In the Time of Trees and Sorrows

Nature, Power, and Memory in Rajasthan

by Ann Grodzins Gold and Bhoju Ram Gujar


“the violence of colonial environmentalism” (1999:192) -Ajay Skaria

Nature is “all that was not man: all that was not touched by man, spoilt by man” (1980:77) Taking it a step further, nature is imaginary.


…these voices are of people who have not only taken pains to educate me more or less from scratch, but have made me feel at home among them […] (my) capacity to hear small voices has been unimpaired by grand visions.

“ […] the way people choose to remember an event, a history, is at least as important as what one might call the ‘facts’ of that history […]” (2000:8) Each person’s story has intrinsic value-not just as a crude source to be refined into data, but in the telling […] we do not weigh speakers’ interpretations against supposed actuality. Rather, we layer multiple versions to achieve a textured, contoured narrative density. -In the Time of Trees and Sorrows

Our claims are considerably…modest: to contribute a few thoughts and a greater measure of grounded substance to three currents of academic discourse-nature, power (electricity!), and memory…with the relationship between individual recollections and historical truths.

my work is part of the disciplinary turn to privilege polyvocality and highlight contested or negotiated realities: in short, following Guha’s admonition […], to admit discord to disrupt monolithic, reductionist accounts. It follows naturally that this turn should favor memory over document; subaltern over rulers; and multiple, fractious voices over omniscient observer. It distrusts records and listens to stories, as we have done-stories of abundant trees and multiple sorrows. -In the Time of Trees and Sorrows

“complexities of wildness, and the many sites at which it was produced” (1999:43) -Ajay Skaria

It was not only that the words and views we taped were rarely heard […] but that during the past era not just these elders’ voices but their very beings had been suppressed. At the same time their capacity to speak was indisputable, and their lively tongues articulated not only what they had endured but how their spirits had not been crushed by it.

It is this experiential level that we feel equipped to portray and convey: textures of a life-world in which power’s subtleties are rendered vivid in memories.

“Not only is hegemony never total…it is always threatened by the vitality that remains in the forms of life it thwarts. It follows, then, that the hegemonic is constantly being made-and, by the same token, may be unmade.” (1991:25) -Comaroff

“And though I can hear the dissonant voices in the background protesting just this choice of words, I believe there is still a role for the enthnographer-writer in giving voice, as best she can, to those who have been silenced” (1992:28) -Nancy Scheper-Hughes

In two often-cited meditations on the meaning of the English word “nature,” Raymond Williams has argued both that it is “perhaps the most complex word in the language” (1976:84) and that as an idea it contains “an extraordinary amount of human history” (1980:67)

conjoined natural and social transformation


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