Poverty and the Quest for Life: Spiritual and Material Striving in Rural India (2015), by Bhrigupati Singh first and foremost bears the proof of a successful ethnography. Besides detailed ethnographic data and archival material, it is his constant reflection on himself and his experiences that I have found as one of the most impressive and interesting aspects of the book. All students of anthropology will agree that a successful ethnography is as much knowing ‘the other’ as it is knowing oneself and one’s location in the same world. Having said that, let me add, the book is not simple story-telling and subjective reflections on the act of telling stories from the field, which unfortunately many ethnographic studies often subsides into. One finds an equally genuine attempt at engaging with a range of concepts and arguments existing in relevant literature, drawn across history, social science and philosophy. In fact as the author at the end of the book clarifies, his method was first to allow impressions to gather during his fieldwork in Shahabad, a subdistrict in Southeastern Rajasthan, home to the Sahariya, a ‘primitive tribe’. It is only then with references to existing arguments and relevant concepts, he ‘thought’ the impressions and turned the impressions into expression.
It is then legitimate and even perhaps the correct way to review the book by elaborating my first impressions while reading. The book is optimistic and boldly romantic. It wants to reaffirm life and in fact seeks to turn it into a legitimate category of anthropological investigation.