The First Firangis: How Foreigners Became Indian

Originally published in on February 13, 2015.

Book Review
Jonathan Gil Harris
The First Firangis:
Remarkable Stories of Heroes, Healers, Charlatans, Courtesans & other Foreigners who Became Indian

318 pp. – ₹495
ISBN: 978-93-82277-63-7
Aleph Book Company, 2015

Giambattista Vico, a Neapolitan philosopher from the late seventeenth century, suggested that it was ‘from Jove that the muse begun’. Jove, or Zeus, is the Greek god of thunder, and the cracking of thunder, its sudden irruption over the tapping of rain, startles the body and jolts it out of position, constellating in an instant a horizon of questions. What was that?

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Finance and the privatization of rural livelihoods


Originally published on RoarMag on November 1, 2014. Co-authored with Tomaso Ferrando.

The disappearing boundaries between financial speculation and development aid are an unsettling testimony to the rapid financialization of agriculture.

A big piece of news for food politics enthusiasts this summer was India’s veto over a proposed agreement — to be concluded within the legal framework of the World Trade Organization — on ‘trade facilitation measures’. The agreement was meant to regulate a number of sensitive issues, mostly related to customs infrastructure and procedures, which are liable to affect trade between WTO members. As it often happens with international agreements, however, exceptions and exemptions are as important as the rules being agreed. Read more

Ignore the global elites and their Davos spectacle

Originally published on The Conversation on January 22, 2014.

I once had a friend who worked as a lobbyist. Our meetings gave me a sense that I was before the representative of a strange, migratory tribe. This tribe clusters around centres of power (Washington, Brussels, London), dresses a certain way, talks a certain way, uses a language drawn from newspapers that write a certain way and is honed at universities that function a certain way. Read more

Why the 377 verdict probably made sense to those who handed it down

Originally published on Firstpost on December 29, 2013.

On December 11, 2013, like many others around the world, I was struck by the news that enjoying bodily intimacy for people of the same biological sex is once again a criminal offence in India, even between consenting adults. This, after the Supreme Court decision that set aside a previous Delhi High Court judgment reading down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. The Supreme Court’s reasoning was, for me, the dystopian version of Proust’s madeleine: the bitter bite that took me back to forgotten days as a law student. Read more


Originally published on Motherland in November 2013. Co-authored with Janice Pariat.

On an evening like many others, we are at my aunt’s home for dinner with the family. It’s a large house in an increasingly wealthy neighbourhood in Shillong, the hill-station capital of Meghalaya. The living room is a shrine to upper-middle-class aspirations. Wood-panelled and warmed by a fire, it’s fitted with plush, upholstered sofas, a Raj-era upright piano from H. Hobbs & Co., souvenirs from trips abroad, as well as bric-a-brac bought from various stalls at the International Shillong Trade Fair that comes to town every year. Read more