Academic Articles

Below is a selection of articles and book reviews that I have written for academic journals and edited volumes.


“Caught between Two Nationalisms: The Iran League of Bombay and the Political Anxieties of an Indian Minority,” Modern Asian Studies, vol. 55, no. 3, 2021, pp. 764-800.

Abstract: In 1922, a group of wealthy Parsis in Bombay founded an organization that they dubbed the Iran League. Originally designed to assist their fellow Zoroastrians in Iran, who had suffered from centuries of oppression, the League quickly expanded its objectives to include the promotion of broader Indo-Iranian cultural and economic relations. It became a major player in the flow of ideas, literature, business, and tourist traffic between the two countries. Parsi fervour for Iran stemmed from the brand of Iranian nationalism promoted by Reza Shah, which celebrated the country’s Zoroastrian past. In response, the League’s leaders argued that the Parsis of India could play a special role in the ‘regeneration’ of Iran under the shah’s supposedly benign rule. By the 1930s, however, Parsis’ embrace of Iranian nationalism became a clear reflection of their deep concerns about Indian nationalist politics: they cast Iran as an idealized alternative to contemporary India, where the Indian National Congress had supposedly taken an ominously ‘anti-Parsi’ turn. The Iran League, therefore, was caught between two nationalisms. Worry about India’s future even prompted some Parsis to argue that their community should ‘return’ to their ancestral homeland of Iran. The story of the Iran League thus demonstrates the complex position of minorities vis-à-vis the brands of nationalism in development during the interwar years. The Parsis, a wealthy but microscopic minority, responded to political anxieties at home by romanticizing a foreign country and taking part in a wholly foreign nationalist project.

“The Singing Satyagrahi: Khurshedben Naoroji and the Challenge of Indian Biography,” in Srinath Raghavan and Nandini Sundar, eds., A Functioning Anarchy? Essays in Honour of Ramachandra Guha, Delhi: Penguin Random House, 2021, pp. 105-25.

Abstract: I draw on the life of Khurshed A.D. Naoroji (1894-1966?) to illustrate a set of particular challenges for writing Indian biographies. Khurshedben, as friends and associates knew her, grew up around wealth and privilege, a Bombay Parsi and the granddaughter of Dadabhai Naoroji. While in her early thirties, nevertheless, she sacrificed a promising career as a classically-trained soprano to join Mohandas K. Gandhi, exchanging the concert halls of Paris and Bombay for the rigorous, ascetic life of a satyagrahi. In time, she became one of Gandhi’s most tireless and fearless associates. She promoted women’s involvement in the Civil Disobedience Movement, served as an emissary between Gandhi and the Pashtun leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, and undertook a remarkable mission in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) to promote non-violence and stop a spate of kidnappings of Hindu villagers. And yet hardly anything is known about her life. It has been impossible for me to even verify her year of death. Such are the consequences of particular challenges encountered while undertaking Indian biographical projects: a pronounced gender bias in the existing archives and the disappearance or inaccessibility of many archival resources.

“The Transnational Career of the ‘Indian Edison’: Shankar Abaji Bhisey and the Nationalist Promotion of Scientific Talent,” in Prashant Kidambi, Rachel Dwyer, and Manjiri Kamat, eds., Bombay Before Mumbai: Essays in Honour of Jim Masselos, London: Hurst and New York: Oxford University Press, 2019, pp. 239-62 (peer reviewed).

Abstract: Shankar Abaji Bhisey or S.A. Bhise (1867-1935), who grew up in Bombay and died in the United States, was a genius inventor whose career unfolded in three different continents. In his lifetime, he was known as the ‘Indian Edison’ and the ‘Pioneer Indian Inventor’. He was best known for producing the Bhisotype, a typecasting machine that was poised to transform the printing industry. As a struggling young inventor, Bhisey required significant financial support for his experiments and research. In Bombay and abroad, he found such support amongst leaders of the early nationalist movement, many of whom enjoyed close business connections or possessed substantial business experience. Eventually, several Indian nationalist leaders and their British allies—most notably Dadabhai Naoroji, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and Henry Hyndman—provided Bhisey with the financial resources necessary to continue with his inventions.

“Beyond Hindu-Muslim Unity: Gandhi, the Parsis, and the Prince of Wales Riots of 1921,” Indian Economic and Social History Review, vol. 55, no. 2, 2018, pp. 221-47 (peer reviewed).

Abstract: Between 17-20 November 1921, Bombay was convulsed by the Prince of Wales Riots, which coincided with the arrival of the future King Edward VIII in the city. The riots constituted an extremely important moment in the Non-Cooperation Movement, the political transformation of Bombay, and the development of M.K. Gandhi’s political thought. Additionally, the riots upturned familiar notions of communalism: angry at repeated violations of a hartal Gandhi declared for the day of the Prince’s arrival, Muslim and Hindu supporters of the Non-Cooperation and Khilafat movements joined together to attack supposedly loyalist minorities, especially Parsis. Herein lay the riots’ broader significance. During the Non-Cooperation Movement, Gandhi had been keen to recruit the active support of the Parsi community. He was well aware of their financial and political clout, and their leadership roles in liberal nationalist circles. Most Parsis, however, expressed strong reservations about Gandhi’s tactics, believing that a mass political movement under the banner of ‘Hindu-Muslim unity’ would be injurious to smaller minority communities. The riots, therefore, confirmed Parsis’ worst fears about Gandhi’s politics and their majoritarian implications. Gandhi, for his part, worked tirelessly to repair his relationships with the Parsis and reassure them of the Congress’ commitments towards minority rights. He reconsidered how smaller communities fit into India’s communal dynamics. By December 1921, Gandhi even unfurled a new slogan that was used towards the end of the Non-Cooperation Movement: ‘Hindu-Muslim-Sikh-Parsi-Christian-Jew unity’.

“Our Own Religion in Ancient Persia: Dadabhai Naoroji and Orientalist Scholarship on Zoroastrianism,” Global Intellectual History, vol. 2, no. 3, 2017, pp. 311-28 (peer reviewed).

Abstract: Dadabhai Naoroji (1825-1917) is today best known as an economic thinker and an early leader in the Indian nationalist movement. Between the 1860s and 1890s, however, he was also recognised as a scholar of Zoroastrianism, sharing his ideas on Parsi religious reform and ‘authentic’ Zoroastrian belief and practice. Aside from corresponding with some of the leading European Orientalists of his day, Naoroji authored papers on Parsi religious belief and religious reform that were widely distributed and cited in Europe and North America. Over time, he began to function as an interlocutor between European Orientalists and the Parsis in India, disseminating European scholarship amongst his co-religionists while also facilitating scholars’ patronage of the wealthy Parsi community. Naoroji’s correspondence with the Oxford philologist Lawrence H. Mills, in particular, demonstrates this dynamic at work. These activities point to the oftentimes complex and collaborative relationships that existed between non-Europeans and European Orientalists, illustrating the degree to which European scholars could be dependent on the intellectual, financial, and logistical assistance of their objects of study.

“The Banaji and Mehta Families: Forging the Parsi Community in Calcutta,”  in Almut Hintze and Alan Williams, eds., Holy Wealth: Accounting for this World and the Next in Religious Belief and Practice (Festschrift for John R. Hinnells), Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2016, pp. 211-30.

Abstract: The Calcutta Parsi community was unique in many ways: it was one of the earliest and largest settlements outside of western India and it produced numerous individuals who exercised great political and economic influence on Bengal, eastern India, and the subcontinent in general. This paper traces the evolution of the community by examining two of its most prominent families, the Banajis and the Mehtas, paying special attention to Rustomji Cowasji Banaji and Rustomji Dhanjibhai Mehta, both who established fire temples in Calcutta. Peering into the histories of these two families helps us understand the intertwined relationships between commercial success, political influence, and community leadership. Examination of the often-fractious relationship between the Banajis and the Mehtas might also help us answer why Calcutta had two functioning fire temples for several decades.

“Dadabhai Naoroji and the Evolution of the Demand for Swaraj,” Nehru Memorial Museum and Library Occasional Paper Series, History and Society, no. 25, 2013.

“1942: The United States, Great Britain, and the Indian Nationalist Movement,” Herodotus, vol. XIV, Spring 2004, pp. 1-16.

Book Reviews

“What Does the Writing of Constitutions Have to Do with Wars? Plenty, as this Book Proves,” review of The Gun, the Ship, and the Pen: Warfare, Constitutions and the Making of the Modern World by Linda Colley (Profile),, 18 September 2021.

“‘The Horde’: Marie Favereau Rewrites the Conventional History of the Mongol Conquerors,” review of The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World by Marie Favereau (Harvard University Press),, 11 July 2021.

Himalayan Histories,” review of Himalaya: A Human History by Ed Douglas (Bodley Head), The India Forum, 4 June 2021.

“‘Black Spartacus’: A Biography of the Man Who May Have Been the First Great Anti-Colonialist Leader,” review of Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture by Sudhir Hazareesingh (Farrar, Straus and Giroux),, 10 January 2021.

“What We have Forgotten about the Pandemics that Killed Millions of Indians over 100 Years Ago,” review of The Age of Pandemics, 1817-1920: How They Shaped India and the World by Chinmay Tumbe (HarperCollins),, 19 December 2020.

“JBS Haldane’s Life, via Samanth Subramanian’s Biography, Shows Why Scientists Must be Political Too,” review of A Dominant Character: The Radical Science and Restless Politics of JBS Haldane by Samanth Subramanian (W.W. Norton),, 11 October 2020.

“Parsis and Pilgrims,” review of Between Boston and Bombay: Cultural and Commercial Encounters of Yankees and Parsis, 1771-1865 by Jenny Rose (Palgrave Macmillan), Parsiana, 21 September 2020.

“Much More Than a Sport: Beginnings of Cricket in India,” review of Cricket Country: An Indian Odyssey in the Age of Empire by Prashant Kidambi (Oxford University Press and Penguin Viking India), Economic and Political Weekly, vol. LV, no. 38, 19 September 2020, pp. 33-34.

Review of Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent by Priyamvada Gopal (Verso), South Asia, vol. 43, no. 4, September 2020, pp. 798-800.

Review of The Chaos of Empire: The British Raj and the Conquest of India by Jon Wilson (PublicAffairs), South Asia, vol. 41, no. 1, March 2018, pp. 240-42.

Review of The Calling of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth by Dipesh Chakrabarty (University of Chicago Press), South Asia, vol. 39, no. 3, August 2016, pp. 703-05.

Review of Mumbai: Theatre of Conflict, City of Hope by Mariam Dossal (Oxford University Press), Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. 22, no. 2, April 2012, pp. 477-79.

“The Importance of Ancient Iran,” review of Sasanian Iran by Touraj Daryaee (I.B. Tauris), Economic and Political Weekly, vol. XLV, no. 15, 10 April 2010, pp. 30-32.

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