Knowing Dil Das: Stories of a Himalayan Hunter

Knowing Dil Das: Stories of a Himalayan Hunter

Knowing Dil Das: Stories of a Himalayan Hunter

Knowing Dil Das: Stories of a Himalayan Hunter

Excerpt

This book is about the life of Dil Das, a North Indian villager who was born in the lower ranges of the Himalayas. Although Dil Das spent most of his life as a peasant farmer raising buffaloes and selling their milk, and was poor by almost any standard, most of the stories he told were not about everyday life, but about great adventures. Shooting tigers and leopards with kings, princes, and politicians; trekking into the high Himalayas with missionary families; traveling to Nepal to join an American friend in building and running a luxury resort in a wildlife refuge; and endless tales about friendship and hunting that seemed to have nothing to do with culture as such, but a great deal to do with the history of colonialism. What I have set out to do in this book is make sense of this very local, very personal history of colonialism and the relationship therein between culture and a biography of encounter. As such, this book is about the problematic, intimate interface of difference in the postcolonial world. It is about the meaning of friendship between Anglo-Saxon Protestant missionary men and a low-caste Hindu peasant, people who, if left to their own devices, would be regarded as coming from worlds apart, even though they spent most of their lives together.

Since I am a son of a missionary, and a long time friend of a low-caste peasant, as well as an anthropologist who has conducted field research in the village where Dil Das was born, this book is also about the problematic interface of ethnography and colonial or postcolonial encounter. It deals directly with the moral ambiguity of writing and living in a field of power where, despite intimacy, self and other are not equal; where the legacy of colonialism relentlessly undermines the praxis of friendship, and where a condition of friendship makes anthropology, if not impossible, at least morally violent. This book is, therefore, about the limits of friendship and knowledge; about the way in which missionary lives defined a structure of power in which Dil Das lived, through which he spoke, and, I think, as a consequence of which he died. This book is . . .

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