One of the first thoughts that occur after going through the stories in the book under review is how similar are the stories of women situated in India and Pakistan. Popular notions in India look at a Pakistani woman’s image as a burqa-clad creature whose life is controlled by the men in her life. Further, Pakistani society is drawn as a cage in this imagery where women’s lives are ruled by the tenets of Islam. She is imagined as a woman without any agency.
What greater pleasure than to discover a wonderful writer and read an old favourite! Mitra Phookan is a delightful author from Assam whose stories in this collection are a sample of life set in a more leisurely pace and space. They touch the now and the here but the narrative technique is like a breath of fresh air blowing off the cobwebs but gentle and whispering in its flow.
The book written in Rakhshanda Jalil’s inimitable style is about the Progressive Urdu poet Shahryar and is generously scattered with his poetry and personal memoirs which makes an interesting read. The book reveals much that is interesting and unknown about Shahryar the poet and the person, whose personality defied any kind of labelling.
I first encountered the writings of Saif Mahmood on the pages of First City magazine. Apart from the pecuniary challenges it presented a University student, everything about the magazine was very novel. The design, photographs and the presentation was very attractive; the stories were inventive, columnists diverse, and subjects extended from newly arrived migrant at the Nizamuddin station to the poets of the hoary past.
A few years after I had joined…
As J. Krishnamurti and Educational Practice: Social and Moral Vision for Inclusive Education edited by Meenakshi Thapan enters circulation, I wondered how to write a non-conventional review of it. That is, to outline the politics in which it can be located and read, rather than say what it contains and what it does not.
“From the mundane to the marked, everything goes through a scanner in the head from the viewpoint of being a Muslim. And living the Muslim tag. You cannot run from it. You cannot hide from it. You cannot embrace it.” (p. 68). The author, Nazia Erum, runs a fashion start up. She is an educated, working woman, living in a metropolitan city.
This book is a study of madrasas and the role they play in educational attainment and construction of Muslim identity in modern India. It is unique in focusing on the educational journey of Muslim girls where much attention has been paid to boys and young men. It looks beyond madrasas as institutions of religious learning and instead focuses on the role they play in addressing Muslim girls’ educational aspirations.
Nandita Haksar book, The Flavours of Nationalism, reminds us that food is not just a personal affair, it is also politically charged. In this brilliantly composed memoir Haksar writes about how food shaped her ideas about politics and culture and at the same time introduced her to the notions of communalism, patriarchy and nationalism which were all embedded in the way that food was prepared, shared and consumed.
Authored, translated and about to be reviewed by a Bengali (a curious coincidence, indeed), this book by Ghulam Murshid, a well-known Britain based academic of Bangladeshi origin, is yet another addition to the large corpus of writings on the Bengalis. It offers, as Murshid says, ‘a general idea of Bengali culture’. But this thousand years old culture has neither been uniform nor unchanging; all cultures, for that matter, show exactly the same traits.
The importance of a book on social mobility in India can hardly be over-emphasized when nearly three decades of economic reforms are to be completed. A crucial premise of ‘economic liberalization’ was that deregulation of various aspects of the economy would create new opportunities, which were hitherto chained by the nexus of the traditional capitalists with the bureaucracy on one hand and government monopolies in certain areas apparently restricting dynamism on the other.
Sarbeswar Sahoo’s Pentecostalism and Politics of Conversion in India is a significant study of one of the most sensitive issues in the politics of religion in India. Barring the limitation that usually goes with ethnographic studies—the exclusive focus on a limited location in studying what is a pan-Indian issue—this book is a must read for those interested in knowing the truth about conversion and re-conversion in India.
Irfan Ahmad asks the reader to look for something in Islam which we all believed never existed, i.e. critique. He explores critique in Islam, when we understood that Islam was actually hostile to critique. In this book Ahmad has two main arguments; first being that ‘reason, critique, and reflexivity’ did not begin with the Enlightenment or with Kant. Rather, it can be traced back to prophets and savants of the axial age, some of whom we know as founders of major world’s religions.
Sachin Dev Burman was a colossus,…
There are two underlying narratives in this short but fine biography. One is the story of a set of remarkable women–patrons, musicians, enthusiasts who set the tone to cultural life in dusty Delhi after Independence. Upper class, confident, accomplished, generous, an amalgam of grace and nationalism—Sumitra Charat Ram, Nirmala Joshi, Nina Ripjit Singh (Naina Devi) and later Dipali Nag and Sheila Dhar were names to reckon with.
Bollywood is the surround sound that wraps us in its glitzy embrace. A constant presence and point of reference, a subject that consumes us and keeps curiosity levels high—stardom and celebrityhood, gossip and new benchmarks that define commercial success and keeps Bollywood in the public eye. We do know there is another world behind the show biz glitter but not many have told us these unsung stories of unknown achievers.
In 2002, ‘Operation Defensive Shield’ the mammoth military onslaught of the Israeli Defence Forces, heavily bombarded large parts of Palestine, hoping to crush the second Intifada. Thousands of Palestinians died and thousands more were detained. Palestine was under siege. The UN reports state that this siege not only restricted the life and mobility of citizens but also that of medical and humanitarian aid by sealing off villages, refugee camps, and cities.
The present work is a result of a thoroughly revised and updated version of a doctoral thesis submitted to the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Based primarily on the analysis of Uma Maheshvara icons that once adorned the temples in the middle Ganga Valley this monograph has been published in the Routledge Series ‘Archaeology and Religion in South Asia’.
Few books that I have read in the last few years are as good as this one. For one thing, Roy writes surprisingly well for an academic and when the subject is as dry as business history this is an invaluable asset. But it is not just the style. The content, too, is entirely satisfying because it makes one want to engage with the author, who is as erudite as he is opinionated—and I don’t mean that in a bad way.
The author, Anwesha Roy, analyses the events of a turbulent phase of Indian politics in six chapters based upon an extensive range of sources that include confidential letters and reports like that of the Report of the Dacca Riots Enquiry Committee in the Home Political Proceedings and files, Police Records, Intelligence Branch records from the West Bengal State Archives and the National Archives of India, New Delhi.
In 1976, two years after the publication of Francis Robinson’s first book, Separatism Among Indian Muslims, he was invited to meet Maulana Jamaluddin, the son of one of the book’s major protagonists, Maulana Abdul Bari, whose alliance with Mahatma Gandhi and the other leaders of the Khilafat movement just after World War I stands as a milestone in the narrative of early twentieth century Indian political history.
Daughters of the Sun chronicles the lives of Mughal women—unmarried daughters, sisters, powerful, dynamic wives, anagas or milk mothers or foster mothers—who contributed to the building of the Mughal Empire. These women often worked from within the zenana or the women quarters; several of these women, however, accompanied the Emperor to the battlefield, engaged in diplomacy, were fiery traders, patrons of arts, aesthetics and literature…
Zahir ad-Din Muhammad Babur (1483-1530) was a figure of utmost importance within the cultural and political landscape of 16th century central Asia and northern India. As the founder of the Indo-Afghan state, the basis of the later Mogul Empire, he also wrote, fortuitously, one of the most important autobiographical testimonies of his time, characterized by an impressive range of personal and political details, the Baburnama.
There are broadly two kinds of books: one, the ones which have a central argument, question or hypothesis, theoretical frameworks and methodology, and engage in debate; and another, those which provide narrative of some developments. Reviewing the first kind is easier. One can engage comfortably with any aspect dealt with in such books. Rasheed Kidwai’s book falls in the second category.
Much more than an authoritative account of how the ‘right to information’ (RTI) came to be enshrined in Indian law, The RTI Story describes the building of theory through grassroots practice. Choosing to share the lived experience of poor people, Aruna Roy and her associates encouraged them to reflect on their situation, analyse and articulate the bases of their deprivation and exploitation, and to orchestrate collective corrective action.
One of the biggest challenges facing India’s democracy is the growing role of money in elections. During the 2014 parliamentary elections politicians jointly spent an estimated 5 billion dollars. As the spending increases every election, this amount will likely be even surpassed in the upcoming 2019 elections. These extravagant campaign costs are worrisome, for a range of reasons.
In their July 2017 publication under the eloquent title Indian Income Inequality 1922-2014: From British Raj to Billionaire Raj? the world’s foremost economic analysts Lucas Chancel and Thomas Piketty remind us that while the process of divergence of income (and hence wealth accumulation) of the ultra rich commenced in India with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1984, this really took off after the ‘liberalization’ of 1991 by Narasimha Rao bringing to an end India’s experiment with ‘Socialism’.
Researching and comprehending…
Conflict affects every aspect of human life. In South Asia, the most common lenses through which we understand conflict are ethnicity, religion, caste, gender and so on. It is rather surprising that in a region where conflict remains a dominant part of the socio-political discourse, there has been little attention paid to other dimensions in understanding conflicts.
The term ‘diaspora’ is generally understood as a people belonging to one ethnic group originating from a place, but dispersed geographically. Though scattered, the diaspora groups usually tend to maintain relations with their place of origin and also with the other dispersed groups. Estimatedly, about 10 percent of human population live in diasporic situations (about 700 to 800 million).
Rizwana Shamshad’s Bangladeshi Migrants In India: Foreigners, Refugees, or Infiltrators? is a highly relevant and context-sensitive study of the ‘Indian discourse’, a collection of many discourses on one of the most politicized migrant communities in the subcontinent.
Statelessness is a situation when one has no country to call once’s own. It is dehumanizing to be denied the rights of citizens granted by the state. A stateless person faces difficulty in accessing education, health, livelihood necessary for holistic development of a human being. Every country has laws for granting citizenship. Lack of clarity in written laws and anomalies in its application might lead to statelessness.
The Valley of Kashmir arouses a peculiar interest as a land of almost mythic and mysterious beauty and, since the end of colonialism in South Asia, as a space of violence. This imagination has taken further root since 1989 following the emergence of an insurgency and a movement for independence in Kashmir and from India and the drastic militarization of life by the Indian state.
Since 2008 two developments are unfolding side by side in Kashmir. While on the one had we have witnessed recurring popular uprising, and on the other, militancy is on an upward trajectory. Periodic popular uprisings are bringing more and more youth on the streets with some ending up joining the militant ranks and bulk as their sympathizers.
Anam Zakaria’s book brings together ten essays in three parts: Conflict, State Policies and Beyond the Cease-fire. The work is an ethnography of a significant part of Jammu and Kashmir now administered by Pakistan and mostly known as ‘Azad Kashmir’ by the masses and called PoK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) by the Indian side. Today Jammu and Kashmir’s 65 per cent of the territory is with India and the remainder with Pakistan.
Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra makes an enquiry into how vertical aspects of the Kashmir conflict could be contained to nurture a constituency of peace in Kashmir. He utilizes the protracted social conflict framework in understanding the Kashmir conflict and makes a point that New Delhi needs to nurture a constituency of gainers for transcending the stalemate.
From a distance discontinuities rule North Indian history: Hindu Kingdoms and rulers are replaced by Islamic Turko Afghan Sultans, who in turn give way to the Mughals from Central Asia to be replaced by the Marathas, Sikhs and finally the British. A colonial Raj finally made way for India and Pakistan. These periods appear as distinct and self-contained substratum of the history of the past millennium.
Salman Rafi’s book is an essential piece of work for those who are interested in understanding the history of Baloch nationalism in Pakistan. Although Rafi analyses the future contours of the movement in the last chapter, major portions of the book document the evolution of the politico-ethnic struggle in Balochistan in post-Partition Pakistan. This work forces the readers to think critically about multifarious complexities attached to the Baloch issue, the most important of which is understanding the genesis of the conflict.
I began reading Nadeem Farooq Paracha’s Points of Entry once I was sensibly strapped into the seat of my plane, expecting to take no longer than the length of my short flight to finish the slim book. I remember being rather pleased with myself that morning at having eked out this reading schedule. And I could not, of course, have been more wrong, or my timing more off the mark.
Media freedom has come under threat in both India and Pakistan, most explicitly during the Emergency period in this country and during the Zia ul-Haq years in Pakistan. While these interregnums may now appear to be forgotten, in both India and Pakistan old threats—like state censorship and repression—continue to remain even as new ones have surfaced and they include online intimidation and even assassination.
In 2017, Tilak Devasher had published a well-analysed book on Pakistan titled Pakistan: Courting the Abyss. It not only analysed the contemporary problems of Pakistan but also attempted a forecast on crucial issues facing the country—Water, Education and Population. It was a refreshing account by an Indian with less of an ideological baggage in looking at Pakistan.
In his foreword, Anatole Lieven, author of Pakistan: A Hard Country (Penguin, London, 2011), aptly describes General Durrani’s book as a ‘combination of memoirs and reflections’ by ‘Pakistan’s foremost military intellectual’, which he finds ‘enlightening, necessary but in many ways depressing.’
This hefty volume provides a useful primer for non-specialists on Indian security and, to only a slightly lesser extent, for specialists as well. It ranges widely across the spectrum of security issues—covering theoretical approaches to security, traditional threats, internal security challenges and even the new non-traditional threats arising from the economy, migration and cyber-warfare.
A changing geopolitical scenario in the Indo-Pacific and certain domestic issues facing China has made the country clutch on to its nationalist fervours more strongly than before. The Chinese leadership has substantially upped its economic and military power. There is a greater yearning for national glory—exemplified by an assertive protection of China’s interests both at home and abroad.
Xi Jinping is now the all-powerful leader of China. A country of 1.4 billion people, it has some ninety million members of the Communist Party (CCP). It is the second largest economy with a 2017 GDP estimated at twelve trillion dollars representing nearly 20% of the world economy which makes it larger than the next three—Japan, Germany and the UK—put together.
The academic nuclear debate in India waxes and wanes. It is currently demonstrating a slow uptick, especially because of the emergence of a new group of younger scholars who bring more energy, new approaches and fresh insights into the field. The two books examined here, though addressing different aspects of the Indian nuclear issue, testify to this.
Lawrence Freedman, the leading British strategic thinker and Head of Department of War Studies at King’s College London, once mentioned to this reviewer that Srinath Raghavan was the best student he ever had. He was his doctoral student and later a colleague at the department. He has written some of the best books on military cum diplomatic history on South Asia; to name a couple: War and Peace in Modern India…