Issues of education, community, modernity and Indian women are highly contentious these days, evoking aggressive and often violent passions. Kumar brings ethnographical studies that compel our gaze to be tempered by her readings of history and raises questions on the need to revisit our notions of the nation and most importantly of education. To my mind the most useful dimension of the book is on understanding the child, the target often of much political discourse. While the debate on what history needs to be or should be taught to children has seized the proponents of both the right and the left and brought it into public discourse, what constitutes education has received much less and almost no attention in recent times. Kumar’s essays remind us that there are plural sites of education and construction of modernities and urges the reader to move from uni-dimensional understandings to one that is multilayered, historical and above all recognize the need to read against the grain. The book’s greatest strength is that it has something to offer to students of history, ethnography, gender studies, education and to all those concerned with the child. Written over a period of time, Kumar’s book is a series of essays that are as coherent read seperately or as a whole. The common thread that holds the essays together is the exploration of education, and the juxtaposition of the centre and the periphery, the metropolis and the provincial.
Kumar evocatively draws on the pain of the child located in the provincial towns whose lived experience gets brushed aside as the universalizing norms and patterns of the metropolis juxtaposes itself in terms of space, language, idiom and the very being of the provincial citizen—perceived as a social, economic and political obstacle to rational development and the march ahead of the modern nation.