A Life in Archaeology
Avantika Sharma
ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE PUBLIC PURPOSE: WRITINGS ON AND BY M.N. DESHPANDE by Nayanjot Lahiri Oxford University Press, 2021, 360 pp., 1595.00
July 2021, volume 45, No 7

Aprolific writer, Nayanjot Lahiri’s new book is a foray into the post-Independence trajectory of Indian archaeology. The method of enquiry involves tracing the life of MN Deshpande, who served as Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India (henceforth ASI) from 1972-1978. The premise is promising as it can demystify life in one of the premier institutions of archaeology—the administrative work, the challenges and difficulties involved in excavating and conserving sites.

The enquiry is made easier as he is one of the rare figures to leave a cache of papers that sheds light on ASI. Thus, the book brings to light some rare gems—visits of Prime Ministers, conservation struggles, correspondences with varied scholars and other officials.

The work forms a part of a long-standing enquiry into the history of the development of Indian archaeology. Significant discussions have traced the development of the subject in the colonial era. However, works focusing on the post-Independence phase have been few and far between. It may be asked whether a discussion on the post-Independence phase is necessary.

Continue reading this review