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


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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Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
  • ISSN: 1356-1863
  • EISSN: 1474-0591
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-royal-asiatic-society
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