A delightful if apocryphal story involves the legendary Hindustani vocalist Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan switching off the radio halfway through a Lata Mangeshkar broadcast, muttering to himself ‘Kambakht ladki besur hoti hi nahin hai!’ (The accursed girl doesn’t strike a single false note anywhere!). This facile technical perfection was in a sense deceptive. It…

Neera Chandhoke

In The Violence in Our Bones: Mapping the Deadly Fault Lines Within Indian Society, Professor Neera Chandhoke compels us to deliberate on violence in its many manifestations in India and suggests how we may extricate ourselves from this abyss by inventively imagining participatory democracy. The treatment of violence in the social sciences often diminishes the starkness of human tragedy, when reduced to mere statistics. While recognizing that violent urges might lie dormant in our psyche, Chandhoke is concerned with stalling the eruption of these violent urges onto the socio-political arena.

Reviewed by: Swaha Swetambara Das
Harihar Bhattacharyya

Contemporary buzz on Indian democracy (Roy Chowdhury and Keane, 2021; Yadav, 2020;  Nielsen and Nielsen, 2019; Rudolph and Rudolph, 2014) analyses its evolving features. The book under review, written in memory of Professor Kalyan Bhattacharya (a faculty of Political Science in Vivekananda Mahavidyalay under the University of Burdwan, 1966-1994), probes into the making of the democracy discourse in India.

Reviewed by: Pratip Chattopadhyay
Nehal Ahmed

15 December 2019 was the darkest day of my life. On this day, the Delhi police entered our campus and beat us like animals.’ These lines from the introduction of Nehal Ahmed’s new book Nothing will be Forgotten transport our minds to the day when the University campus was turned into a warzone. Students were labelled terrorists. Gory visuals still refuse to leave our minds. A peaceful protest culminating in students running for their lives. Police rampaging through reading rooms and libraries, hunting for students like a pack of wolves.

Reviewed by: Surajkumar Thube
Sanjukta Sunderason

The central questions that historian Sanjukta Sunderason asks in her book are these: What does ‘partisan aesthetics’ connote as a conceptual frame? What historical work can it do with the artistic field of mid-twentieth century India as archive, and what does it lend methodologically to the field of global and transnational art histories of this period? (p. 4).

Reviewed by: Malvika Maheshwari
Tanja Herklotz, Siddharth Peter de Souza

Mutinies for Equality: Contemporary Developments in Law and Gender in India edited by Tanja Herklotz and Siddharth Peter de Souza is an attempt to examine gender inequality in India on the basis of doctrinal and empirical research in multiple sites.  Titling the volume ‘Mutinies for Equality’, the editors argue, is a ‘recognition of the many battles that have been and continue to be fought to bring out greater gender equality in India and their implications for wider systemic transformations’ (p. 3). 

Reviewed by: Kalpana Kannabiran
Ritu Menon

It is not easy to pen down in a book the journey of a multifaceted personality who spanned a century of the performing arts in India and Europe, with accomplishments in dance, theatre, film and television. The author of the biography Zohra! A Biography in Four Acts, Ritu Menon, acknowledges this challenge right in the beginning and articulates in the preface the locus of the book: ‘For Zohra, I thought I could situate her remarkable life and the choices she made in the equally significant and transformative junctures she found, or placed herself in, whether in Dresden or Almora, Lahore or Bombay, London or Delhi.

Reviewed by: Nadeem Shah
Prashant Panjiar

Photography emerged as a bare witness to the happenings and developments that were taking place in the fast-changing world of the nineteenth century. The veracity of the camera was undisputed, as it overcame the interpretation of its predecessor—the illustrator’s brush. Photojournalism took some time to emerge on its own, as the technology to transfer photos on to the newsprint was initially not there. India was lucky to have an early tryst with photography as the British who were its pioneers had just established their presence in the form of the East India Company.

Reviewed by: Sohail Akbar
Stephan Conermann, Anna Kollatz

In 2018, a group of researchers based in different research groups at the University of Bonn joined together with a common interest in studying pre-modern courts as centres of social interaction and decision-making.[1] Coming from as different disciplines as European Medieval History, English Studies, History of the Middle East, in particular Mamluk Studies, Iranian Studies, Sinology, Japanese Studies, and Art History, the editors and their participating colleagues embarked in a process of building a common method allowing for transcultural and interdisciplinary comparison.

Reviewed by: Tilmann Kulke
Upinder Singh

Alexander Cunningham was the first Director General of the newly established Archaeological Survey of India and had spent his entire career in the Army in India as an engineering officer participating in a number of East India Company’s campaigns in the 1830s and 1840s and also in the second Anglo-Sikh war. His wide travels enabled the development of a serious interest in ‘antiquarianism’ as it was then termed. Evidence of this is to be found in his monographs and articles on ancient coinage, architecture, early trade and pilgrim routes.

Reviewed by: TCA Raghavan
Sanjoy Chakravorty and Neelanjan Sircar

Within the next three decades, India is expected to have more than half of its population living in urban areas.[1] India’s urbanization is unfolding across a wide diversity of cities and towns, from megacities like Mumbai and Kolkata to a massive constellation of smaller cities and towns that are strewn throughout the country.

Reviewed by: Adam Auerbach
Juned Shaikh

For the political elites of the modern nation, new cities like Mumbai and Calcutta were the ‘liberated space’. They were hopeful that with growing industrial capitalist advancement, the erstwhile caste hierarchies and feudal control would be broken and a cosmopolitan secular milieu can emerge. Babasaheb Ambedkar thought that migration to cities would help the Dalits to escape the feudal-Brahmanical servitude whereas the Communists imagined that urbanization would make caste redundant (p. 5) and foster a robust working-class unity to bring revolutionary transformation. Juned Shaikh’s work examines the failure of such modernist hopes in the colonial city of Bombay.

Reviewed by: Harish Wankhede
Robyn Andrews and Anjali Gera Roy

The book Beyond the Metros: Anglo-Indians in India’s Smaller Towns and Cities is a tremendously fascinating analysis and depiction of the Anglo-Indian identity, its representations and nuances. It thereby deconstructs the monolithic image that the term carries. The book’s deliberate focus is upon the non-metropolitan spaces, as it intends to make a clear distinction from the modern, urban spaces of cities. Cities are usually seen as a site of assimilation of different identities that may account for acculturation, often due to modernization and urbanization.

Reviewed by: Jennifer Monteiro
Madhulika Liddle

This historical fiction tells the stories of a ten-year boy, Madhav, and the family of Sridhar Sahu and Ratna. Their stories, spread across two invasions of Delhi—of Muhammed of Ghur in 1192 CE and Taimur in 1398 CE, tells another very important tale—the way the ‘medieval past’ seems to haunt the present. Madhulika Liddle writes in the mode of scholars who focus on Delhi, such as Sunil Kumar (The Present in Delhi’s Pasts), Percival Spear (Delhi, Its Monuments and History), RE Frykenburg (Ed. Delhi through the Ages), Narayani Gupta (Delhi between Two Empires 1803-1931) and Upinder Singh (Ancient Delhi).

Reviewed by: Aratrika Das
Suvobrata Sarkar

The title of Sarkar’s book derived from this legendary quote in text Genesis of the Bible in a way exemplifies Suvobrata Sarkar’s fine work. Sarkar’s work illuminates the complex process of technology adoption and transfer in Bengal and its contentious equation with the rebirth of Bengali entrepreneurship after the setbacks of the 1840s, a trend which was witnessed in its nebulous stage in the closing years of the 19th century and achieved its full bloom during the Swadeshi period.

Reviewed by: Sabyasachi Dasgupta
Kristin Victoria Magistrelli Plys

In the last couple of years, a fairly large number of accounts ranging from popular pieces to research-based scholarship, of the Indian Emergency have appeared in the public domain. The book under review is the latest addition to the fast-expanding repertoire of Emergency writings. The Emergency, which Plys aptly calls the ‘particular totalitarian moment’, reconfigured forever, among others, the postcolonial political (and socio-economic) landscape of India. Imposed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi-led Congress in 1975, the Emergency was effective–thanks to the PM’s lackeys and her wayward, roguish son Sanjay Gandhi–until 1977.

Reviewed by: Nabanipa Bhattacharjee
Nachiket Chanchani

Undoubtedly, the Himalayas are a hostile terrain, especially so for those accustomed to living in the warm and relatively dry plains of India. This mountain chain has also acted as a wall that separates weather regimes and in some cases, been a deterrent to invaders. However, pilgrimage and trade, quite like its perennial river systems, have always entranced people into crossing the snowbound heights of this young yet formidable mountain chain.

Reviewed by: Lokesh Ohri
Swadesh Deepak. Translated from the original Hindi by Jerry Pinto

There are few book reviews that can begin with a ‘must-read’ recommendation and this is one. The book is an intimate capturing of an author’s journey into the dark abyss of mental illness, his inability to comprehend his reality and the world, the journey to come to terms with it—finding his way back to his words—writing this book and some more plays and then getting lost forever. This sense of loss is the kind of foreboding throughout the book—the loss of one’s capacity to write, to express in words their pain, confusion and suffocation—the loss of loved ones to an illness they don’t understand, a loss of control over one’s actions and thought, a loss of respect—loss seems to be a theme entrenched in the narrative.

Reviewed by: Surabhika Maheshwari
Stuart Blackburn

The major difference one draws upon when discussing history and fiction is that while history is based on facts, fiction is based on imagination. Given this context how would one describe a historical novel, which is a blend of history and fiction?  One of the normative responses would be that a historical novel is set in a period of history and conveys the social and cultural oeuvre of that period. This statement has undergone a sea change as the concept of history has altered in contemporary times.

Reviewed by: H Kalpana Rao
Sanjukta Dasgupta Edited and Introduced by Jaydeep Sarangi and Sanghita Sanyal

This volume arrives resolutely on the global platform of major poetic voices. Sanjukta Dasgupta’s digital footprint is strong thanks to panels and seminars, and her popularity as a performative reader of poems is well known at many cosmopolitan locations. The need for a consolidated selection of her best works was felt by many admirers.

Reviewed by: Malashri Lal
Vikram Seth

TS Eliot wrote in his essay The Three Provincialities (1922): ‘True literature has something which can be appreciated by intelligent foreigners who have a reading knowledge of the language, and also something which can only be understood by the particular people living in the same place as the author.’ Eliot goes on to mention how writers should be able to disturb the provincialism of not only a particular time but also a particular place. Vikram Seth’s poetry sets out to follow Eliot somewhat on this path.

Reviewed by: Semeen Ali
Farrukh Dhondy

Farrukh Dhondy has worn several hats as a writer, journalist, activist, screenwriter, broadcaster and is something of a literary celebrity. His is therefore the kind of autobiography one expects to be peppered with fascinating anecdotes and lurid confessions. But, perhaps as the title Fragments Against My Ruin—taken from The Waste Land—suggests, one has to be content with fragments and fleeting glimpses of the world around its author instead of a comprehensive account.

Reviewed by: Shikha Vats
Lopamudra Maitra Bajpai

The Owl Delivered the Good News all Night Long is a mammoth compilation of folk tales from all the States in the Indian Union.  With 108 tales from 57 languages and dialects across India, it is a stupendous effort to keep alive the spirit of these regions through words and stories that emanate from and are deeply inscribed in their lived realities. The book has an interesting organizational structure.

Reviewed by: Vaibhav Iype Parel
Sujatha Vijayaraghavan & Mini Krishnan

The Greatest Tamil Stories Ever Told, an eclectic collection of 30 stories, features eminent writers who are common household names and current favourites, dating from the 1930s to today. The editor Sujatha Vijayaraghavan’s unhurried indulgence in short stories by Thamizh writers and an earlier venture of reading more than 800 stories in three months’ time for her dance project came to fruition in compiling this edition, we infer from the foreword.

Reviewed by: Divya Shankar
Ruskin Bond. Illustrations by Priya Dali

The Tunnel is a short chapter book about a young boy named Ranji who is fascinated by the midday train. He travels on his bicycle from the village to a low hill and patiently waits by the tunnel to catch a glimpse of the engine roaring out of it. After the train passes through the tunnel, the sound of the engine fades and the stillness of jungle returns.

Reviewed by: Aakriti Mahajan
Lesley D. Biswas. Illustrated by Anupama Ajinkye Apte

Duckbill has brought out a series of hOle Books, which invite you to ‘Jump into reading through a Duckbill hOle’ for children 7 and up. I jumped in with two books, and was glad I did.Chumki and the Pangolin is set in Bagmundi village in Purulia, at the edge of the Chhota Nagpur plateau. As the title says, it is about a girl called Chumki who discovers a pangolin and the adventure that then follows (not to worry, no spoiler alert here!). The main story is about the Indian pangolin being endangered, and how poachers are greedily destroying the few animals still left.

Reviewed by: Anju Virmani