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Urban Emotions Behind the Veil: An Early-Twentieth Century Muslim Wedding in Shahjahanabad*

  • MEGAN EATON ROBB (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

While scholarship on pardah nashīn or veiled women in South Asia has emphasized the links between women's ritual and urban landscape, what has received less attention is the ways that domestic spaces, affective work performed in those spaces, and material culture of the home were instrumental in mapping the South Asian city during the late colonial period. Aesthetic decisions, gift-giving, and performative critiques of the public rituals of marriage acted as loci for the self-fashioning of both the colonial-era city and women's modern selves. Through close reading of an account of the customs of Delhi by a pardah nashīn woman S. Begum Dehlavi, this article shows that veiled women mapped the city through their consumption and exchange of goods, as well as through the construction and affirmation of a complex web of families in the city.

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I am grateful for the help and advice of many. I offer particular thanks to Layli Uddin, who pointed me to Rusūm-i Dihlī after coming across it in Simon Digby's papers donated to the British Library; to Francis Robinson, Rosalind O'Hanlon, and Richard Williams, who have been helpful in pointing me to primary and secondary sources central to my argument; to the Raja of Mahmudabad and his son, Ali Khan Mahmudabad, who advised me and permitted me to look at their collection of novels about veiled women held in Mahmudabad palace library; to Tasneem Khan, who spent many hours reading and discussing Rusūm-i Dihlī with me; to the contributors to the Urban Emotions Workshop at Oxford – Sneha Krishnan, Elizabeth Chatterjee, Richard Williams, Eve Tignol, Ryan Perkins, Dominic Brookshaw, Katherine Schofield, Faridah Zaman, and Amelia Bonea – whose feedback and contributions shaped my approach to this article. I am also grateful to the Works in Progress Seminar at the University of Pennsylvania's South Asia Studies Department, organised by Lisa Mitchell, and my generous respondents, Ramya Sreenivasan and Heather Sharkey. Last but certainly not least I owe a debt to the Works in Progress Seminar in the Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies Program, organised by Anne Esacove, and my respondents, Kathleen Brown and Fariha Khan. Finally thanks to Jack Clift who read and commented on this article. Any errors in interpretation or analysis are my own.

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1 Variously described as veiled, segregated, or even simply virtuous, the translation of pardah nashīn is a matter of some debate. The term ‘veiled’ in contemporary as well as in historical contexts, can refer to a variety of lived practices. The word pardah refers to both a physical veil and the female practice of maintaining segregation from men and sometimes women outside of the immediate family. The description ‘veiled’ corresponds to a literal translation of the term pardah nashīn, meaning ‘residing within the veil’. A drawback of the term ‘veiled’ is that, unlike the term ‘segregated’, it does not succeed in immediately indicating the way that access to pardah nashīn women was highly regulated, often by an essential team of female servants. I am grateful to Ramya Sreenivasan for her advice regarding terminology. See Minault G., Secluded Scholars: Women's Education and Muslim Social Reform in Colonial India (Delhi, 1998).

2 Jeffery P., Frogs in a Well (London, 1979); Minault, Secluded Scholars.

3 Chatterjee I., “Introduction”, in Unfamiliar Relations: Family and History in South Asia, (ed.) Chatterjee I. (New Brunswick, N.J., 2004), pp. 1819 .

4 Seclusion is certainly not a practice exclusive to Muslims in South Asia. However, in the early twentieth century the perception of seclusion became increasingly communalised and associated particularly with Islam. See K. A. Deutsch, “Muslim Women in Colonial North India Circa 1920-1947: Politics, Law and Community Identity”, unpublished D.Phil Dissertation, University of Cambridge, 1998.

5 Patricia Jeffery's study of 1960s pīrzādah women in Old Delhi demonstrated that the heavily urban environment intersected with secluded practices to confound the division between public and private that the separation of men's and women's living quarters ostensibly illustrated. Jeffery's ethnographic account leaves behind questions of history for the most part, focusing instead on how her observations revealed structural inequalities and the changing attitudes toward seclusion, influenced with the influx of migrants. Jeffery, Frogs in a Well.

6 Roberts E., Scenes and characteristics of Hindostan (London, 1837); Barnes I., Behind the Pardah: The Story of C.E.Z.M.S. Work in India (London, 1897); Balfour M. I. and Young R., The Work of Medical Women in India (Bombay, 1929), p. 8 ; Woodsmall R. F., Moslem Women Enter a New World (London, 1936); Jones Bevan, Women in Islam: A Manual with Special Reference to Conditions in India (Lucknow, 1941); Edib H., Inside India (London, 1937); Billington M. F., Woman in India (London, 1895); Parks F., Wanderings of a Pilgrim in Search of the Picturesque, Vol. I and II (Karachi, 1975 [1850]). These approaches share a preoccupation with the question of seclusion, and whether it should be retained or broken, with relatively little concern to understand life in seclusion and its complexities.

7 “History of Emotions”, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Centre for the Study of the Emotions, https://www.mpib-berlin.mpg.de/en/research/history-of-emotions, accessed 28 June 2016.

8 Metcalf B., Perfecting Women: Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi's Bihishti Zewar (Berkeley, 1992).

9 Razak Khan has noted that while scholarship has recently sought to diversify its sources to capture “the multisensory nature of experience”, emotions remain relegated to the status of “after-effects of social actions” rather than “mediators of affective meaning” that produce significance and normative practice. Khan R., “Introduction to Special Issue: The Social Production of Space and Emotions in South Asia”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 58, Issue 5 (2015), pp. 611612 .

10 Francesca Orsini has written, regarding women's spaces, that “rather than ‘public space’ in the singular, it is more useful to think in terms of a typology of spaces, of a typology recognised by all participants, which translated into norms about comportment and dress that were administered by neighbours and the extended family”. These norms of comportment also extended to emotional norms. Orsini F., Print and Pleasure: Popular Literature and Entertaining Fictions in Colonial North India (New Delhi, 2009), pp. 2025 .

11 Pernau M., Ashraf into Middle Classes (Oxford, 2013), pp. 355356 ; Robb M. E., “Women's Voices, Men's Lives: Masculinity in a North Indian Newspaper”, Modern Asian Studies Vol. 50, Issue 5 (2016), pp. 14411473 .

12 Gail Minault has written a short biography of one of the women, pen name Zay Khay Sheen, who appeared in the same publications, and who wrote for the same publishing company, as S. Begum. See G. Minault, “Zay Khay Sheen, Aligarh's Purdah-Nashin Poet”, in An Informal Festschrift in Honor of the manifold lifetime achievements of Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, (ed.) S. Hegde (2010), http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00urduhindilinks/srffest/ accessed online 15 January 2017.

13 Aftab T., “Introduction”, in A Story of Days Gone By: A Translation of Bītī Kahānī, translated by T. Aftab (Oxford, 2012).

14 Malhotra A. and Lambert-Hurley S., “Gender, Performance and Autobiography in South Asia,” in Speaking of the Self: Gender, Performance, and Autobiography in South Asia, (eds.) Malhotra A. and Lambert-Hurley S. (London, 2015), pp. 1, 4-5.

15 Sylvia Vatuk has pointed out also how the account of Zakira Begum in 1930s Hyderabad demonstrates “the important role that reading of popular fiction plays in the construction and development of female selfhood”. Many postmodern scholars of autobiographical works have demonstrated that autobiography should not be taken as an objective or straightforward expression of truth or life as it occurred. Instead, it is important to keep in mind that the author approaches the project of writing with a variety of different motives, some explicit and some implicit; S. Begum selects specific scenes and dialogue to the exclusion of others, and focuses on some characters to the exclusion of others. S. Vatuk, “A Passion for Reading: The Role of Early Twentieth-Century Urdu Novels in the Construction of an Individual Female Identity in 1930s Hyderabad”, in Speaking of the Self, (eds.) Malhotra and Lambert-Hurley, p. 34.

16 “The multiplicity of genres in South Asia meant that the choice of genre or mode frequently changed over time, as a community changed its preferred modes of literary production. When such a shift occurred, the earlier genre lost patronage as well as historicity, and became more ‘literary’ (or was meant to be read in this way).” Chatterjee invokes a comparison with the West, where the emergence of two discrete fields of study, of literature and history, the latter became established as a stable, fixed genre from the fifteenth century onwards. Although Chatterjee is referring specifically to pre-modern and early modern examples here, the difficulty of distinguishing between literary form and ethnographic/historical text that she describes is similar to the challenge encountered here with the rubric, perhaps we may even consider it a genre, of rusūm. Chatterjee, “Introduction”, Unfamiliar Relations, p. 7.

17 Ibid .

18 Dihlavi S. Begum Sahiba, Rusūm-i Dihlī: bayān-shādī vagaira taqrībāt kā bayān (Lahore, 1927).

19 S. Begum captures the traditions of a class characterised by behaviour and tradition rather than by wealth or even lineage. S. Begum writes in a footnote to the description of the bride's dowry, “The things in the dowry which have been recorded above are not very excessive. This is the dowry amount of middling level, which is customary in the common families of Delhi [Shahjahanabad]. The rich give more than this and the poor give less”, Ibid., p. 37.

20 Naim C. M., “Interrogating the ‘East’, ‘Culture’, and ‘Lost’”, in Indo-Muslim Cultures in Transition, (ed.) Patel A. and Leonard K. (Boston, 2012), p. 196 . See in Persian: Bāyaz Maḥmūd Afandī, Ādab va rusūm-i Kurdān (Tehran, 1369 [1990 or 1991]); al-Khūyī Ḥasan ibn ʿAbd al-Muʾmin, Rusūm al-rasāʾil va nujūm al-faẓāʾil (Ankara, 1963).

21 al-Sābi Hilāl’, Rusūm Dār al-Khilāfa: The Rules and Regulations of the Abbasid Court, translated by E. A. Salem (Beirut, 1977).

22 Naim, “Interrogating” p. 196.

23 Dihlavi Pyare Lal Ashob, Rusum-i Hind (Lahore, 1961 [1st published 1868]).

24 Dihlavi Syed Ahmed, Rusūm-i Delhī (Rampur, UP, 1965); Ashrāf Alī Thānvī, Ịslāḥ ar-rusūm aur ṣafāʾī muʻāmalāt [Reform of Matters of Custom and Clarity in Legal Interactions] (Delhi, [1962?]).

25 Naim, “Interrogating” p. 196.

26 A survey of rusūm holdings in several archives reveals that writings on rusūm most commonly appear in Arabic and Persian rather than in Urdu, with the word rusūm included in the title. For example, of titles held in the University of Chicago Regenstein Library holds 130 Arabic rusūm, 30 Persian, and 10 Urdu texts. The Van Pelt Library at the University of Pennsylvania has 104 Arabic, 19 Persian, 6 Urdu texts. The Bodleian Library at Oxford has 73 Arabic, 11 Persian, and 5 Urdu texts. The British Library has 49 Arabic, 16 Persian, and 9 Urdu texts. In addition to meaning “customs, fees, or usages” in Arabic rusūm in the post-classical period could refer to a category of knowledge encompassing “general knowledge, calligraphy, rhetoric” in the context of belletristic prose. Arabic Literature in the Post-Classical Period, (ed.) Allen R. and Richards D. S. (Cambridge, 2006), p. 110 .

27 Minault G., “Qiran al-Sa‘ādain: The Dialogue between Eastern and Western Learning at Delhi College”, in Perspectives of Mutual Encounters in South Asian History: 1760-1860, (ed.) Malik J. (Boston, 2000), p. 275 .

28 Ahl-i hind kī tamām rasmon aur aksar ‘iqā’id ne musalmānon mein apna sikka biṭhā denā.” Syed Ahmed Dihlavi, Rusūm-i Delhī, p. 41.

29 Orsini, Print and Pleasure, pp. 26-27.

30 S. Ahmed Dihlavi was also the author of the Urdu dictionary Farhang-i āsafiyyā. S. Ahmed Dihlavi Farhang-i āsafiyyā (New Delhi, 1998); S. Ahmed Dihlavi, Rusūm-i Dihlī (Delhi, 1986).

31 Syed Ahmed Dihlavi, Rusūm-i Delhī, pp. 13-14.

32 The language is distinctively female, by which I mean it is idiomatic, retaining characteristics of aurat kī zabān or begumatī zabān as documented by Gail Minault. See Minault, Secluded Scholars.

33 Goṭah can mean a preparation of cardamom, coriander seeds, cocoa nut and coffee according to Platts. Leher means millet. Qaflīyān refers to the earthen vessels in which the sweet would be stored.

34 The sweet was composed of thin shreds of coconut dyed in bright colours and mixed with coriander seeds and melon seeds that have been fried and dried. Added to the mix was betel nut, cardamom and tamarind to complete the distinctive Shahjahanabad treat.

35 S. Begum Sahiba, “mausam sardī aur ‘īd kā chānd”, Rusūm-i Dihlī, p. 13.

36 Many thanks to Francesca Orsini for her assistance with this point.

37 Bahen, hamārā tumhārā azīzdārī kā m’āmlah hai. Is mein puchhne gachne kī kyā zarūrat hai. laṛke ko apnī ghulāmī mein qabūl karo.”

38 Minault G., “Sayyid Ahmed Dihlavi”, in Delhi through the Ages: Selected Essays on Urban History, Culture, and Society, (ed.) Frykenberg R. Eric (Oxford, 1993), p. 184 .

39 Gail Minault has made mention of Dār ul-Ishā’at Punjab, and the printing press Rafah-i-’Am Press in Lahore, as a firm that printed Qurans, textbooks for Punjab schools, and edifying novels for women. Secluded Scholars, pp. 77, 84.

40 There are few detailed accounts of what occurs in the women's section of the home during these celebrations. In a much earlier period, the 1832 text Qanoon-i Islam described the rituals of Muslims, eliding the differences in ritual between cities and regions. The author of the 1832 Qanoon-i Islam, who concerns himself with those aspects of Muslim life in that period, is content to focus on the men's side of the house for the most part, giving the incorrect impression that in elite households marriage rituals are male in character. The translator, Gerhard Andreas, uses the account of a female proxy observer to loosely approximate the ritual of manganī from the women's side. See Sharif J., Qanoon-e-Islam or the Customs of the Moosulmans of India: comprising a full and exact account of their various rites and ceremonies from the moment of birth until the hour of death (London, 1832), p. 95 .

41 Maulvi Mumtāz ʿAlī was the father of Imtiāz ʿAlī Tāj, the author of Anarkalī who also briefly worked in the press. The novel Anarkalī itself was published by Dār ul-Ishā’at Punjab as well as other Imtiāz ʿAlī works. Dār ul-Ishā’at Punjab also published works of Premchand, including Prem-paccīsī in 1943 and Bāz-yāft in the 1950s, as did the journal Tahzīb un-Niswān.

42 Of particular note are the following books: M. Begum, Candān Hār (1929); M. Begum, Ādāb-i mulāqāt, ya‘nī, zanānah mīl jūl ke muhazzab tarīq (1935).

43 G. Minault, “Zay Khay Sheen, Aligarh's Purdah-Nashin Poet”.

44 Ibid .

45 Minault, Secluded Scholars, p. 112.

46 S. Begum Sahiba, “Sāvan kā meṇh [The autumn rains]”, Rusūm-i Dihlī, p. 14.

47 In the contemporaneous novel Nā-murād Begum, the women's quarter is consistently framed by descriptions of Agra's wind-swept and relatively isolated riverbed; the men's section of the house is characterised instead by the well-regulated, geometrically ordered natural world. S. ul-Hasan, Nā-murād Begum (1921), pp. 5-6.

48 Sāvanī preceding a marriage seems to be celebrated with particular occasion in Delhi at this time.

49 S. Begum Sahiba, “Sāvan kā meṇh [The autumn rains]”, Rusūm-i Dihlī, p. 14.

50 We see plenty of examples of this in literary works in the period. For example, in the first scene of the popular novel Nā-murād Begum, the mother of the main character watches the sun in a dramatic scene, illustrating her departure from this world. S. ul-Hasan, Nā-murād Begum, p. 1.

51 Beṭī vāloṇ kā ghar [The house of the daughter's side]”, Rusūm-i Dihlī, p. 7.

52 In Urdu: “sāf suthrāh makān”. See: “Beṭī vāloṇ kā ghar [The house of the daughter's side]”, Rusūm-i Dihlī, p. 7.

53 S. Ahmed Dihlavi, Rusūm-i Dihlī (Delhi, 1965). As E. Tignol points out, S. Ahmed Dihlavi's account was first published between 1900 and 1905. For sources citing the date 1905, see Minault G., “Sayyid Ahmed Dihlavi and the ‘Delhi Renaissance’”, in Delhi through the Ages, (ed.) Frykenberg R. E. (Delhi, 1992), p. 183 . For sources dating the publication in 1900 see Pernau M., “Nostalgia: Tears of blood for a lost world”, South Asia Graduate Research Journal (SAGAR), XXIII (2015), p. 91 ; and S. Bukhari, “Introduction: Maulvi Sayyid Ahmed Dihlavi”, Rusūm-i Dihlī, p. 27; E. Tignol, “The Muslims of northern India and the trauma of the loss of power, c. 1857-1930s”, Unpublished PhD Thesis, Royal Holloway, University of London, 2016.

54 After Anwar Begum accepts the proposal, a meeting of the men of the family follows to confirm the proposal. “Manganī kā chaṛhāvā[The engagement offering]”, Rusūm-i Dihlī, p. 7.

55 A seer is equivalent to about 2 lbs. This means that the groom's family offered approximately 50 pounds of laḍū to the bride's family.

56 This sweetshop was founded in the late eighteenth century and remained an historic sweetshop in Chandni Chowk in Delhi until it closed its doors in 2015.

57 This shop name is of course a play on the word for diamond, hīrā

58 S. Begum Sahiba, “Manganī kā chaṛhāvā[The engagement offering]”, Rusūm-i Dihlī, p. 7.

59 From Platts Classical Urdu dictionary: “Bracelets made of bits of gold wire fastened together and projecting like a rat's teeth”. Even today there are several shops called “Hira Jewellers” in Old Delhi in contemporary India. One of these “Hira Jewellers” is on Dariba Kalan Road, just around the corner from the old location of Ghantewala Sweets on Chandni Chawk Road. There is another “Heera Jewellers” on Chawri Bazar Road. It is unclear whether it was one of these shops referred to in the text, although both were within several hundred metres of Ghantewala Sweets.

60 This was a kind of earring, a hook with a pendant that resembled the seed of a mango.

61 S. Begum Sahiba, “13 Rajab”, Rusūm-i Dihlī, p. 22.

62 The items indicating superior hospitality included “brand-new earthen pots [kūre matke], long-necked flasks [surāhīyān], tumblers [glās], lamps, wall-lamps [dīwār giryā], and lanterns”. Even the spittoons (ugāl-dān) had been scrubbed clean in preparation. S. Begum Sahiba, “Beṭī vāloṇ kā ghar [The house of the daughter's side]”, Rusūm-i Dihlī, p. 8.

63 Ornaments (perhaps crowns) have been made for the groom and for his brothers, care taken to ensure that the groom's ornament was muqaishī or made of silver or gold wire, and the others made for his brothers and cousins simpler in style. The bride's ornaments included a tīkā (the ornament hanging from the part of the hair onto the forehead), included several flowers and jewels: karan-phul (a species of citron, but here likely referring to a design of earring), champā-kalī (magnolia blossoms from the champak tree – but here again most likely referring to a design of earring), a sparkling necklace or jewel designed to hang above the chest called dhugdhugī, an armlet for the upper arm (bāzū-band), bracelets (gajre), and a baddhī, a long necklace made of flowers that looped around the neck, extended down to the waist, and that then looped around the waist as well. S. Begum Sahiba, “Beṭī vāloṇ kā ghar [The house of the daughter's side]”, Rusūm-i Dihlī, p. 8.

64 S. Begum Sahiba “15 Rajab”, Rusūm-i Dihlī, pp. 26-27.

65 Sab ek-hī rang mein rangein honge”, ibid., pp. 26-27.

66 This is in keeping with anthropological research into the nature of the gift, which has long emphasised the role of the gift in consolidating relationships. Mauss M., The Gift (London, 1925).

67 I. Chatterjee, “Introduction”, Unfamiliar Relations, p. 16.

68 Ring L., Zenana: Everyday Peace in a Karachi Apartment Building (Bloomington, 2006). Also see Anna Stirr's discussion of reciprocity and anticipation in the case of rodhīs or youth clubs in this issue.

69 For the sixth-day celebration, the chātī gift of Shehr Bano Begum should have included a huge amount of items: “frocks [kurte] and caps [topīyān] with heavy gold-work, gold collar [hansl], bracelets [kare], crib [pangorā], baby's cot [palangrī], utensils, baby's quilt and mattresses [nihalche], and clouts [potre], and dresses for the family members, khichrī, and money for the servants of the house [. . .] I also thought she might, instead, give a cash gift of a thousand or twelve hundred rupees [. . .]”. Shehr Bano Begum, unlike the bride Qaisar in S. Begum's story, received nothing, “not even the worth of a broken cowrie”. Not only did the new mother feel the loss of material support that such gifts would have provided, she was repeatedly shamed for her family's lack of propriety by her mother-in-law and husband. The hapless bride and daughter was “ridiculed by them for the rest of my life” for her mother's failure to give the appropriate gifts. From “A Story of Days Gone By”, p. 179.

70 Insān koī chīz de, to apne lāiq de yā dūsre kī.” S. Begum Sahiba, Rusūm-i Dihlī, p. 12.

71 This article does not argue as C. A. Gregory does that gift-giving is opposed to commodity exchange; rather it takes the Maussian view that gift exchange that creates friendship is an “embryonic form of commodity exchange”. Laidlaw J., “A Free Gift Makes No Friends”, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 6, no. 4 (2000), p. 628 ; Mauss M., The Gift (London, 1925).

72 S. Begum Sahiba, “Mausam sardī aur ‘īd kā chānd [Cold weather and the moon of ‘Eid]”, Rusūm-i Dihlī, p. 13.

73 I am grateful to Heather Sharkey, who shared with me an example of a wedding toy, a bronze toy mango rattle presented to her on the occasion of her own marriage. The toy seems to have been designed to facilitate genteel interaction between the husband and wife, who could roll the toy between them during the wedding festivities.

74 S. Begum Sahiba, “Mausam sardī aur ‘īd kā chānd [Cold weather and the moon of ‘Eid]”, Rusūm-i Dihlī, p. 13-14.

75 Hauslah mandī se [bravely]”. See S. Begum Sahiba, Rusūm-i Dihlī, p. 13.

76 Shāyad ʿAlī Khān's shop in Old Delhi.

* I am grateful for the help and advice of many. I offer particular thanks to Layli Uddin, who pointed me to Rusūm-i Dihlī after coming across it in Simon Digby's papers donated to the British Library; to Francis Robinson, Rosalind O'Hanlon, and Richard Williams, who have been helpful in pointing me to primary and secondary sources central to my argument; to the Raja of Mahmudabad and his son, Ali Khan Mahmudabad, who advised me and permitted me to look at their collection of novels about veiled women held in Mahmudabad palace library; to Tasneem Khan, who spent many hours reading and discussing Rusūm-i Dihlī with me; to the contributors to the Urban Emotions Workshop at Oxford – Sneha Krishnan, Elizabeth Chatterjee, Richard Williams, Eve Tignol, Ryan Perkins, Dominic Brookshaw, Katherine Schofield, Faridah Zaman, and Amelia Bonea – whose feedback and contributions shaped my approach to this article. I am also grateful to the Works in Progress Seminar at the University of Pennsylvania's South Asia Studies Department, organised by Lisa Mitchell, and my generous respondents, Ramya Sreenivasan and Heather Sharkey. Last but certainly not least I owe a debt to the Works in Progress Seminar in the Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies Program, organised by Anne Esacove, and my respondents, Kathleen Brown and Fariha Khan. Finally thanks to Jack Clift who read and commented on this article. Any errors in interpretation or analysis are my own.

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