Nudging the Urge for Knowledge

Despite its phenomenal growth and diversification in the last decade, Indian media, both print and television, remains an inadequate and flawed vehicle for the communication of serious ideas. Most analysts disparagingly refer to the dumbing down of the media, the unhealthy growth of a page 3 culture, an obsession with titilatory gossip and the ever-present three Fs – films, fashion and food.

Interesting People, Uninteresting Thoughts

The one thing that strikes the reader as he closes the book is: Interesting people, uninteresting thoughts. The section, “About the Authors” makes for more interesting reading than the book itself. This is a puzzling thing, apart from being an obvious paradox. And it needs some explanation. The Stephanians who have contributed to this 125th St. Stephens College anniversary issue are successful bureaucrats, diplomats, journalists, politicians, academics.

Chasms and Relationships

Thrity Umrigar’s second novel , The Space Between Us is, to put it very simplistically, the story of Sera Dubash, a middle class westernized Parsi, and Bhima, her maid. In this novel Umrigar moves beyond the world of middle-class Parsis which she portrayed so well in Bombay Time, and depicts the wide spectrum of class and society which constitutes the fabric of life in a modern Indian metropolis. Bhima is a representative of that extensive support system of workers without whom most Indian middle class households would collapse; individuals who touch upon the lives of their privileged employers intimately but themselves remain peripheral and insignificant entities in any deeper and meaningful sense in those lives.

Portraying A Vanishing Community

In many ways, Esther David’s Book of Rachel resonates with rather than follows from the preoccupations in her earlier books. As in her previous book Book of Esther, whose very title suggests a certain proximity to this new one, and also her former novel The Walled City, David is concerned with depicting Jewish life in a contemporary Indian context. However, Book of Rachel marks a turn in her exploration of this theme. Her preceding books look inward at the Bene Israel Jews in India, chronicling the community yet critiquing it through the travails and triumphs of her protagonists.

A Rich and Poignant Life

Mythili Sivaraman has written an outstanding book. It is moving, angry, grounded in the everyday, and speaks, in true democratic spirit, to the common reader (its subject, Subbalakshmi, was one such avid, intelligent reader) and to academic specialists in history and women’s studies. Its focus is Sivaraman’s grandmother, the aforementioned Subbalakshmi, who lived from c. 1897 to 1978, in a Tamil Brahmin milieu.

Debunking Historical Stereotypes

The memsahib as arrogant, snobbish, exclusive, is one of numerous stereotypes we have been saddled with since the end of colonialism in India. There are plenty of others, including the idea that Macaulay forced English and English studies down the throats of Indians. British colonialism in India has been treated as a monolith, with little suggestion of varied voices, attitudes, achievements. Selective quotation, serious omissions of historical facts, all in the name of postcolonial studies.

Chronicling a Publishing House

Reading this extremely well researched and lucidly written study took me back to the 1950s in what was then Bombay when small volumes bound in dark blue, the World’s Classics, were there to be bought, and one wondered in one’s ignorance whether the motto on the crest was to be read downwards (Dominus illuminatio mea) or across (Dommina nustio illumea!). Thacker’s Bookshop was just across the road from Elphinstone College, and Taraporevala’s down Hornby Road, darker, mustier, but full of treasures.

“Magical Mystery Tour”

S.L. Bhyrappa is one of Kannada’s most prolific and popular writer, having won several literary awards within and without the state. Outside Karnataka, he may be known more from his novels that were made into films during the 1970s, including Vamsavriksha (directed by Girish Karnad and B.V. Karanth) and Tabbaliyu Ninade Magane which was made into Godhuli (directed by B.V. Karanth). This was a time when the parallel cinema movement was at its height and literary works from several regional languages appeared on the national screens, allowing us a glimpse into other worlds and other languages.

Retrieving an Iconic Text

By far the best-known novel by the most loved Oriya writer, Fakir Mohan Senapati (1843-1918), Chha Mana Atha Guntha (Six Acres and a Third) has lost none of its century-old popularity in Orissa. It first made its serialized appearance in the magazine Utkal Sahitya between 1897 and 1899, and was published in book form in 1902. Since then it has never been out of print. Recognized as the first novel of social realism in Oriya, it has been rendered into four translations in English, apart from those in several other Indian languages, one dramatized version (entitled Champa by Basanta Kumar Satpathy), and a film version.

The Rights Dialogue

With the publication of the book under review, Professor Baxi has joined the club of class of that thinkers and writers who generate a set of commentators. A good deal of postmodernist writing is free from narrow doctrinaire or ideological impositions. The search for a global language towards articulating freedom struggles of a variety of rightless sections of the community is itself a product of impoverished democracies and disguised dictatorships.

Human Rights Perspectives

To bring out a handbook on the criminal justice system is in itself an ambitious task. Trying to combine it with human rights borders on the daring. However, the volume does manage to give an overall idea of the criminal justice delivery system taking us through the various steps from the filing of a first information report (FIR) and investigation to trial. In addition there are chapters on bail and detention from a human rights perspective. Addressing real life situations faced by persons harassed day in and day out by the criminal justice system and who are predominantly from the lower socio-economic sections of society would have added greatly to the volume.

Irony and Hypocrisy Regarding Human Rights

Caution and hypocrisy, cast off in pursuit of a war in Iraq, has claimed several casualties. Amidst the debris left by the continuing war is the relevance of the UN system in matters of war and peace. It may require a superlative effort, some suspension of disbelief and collective amnesia, to help the UN recover from the drubbing it received when the United States and the United Kingdom invaded Iraq. Yet, because there are so few pegs to hang hope on, there is a need to find in the UN an arena where prejudice, pragmatism and power can, even if only apparently, be debated and dealt with without being pre-empted by warheads, missiles and worse.