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My Friend the Maulana: Personal Ethnography and the Exploration of Muslim "Ghettoization" in Urban India.

Open Panel

Abstract

The ethnography of a Muslim enclave of Delhi presented here was part of a collective research project which aimed to reclaim the complexity of real lives in the face of increasingly disembodied public discourses on Muslim “marginalization” and “ghettoization” in urban India. Rather than offering a conventional neighborhood monograph, this paper focuses on a single individual, Maulana Wali Sheikh (not his real name), my Urdu teacher, friend, informant and lodger in the South Delhi Muslim enclave where this ethnography is located. I argue that “personal ethnography”, focusing on a single subject and her complexities, usefully complements macrosociological quantifications by giving a voice to “noise”. Individual trajectories are never fully synchronic with collective trends; rather, there is a continuous coming and going between them, with idiosyncratic “deviations” from collective trends generally being erased in the statistical shrinking of the social world. The focus on a single individual also leaves space for a systematic reflexive enquiry on the relationship between the researcher and her “informant” all along the course of fieldwork and beyond. Last but not least, it offers possibilities for another kind of ethnographic narrative, following the tempo of fieldwork “revelations” as they unfold.