Reviewing this collection of essays authored by the gifted MSS Pandian who unexpectedly passed away in 2014, has been a discomfiting experience. A book review is expected to engage with the argument offered in the work. The process results in both praise and criticism, sometimes in equal measure, sometimes tilted towards one or the other. Reviews, in effect, initiate a conversation with the author. How does one engage in an exercise of this sort when the author is no longer with us? The editors of the volume can hardly be spoken to. They are not responsible for either the intent of, or the consequences that flow from the argument.
With this caveat let me welcome the initiative of the editors who completed the final stages of a nearly finished manuscript. They maintained the sections into which the essays were divided by Pandian— ‘Identities and Language’, ‘Party Politics, Religion: Enabling and Disabling’, ‘Caste: Then and Now’, ‘Eelam Hope and Despair’, and ‘Other Stories’. In the introduction the editors highlight Pandian’s contributions to the debate on Tamil political and cultural life. The essays are unevenly paced, some of them were short commentaries on particular events, and in others the author had immediately responded to personalities and developments. There are some essays that are historical, reflective and perceptive. I will concentrate on the third category of essays to bring out the underlying theme of the collection.