Provincialised Cosmopolitanisms: Jehangir P. Patel and Marjorie Sykes

Abstract Sometime in the 1980s, two elderly people embarked on a collaboration; a collaboration that affirmed half a lifetime of political fellowship and personal friendship. The result was an English-language book Gandhi. His Gift of the Fight. The lives of Marjorie Sykes and Jehangir P. Patel gain historical timbre in the interstices of the larger tale they seek to tell. Two lives take shape in ways that unravel the binaries informing taken-for-granted assumptions about the colonial. They offer a case study of cosmopolitanisms that provincialises the European concept. These provincial cosmopolitanisms did not need to reject a sense of patriotism as a pernicious parochialism. Instead, they inscribed patriotism and nationalism into universalisms that challenged the assumed universal- ism of European imperialism.

Keywords Provincialised cosmopolitans • Marjorie Sykes • Jehangir P Patel • India • Decolonise • Anti-colonialism

Sometime in the 1980s, two elderly people embarked on a collaboration; a collaboration that affirmed half a lifetime of political fellowship and personal friendship. The result was an English-language book Gandhi. His Gift of the Fight1 published in the tiny Friends Rural Centre in Rasulia, North India. Both authors were well into their eighties at the time. This was an ‘end of life’ testimony; an offering to the future and perhaps a © The Author(s) 2017

J. Haggis et al., Cosmopolitan Lives on the Cusp of Empire, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-52748-2_4

justification for the values that informed their partnership. The two authors were Marjorie Sykes (1905-1995) and Jehangir P. Patel (1905- n.d.). The book’s title suggests a straightforward account of Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle for Indian independence. However, entwined within this narrative are the surprising and unexpected stories of the two more obscure figures: the co-authors. Much the same as Sophia Dobson Collet’s historical significance emerges in the interplay of her biography of the more famous Ram Mohan Roy and a brief biographical prefix, so the lives of Marjorie Sykes and Jehangir P. Patel gain historical timbre in the interstices of the larger tale they seek to tell. Interspersed between the discussions of big ideas and tumultuous events, two lives take shape in ways that unravel the binaries informing taken-for-granted assumptions about the colonial world2 and especially anti-colonialism.3 How had these two people come together? What story lay behind that collaboration? Was this book the product of a ‘cosmopolitan thought zone’ defined by Manjapra as ‘treacherous and provisional shared worlds that arise when disparate groups seek to solve problems together in order to address their pressing concerns.’4 Building on the critique of cosmopolitanism outlined in Chapter 1, and its application to the transnational networks thrown up on the edges of empire, I suggest that the self-representations of both Sykes and Patel confirm and confront this critique, offering a case study of cosmopolitanisms that provincialise the European concept. These provincial cosmopolitanisms did not need to reject a sense of patriotism as a pernicious parochialism. Instead, they inscribed patriotism and nationalism into universalisms that challenged the assumed universalism of European imperialisms: ‘Their cosmopolitanism flowed not from the stratosphere of abstract reason, but from the fertile ground of local knowledge and learning in the vernacular.’5 These other cosmopolitanisms refused to recognise any false binary of the secular and the religious, while they also challenged the spiritual universals embedded in imperial Christianity. It is to these plural cosmopolitanisms that I turn to consider the coming together of Patel and Sykes in their separate but twinned politico-ethical journeying.

 
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