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Pasha Khan- Gaining a Name for Generosity: Gift Ethics in South Asian Tales of Hatim Ta’i
February 27 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm
Location: Encina Commons, Rm 123
Pasha M. Khan is the Chair in Urdu Language and Culture and an Associate Professor at the Institute of Islamic Studies. He is primarily a scholar of South Asian literatures, including literature in Urdu-Hindi, Persian, Punjabi, and Arabic, focusing on imaginative tales (qissahs).
The name of the pre-Islamic Arab Hatim Ta’i has been a synonym for generosity in texts from Andalusia to Punjab, and from praise poetry for rulers to Bollywood films and Indian comic books. In the 18th-century Indo-Persian Hatim-nama, Hatim became the protagonist of tales of extreme generosity, in which he gives his own flesh to creatures in need, in a manner reminiscent of the Boddhisatvas of the jataka stories. This talk explores the economy of the “nam” (name and fame) that Hatim gains in exchange for his sometimes scarcely believable open-handedness, as articulated by Sa’dī Shirazi in 13th-century Iran, but also in the reflections on dana (giving) in the 19th-century Hatam-nama in Braj Bhasha, written by the Sikh poet Saundha for the ruler of Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Another Hatim-nama from the same period, written for Ranjit Singh in the Punjabi language, reflected upon the question of Hatim’s faith. How has the counter-gift of the name worked to render effective the ethical exemplarity of Hatim, often in spite of his status as a non-Muslim? What might have been the limits placed upon, or the damage done to, Hatim’s ethics on account of his gaining a name for his generosity?