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History: Its Make And Making

Salim Yusufji

Siddharth Dube
Harper Collins, New Delhi, 2015, Pg 371, 599

VOLUME XLI NUMBER 2 February 2017

No One Else earns its title on every page, all the more for not labouring it. No one else, but I? The unvoiced qualifier has a case to be made for it. This is the first non-fictional account at book-length of a gay man’s life in India, possibly from anywhere in South Asia, and Siddharth Dube singular also in having returned from the USA in the mid-eighties and lived openly in Delhi with his lover. (One of its pay-offs was to be a harrowing night for both at the police station; their neighbours’ curtains had evidently been twitching, up and down Jorbagh.) Extraordinary personal courage could have been his principal theme, but isn’t. Instead, we get a discerning treatment of an otherwise unavailable social history, which also expresses another salient quality of the writing: the low-key presence—implicit rather than overweening —that Dube maintains across long stretches of his own life’s story. Memoirs commonly set up a patchwork of recollections in which the writer’s presence can fluctuate, but their ends are desultory, life shared as a hoard of anecdotes. In contrast, Dube gives us a full-blooded autobiography, tracing out the development of a coherent personhood and its bearings in the world; life shared as the honing of a perspective. Its structure is consummate, as the narrative first reasons outwards from personal experience to a worldview—its arc broadening alongside Dube’s own horizons on his way to adulthood—and then, as if to test its findings, doubles back from events on the global stage to their effects on local lives and struggles. History, taken as the sum of its effects on all-too-local lives, was the theme of his first book. Words like Freedom appeared in 1998, and cut through the prevailing guff about the jubilee year of Independence with a startling report card on the state. Here’s what your statistics think of you, it said. While you were busy making history, here is how it was experienced by Ram Dass Pasi and his wife, Prayaga Devi, landless unlettered Dalits from UP, who can look back upon two generations of their family’s life, and ahead to the lives of their grandchildren. That comprises a sufficient store of memory and local knowledge to judge exactly what kind of government policy works, what doesn’t, and why. If the state means well by them, how is it they ...

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