Book Cover

I would not be upset if readers judged my book’s insides by its gorgeous cover.

The painting is by Zahoor-ul-Akhlaq (1941–99), a prominent South Asian artist who spent most of his life in the city of Lahore. There are to my mind significant parallels between Zahoor’s painting and N. M. Rashed’s poetry, particularly in their relation to tradition. This painting is untitled but usually referred to as “Falling Bird.”

For those readers who know Urdu, the cover reminds me of a poem of Rashed’s that begins:

ہمیں یاد ہے وہ درخت جس سے چلے ہیں ہم

hameñ yād hai vuh daraḳht jis se chale haiñ ham

We remember that tree from which we departed

The book will be out in August with University of California Press. That's the press of my undergraduate alma mater, so I am thrilled to be publishing with them, and they have been great to work with. The book is in the South Asia Across the Disciplines series.

I am traveling to the Association for Asian Studies conference this week in Philadelphia. I have heard from friends that traveling is a great time to write blog posts, so I hope to post more soon!

Miraji’s Favorite Words

I am working on a paper on the first volumes of free verse, or āzad naz̤m, in Urdu to be submitted to a festschrift for Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, the famous Urdu critic and writer who has been my own advisor Frances Pritchett's teacher and collaborator. As part of that work, I have had the Urdu poet Mīrājī’s volume Mīrājī kī naz̤meñ transcribed, and I am working on a computational analysis of his use of meter as well as sound. I will be comparing Mīrājī’s volume to N. M. Rāshid’s Māvarā and to Taṣadduq Ḥusain Ḳhālid’s first volume. It’s a very preliminary study, but I am very happy to be spending time with Mīrājī’s poetry.

To my mind, a lovely product of that work is a list of Mīrājī’s most common words. For those readers familiar with his oeuvre, these will come as no surprise. Removing the "stop words," or common words that do not reveal much on their own, Mīrājī’s ten most frequent words in that volume are:

  1. dil (heart)
  2. rāt (night)
  3. bāt (words, matter)
  4. naz̤ar (look, glance, sight)
  5. āñkh (eye)
  6. sāyah (shadow)
  7. rañg (color)
  8. pal (moment)
  9. man (mind)
  10. chāñd (moon)

I will do the same for Rāshid and Ḳhālid later, but this list is just too delightful not to share.

Added Hindi and Urdu

I added the Urdu translation of the blog software, and I also translated the blog commands into Hindi. Should I care to, I can now compose Hindi and Urdu versions of my posts. The translations of the blog software are crowdsourced.

I do not do much computing in Hindi, so I checked some of the phrases against the Wordpress translations in addition to querying to see how many instances there are of particular words on the Internet. For example, one phrase I was wavering on was the word for archive. अभिलेखागार abhilekhāgār or “archive” has 217,000 hits (many of which are Indian government archive websites), whereas अार्काइव ārkāiv has 592,000. That‘s what the Urdu translation went with as آرکائیو. So I went with अार्काइव. On the other hand, The Hindi word for “categories,” श्रेणियाँ shreṇiyāñ, had 814,000 pages, whereas कैटेगरी kaiṭegarī had 129,000 and the plural form कैटेगरियां only 49,100.

I am trying to figure out now what the best current CSS styling is for displaying Hindi and Urdu text on the Internet. Most browsers on recent computers can handle displaying the text to the extent that it is at least readable. Urdu in its preferred script, nastaʿlīq, is rather difficult to render, so I would be curious to hear suggestions. There are ways of embedding fonts in webpages that might be a possibility. I have not been following those technologies very closely, and so it will be interesting to find out how standardized the techniques are at this point.

Welcome to My Blog

“I have decided to start a blog.” The thought had, of course, crossed my mind many times before. But I always decided to wait until I was a little further along—with my job search, with my book project, with my tenure application. When I was working at the University of Chicago, a well-known blogger-academic warned about a negative correlation between blogging and tenure. That stuck in my mind. Are things different now for people like me than they were six years ago? Yes and no.

My main motivation for starting this website is to have a venue to write publically about aspects of my research that are not necessarily publishable in other venues. They may be of interest to some people who could potentially offer feedback. They may be early drafts. They may be rants. Let us see what happens.

I have written a little about myself and my research on the About page.

To create this website I am using a program called Nikola. It took me a little while to get comfortable with it, but it seems quite nice so far. It creates static webpages, so there is no code running this website. I really didn’t want to have to deal with updating software versions, security issues, and so on. There is also an Urdu translation that I will try and implement in the near future. The software is open source and a bit techy, so there are lots of options. It‘s easily extendable, too.

I am entering the pages in a format called ReStructuredText (RST), so they are quite clean. You can view the source. It is possible to extend the format. Since much of my work involves Hindi and Urdu, I am particularly interested in seeing if I can adapt it for other needs.

I have also moved my C.V. into the RST format. Using the program rst2latex, I have created a PDF version. I do not normally use LaTeX, so it was a bit of challenge formatting the PDF. There is an rst2pdf program, but the results look more like a webpage. Now I have no excuse not to keep my C.V. up to date.

I am trying to follow best collaborative computing practices on this blog and webpage. So the entire blog is available as a project on Github, and my C.V. is a separate project treated as a submodule. If I come up with any interesting software solutions on this blog then they should be easily available to others.

That’s all for now. I have to figure out how to deploy the site to my server. If you are reading this, it must have worked!