The pandemic which engulfed the world in 2020 is, as the song says, a strange saga of which nobody can say with any certainty where its beginnings lie and where it will end. It is believed that it began in Wuhan in November 2019, exactly a hundred years after the Spanish Flu pandemic which took an enormous toll of human lives. And over the past 24 months or more, the various mutations the virus has been undergoing make it completely incomprehensible as to when it will, if ever, disappear.

Yatindra Singh Sisodia and Tapas Kumar Dalapati

As India inches close to 75th anniversary of Independence, self-introspection about hurdles it has to overcome in policy and implementation domain needs to be debated. The book under review brings together fourteen well-researched papers based on field-level experiences of States across the country, interrogating critical dimensions of rural human development in contemporary India that need attention for percolation of developmental benefits to every corner of India.

Reviewed by: Pratip Chattopadhyay
Madhusudan Datta

The Indian growth story attracted global attention first, on account of the spurt in growth from the 1990s, and second, on account of its deviation from one of the most widely replicated patterns of the evolution of sectoral shares of agriculture, manufacturing and services in the gross domestic product (GDP) over time.  This thumb rule, stylized by Kuznets, Chenery and Taylor (KCT), was found to closely fit the evidence gathered from advanced countries and also developing ones outside the socialist bloc, over two whole centuries.

Reviewed by: Alok Sheel and Vrinda Saxena
Ghazala Jamil

The three books under review critically contribute to our understanding of Gender, Inclusion, Violence and Social Justice. They capture several evidences of gender inequality, violence and exclusion across all levels; but they also show how gender issues in India can be read through different lenses of justice; how scholars, advocates and activists addressing these issues have brought different dimensions to the table, even conflicting at times.  

Reviewed by: Juanita Kakoty
Achla Pritam Tandon, Gopi Devdutt Tripathy and Rashi Bhargava

Social Scientist in South Asia: Personal Narratives, Social Forces and Negotiations is an important recent publication from Routledge. Along with an Introduction, the book comprises a collection of nineteen essays, divided into two parts. Part I, themed ‘Engagement with Disciplinary Prisms: Expanding Horizons’ has essays by Imrana Qadeer, Ghazala Jamil, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Savyasaachi, Maitrayee Choudhury, SS Sivakumar, Gargi Chakravarty, N Sukumar and Sukrita Paul Kumar. Part II, themed ‘Reflections on Disciplinary Practices: Pedagogy and Research’ has essays by Chandan Kumar Sarma, Manosh Chowdhury, Mohammad Talib, Nirmal Kumar, Kavita A Sharma, Nirmal Kirmani, Shonaleeka Kaul and Vinay Kumar Srivastava.

Reviewed by: Manjeet Baruah
Rajesh Kasturirangan

Rajesh Kasturirangan’s book Who Are We? sets out to play with the oft deliberated, debated, dissected and derived idea of what makes the Indian way of being and more specifically as the author states, the Indian way of thinking. Culture impacts the way we perceive, feel and think—as stated by cultural psychologist Richard Nisbett, and also leads to different self construals (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Kasturirangan appropriates and reappropriates the place of this book and his ‘theory’ on the vast canvas of many other such writings and clarifies right at the beginning of the book its aim and purpose, ‘I am less interested in a culturally encoded storehouse of thoughts and feelings and more interested in how cognitive schemas change over time, how new ideas emerge and are layered on top of the old. I will focus on mind in motion.’

Reviewed by: Surabhika Maheshwari
Veena Das

The ethnographic desire to render the textures of the ordinary is contingent on the close attention to detail that the anthropologist can command. But the question is—what kind of detail and how much detail?  Detailing the ordinary plugs, the centre of this intense text marks the crucial meeting points of anthropology and philosophy. A critical question that anthropologists must settle on is ‘what kind of information can be counted as knowledge?’ Ethnographic practices involve a wide range of activities in the form of gathering data by conducting surveys, drawing figures and maps, engaging in conversations and discussions, exploring the micro-geographies of localities, tracing local histories and so on.

Reviewed by: Ratheesh Kumar
Mohita Bhatia

It is well known to students of political science and modern history that the Kashmir dispute has two dimensions—external and internal. The external dimension involves India, Pakistan and the UN. The involvement of the latter was sought by India under Jawaharlal Nehru to resolve the mutually opposite claims of India and Pakistan over J&K’s political future. Besides internationalizing the Kashmir dispute, the external context led to wars between India and Pakistan, as well as constant instability in J&K. 

Reviewed by: Aijaz Ashraf Wani
Nasreen Chowdhory and Biswajit Mohanty

This book is an important academic intervention. It unpacks the political complexities associated with the much debatable refugee status of Rohingya community in South Asia. The vast empirical data/information is systematically organized to evolve an innovating theoretical framework. As a result, one finds an interesting sequence that links different individual essays to produce a highly engaging intellectual commentary on complex ideas such as nationalism and citizenship.

Reviewed by: Nazima Parveen
Partha Chatterjee

The problems that confront us now—the pandemic, a warming planet—require concerted action, yet what we hear constantly is loud voices pitting ‘us’ against ‘them’. In this context, should we rescue nationalism through our usual binaries of civic versus ethnic nationalisms, or liberal versus illiberal nationalisms? This is Partha Chatterjee’s concern as well, as he attempts to separate the truths of nationalism from its lies, through this manuscript which he says was left at his doorstep during the pandemic, with the inscription that the narrator was Charvak: ‘the first page began with a heading in two words—Carvaka uvaca’ (p. vii). As the manuscript seemed to be about the ‘principles of a new concept of Indian nationalism’ (p. viii), Chatterjee felt that it must reach a wider audience and decided to translate it into English.

Reviewed by: Shefali Jha
Ramin Jahanbegloo

Ramin Jahanbegloo’s new book titled Pedagogy of Dissent has a cover design depicting the iconic event of ‘The Death of Socrates’. This image contextualizes the urgency behind writing this book as it acts as an apt metaphor for capturing the continuing onslaught against dissent in our times.

Reviewed by: Suraj Thube
Jyotirmaya Sharma

This book is the fourth and last volume in a quartet by Professor Jyotirmaya Sharma, examining the restatement of Hinduism by some of its most influential exponents and thinkers. The first book Hindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu Nationalism discusses the thought of Dayanand Saraswati, Sri Aurobindo, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Swami Vivekananda, all of whom sought to marshal Hindu identity in the service of nationalism. The subsequent volumes focus on the thought and writings of Golwalkar and Vivekananda. The series is an attempt to look at the question of Hindu identity and the restatement of Hinduism in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Reviewed by: Madhav Nayar
Kira Schmidt Stiedenroth

Social history of South Asia’s indigenous medical traditions and practices and their troubled relationship with western medicine during the colonial period, marked a fundamental shift from the conventional descriptive accounts of these medical traditions. Such social histories of South Asian indigenous medical traditions, and their encounter and exchanges with western medicine were marked by two features: firstly, they were predominantly based on colonial records; secondly, they were primarily focused on the Ayurvedic system of medicine, not only because of Ayurveda’s projected overwhelming presence but also due to the prevailing dominant political and ideological atmosphere particularly since the late nineteenth-century, that was aggravated after 1947.

Reviewed by: Neshat Quaiser
Mytheli Sreenivas

Politically correct, influential people in policy making circles in the West do not talk any more of the yellow peril, or use phrases such as population explosion, or metaphors like the population bomb. At the same time, partly due to the very reach and influence of such doomsday demographic discourses emanating from the West in the past, and the modified ones today, the elites and the middle classes in much of the Third World remain convinced that the cause of social and economic problems in their own countries stem primarily, if not only, from population growth.

Reviewed by: Mohan Rao
Shafey Kidwai

The cover and title of the book promises much by way of an analysis of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the founder of the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, which later became the Aligarh Muslim University. The book however falls woefully short. It is difficult to find any substantial and meaningful discussion of the thematic elements mentioned in the subheading of the book: ‘Reason, Religion and Nation’. At various points the author, Shafey Kidwai, states his desire to dismiss the charge of separatism that has often been made against Sir Syed. Sadly, the writing of the book fails to convincingly dismiss the charge.

Reviewed by: Amir Ali
Tim I. Gurung

Ayo Gorkhali: A History of the Gurkhas offers an interesting addition to the ever growing study of Gurkhas. Gurkhas and their history continue to remain one of the subjects receiving wide scholarship, both academic and non-academic. The almost yearly publications of literature on the theme make it evident that the common thread among them is that most of these have been written by former military officers-turned-historians, often from the Gurkha Regiments.

Reviewed by: Mingma Lhamu Pakhrin
Anuradha Roy & Melitta Waligora

Calcutta, rechristened Kolkata since 2001, has been defined with several names, City of Joy, City of Palaces, a decadent city, and so on, but whatever be its nomenclature, the city has a unique characteristic of its own. Though there are contradictory opinions regarding the establishment of the city in 1690 by Job Charnock, as the head of the British East India Company or not, this two-volume collection of eclectic essays seeks to explore Kolkata through areas not covered in the earlier works on the city, in terms of both topics and time.

Reviewed by: Somdatta Mandal
Wendy Doniger

Doniger’s is a work of passion. This is on display not only in the unfolding of the narrative of her Winged Stallions and Wicked Mares but graphically in the 1968 photograph of Doniger on her Anglo-Arabian mount Damien, which although frozen in stationery pose clearly shows the elegant seat of a consummate lover of the animal.

Reviewed by: Wajahat Habibullah
Shrabani Basu

This book, contrary to what the title suggests, is not a crime thriller. It is, instead, a bit of obscure 19th century English social history in which an Indian, who was also a Parsi—and vicar to boot—faced what might have been deep racial discrimination. His name was George Edalji.He was accused of mutilating a horse and threatening to kill a policeman. The natives were outraged, had him arrested, tried and convicted him.

Reviewed by: TCA Srinivasa Raghavan
Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih

Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih’s Funeral Nights points out, among a whole lot of other things, that language is one of the fundamental tools to recover, rehabilitate and moor a community’s identity. However, the Khasi language has not yet been made an official language under the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India despite demands for its inclusion. The twenty-two official languages of India (which include Assamese, Manipuri and Bodo from Northeast India) carry both immense prestige and other benefits, including membership of the Official Language Commission itself.  The pedagogic implications, employment opportunities, cultural and translation benefits and so on for an official language are centrally connected to the identity and sustenance of a community.

Reviewed by: Asma Rasheed
Somdatta Mandal

This is a comprehensive, well-structured book. The five sections of the book are titled ‘General Overviews’, ‘Pilgrimages’, ‘Travelling within the Country’, ‘Travelling Abroad’ and ‘Miscellaneous’. This is apart from the Introduction by the editor of the volume. The first section has essays on the historical and cultural matrices of early travel writings from Bengal (Jayati Gupta), secular travel culture as obtained in Bengal during the colonial period (Simonti Sen), and the generic shifts that occured in women’s travel writing in Bengal during the 19th and early 20th century (Shrutakirti Dutta).

Reviewed by: GJV Prasad
Ananda Lal

Ananda Lal’s edited volume, Indian Drama in English: The Beginnings, is a significant milestone in the genre. A researcher’s delight, the book has immense value for its reconstruction of text and authorship to fill the ellipses in the history of Indian English Drama. It comprises three nineteenth century plays—Krishna Mohan Banerjea’s The Persecuted (1831), Michael Madhusudan Dutt’s Rizia (1849) and Kaminee (1874) by an anonymous author. Lal’s introduction to each of the plays makes it a substantial and insightful read.

Reviewed by: Payal Nagpal
Amitava Kumar

To the adage ‘journalism is literature in a hurry’ Oscar Wilde added that ‘the difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read.’ Amitava Kumar’s short novel A Time Outside This Time, all of two hundred odd pages, explores the space between fiction and journalism, trying to turn journalism into literature and making it readable too. Playing on Ezra Pound’s definition of literature as news that stays news, the novelist narrator of A Time Outside This Time conjectures if ‘by bringing news into literature we make sure that daily news doesn’t die a daily death?’  Kumar’s turning the news into literature in the novel has a serious purpose.

Reviewed by: Mohammad Asim Siddiqui
Usha Priyamvada. Translated from the original Hindi by Daisy Rockwell

Pachpan Khambe Laal Deewarein’s poignant profile of a professional woman chafing against her suffocating context continues to resonate in its recent English translation, long after its first publication in 1961. The Hindi novel had acquired a cult status, birthing a television series and generations of loyal readers to whom the protagonist Sushma Sharma’s travails spoke viscerally. Lecturer in Hindi (or History, as the novel suggests variously) and warden of a hostel at a women’s college in Delhi some time in the late 50s, Sushma seeks to separate her professional and personal lives and assert her hard-earned financial independence.

Reviewed by: Maya Joshi
Atamjit. Translated from the original Urdu by Ameena Z. Cheema, Rana Nayar, Swaraj Raj and Vivek Sachdeva

Independent India, as a secular nation, was born in Partition. The legacy of this fracture continues to implode and explode the very idea and ideals of post-Independent India.  Indian creative imagination has continuously engaged with the ever-changing trajectories of this fracture, especially communalism. Since Partition these creative responses, in fact, have evolved as a distinct sub-genre within Indian literature. While the initial creative responses to Partition were underlined by an emotive surcharge that oscillated between memory and forgetting, the lived and the thought, or the exigencies of traumatic immediacy and the demands of nation building, the later ‘re-visits’ have tended to be more ideological and analytical in their thrust and have increasingly focused on the protean character of the phenomenon.

Reviewed by: Anup Singh Beniwal
Akhtaruzzaman Elias Translated from the original Bangla by Arunava Sinha

Some writers become legends in their own lifetime; respected and admired by their peers, loved by legions of readers despite a slender output. The Bangladeshi novelist and short story writer Akhtaruzzaman Elias is one such. He wrote just two novels and five collections of short stories and yet earned fulsome praise from fellow writers. Mahasweta Devi saying ‘I would have considered myself blessed if I could have achieved a fraction of his quality in my writing’ reminded me of the Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib saying that he would have happily given away his entire collection of poetry for this one sher by Momin Khan Momin: ‘Tum mere paas hotey ho goya/Jab koi doosra nahi hota.’

Reviewed by: Rakhshanda Jalil
Mehr Afshan Farooqi

Literary biographies, as a genre, has remained popular in the West, covering a wide spectrum, from the purely documentary and factual to the wildly and extravagantly imaginative. The latest in the genre that created a buzz when it came out was The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World by Maya Jasanoff that had as its subject Joseph Conrad, the great writer of Polish origin and stylist of the English novel.

Reviewed by: M Asaduddin