran to India in the late 19th/early 20th century to detail the emergence of a new social-cultural institution in this period: the Irani café in Bombay. Cafés and other institutions established by immigrant Iranians in Bombay helped to formalize connections between Iran and India, and worked to provide a social-cultural-economic space for immigrant Iranians in Bombay. The fourth and final paper (“Sword of Freedom”) will focus on the life and work of Abdulrahman Saif Azad, a journalist and activist whose work traversed the Indo-Iranian political terrain. As the politics of nationalism and anti-imperialism grew during the 1920s and 1930s, the paper will argue that activists like Saif Azad attempted to bring the efforts of Iranian nationalists and Indian independence activists into common cause.
Collectively, these four papers demonstrate that the social, cultural, and political connections linking Iran and India during the late 19th and early 20th century were much more extensive than has been traditionally assumed in Iranian and South Asian studies.