Mohammad Sayeed is an urban anthropologist who works on informality, cultural history of Delhi, historical formation of Urdu public and spatial renditions of religion. He also happens to have studied theoretical mathematics and classical Islam. When he is not teaching sociology at a Delhi University college, he is found trailing smells and noises around the city.
In his doctoral thesis, he studied the analytic of congestion to understand the precarious complexes that make the contemporary city spaces possible. Using the paradigm of congestion, he draws parallels between diverse array of fields - closely packed housing, opaque techniques of urban governance, multiplicity of disciplinary claims on body, emerging research on overgrowth of cells and technological debris of the internet. He is particularly interested in the question how congestion is not just a physical feature but informs the bureaucratic, emotional and spiritual life of the city.
In a recently initiated research endeavor, Sayeed is now engaging with the realms of senses- particularly sound, smell and touch. In a project, supported by Kiran Nader Museum of Arts, he is exploring the distribution of smells across Delhi. The project attempts to unravel how smells contribute in the making of urban relations and how can they be represented in language, visual and other mediums. In a simultaneous study on touch and textures, he is extensively photographing walls of the city.
In one amongst his multiples lives, Sayeed can be found patiently maneuvering over books, manuscripts, old maps and drawings pertaining to the cultural history of Delhi since the late Mughal period. He is particularly interested in the history of coffee and coffeehouses in Delhi. As an extension of this interest, he is also exploring long-term shifts in Urdu language discourses between 1850 to 1950. This part of the research traces a tradition that runs from Jamal ad-Din Afghani’s ‘anthropology of religion’ to Shibli Nomani’s ‘politics of citizenship’ to Miraji’s ‘philosophy of experience’.
Apart from Delhi, he is obsessed with chess and Borges.