In his Foreword Professor Amartya Sen has rightly celebrated Devaki Jain’s refusal to take up the theme of her book in a minimalist framework of a tedious chronological regurgitation of what Charles Dickens would call ‘facts, facts and facts’. Instead, we have been offered a rich narrative of development, a history of women’s movement worldwide, its dreams, challenges and fissures, bringing alive a distant policy-making body like the United Nations, jiving with development refracted through the world’s women. The task, as Professor Sen points out, was an onerous one and one, moreover, made more so by the stringent standards set by the author herself. The issues were never allowed to be oversimplified, nor did the massive amount of primary data uncovered permitted to clog the flow of the argument. The expectations of readability raised in the Foreword is not allowed to flag for a moment.
The book examines critically Sen’s contribution to some fundamental issues of human welfare from a gender perspective. Sen, has displayed feminist sensibilities, rare among economists. His ideas on notions such as justice, freedom, social choice, agency, ‘functionings’, and capability as a set of philosophical categories have not only enriched our understanding but has given us a whole new vocabulary and evaluative tools for judging human development, values that should underpin our goals. Firstly, he shifted the focus from the conventional approach of aggregating individual preferences, which are subjective evaluations ignoring the situations in which people live, to interactive processes that determine outcomes—the extent of participation of agents in decision making. Secondly, departing from the exclusive focus on wealth and utilities, he has made us recognize that ultimately what matters is what kind of life we can lead, what enables us to pursue the goals we value.
The recent publication of Aziz Kurtha’s Francis Newton Souza: Bridging Western and Indian Modern Art is perhaps unsurprising in a context where prices of modern Indian art generally are constantly reaching ever more spectacular levels both nationally and elsewhere. Certainly, one of the key objectives of the book is to offer an art market perspective to the art collector, the many asides with reference to ownership, signature and prices are a clue to these concerns. Indeed, the title itself can be read as an index of the manner in which Indian art is being positioned in a global market. Yet, the book is timely also in another sense – it underlines the urgent need for new critical reassessments of modern Indian art.
Alternate Lyricism is a confused mélange of essays written for Jehangir Jani’s different shows and some composed specifically for this publication. Contributors include Shivaji Panikkar, Ranjit Hoskote, Nancy Adjania, Mortimer Chatterjee, Girish Shahane, Anupa Mehta and Deeptha Achar. The essays have been gathered by Ratnottama Sengupta, whose own contribution is an interview with Jani.
Jehangir Jani is an interesting artist. His works traverse a range of materials, formats and issues. This book has works which date from 1991 when he had his first show to works from 2005. Throughout, Jani’s work has focused on discussions of alternate sexuality (particularly gay), religion (particularly Islamic and Hindu practices), figuration and the materiality of art.
A lavishly produced book on Indian art, Dictionary of Indian Art & Artists fills up a lacuna within the study of Indian art. Although the entries for contemporary Indian art are informative and exhaustive this book aims to reach back to the past as much as possible within the constraint of a dictionary format and also offers elucidation of technical terms concerning art practice. The ambitious scope of the enterprise is encapsulated by the book jacket that conjures up a collage of images from the past juxtaposed against a typical modernist painting by an abstract artist: a statue of the Sarnath Buddha and an Ajanta Boddhisattva jostle against a Dasavatara Ganjifa and a female figure by Hemendranath Mazumdar.
Amrita Sher-Gil is probably the most significant 20th century painter who heralded the changing direction of modern Indian art1 . Of Indo-Hungarian origin, Sher-Gil’s short life (she died at the age of 28) was intense, exotic and amazingly productive. Her best known works were painted within a short span of just over a decade – a period in which her style evolved as a result of changing influences and experimentation. Yashodhara Dalmia’s meticulously researched biography situates Sher-Gil’s life within a dramatically unfolding history that encompasses a family, two continents, and the vicissitudes of changing artistic currents that shaped this extraordinary young artist’s work.
The first thing that struck me about the book was that it was of large format and well-printed, covering a subject of India’s Art History on which no comprehensive book had been published so far. Historically speaking, one of the earliest rediscoveries of Indian art, the Ajanta caves and the mural paintings inside these caves had aroused much interest during the last quarter of nineteenth century. Since then not only have further discoveries been made, but also have been taken up for study of the subject-matter, understanding the styles of Indian paintings in general and mural painting in particular, the ingredients used in the technique and their application, whether it was pure fresco (wet on wet ground) or mixed, i.e. ‘a secco’, wet on dry ground. For all these explorations, textual sources have been scrutinized. Such studies have also led to locating the survival of these techniques as well as the hereditary craftsmen and painters.
As a young child, in late 1970’s Britain, I would often walk into the kitchen to find my mother making a curry. To this day I can still picture it; some kind of meat (probably beef), an onion, a few teaspoons of curry powder and for that touch of exotica, it would be topped off with some raisins. She never served it to me, as she knew I hated it and I cannot remember seeing her eat it either. My parents divorced in the 1980s and following my father’s departure from the household the ‘curry’ was never seen again.
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.
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.
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.
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’.