A Place Like No Other

Nearly two decades ago, I made my first journey to Bhutan. I was told that I should take the road up from Phuntsoling rather than go by air, because that way I would be entering Bhutan “the right way.” That was sane advice. From the moment that one crosses the Bhutan gate at Phuntsoling, one is in a way entering another world and it is best to do it gradually. As the 184 km road snakes its way across verdant valleys of incredible beauty, vanishing now into the eternal fog around Chukha and emerging under clear blue skies where the Paro Chu meets the Thimphu Chu in a dramatic confluence, Bhutan’s charm begins to wind around the heart, unobtrusively but ineluctably.

Cultural Referents

Forts and palaces in India are increasingly becoming a cultural reference for the concerned regions and communities of the country. They are also a new source of income for their private owners (be they the descendants of the erstwhile princely families or more recent owners) or for the different states considering the increase of tourism in India for the last number of years, and its expected growth in the coming ten years. Hence the number of recent books usually well written and richly illustrated, like the Rajput Palaces by G.H.R.Tillotson (1999), becoming the source of a new, regenerated approach to this old history of princely architecture and military traditions.

Of Segmented Lives

The history of British women during the Raj seems to be in the process of arrival. OUP cites three other such books on the back cover of this one and we remember Ketaki Kushari Dyson’s A Various Universe that came out some years ago.

Macfarlane’s book evolves from rereading family records, particularly letters and photographs that set up a history of four generations of Jones women in the subcontinent, concluding with her own. The “I” of her narrative is a privileged insider in it because she has the advantage of a thirty-year perspective denied to her forebears, since she wrote the work after she revisited independent India in the nineties.

A Forgotten Heroine

In an appendix to the book there is a list of Indian members of the army of the Raj who won the Victoria Cross in WW II. Among them: Havildar Major Chhelu Ram, 6th Rajputana Rifles at Jebel Garci in Tunisia: ‘ran through enemy fire armed only with a tommy gun and tin helmet, killing all occupants of the machine gun post. Also attended to an officer in an exposed position though himself seriously wounded. Died on the field.’ Naik Fazal Din, 10th Baluch regiment in Meiktila, Burma: ‘was speared by an officer’s sword but tore sword out of his back and killed Japanese with it. Continued to help his colleagues and killed two more Japanese with the same sword.Then waved the sword, rallying his men, who were so inspired they annihilated the garrison of 55 Japanese. He died soon afterwards’. Rifleman Thaman Gurung, 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles in Monte San Bartolo, Italy: ‘stood in full view of the enemy and opened fire, allowing his platoon to withdraw without further loss’.

Fragmentary History of Reproductive Health

The book under review is an outcome of a conference on “ Population, Birth Control and Reproductive Health in Late Colonial India”, held at the Centre for the History and Culture of Medicine, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. It is also one in the series of New Perspectives in South Asian History. This academic book under review is topical at the beginning of the 21st century when politics and controversies continue to shape and redefine notions of reproduction and reproductive health in the context of women’s lives in changing societies. The volume — for its title – will certainly draw the attention of a wide range of scholars engaged in not only social science inquiries in the history of medicine but also public health, women’s right to health among other areas of interest.

Concerns Beyond Targets

Reproductive and Child Health Programme was seen as a radical departure from the ‘target oriented’ family planning programme after the ICPD conference in Cairo. This programme was seen to be a more comprehensive approach that included sexual and reproductive health concerns. The book under review draws together articles that have examined various aspects that are included under the rubric of RCH viz. contraceptive use, maternal health and progressing related care, abortion, reproductive tract injections and STIs; young people’s sexual and reproductive health; infertility and domestic violence. Based on an analysis of available data and published studies these articles examine the status of the various aspects of the programme.

New Poisons, Old Remedies

The late nineteenth century in Punjab, as in Bengal, witnessed huge debates about the role of “indigenous” science and “western” science – harbingers of today’s concerns with “Hindu” science, mathematics and so on. Many factors went into the making of these discourses. One of course was the reaction to colonial efforts to deligitimize them as unscientific and empirical medical methods, to be distinguished from the universal, scientific and rational methods of biomedicine. The second was a product of the work of Orientalists, as some indigenous practitioners harked back to the glory of ancient “Hindu” sciences, to the arts, and indeed to their “Aryan” past, a civilization that was said to have been at its pinnacle of achievements in diverse fields.

A Royal Chronicle

Babur Nama is an autobiography of Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire in India, which he established in 1526 after defeating Sultan Ibrahim Lodi in the first battle of Panipat. More appropriately, Babur Nama is a memoir and a diary kept by Babur since he was ten years old until a year before his death in December 1530. Babur began chronicling events soon after he became the governor of Andijan (now in Uzbekistan) at the age of ten following the assassination of his father Omar Shaikh Mirza in 1493.

More Than Just Money

Many years ago, one of my students gave me a Marg volume titled Of Kings and Coins. Its sumptuous, luminous photographs were my introduction to the beauty of ancient and medieval Indian coinage. I held on to that volume and used it for many years as a teaching aid to show students the variety and aesthetic richness of numismatic sources. Over a decade later, here is another Marg volume on coins, this time with a special focus on coins as expressions of power and as media of communciation.

A Varied Collection

These essays have been put together in honour of Professor Hermann Kulke, one of the finest historians of his generation of pre-modern India. Although Kulke’s list of publications covers many aspects of the history of India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, he is particularly known for his contribution to the study of regional state formation and construction of regional identities in early medieval India. His ‘concentric integration’ model that suggests three stages in a continuous process of state formation from a nuclear core territory to the imperial regional state was a major advance on the hegemonic feudal state model, and his monumental study of the cult of Jagannatha and the regional tradition of Orissa remains one of the best examples of an interdisciplinary work of its kind that highlights the origin, development and organization of a regional tradition. Professor Kulke eminently deserves a felicitation volume.

History as ‘Passion’

Reconstructing ancient society has always been a challenging task for a historian. How do we shrug off the ‘baggage’ of modernity that we carry and relocate ourselves in the (very distant) past so as to be accurate? The only way to do it is with curiosity and with honesty—approach the ‘sources’ with an open and eager mind, without preconceived notions, which is what is being attempted in this compilation of articles written over a period of roughly two decades. Uma Chakravarti, in her incredibly inquisitive and penetrating style, moves, quite literally, ‘beyond’ hackneyed discussions of state, political institutions and the caste system, to highlight lives of wideranging groups and communities which played a significant role, but have been treated cursorily by most historians. She seeks to ‘represent’ Ancient India with essays related to peasants, servile labour, dasas and karmakaras, widows, monks and householders and the bhaktin; hitherto grey areas of historical studies and in doing so, reveals how methods of production, processes of social stratification, creation of ideological structures and institutions are inherently linked to each other.

A Monumental Effort

The history of the preparation of critical editions of Sanskrit texts has been long and somewhat complicated. Both the potential and the pitfalls of this endeavour have been best exemplified in the attempts to produce critical editions of the Mahâbhârata and the Râmâyana. Olivelle tackles a text that is apparently simpler: it is obviously far shorter than either of the epics. Nonetheless, the task is a heroic one. What we have at hand is a Sanskrit text prepared through the painstaking and meticulous collation of the text from over fifty manuscripts, with variants carefully documented in endnotes, a new annotated translation in English, as well as introductions to both text and translation that will enrich our understanding of what Olivelle aptly characterizes as a controversial but important document (p. 4).