Time was when we thought Abol Tabol represented the beginning and the end of Indian nonsense. For those unsanctified by a bhadralok pedigree, this also meant that until Sukanta Chaudhuri’s wonderful English translation of Sukumar Ray came to be published in 1987, almost nothing nonsensical was remotely Indian and vice versa.
You must learn to stop being yourself. That’s where it begins, and everything else follows from that.’ Raj Kamal Jha uses this most apposite quotation from Paul Auster’s Mr Vertigo to preface his second novel. I call it apposite because the entire book follows from that. Let me say that this is not a book for those who prefer to stay within their own skins or constantly want to feel the solidity of the walls that surround them.
Sociology has not gone to Indian movies very often, and that needs to be corrected. Consider that in India today we breathe movies as a key element of the national atmosphere, second only to oxygen, ozone, bottled mineral water, satellite TV and the internet. Bollywood, the world of Hindi moviedom, is also a big, sprawling social fact—in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and among the South Asian Diaspora in the West.
Reviewing an interesting, somewhat idiosyncratic compilation of articles, poses a challenge, as it escapes the usual taxonomic classification for writings on the subject. It is clearly not a scholarly work in the formal sense. As is the case with most compilations, the various topics it encompasses form too broad a spectrum and though some footnotes and other references have been provided, they are sparse and infrequent.
One of my earliest aural memories is of listening to the mesmerizing sounds of traditional north Indian music, from an old phonograph in the vast Baithaki in my grandmother’s house. Next to this magical instrument sat a black leather box containing a prized collection of His Master’s Voice records.
We Allahabadis grew up carrying our own mythology in which fact, innocence and provincial arrogance mingled in equal proportions. But let me get to the facts. The city of Allahabad, a dot on the map like a mustard seed placed exactly where the spidery, hairline-blue veins of two big rivers meet, was not just another nondescript settlement in the great Indian outback. It was a prominent administrative hub during the Raj, with a high-profile cultural identity all its own.
Robert Clive is said to have ‘gone native’ in India, sitting on a charpoy, puffing a hookah, dusky ‘bibi’ by his side, watch-ing the fascinating, multifarious world of the subcontinent go by, so much more vivid and intense than the cold, drear monochromatic little island that he came from. Clive was, of course,
‘How does the writer of Indian origin living abroad negotiate longing and belonging ?’ asks the editor in his highly readable and insightful Introduction to the anthology, and for a while I was persuaded that the thirty-three pieces that comprise the volume are meant to provide a range of answers to that question. And indeed they do, unless one begins to look closely at the contents page.
No one who was taught by Professor A.N. Kaul in the 1970s is likely to have forgotten the experience. He would stride into the seedy English Literature classroom in the Arts Faculty Building at the University of Delhi —others might slouch or stroll or canter; Professor Kaul always strode— followed by a billowing cloud of cigarette smoke, and he would launch into a controlled but passionate performance of what can only be called The Theatre of Thinking Aloud.
Of Blurred Religious Identities
Rohini Mokashi Punekar
SACRED SPACES: EXPLORING TRADITIONS OF SHARED FAITH IN INDIA
By Yoginder Sikand
Penguin India, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 270, Rs. 250.00
VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 2 February 2004
In the face of state instituted religious violence, the language of hate spewing across the country and the casual acceptance of this in ordinary lives, it is difficult not to stress the significance of this book, its sanity and its timeliness. While there is hardly any aspect of the political, economic, social or cultural life in India that is not stained by considerations of religion and sect, or the violence generating thereof, this is a fact that is known, sincerely bemoaned and endlessly circulated in academic circles of a certain colour; how much sympathy it receives amongst persuasions of other kinds is anybody’s guess.