Dissonance Between Officialese And Ground Realities

Raghuvendra Tanwar’s weighty volume provides a wealth of material on developments in the Punjab during the period 1947-8. Despite its title, the work only in passing reflects on the different ‘spins’, news outlets imparted to the events of Partition. It rather uses newspapers and other documentary sources to piece together a detailed narrative. This begins with the breakdown in communal peace following the resignation on 2 March 1947 of the Khizr Tiwana Coalition Government and concludes with the impact on the Punjab of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. While the coverage is stronger with respect to East Punjab, there is considerable material also on West Punjab, especially on developments in Lahore.

A Conspectus of Research Across Three Decades

Histories for the Subordinated consists of nine essays, all of them reprints, but many of them not easily available, with an Introduction that is new and theoretically significant. Together, they will convey a deeper understanding of Hardiman’s work to his readers, both old and new. This is spread now over some three decades, and is marked throughout by a richness of fieldwork and oral material unequalled by any other South Asian historian. With this Hardiman has always combined meticulous and critically nuanced archival research, and oral and written data together have illuminated a whole series of obscure or unknown episodes and processes of the history of subordinated groups in modern Gujarat and western India.

Through a Maze of Relationships

“For me, that day in late March, it began with the ringing of my mobile phone and Deb’s voice: Siddhantha, there’s this blast in Sikander Chowk Park. I want you to rush down and cover it. Immediately.”

And so since there is no arguing with that Siddhantha does the story which he says wasn’t exactly a scoop. It was in fact a scrap of news so trivial that the desensitized eye quickly glosses over it in its insignificant corner of the local page,

Polemics of Translation

Translating India: The Cultural Politics of English is concerned with the produc- tion of the body of writing referred to as Indian Literature in English Translation or ILET. Rita Kothari offers a concise overview of the political and economic ideologies underlying translation activity in English in India, ‘what goes into feeding it’ and ‘the quarters that gives this industry its present prominence and help sustain its energy.’ She traces the development of ILET as a body ‘that is substantial and distinct’, and suggests that ‘its unprecedented rise from being a marginalized event to a pervasive trend’ over the last two decades is a phenomenon worth close attention (p.2).

The Naive Poet-Traveller

I visited Goa shortly after receiving Last Bus to Goa, and sat on the beach under a rain- threatening sky to read: Like a slate of grey The sea stretches To meet the sky. The horizon blurs As the dawn Swollen with rain Douses the sun… (‘Velsao’)

Brian Mendonca’s work occupies the same space in poetry that naïve paintings occupy in art. They are not so much poems as notes with line breaks – yet they have all the charm of naïve paintings. The language and the images are simple, and there is no indication that the poems have been in any way edited since the first draft. In fact, at an early pre-publication reading, I had asked him whether he ever revised any of his works.

Shakespeare and India or India’s Shakespeare?

In the last three decades Shakespeare studies and postcolonial studies have not only been intimately linked, they have also been mutually constitutive. An important strand of postcolonial studies has investigated how the English literary canon dominated by Shakespeare performed the ideological work of reinforcing the cultural superiority of the British colonizer. It has also mapped the diversity of attitudes ranging from the deferential to the subversive which have marked the postcolonial response to Shakespeare’s plays (and metonymically to colonial culture).

Postcolonial Trials and Tribulations

‘To enter the phase of post-colonialism the tribes will first have to become state powers…. If so, then 8.08 per cent share in the total population of India is not a negligible number’ (p. 379). Dhagamwar’s concluding lines in the book under review deflate an otherwise compassionate and edifying work on certain tribes and their tribulations since the colonial era: the Pahadiyas of the Rajmahal Hills, the Santals of the Santal Parganas, both originally in Bihar and now in Jharkhand, and the Bhils of north-western Maharashtra.

In her introduction, Dhagamwar delineates the premises of her study: the geographic and cultural isolation of the tribes from settled society; the law as comprising both specific legal situations and the legal system, i.e., the police, lawyers, the courts and jails; the tribe’s unawareness of its own history resulting in loss of its identity and culminating in Verrier Elwin’s “loss of nerve” and attendant consequences; and the focus on land and criminal matters as “these two areas of law are the only ones that matter to tribes” (pp. 12-13, 16-17).

An Empirical Account

The book, an empirical account of popular culture and religion in medieval Andhradesa attempts theoretical analysis but does not offer much. The Introduction in the book is rather confusing. In barely four pages the author mentions the importance of studying and applying the methodology of Marxism, Annales, Subaltern, Focault, folk songs and folk tales. However, he fails to relate them to his work or explain how the use of these methodologies has enriched his study of popular culture and religion in medieval Andhra. Chapter 1 entitled ‘Popular Culture in Medieval Context’ is quite a dissatisfying attempt to theorize “popular” and “culture”. It would have been more appropriate had the author introduced the reader to the historiography and characteristics of medieval Andhra before embarking on a discussion of its beliefs, customs and traditions.

Showcasing of a Marginalized Region

The volume under review is an unusual one. It covers a vast sweep of issues and topics – from culture to politics, from patterns of social transformation to contested identities and from myths creation to poetic sensibilities – all related to Northeast India. The purpose of the volume is not to further the boundaries of research on Northeast India but to provide a showcase of the variety of patterns in the socio-economic, cultural and political life of a much ignored region of the country.

Connecting with Wheels

With the book being dedicated to all those who love Indian Railways, the reviewer, who dreamt of being a railway man from childhood, was indeed excited. One cannot thus be faulted for looking forward to a series of articles that would take you through the evolution of railways in India breezily and positively. In the event one may be disappointed. Admittedly the editors could have a different opinion in this regard. They may argue that their effort is to address the serious reader/researcher/historian!

Of Continuities and Discontinuities

This edited volume of ten chapters is an output of a national seminar ‘Colonial and Post-Colonial Experience’ organized by the Department of History, Kolkata University and the Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata with support from the Indian Council of Social Science Research. The contributors are scholars of eminence in the fields of public health and history and this linkage is relevant for the understanding of public health issues and plan for appropriate action. Certain strands of contemporary public health are increasingly divesting themselves of historicity and are looking for quick-fix solutions that are often not in consonance with the contextual situation of the particular problem. This volume not only puts back the strong bonds of history and public health on the forefront but bridges the ‘Continuities and Discontinuities’ (to borrow the title of Qadeer’s chapter) of the colonial and postcolonial era at a time when public health education in India is set for radical changes.

Orientalist Mirrors

From about the middle of the nineteenth century in Bengal arose fierce debates about our country, our sciences, our arts, indeed our manners, customs and ceremonies. British racism had hardened during this period; to the colonizers it was evident that Indian civilization had nothing to offer, not science, not arts, indeed nothing at all. As Macaulay perhaps typifying this attitude said in his notorious Minute on education, all the learning of the East was not worth one shelf in any library in Europe. The reaction among the colonized was a sense of deep shame and anguish, filled too with nationalistic incomprehension, anger and pride.