Pasha M. Khan

Assistant Professor

Chair in Urdu Language and Culture

I am an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Islamic Studies working on South Asian literatures, including literature in Urdu-Hindi, Persian, Punjabi, and Arabic. I received my PhD at Columbia University where I held fellowships from the SSHRC and the ACLS. My dissertation, completed in 2012 under the supervision of Prof. Frances Pritchett, was entitled "The Broken Spell: The Romance Genre in Late Mughal India," and dealt with romances (dastans/qissahs) and storytelling (dastangoi), mainly in Urdu and Persian. In 2012 I returned to Canada to take up my position at McGill. I am McGill's second holder of the Chair in Urdu Language and Culture. The Urdu Chair was established in 1986 by the Governments of Canada and Pakistan, and McGill University. The holder of the Chair is responsible for teaching Urdu language courses, and performing research in the history and literature of the Urdu-speaking peoples of South Asia, and other areas, including Canada. 

Research Interests

Urdu-Hindi literature; Punjabi, Indo-Persian, and Braj Bhasha literatures; Cultural history and historiography of South Asia, Sufism.

Current Projects

I am working on a study of the so-called "romance" (qissah or dastan) genre in Urdu-Hindi, Indo-Persian, and other South Asian languages, from the fifteenth century to the early twentienth century. Populated by talking animals, divinely-gifted heroes and heroines, demons and sorcerers, the romance came by the end of the nineteenth century to be regarded as a backward genre, unworthy of serious attention, in contrast to the novel genre which tended to hew more closely to the new ideals of empirical and rational verisimilitude. The study will look at how romances such as the stories of Amir Hamzah, Hatim Ta'i, and Gul-i Bakawali were perceived before this shift in perception, and in particular it will consider the intersections between the genres of romance and history, examining the borders of history and fantasy, so-called.

Representative Publications

"A Handbook for Storytellers: The Tirāz al-aḳhbār and the Qiṣṣah Genre." Tellings and Texts. Ed. Francesca Orsini and Katherine Schofield. Cambridge: Open Book, 2015. 185-207.

“Marvellous Histories: Reading the Shāhnāmah in India." Indian Economic and Social History Review. 49.4 (2012): 527-56.

“From The Lament for Delhi.” Trans. and introduction to selected poems from Fughān-i Dihlī. In Nationalism in the Vernacular: Hindi, Urdu, and the Literature of Indian Freedom. Ed. Shobna Nijhawan. Delhi: Permanent Black. 2009. 88-92.

“The Progressive Graveyard.” Trans. and Introduction to “Taraqqī-yāfta qabristān” by Sa‘ādat Hasan Manto. In Nationalism in the Vernacular: Hindi, Urdu, and the Literature of Indian Freedom. Ed. Shobna Nijhawan. Delhi: Permanent Black. 2009. 224-232.

“Nothing but Animals: The Hierarchy of Creatures in the Ringstones of Wisdom.” Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi Society. 43 (2008): 21-50.

Selected Conference Papers

“A Punjabi Sufi Poet in Ranjīt Singh’s Court: Maulwī Ahmad Yār and the Tale of Hātim Tā’ī.” Talk given at panel on Punjabi Sufi Poetry and Performance at the Association for Asian Studies Annual Meeting. Honolulu, April 3, 2011.

“Marvellous Histories, or, Ghālib and the Sīmurgh.” Talk given at panel on Fractured Genres: The Afterlives of Medieval Indo-Persian Histories at Annual Conference on South Asia. Madison, WI, October 15, 2010.

“A Manual for Storytellers: ‘Abd al-Nabī Fakhr al-Zamānī’s Tirāz al-akhbār.” Talk given at School of Oriental and African Studies conference Tellings, Not Texts ( London, June 9, 2009.

“Qissa and Romance: A Genre Equation Revisited.” Talk given at panel on Genre in the Persianate Literature of South Asia at the Association for Asian Studies Annual Meeting. Chicago, March 28, 2009.

“Giving Flesh: Animals in the Persian/Urdu Qissa-i Hatim Ta'i and Its Sanskrit Forebears.” Talk given at panel on Encounters between Early Modern Sanskrit and Persian Cultures, part of the Seventh Biennial Conference on Iranian Studies. Toronto. August 1, 2008.