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In the Spotlight: Prabhat Kumar

What were your first thoughts when you saw the call for applications for the fellowship? 

My first reaction was how timely, open and innovative the research focus is. It could accommodate and benefit my ongoing research on the political imagination of the future world during the catastrophic World War years.

What does the apocalypse and/or post-apocalypse mean for you?

I disentangle apocalypse and post-apocalypse from its Judaic-Christian origins, and understand it as a temporal conceptual schema thematising imminent end of the present and the emergence of the better and just future. It provides a conceptual window to understand the historical connection between real or imagined catastrophes and futuristic imaginaries, which often enable living and transforming the present for a better political future.

 Prabhat Kumar

What is your fellowship trying to achieve, which questions is it addressing, and with which methods?

My historical research tries to demonstrate that the apocalyptic mode of thinking has been conspicuously present in South Asia’s vernacular public sphere. The historical actors were not only aware of cross-cultural parallels between Christian-European and Hindu/Indian apocalyptic thinking, they often actively mobilized a commensuration between the two. The totalizing and flexible apocalyptic frame enabled its deployment in different historical moments by various historical actors for divergent political ends. During the tumultuous and globalized interwar period, apocalyptic framing of the turbulent present was deployed to serve and make sense of contemporary anti-colonial politics at global scale. In this rendition the crisis and signs of catastrophe for end time was either interpreted as the consequence of the evil deeds on the part of the powerful, or it was celebrated as indicative of the rise of the oppressed. Historical actors inspired by socialist political imaginary interpreted the crisis-ridden present as full of potentialities of radical intervention and willful transformation. The imminent end of the present world order was not only made legible in anti-imperialist terms, but also as an opportune moment to re-shape and re-make the world as such. The apocalyptic frame and forms of thinking, which could free-float between the traditional and modern, local and international political world, appeared to have carried special affective power in visualizing egalitarian decolonized world order.

How does the fellowship project build on or connect to your previous career or biography?

My previous research explored the literary-visual forms and modes of satire and experiences of colonial modernity in late nineteenth and early twentieth century colonial north India. My current project is an inquiry into the forms of post-apocalyptic/utopian thinking and its relationship with anti-imperialist modernity in late colonial India. 

What do you hope to take with you from the project and its results? 

I have benefitted a lot from the Centre’s fellow colleagues who have also done a lot of thinking from their regional and disciplinary perspectives. I am hoping to incorporate their insights as much as I can in my future publication. 

What are the aspects you are looking forward to at CAPAS? 

I am looking forward to the fellows' lectures at CAPAS, the engaging follow up sessions discussing the lectures from multiple angles and perspectives, and working group discussions which reflect on designated scholarly pieces with piercing insights.  

To get some practical advice: What would be the three things you would definitely need in a post-apocalyptic world? 

Good academic institutions to reflect on the post-apocalyptic world. Convivial people. Film and music.  

What are some of your favourite pop culture references to the/an (post)apocalypse?

I shall recommend a couple of (Netflix) web series from India: Leila and Sacred Games.

Prabhat Kumar taught history at Presidency University, Kolkata before joining the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi. Broadly invested in the north Indian cultural history, he works on Hindi print media, both literary and visual in its myriad forms.