ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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J P S Uberoi (1934–2024)

In Commemoration

While writing my doctoral thesis, J P S (or Jit) Uberoi, my supervisor, asked me to meet him early one morning. I had returned from a year-long ethnographic fieldwork (198586) among Ansari weavers, and the meeting was to discuss a potential chapter on the weavers loom. For close to three hours, the professor presented an extraordinary analysis of kitchen utensils, their shape and size, and how they could be washed together and separately, the difference between deghs (cauldron) and patilas (saucepan), and the physics of heat that was ideal for cooking. At the end of this session (I had seriously thought of abandoning my thesis by then and of concentrating on the study of kitchen utensils), Jit cryptically said that I should work out a principle by which the object is composed and decomposed. It took more than a few weeks for this gormless student to decipher what the professor was suggestingI needed to work on classifying the loom and delimit its underlying frame.

Uberoi would have turned 90 in September of 2024, and I consider myself fortunate to have known him for 35 of those years, first as a teacher and supervisor and later as a senior colleague and friend. In writing of his intellectual corpus, the question I ask myself is this: How might one present the heterogeneity of his writings so that, taken together, they carry the weight of the proper noun J P S Uberoi? In a remarkable essay (Uberoi 2019d: 298) on naming in the Sikh tradition (name, the revealed word, and scattered versions of the scriptural textnam, shabad, bani), he argues that the name is an invocation of the divine as well as a mode of address, received and heard by one who is capable and hears it, or one who is so chosen by grace, the exemplar guru. I like to think of Jit as that guru around whose work a cult group formed with all its strengths and weaknesses. It was made up of several doctoral students, including, of course, myself. The strength of this cult was that it fomented a strong bond among its members, where one would read and comment on the others written work and meet, for a while at least, every Saturday on the lawns of the Delhi School of Economics. Its weakness was that it led to a kind of blindness of other intellectual traditions that did not engage with the method of structuralism.

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Published On : 9th Mar, 2024

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