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Choreographing [in] Pakistan: Indu Mitha, Dancing Occluded histories in "The Land of the Pure"


This critical biography of Indu Mitha, a Pakistani dancer and choreographer, lays out an alternate, creative history of sixty-four years of post-Partition Pakistan. Her life and work enable choreographing an occluded space on stage and beyond, which I call space of hope --a space of alterity, a place where narratives countering the nation state boundaries enforced by the 1947 Partition of British India into the three independent states of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh (1971). This space is not a post-colonial one, but is based on a longer shared historical specificity of South Asia. Indu Mitha's life and work enable this journey into occluded spaces, into an alternate history of sixty-four years of post-Partition Pakistan. These spaces of hope are foci to probing broader questions about the place of the outliers, i.e. Muslims in India, and non-Muslims and "non-Pakistanis" in Pakistan (Post 1971), in the aftermath of the 1947 Partition of India. This dissertation stages the untold history of these minority voices of classical dancers and musicians in Pakistan, and in the process questions whether their marginal statuses are due to factors connected to the aftermath of Partition, or to a redundant pre-colonial baggage, or both.

By taking a creative approach to writing a shared history of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh beyond Partition, this dissertation presents controversial, contested histories that are closer to the ground realities of people in the region. Methodology involved triangulating Indu's bharata natyam, kathak and Uday Shankar choreographies with her life history, parallel to key moments of South Asian history from the early twentieth century to the first decade of the twenty-first century. This new "creative approach" brings together, for the first time, cutting edge work in the fields of post-colonial histories and Partition aftermath studies with dance history scholarship, in particular critical bharata natyam studies. This project uses the rich lyric mode and story-telling tradition of bharata natyam, syncrethic aspects of kathak, and the creative style of Indu's Uday Shankar repertoire to narrate alternative histories that have been silenced and/or ignored in official narratives. These histories call for a rethinking of the occluded inclusive and secular vision of founding father Jinnah as protector-general of the minorities.

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