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Eurasian Women as Tawa'if Singers and Recording Artists: Entertainment and Identity-making in Colonial India

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image of African and Asian Studies
For more content, see Journal of Asian and African Studies.

Scholarship on Eurasians has often addressed issues of migration, collective identity and debates around home. Women performers however do not find themselves discussed in these histories of Eurasian peoples in India. This paper aims to account for individual agency in shaping one's identity within the meta-narratives of collective identity of migrant peoples. I focus on two Eurasian women entertainers in the colonial cities of Benares and Calcutta who chose to forget their mixed-race past to fashion successful careers using new identities as tawa'if singers and actors in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This, I shall argue, was possible within the wider context of emergent colonial modernities in colonial India. By choosing micro-level case histories of these celebrity entertainers, I want to argue for including popular culture as an arena of identity-making within histories of migration and gender. To engage with popular culture, I shall extend our perception of historical 'archive' to include a varied set of materials such as biographical anecdotes, discographies, songbooks, and address the fields of poetry, music and history. Through this project I hope to rethink ideas of gender, culture and agency within wider debates of migration and identity-making.

Affiliations: 1: Assistant Professor, Department of English, Miranda House, University of Delhi, Delhi 110 007, India;, Email:


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