SOAS University of London

SOAS South Asia Institute

Seminar: Uncertain Stations: Nineteenth Century Male Muslim Negotiations and Narrations of Railway Travel

Dr Soofia Siddique (Freie Universit├Ąt, Berlin)

Date: 18 October 2017Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 18 October 2017Time: 6:30 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B 104

Type of Event: Seminar

Interested in the intersection of travel with a significant subject of concern in later nineteenth century India—the content of an appropriate modernity for Muslim men— this talk will focus on the formation of colonial publicity with reference to railway travel. If, as a railway historian has recently pointed out, railways formed one of the largest public spaces in colonial India—and if the public-private dichotomy is the paradigm on which gendered and political identities were built in the later nineteenth century, what significance do the railways and railway travel have for the formation of male Muslim modernity? This configuration of questions, by introducing the figure of the train, while proposing the category of space, also attempts to complicate the conventional dichotomous fixity of ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ spheres as well-defined sites of the formation of female and male colonial modernities respectively. The colonial train appears as a space of social uncertainty, but also as a subject of political petitioning. Engaging with the emergence of the railway petition in the pages of Syed Ahmad Khan’s Aligarh Institute Gazette in the 1860s, I will explore its terms and possible implications.

Further, insofar as the modern, scientific ideal of travel was one centred on observation, the railways were both facilitator of such an ideal, as well as interestingly frequently the object of such observation.  The spread and organisation of railways emerges, I will show, as an extensive subject of comparative transnational observation in the travelogues of Syed Ahmad Khan (1869-70) and Mahdi Hasan (1888).

Finally, as a site of encountering strangers, I will explore the experiential and transformational nature of railway travel in influencing the subjectivity of these figures as suggested by episodes in their travelogues to Europe.  


Dr Soofia Siddique is an Assistant Professor at the Department of English, St. Stephen’s College (Delhi) where she teaches courses in Indian and Postcolonial Literatures. She received her PhD from the Department of the Languages and Cultures of South Asia, SOAS in 2012. For her ongoing research project ‘A Study of Male Muslim Modernity and Publicity through Later Nineteenth Century Urdu Writings’, she is based at the Berlin Graduate School for Muslim Cultures and Societies, Freie Universität (Berlin).


Organiser: SOAS South Asia Institute

Contact email:

Contact Tel: +44 (0)20 7898 4390