If you believe Margaret Mead’s words that we should, never “doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has”, then the four examples of democratic schools presented in this book will enrich, invigorate and serve as a much-needed tonic. It appears as if there exists a universal tacit agreement on schools becoming factories, of being further distanced from the community etc. But there is seldom any global sharing on the ways in which educators on a daily basis strive hard to make schools open and democratic spaces. Democratic Schools, though it focuses on four schools in the US, has widespread appeal for educators everywhere because the narratives contain challenges that schools encounter globally which have been overcome, not by drastic structural changes but, by the perseverance and faith of a small group of committed citizens.
Jawaharlal Nehru, on a number of occasions and in a number of ways, defined himself as a product of the Indian National Movement and all that it stood for. This implied among other things anti-imperialism, commitment to national sovereignty, and a measure of internationalism. In addition Nehru also acquired early in his political career a left-wing orientation to politics. All this he inherited from the national movement and practised, with some exceptions, during his long tenure as independent India’s Prime Minister.
Amit Dasgupta is a career diplomat who ruefully intimates that career compulsions have made him into something of a specialist on that bureaucratic labyrinth, the World Trade Organisation. Poring over the arcana of the Uruguay Round, and import quotas, and non-tariff barriers and intellectual property rights, and purchasing power parity – an exercise which might be likened to a latter-day version of sequestered monks computing the number of angels that could dance on the head of a pin – can have all kinds of repercussions. Fortunately for us, in Amit’s case dealing with the terminal tedium of the WTO has led to a reflexive break-out in a world of delightful fantasy: In The Land of the Blue Jasmine, an enchanting moral fable guaranteed to enthrall a cross-generational readership.
Bapsi Sidhwa’s Water is an unusual work which translates Deepa Mehta’s film “Water” into a novel. It renders an audio-visual experience into words, significantly reversing the commoner trend of turning novels into films and problematizing the usually assumed authority and “originality” of the literary text over the “adapted” cinematic version. Here the book adapts the film. As such, Mehta, the screenplay and dialogue writer remains a crucial contributor to the project. This is a new phase in the collaborative work that Mehta and Sidhwa started with Sidhwa’s Ice Candy Man being turned into Mehta’s film, “Earth”.
Shooting Water is Devyani Saltzman’s memoirs about her experiences during the shooting of her mother Deepa Mehta’s film Water. The title is a bit misleading because the book is not so much about the shooting of the film (even though it is also about that) but about her struggle to grow up in two worlds after the divorce of her parents. Her relationship with her mother becomes perennially haunted by her decision to live with her father. Devyani, named after the character played by Suchitra Sen in Asit Sen’s Mamta, comes to India to work on her mother’s production where, apart from gaining work experience she hopes to heal her troubled relationship with her mother under the grim shadow of her childhood choice.
In Satyajit Ray’s film Shatranj ke Khilari there is a memorable scene when Colonel Sleeman is confronted by Urdu poetry. His assistant is reciting a poem composed by Wajid Ali Shah. “Is that all?” asks Sleeman in disbelief when the poem ends after a few couplets. “Yes, Sir.” “And what does it mean?” he inquires in a broad Scots accent, tapping the end of his cigar. His assistant translates the elliptical Persianate verses. “And is that considered good poetry?” asks Sleeman, his intonation revealing that he doesn’t think it is. “It doesn’t translate well, sir,” concludes the assistant.
Prabhakar Acharya’s The Suragi Tree is a delightful novel. The 400 plus narrative is surprisingly a quick, absorbing read: racy, but relaxed, spanning over six decades but time-warped, tale of a solitary man but peopled with an enormous number of characters; each one vivacious and memorable, the intertwining of a rural landscape with a distinct community orientation and the metropolitan anonymity that seeks to strike up a bond with strangers, the creative turmoil of a writer who writes brilliantly but quotes from good old Englisih canonical writers on every third page — these are some of the defining elements of this novel which hold the reader’s attention rather consistently till the end.
My Fellow Traveller is an offbeat memoir, a debut offer- ing which has morphed Hameeda, a housewife-turned- writer, into an instant celebrity. No honed language, no philosophical snippets, no overarching story, and yet it is a most compelling read. What accounts for much of its breakout popularity is its confiding, subdued narrative, which rarely breaks its leash.
What is more, it is a book of overly peculiar origins: because, as we know, its Urdu version, Humsafar, was the author’s first-ever work, written in the seventh decade of her life, and that too in a state of emotional collapse, soon after her husband’s death. Rare are the writers who begin so late; and rarer are they who can transmute a personal misfortune into an enabling experience.
This is a new edition of the English translation of this Urdu classic (1900) which was first published in 1970 under the series. ‘Unesco Collection of Representative Works’, and later reprinted by Disha Books. Umrao Jan has almost become a figure of folklore after Ruswa immortalized her in his novel, Umrao Jan Ada which by now has several celluloid versions of it produced both in India and Pakistan. Arguably, this is the first Urdu novel as we understand the genre, despite Qurratulain Hyder’s claim to the contrary, sharing with many other first novels in different Indian languages the common feature of a female protagonist. Allegedly modelled on a real life character and, again allegedly, on G.W.M. Reynold’s Rosa Lambert the novel has remained popular ever since its publication more than a century ago.
Hindi film songs are immensely popular throughout the length and breadth of the country and appeal to people of all age groups. Such was the popularity of Hindi film songs as far back as 1952 that when All India Radio (under B. V. Keskar) banned the airing of film music, ‘Binaca Geetmala’, which was broadcast from Radio Ceylon, became a major success across the country. This forced AIR to rethink its ban and, in 1957, it introduced ‘Vividh Bharati’ to cater to the tastes of the radio listeners. What makes Hindi film songs tick? How do they cut across all boundaries and appeal to such a wide variety of people from diverse backgrounds? These questions probe sociologists, musicologists, ethnomusicologists and scholars of popular culture and cinema studies to study this uniquely Indian phenomenon.
This may be a cliché but Begum Akhtar was like the proverbial shama to which countless parwanas have lost their souls. Stories about her life are legendary and add to the mystique of her musical personality. There is for instance the famous one about a poet in Lucknow driven mad by her music who roamed the streets scrawling her name on walls. Then there is the unconfirmed but widely believed account of her enthronement by the Rampur Nawab and her dramatic escape from the stifling atmosphere of the court and demands of her patron. In the 1950s she emerged as the eminently respectable wife of Ishtiaq Ahmed Ansari a lawyer in Lucknow. Her transformation from Akhtaribai Faizabadi, the famous singer-courtesan to upper class housewife was complete.
Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) is obviously one of the major forces currently shaping the contours of our society. It is changing the way we interact with others, the way we do business and the way we entertain ourselves. Obviously any technology which causes such profound change in the way we live would also have similar implications for rural India. D.K. Ghosh’s book seeks to provide a guide to the potential of ICT for our villages. D.K. Ghosh is an Executive Director in the Public Communication Networks Division of Siemens and is therefore well placed to judge the nature and impact on rural India digital technologies.