An independent documentary filmmaker, Ajay's cinematic explorations and research on post-partition East Punjab (India) meditate on the relationship between the aesthetic and the subversive, art and identity, and history and memory in cultural production. Ajay strives to privilege diverse forms of knowledge that offer powerful organic alternatives to social exclusion.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

A public scholar works with communities in a non-hierarchical way, can deal with different forms of knowledge--cultural, spiritual, experiential--has the ability to communicate new knowledge to non-experts in imaginative ways and towards the public good.

In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?

This initiative integrates real world engagement, two-way communication with communities, and research undertaken in non–academic settings in the thesis work itself. It make provisions for academic evaluation of such interventions in a PhD, provides legitimacy to it and thus opens up new ways to move beyond the thesis structure.

How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?

Coming with many years of experience in filmmaking and a consistent engagement with my research theme, an integrated PhD adds scholarly edge to my practice. It opens up an exciting possibility where an art practice articulating a different form of knowledge engages with academic scholarship on equal footing. A dialogue between the two expands and enriches the domains of both, art, as well as academia, creating new audiences on both the sides. It opens up a unique niche for me to produce scholarly work in the domains of popular culture as well as institutional knowledge.

How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?

I plan to examine the nature of cultural exchange and cooperation among musicians and singers from two socially marginalized communities of Punjab--the Muslim Mirasis and the so called 'untouchables', the Dalits--as both seek a voice in Punjabi society.

How do you hope your work can make a contribution to the “public good”?

My work takes further the exploration and celebration of an organic relationship of 'non -Muslims' with the devotional Islam that remains one of the least talked about traditions in post partition east Punjab. This relationship, in fact, represents a kind of road map for a different kind of present of Punjab, suggesting also possible parallel paths in other post conflict-zones in the world. As such, the project serves the public in the broadest terms.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

The broad resonance of my films with established and emerging scholarship on the religious and cultural history of Punjab led me to pursue a PhD. My goal here is to integrate my film practice with text-based research to explore further the enduring forms of cultural and religious accommodation that have persisted in Punjab at the intersection of caste and nation state.

Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?

My supervisor, Anne Murphy’s deep engagement with text and performance traditions in Punjab, is also a recurring theme in my films; high ratings of my department which has a strong presence in international scholarship; and, a large Punjabi community in BC that provides an immediate context to my research are the reasons I decided to study at UBC.


A public scholar works with communities in a non-hierarchical way ... and has the ability to communicate new knowledge to non-experts in imaginative ways.