Limited Social base of Indian Sociology

In the current issue of the EPW, Surinder S Jodhka has an exhaustive review of the book Anthropology in the East: Founders of Indian Sociology and Anthropology. He critically points out that the social base of the early Indian sociologists was rather limited (made up almost exclusively of Brahmin men) and correlates this with the concerns of Indian sociological studies.

My only (minor) crib with the review and possibly with the book is that there is no mention of Radhakamal Mukherji who pioneered the teaching of sociology in the 1930s at  Lucknow University, though the contributions of his colleague D.P. Mukherji are well recounted.

Incidentally, Surinder,  an old friend and now a prof at JNU, has earlier guest blogged here. Following is an excerpt from the review.

However, these life histories of pioneers also tell us about the larger social contexts in which sociology/social anthropology, and perhaps, other social sciences began to be practised in India during the colonial period, the kind of people who came to occupy positions in the university system and the kind of knowledge they produced about Indian society. With the exception of two “foreigners”, all the Indian scholars were upper caste Hindus. With the exception of one upper caste brahmin woman, they were all men. Continue reading “Limited Social base of Indian Sociology”

One Reader, and so many Countries

At long last, I have been able to migrate the list of the books read over the last 10 years to GoodReads, a very neat site to keep track of one’s reading. Despite its very simple interface, I did like Bibliophil but it is not very intuitive or exciting to use. I also maintained a list on an html page. Except for a few minor glitches the list on goodreads is pretty accurate. I was quite tardy in keeping a record between 1991- 1997 though I do have a record for the four years before ’91 and will add them soon. That will more or less cover the entire history of my life as a reader, and bookshelves, I think Alberto Manguel remarked somewhere, tell the autobiography of their owner. In my case, for whatever its worth.

Over the past few years I have read mainly fiction, and the countries of the authors’  origin is displayed on the map below as well as tagged over at goodreads. I am quite proud of having covered South America  reasonably well (~ 75 or so)- especially countries like Uruguay, Bolivia and Nicaragua. There are quite a lot of writers from Argentina and though the count of books from Chile and Peru is also high, these are limited to single authors- Roberto Bolano and Mario Vargas Llosa respectively. I am still waiting for an English translation of Dona Barbara so Venezuela may remain uncovered till then, and am totally clueless about anything from Paraguay.

Continue reading “One Reader, and so many Countries”

Recovering the Lost Tongue

Recovering the Lost Tongue: The Saga of Environmental Struggles in Central Indiaby Rahul Banerjee has been published by Prachee Publishers and is now available in India. It is priced at Rs. 250/- and can be ordered directly from the publisher:

Prachee Publications
3-3-859/1/A, lane opp. Arya Samaj,
Kachiguda,Hyderabad 500 027
Phone (O) 040-2460 2009 (11:00 a.m.to 5:00 p.m.)
email: joshippc@yahoo.co.in

See related post and a more detailed review of the book. Continue reading “Recovering the Lost Tongue”

Buy this Book!

About Rahul Banerjee, and his just published book Recovering the Lost Tongue:

For Rahul Banerjee, the road from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur led straight into the land of the Bhils, the indigenous people in Central India. Over the last quarter of a century, Rahul has worked among some of the poorest of the poor in the country. This book recounts not only his life among the Bhils, but also his own transformation into an apostate from modernity. The book is the product of an active and restless mind presenting a delightful account of activist and Bhil life in India “from below” while engaging with the broader ideas that are shaping contemporary India.

Recovering the Last Tongue has now been published in the US and is available at amazon. Click on either image to go to the amazon.com site and do purchase the book. It ships free if the total value of the purchase is over $25. Buy two, and gift one to a friend!

The Indian edition of the book is in progress and will soon be available.

Continue reading “Buy this Book!”

Rajan Iqbal

Somewhere between Chandamama and Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, I remember reading a few novels in a series about a homegrown, desi investigator duo called Rajan Iqbal.

A google search revealed that at least one of the versions (Rajan Iqbal aur Preton ka Aatank– “Rajan Iqbal and the Terror of the Spirits“) in its comic book format is available online. Also, I came to know, after all these years, the name of the author- SC Bedi- I am quite intrigued by it and wonder if it is, like the name of the heroes in the novels, fictional too.

I think the novels were published by Diamond Pocket Books or Hind Pocket Books, and those days could be found in any bookshop or newspaper kiosk in small towns in Northern India. I wonder if those are still around or they have given away to Harry Potters mutated into Hari Puttars. It is also striking that the duo has a Hindu and a Muslim name conjoined into one, much like Aligarh and so many other names in the sub- continent- that combine an Arabic and a Sanskrit word forming a new one altogether.

Nowadays, perhaps, the name of “Rajan Iqbal” would rather conjure up the image of a gangster duo. When I was a child, they were detectives out to help the world get rid of evil doers.

Between when I was a child and now, the world has turned upside down.

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Chingiz Aitmatov- RIP

Sometimes death serves as the reminder of a book unread. Chingez Aitmatov’s death yesterday in Germany just reminded me of a book that has been on my reading list for longer than any other one that I can remember- Jamila.

Jamilia’s husband is off fighting at the front. She spends her days hauling sacks of grain from the threshing floor to the train station in their small village in the Caucasus. She is accompanied by Seit, her young brother-in-law, and Daniyar, a sullen newcomer to the village who has been wounded on the battlefield.

Seit observes the beautiful, spirited Jamilia spurn men’s advances, and wince at the dispassionate letters she receives from her husband. Meanwhile, undeterred by Jamilia’s teasing, Daniyar sings as they return each evening from the fields. Soon Jamilia is in love, and she and Daniyar elope just as her husband returns.

A love story that ranks alongside Turgenev’s First Love.

A news report about his death at IHT:Kyrgyz author and statesman Chingiz Aitmatov dies at 79

Aitmatov first found fame with his 1958 novel “Jamilya.” Set during World War II, it tells the story of a young Kyrgyz woman who leaves her husband and runs away with a crippled war veteran. The novel sparked heated discussions in the majority Muslim and male-dominated society about whether a woman could leave her husband for another man.

French poet Louis Aragon praised “Jamilya” as “the best novel about love.”

More on Aitmatov’s works.

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The Common Reader: a Quote

There is a sentence in Dr. Johnson’s Life of Gray which might well be written up in all those rooms, too humble to be called libraries, yet full of books, where the pursuit of reading is carried on by private people. “. . . I rejoice to concur with the common reader; for by the common sense of readers, uncorrupted by literary prejudices, after all the refinements of subtilty and the dogmatism of learning,must be finally decided all claim to poetical honours.” It defines their qualities; it dignifies their aims; it bestows upon a pursuit which devours a great deal of time, and is yet apt to leave behind it nothing very substantial, the sanction of the great man’s approval.

The common reader, as Dr. Johnson implies, differs from the critic and the scholar. He is worse educated, and nature has not gifted him so generously. He reads for his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinions of others. Above all, he is guided by an instinct to create for himself, out of whatever odds and ends he can come by, some kind of whole—a portrait of a man, a sketch of an age, a theory of the art of writing. He never ceases, as he reads, to run up some rickety and ramshackle fabric which shall give him the temporary satisfaction of looking sufficiently like the real object to allow of affection, laughter, and argument. Hasty, inaccurate, and superficial, snatching now this poem, now that scrap of old furniture, without caring where he finds it or of what nature it may be so long as it serves his purpose and rounds his structure, his deficiencies as a critic are too obvious to be pointed out; but if he has, as Dr. Johnson maintained, some say in the final distribution of poetical honours, then, perhaps, it may be worth while to write down a few of the ideas and opinions which, insignificant in themselves, yet contribute to so mighty a result.

from The Common Reader: a short essay by Virginia Woolf (source)

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TOT

I had not heard about TOT, till I chanced upon it while reading up on “Freudian slip.” There is even a story by Anton Chekov on TOT.

“What is TOT?,” you ask….hmm… let me remember… something to do with a Hotentot, or was it something to do with a tiny tot, or perhaps … give me a minute to recollect… something like… why do I always have that temporary amnesia at the exact moment I need the word or its explanation and I know that I know it?

Ah well ! That’s what it is.

The Great Reader

“I wouldn’t define myself as a writer. I would define myself as a reader.”

I like this statement because it states so much about myself. The statement comes from an interview with Alberto Manguel, who once read to the great Borges and is the author of many books on reading, including the History of Reading and With Borges.

Brian Sholis has an excellent review of his book published last week The Library at Night.

“Outside theology and fantastic literature, few can doubt that the main features of our universe are its dearth of meaning and lack of discernible purpose,” he writes at the outset. And yet humankind continues to hoard what knowledge it can in an attempt to order that universe.

“Books come together because of the whims of a collector, the avatars of a community, the passing of war and time, because of neglect, care, the imponderability of survival . . . and it may take centuries before their congregation acquires the identifiable shape of a library.” In the year 336, a monk had a vision of his Lord and painted scenes from the life of Buddha on the walls of a cave. Over the course of a millennium, chance turned this cave and others nearby into repositories of religious manuscripts and paraphernalia; nearly a millennium after that, chance led to the rediscovery of the site, now known as the Mogao Caves. What do such storehouses of memory grant us? Both The City of Words and The Library at Night come to the same conclusion: “consolation for suffering and words to name our experience.”

A podcast of Albert Manguel’s CBC Massey Lecture 2007 (need to register)

“For Vincent Van Gogh”: a poem by Namdeo Dhasal

For Vincent Van Gogh

Sunflowers truly are
The self- expression of your
Experience
But, brother
You’ve forgotten to paint
One of the colours of the sun!

– Namdeo Dhasal from The Soul Doesn’t Find Peace in This Regime (1995)

Translated by Dilip Chitre in Namdeo Dhasal: Poet of the Underworld published last year. A great book with some fine translations and an introduction to Dhasal and his works. The stunning pictures by Henning Stegmuller provide a visual introduction to Dhasal’s world. My only disconcert with the book is that Chitre entirely washes out Dhasal’s later shift to Hindutva politics. This poem can also be read as an expression of that disconcert.

Related Post: Namdeo Dhasal and the Fall of the Dalit Panther Movement

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Dr. Ambedkar: “Our very own Buddha”

Janhavi Acharekar reviews the autobiography by Dalit writer, Baby Kamble, The Prisons We Broke: The Autobiography of a Community, “a feminist critique … and sordid memoir of a cursed community.” The book was first published in Marathi in 1986 and is recently translated into English.

The Prisons We Broke is a graphic revelation of the inner world of the Mahar community in Maharashtra. “We were just like animals, but without tails,” she says, describing in lurid detail a world of lice-infested rags for saris, feasts comprising maggot-ridden innards of diseased carcasses, the tearing hunger of starving new mothers, babies cleaned with saliva instead of soap, and intestine-damaging cactus pods consumed to quell hunger.

Born to an entrepreneurial father, the author’s “privileged background” barely keeps her above the abject poverty suffered by her people. Her English-speaking aajas or grandfathers were butlers to European sahibs, far removed from their poverty-stricken and superstition-ridden Maharwada that lay on the fringes of society. However, for the author, it is a world of buffalo fairs and sacrifice, of people possessed by spirits and boys offered to the mother goddess as potrajas. She recounts vividly the people of Maharwada, their houses and customs, their joys and sorrows. Women, especially, occupy pride of place in the narrative.

Baby Kamble’s autobiography is unique because in critiquing Brahminical domination, it also speaks out for the women of her community, presenting an unflinching portrait of its women, subjugated by both caste and patriarchy (later, the same women become the driving force towards education). The younger women suffer the worst fate. Usually married off at the age of eight or nine, they are often physically chained or have their noses chopped off for incurring the displeasure of their husbands or in-laws. And it is in these circumstances that she embraces the teachings of Dr. Ambedkar, their saviour and messiah, their “very own Buddha”.

The Prisons We Broke is significant because it traces the evolution of the Mahar community from pre-Ambedkar days to its rapid transformation through education and mass conversion. It presents the seeds of a revolution through images of impromptu speeches and bold entries into temples, of poems in praise of the man who rescued them from the mire of Hinduism, their “Baliraja, Ravan, Buddha and Bhim”. However, she also contributes to the deification of Ambedkar (“…he is our God. Nay, he is even better; he is the god of gods…He is certainly superior to God.”) and is sharply critical of the current generation of educated Dalits that rejects its roots and drives Babasaheb out of its life.

Related Post: Namdeo Dhasal and the Fall of the Dalit Panthers

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Nazi Literature in South America and India

Roberto Bolano in his recently translated novel Nazi Literature in the Americas weaves an entire literary universe filled with imaginary writers and their writings.Not all writers were,however, fans of Hitler or other Nazi leaders or even their ideology. Bolano’s biographies of these imaginary writers, inspired in a way by Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings, are short- the longest runs into a few pages, the shortest about a page in length. Marked by sharply etched portraits of the writers and of their equally imaginary writings, the novel reads like a racy potboiler, except that there is no evident plot in the novel. Only the last story (which readers of Bolano’s novel Distant Star will be familiar with because it is a summary of the same novel) is somewhat longer and has Bolano himself speaking in the first person and somewhat gives the clues to the underlying impulses behind the novel.

In this he recounts the story of Ramirez Hoffman, a Chilean air plane pilot who seemingly heralded a ‘new era’ in Chilean arts after the coup against Salvador Allende’s socialist government and the establishment of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship. Hoffman’s poetry is written in the sky using smokes from his air plane thus announcing the new blend of technology and arts as Chile was ‘recovering its manhood’ under a military dispensation.Some of Hoffman’s poems, all one liners written on the skies, read as follows:

“YOUTH…YOUTH”
“GOOD LUCK TO EVERYONE IN DEATH”
“LEARN FROM FIRE”
“Death is friendship”
“Death is Chile”
“Death is responsibility”
“Death is growth”
“Death is communion”
“Death is cleansing” and so on till “Death is resurrection” and the generals themselves realize that something is amiss. It is, however, something far more macabre that leads to his downfall.

Bolano’s prose is marked by the alacrity of flash fiction (which to me is one of the most important developments in literature in the internet age), but nevertheless carries forward the tradition of the serious novel. The absence of an explicit plot in the story does not mean that there is no plot- as a post- modern reading would suggest. Instead, the plot is hidden below the surface, like an underground river.

The point that he makes is that Nazi- like brutality has a long lineage, and it resides perceptibly and imperceptibly in literature as well. Literature is, therefore, a battlefield in the recovery of humanity and is not outside the realm of politics, and neither is politics outside the realm of poetry and literature.

Reading the novel, I could not but relate very much to India where, interestingly, it is rather normal to have politicians, in the tradition of rulers of the past like Bahadur Shah Zafar and Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, to double up as poets and writers. It is therefore not unusual that two major contemporary politicians- Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi, former Prime Minister and a present Chief Minister of Gujarat respectively, belonging to what is easily the closest we have to a fascist political movement, the Bharatiya Janata Party, have some claim to being poets.

To look for Nazi literature in India, one does not need biographies of imaginary writers. In India, they live among us, in our times. The question of literature and politics being separate also does not arise. They are so intricately tied up that both are the same. The nightmare and the muse.

Related Posts on Roberto Bolano

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Albert Camus

This BBC talk on Albert Camus reminded me of my own enriching encounters with the writings of the Algerian born French existentialist many years ago.

Existentialism did not appeal to my primarily Marxist leanings, not even Sartre’s philosophical works and his attempts at synthesis of Marxism and existentialism had any long lasting impact, though the writings of Sartre, Beauvoir and Albert Camus instigated one to think critically. Even then, it was their literary works that held greater appeal. Some of the most influential works I was introduced to after having read the English and Russian classics, were those by these three writers. Camus, especially his novels The Outsider, The Fall and The Plague opened up a new landscape for me. In case of Sartre, I found his literary works like Nausea, very difficult to read. Funnily, his philosophical writings (like the supremely unreadable A Critique of Dialectical Reason) appealed more, despite their languid dreariness.

Sartre was a hero for us, mainly for his political stands and the fact that he continued to be a Marxist of sorts. Camus, on the other hand, despite his one time membership of the Communist Party (or perhaps because of it, some would aver) disowned Marxism, and was hence pretty much dismissed as a renegade. The only major philosophical work that I remember reading, with some trepidation, is The Myth of Sisyphus (of which my friend Rahul Banerjee is very fond of, incidentally.) The absurdity that the French existentialists spoke of did not strike a chord even then.

However, lately I found reading some of Camus’s philosophical works like The Rebel, Resistance, Rebellion and Death to be rather pleasant, which is perhaps a reflection both of the distance I have traveled since, and also the relative obscuring of ideological debates and dilemmas since Camus’s times.

It is still difficult to accept the ideological and philosophical positions of Camus, and as the talk on BBC radio indicates, Camus’ literary writings will rightfully outlive his philosophical works.

(Link to the BBC Talk via the excellent blog Ready Steady Book blog that I discovered today).

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“A mud hut, but full of books”- Doris Lessing’s Nobel Speech

Doris Lessing’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech titled ‘A Hunger for Books’ is devastating to say the very least.

Read the full text here, or see the video of the speech delivered on her behalf (she could not attend the ceremony in Sweden). Windows Media Player required to see the video.

I reproduce the second part of the lecture where she makes her point with a beautiful, touching story. If you are in a hurry, at least read the last line, and come back later to read the entire speech.

I would like you to imagine yourselves somewhere in Southern Africa, standing in an Indian store, in a poor area, in a time of bad drought. There is a line of people, mostly women, with every kind of container for water. This store gets a bowser of precious water every afternoon from the town, and here the people wait.

Continue reading ““A mud hut, but full of books”- Doris Lessing’s Nobel Speech”

How I Became a Nun by Cesar Aira

First published in Spanish in 1998, Cesar Aira’s How I Became a Nun was received with critical acclaim. It’s English translation became available last year.

The novel is about the story of a six year old girl caught in the body of a boy, who tastes strawberry ice cream only to fall into a state of mental delirium emerging from it at the end by having to taste the same ice cream again, this time culminating in a macabre end.

Like Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Bad Girlpublished earlier this year in its English translation, that too has got impressive reviews, I feel disappointed by Nun after having been bedazzled by Aira’s two previous works translated into English till now- An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter and The Hare.

The only passage that I found noteworthy, however does not appear in any of the online reviews, that is where Cesar Aira (the six year old girl/ boy protagonist) listens to the radio broadcasts about the astrological predictions of the day.

If the short novella was intended to, as other reviewers have noted, explore the inner workings of the mind of an artist or a writer and their capacity to imagine, the novella is not convincing, even distracing at places.

Other
reviews. The one that I agree with is the one at NYT.

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A Novelist of Early Globalization

(On the 150th birth anniversary of Joseph Conrad that seems to have gone largely unnoticed today)

Joseph Conrad’s works written in the early part of the 20th century were unbelievably perceptive of his times and deeply insightful into the 19th century globalisation phase in world history that came to an end with the Great War.

Early twentieth century had seen an upsurge in the East West encounter in literature. This was caused primarily by the colonial expansion of the Western world over the East. Joseph Conrad was an outstanding author who wrote much on this from first hand experience.

Born in the Russian part of Poland, Conrad spent twenty years on sea before settling down in England. From the age of thirty eight, he wrote a number of novels that established him as a novelist of import in English and in which he wrote about the East- including the psychologically penetrating and prophetic Under Western Eyes about the Russian revolutionaries of the time.

He also wrote about Africa, the Far East and Latin America (in The Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim and Nostromo respectively) in which he painted a rather dreary picture of the East. With the benefit of hindsight one can say that Conrad’s perceptive insights into the limits and ability of Western ideas to break down the physical as well as mental structures in the East sound quite true. During those times, however, this truth was less visible, even as critical a thinker as Marx had expressed the hope in his famous phrase about British colonialism in India creating the world in its own image.

As we are drawn by the wave of renewed imperial expansionism under globalization, Conrad’s works help us to reflect again on the East- West encounter.

Conrad remained, with the influence of his father’s revolutionary ideals, a sympathetic liberal, though his works on Africa have been criticized by no less than the great African writer Chinua Achebe.

Heart of Darkness projects the image of Africa as “the other world,” the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization, a place where man’s vaunted intelligence and refinement are finally mocked by triumphant beastiality. The book opens on the River Thames, tranquil, resting, peacefully “at the decline of day after ages of good service done to the race that peopled its banks.” But the actual story will take place on the River Congo, the very antithesis of the Thames. The River Congo is quite decidedly not a River Emeritus. It has rendered no service and enjoys no old-age pension. We are told that “Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world.”

His novel, The Secret Agent that celebrates its 100th anniversary this year was a study of anarchism and the psychology of its adherents. Conrad’s prognosis of his times was rather dark.

One of his finest works is Under Western Eyes, a prophetic successor to Dostoevsky’s The Devils that pre- empted the developments of the Russian Revolution by a couple of years (I think it was published in 1914, three years before the Russian Revolution.)

A large number of Conrad’s works, including the complete texts of The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes are available here.

An appraisal of the writer in The Guardian and The Independent.

Update: A defence of Conrad’s allegedly ‘racist’ viewpoints by Jonathan Jones at the Guardian’s arts blog (and a very good discussion in the comments section).

Also check out ‘Conrad through the movies’ by James Hynes (link via Maud Newton)

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Significance of the First Sentence

Thomas C. Foster at Harper Academic has a podcast on the significance of the first sentence of a novel. He illustrates with the first sentence of the Garcia Marquez masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, as also William Faulker’s novels. It is brief (probably less than 5 minutes) and well worth your time.

Listen to the mp3 audio here.

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Don Quixote for the 21st Century

Don Quixote for the 21st Century is incarnated as Donkey Xote in this animation movie to be released next week in Spain. Do all great literary characters, like all great historical events, have to end the first time in a tragedy, and the second time in a farce? One will have to wait to see the movie but the trailer seems to indicate that this is indeed so.

Donkey Xote features stars of film, TV and radio as the voices of the eponymous hero, his faithful sidekick, Sancho Panza, and assorted animal companions as they set off to fight a duel in Barcelona over Don Quixote’s beloved Dulcinea del Toboso.

The adventures of Don Quixote may take up hundreds of pages in Cervantes’ classic, but the film’s producers have by necessity played fast and loose with the story in their adaptation. Squeezing the novel into 80 minutes, it gives starring roles to Don Quixote’s trusty steed, Rocinante, and Sancho Panza’s donkey, Rucio – who bears a striking resemblance to the donkey from the successful Shrek series, voiced by Eddie Murphy. (Guardian report)

Youtube link

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No Books These

The trouble with things like the Sony Reader and the Amazon’s just released Kindle is not that these are expensive gadgets and have limited content, but that e- book readers have no way a reader can mark, underline, annotate or deface the book in any manner.

Nor would these carry hidden between the pages that fleeting thought on an odd piece of paper or the smudge of a spilled drink.

E- books ain’t no books.

(Image Source)
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