This is a long awaited book. Finally we have a history of a musical tradition written by a historian with a cultivated ear. There have been accounts, often extremely interesting, by persons of deep musical involvement but no sense of historical method. Rangaramanuja Iyengar’s History of South Indian (Carnatic) Music comes immediately to mind. At the other extreme I can think of at least one book, C.S. Lakshmi’s The Singer and the Song which for all its attempts at bringing feminist rigour to its analysis of women singers and their situation displays a grievous ignorance of any aspect of music or musical performance.
Superstars and cult figures are products of historical moments. Emerging at particu- lar socio-historical junctures, cult figures in cinema begin to embody much more than just the character they play. Film and Cultural studies have tried to understand the concept of stardom and iconicity as sustained by a dual engagement with the site of fictional performance and the fears and aspirations in the world outside.
It is said that the Borivili National Park, cheek by jowl with Mumbai has more species of animals, birds, reptiles, and insects than the whole of Great Britain. In terms of species’ diversity India is a multi-millionaire country as compared to most of the countries of the so-called developed world. But alas, when it comes to that special breed of human being – the nature writer – we are alas hopelessly impoverished – and to mix metaphors, seem to be heading for extinction.
Reading through the title and contents of the book, the scope of this recent publication on painting during the Mughal rule in the Indian subcontinent, covering a span of over 200 years indeed sounds quite sweeping. Aimed at more than a general introductory readership, this reference book gives focus to the shifting modes of the patrons’ taste and the artists’ struggle to cope with the situation.
Until some years ago, there were hardly any books on the history of Hyderabad written in English by Indians, and historians and research scholars had to necessarily pour over Urdu and Persan manuscripts in the Archives Department and libraries. Then suddenly there was a spurt of them ranging from small pamphlet like booklets to lavish coffee-table publications.
Lucy Peck’s guide to thousand years of concrete and mortar of Delhi provides a valuable insight into Delhi’s historical monuments. Based on secondary sources, it is not a mere mundane description of the monuments. The explanation of the buildings is accompanied by interesting anecdotes of Delhi’s past and aesthetically well shot pictures.
In the distant days when I was an under- graduate Gingi used to sound as remote and exotic as Constantinople. Since then, narratives of military encounters became increasingly unfashionable in history courses, and Gingi, like Trichinopoly and Seringa-patam, became even more distant, and appeared in a different set of incarnations, differently spelt (Senji, Thiruchirapalli and Srirangapattanam) and as tourist-destinations.
In several entertaining and insightful com- mentaries on the British Raj, Jan Morris likened much of its work to that of a development agency: building roads and railways, introducing the telegraph and later telephone as well as modern western medical practices and educational methods. Interestingly, though The Spectacle of Empire (London: Faber and Faber, 1982) is in some senses a photographic document of the various activities of the Raj, Morris does not really discuss in any great detail the role of the camera in governance.
At one level this is a smartly produced coffee table book that features historic photographs of India’s birth to freedom from British rule. The pictures of India’s ‘first dynasty’ the Nehru-Gandhi family dominate the collection. As always, they are attractive to the eye and historic in the moments they capture. The reader ploughs along approvingly as they confirm to every stereotype that an average Indian has internalized about the makings of modern India.
One would have liked to use the term “Andhras” but it is not an accurate one to describe the Telugu speakers. The Andhras in the present-day social and cultural context are confined to Nellore, Prakasam, Krishna, Guntur districts. Even those who belong to East and West Godavari districts have a distinct identity of their own, while those of the northern districts of Visakha-patnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam belong to a charming cultural world of their own.
Sanskrit narrative tradition synthesizes loka (loc-al) and shastra (scholastic or context free forms and expressions). It has been configurational, localized and ever acquiring new hues and semantic fields. Deshi (context bound forms) and margi (context free forms), in fact, have always been seen in continuity and have mutually enriched each other.
Harvest Song, an abridged and translated version of Sabitri Roy’s trilogy, Paka Dhaner Gan (1956, 1957, 1958) has been subtitled in English as a “novel of the Tebhaga movement.” The Tebhaga (sharing by thirds) movement was a militant campaign by sharecroppers, spreading over at least nineteen districts of undivided Bengal, especially the districts of Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri, Jessore, Khulna, Mymensingh and 24 Paraganas during the year 1946-1947.
Jogajog is perhaps Tagore’s least discussed novel, eclipsed by the political rhetoric of Gora and Ghare Baire, the romantic intensity of Chokher Bali and Shesher Kabita, and the philosophical density of Char Adhyay. Two recent translations, however, draw attention to this lacuna in Tagore scholarship: Hiten Bhaya’s translation Nexus, published by Rupa and Co., and the present translation by Supriya Chaudhuri.
One began with the premise, influenced purely by a perusal of the blurb, that this was one more novel about the coming-of-age of a slightly confused exemplar of urban youth today set amidst the ubiquitous urban landscape of contemporary Delhi. One presumed, therefore, that the novel would be about a slightly moony young man, being shunted around from job to job and love to love in search of existential bliss, and would be full of his ramblings in a booze or hash-induced state while walking the streets of the “unreal city”, in this case, Delhi.
The Passarola, or the great bird, was a flying ship that was supposedly a cross between a balloon and a glider, designed by a Brazilian Father Bartolomeu Lourenço in Portugal in 1705. Azhar Abidi takes this piece of information and weaves a tale of historical fiction based on the aviation pioneer and his brother Alexandre.
This is an interesting debut novel, as much for what it does as it what it does not do. Eraly is a historian, and perhaps as such felt the need to look not at the larger picture but the smaller one, at some of the myriad lives that finally write the history of cultures and civilizations. But a history of feeling, a history of individual families and the pulls and pressures within them is best written as fiction, especially if you are a trained historian who cannot betray your method in your academic writing.
This is a book which has been written by someone now safely entrenched in the world of historical fiction. It is Kunal Basu’s third book, the other being The Miniaturist and the Opium Clerk. The cover has the picture of a young black boy, and aesthetically the verdant sense of fronds and the sky imprinted by clouds and exotic rorsach of images makes one wonder what the book is about.
Monika Boehm-Tettelbach, (former Head of the South Asian Institute, Department of Indology, at the University of Heidelberg) speaking of Kiran Nagarkar’s fiction, speaks of its ‘velocity’, its ability to keep the reader’s attention focused, while the narrative moves on at a snappy pace. The ease and speed of the flow suggests that the simple and the literal is what is to be viewed.
In the 13 years since AK Ramanujan died under anesthesia in Chicago in 1993, much of his unpublished writing has trickled down to a waiting readership posthumously. A stray article shows up in a book of essays or as an Introduction, previously scattered writings are pulled together and a volume of collected essays is published and so on. Ramanujan’s death was untimely for many reasons, not least because he left much undone and was clearly in the prime of his writing, scholarly as well as creative.
Keki N. Daruwalla is a poet who has, by his intrepid creativity and vast output, justified to the world the use of Indian English in writing poetry. There isn’t another poet who has creatively used the language to write poetry on such a wide range of themes. Keki’s poetic career is an answer to those who were — and some still to be found, amazingly though! – sceptical about poetry written in the language of the firingis. Keki himself tackles such people in his satirical poem, ‘Invocation’: