Listening To The Song Of Singamma

Enclosures and boundaries have a conflicted meaning for women. Enclosures are often not safe spaces for them and women have to constantly resist boundaries in order to live their lives. The book under review looks at how ‘conventional Tamil symbols—unbroken enclosures like bangles, pots, wedding halls, the kolam or doorstep design—signifying auspiciousness’ (p. 104), are reinterpreted in the songs of Tamil Paraiyar women as signs of deprivation and restriction.

ADAPTATIONS

Imtiaz Ahmad’s edited volume constitutes a departure from an academic tradition that has related Islamic pre¬cepts to Muslim customs and practices without considering regional customs and practices that bespoke much adapta¬tion. It provides the empirical evidence that Muslims, like other religious groups, have adapted their precepts and rituals to blend with their cultural environment and with customs and practices already in vogue. Imtiaz Ahmad notes that ‘the focus of these essays is on religion as it is practised among Muslim communities rather than on the theological and philosophical principles and accompany- ing social sys¬tem laid down by Islamic scriptures’.

NEAT CONSTRUCTIONS

The book under review is a companion volume to A.K. Banerji’s earlier study on India’s Balance of Payments 1921-22 to 1938-39 (1963). The hindsight enjoyed by the author has enabled him to attempt the construction of a continuous time-series of India’s balance of payments relating to almost the entire period of British rule in India. Data provided in the two volumes for periods respec¬tively covering 1858-98 and 1921-39, has been supplemen¬ted by Y.S. Pandit’s statis¬tics for 1870-1914, thus leaving a gap of a very short period between 1915 and 1920 in the time series collated by the author.

PREJUDICE OVER FACT

This is a book with a certain topical value but likely to be forgotten soon enough as another doctoral dissertation too hastily published. Despite Shashi Tharoor’s painstaking research, his effort is flawed by his preconceived notions and not quite redeemed by the quality of his scholarship. The thesis is outlined in the intro¬ductory chapter; the facts and the analysis that follow are simply to prove it. The book provides a lesson to students of diplomatic history how not to carry on research.

TERRITORIAL IMPERATIVES

Contrary to its claim of making a comprehensive study of the problem of north-east India’s frontier tribes, the volume under review deals only with frontier-making in that region and examines the ‘forward policy’ pursued in that respect. Chronologically structured, this narrative pays little attention to the ethnolo¬gical details of the tribes con¬cerned, or to their many-sided problems, economic and social. The title of the volume is therefore somewhat mislead¬ing.

AN OLYMPIAN VIEW

Constitutional history has long been the great ignis fatuus of the Anglo-Saxon historical tradition. In this context, it matters little that the Whigs enshrined par-liament with a halo of good¬ness, and Namier shot it down with a relentless expose of the cynicism and self-aggrandize¬ment in political motivation. What matters is that politics remained the crucial subject matter of the historian’s inquiry.

GORDIAN KNOT

In this collection of articles and speeches made by Romesh Thapar during the course of the last three or four years, he tries to sketch an Indian future. He seeks an under-standing of India’s present and casts critical glances at her past. A careful perusal of these writings makes it amp¬ly clear that this vision of India’s future, where it is not vague and confused, is fanci¬ful, quixotic and unconvinc¬ing. Contemporary India is too much with him and he finds it difficult to form a consistent opinion on her multidimensional complex problems. This difficulty is compounded by his imperfect understanding of India’s past.

Furthering a Non-Communal Understanding of History

This volume is an anthology of valuable essays by Professor Satish Chandra, published earlier in different journals and books. Since the earliest of these essays was written in 1946, the shape and direction of history writing have undergone a tremendous change. The essays in this collection reflect – and have also been responsible for determining – new currents in history writing over the last five decades.

PAINTED SCENARIOS

Alvin Toffler, Bucky Fuller, Ivan Illich, Sham Lai, Edward Goldsmith and Orville Freeman are some of the names dropped at the com¬mencement of Kapur’s book. Strange bed-fellows, politically disharmonious, intellectually at variance: put together at a tea party they would scratch one another’s eyes out. Ima¬gine, for example, Illich and Freeman strolling side by side in soulful chat.