Reading, of late

Of late, I have been reading the way I like to-  a handful of books at the same time. Some of these are:

The Essential Writings of BR Ambedkar Edited by Valerian Rodrigues (OUP)
Behenji by Ajoy Bose (Penguin)
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by Karl Marx (one of my old favourite works)

I was also lucky to meet an old comrade, Dr Harjinder Singh Laltu few weeks back, and read his delightful collection of Hindi short stories, Ghugni

A few selected articles from online reading:
Why many Ambedkar statues in India?
Chavez’s gift to Obama: seems Chavez gifted him Lenin’s What is to be done?
How Chavez snubbed Mario Vargas llosa
Aren’t OBC women also women? at Kafila

Finally, if you not following that excellent blog India Chronicles, you are missing something !

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Dalits in Punjab: Silent no more

Little over a year ago, this blog had posed the question:

There is a deafening silence on part of dalits in Punjab. One wonders why, and for how long.

To which a naive comment from a reader was:

Presumably if Dalit oppression was blunted by Sikh philosophy, if not absolutely at least comparatively, Dalits might not have felt need for a movement.

Over the last two days, my question as well as the comment to the post have been answered loud and clear.

Dalit Assertion- Not always for the better

Caste studies have gained a lot of academic respectability over the last two decades. It is very rare to find, on the other hand, studies around class. This is quite a dramatic shift since the 1970s- 80s. I think it is not a particularly good omen if studies based on political economy and class are ignored. However, the thrust towards caste studies is definitely welcome.

In a fascinating paper on the change in the condition of Dalits in the Punjab (1947- 2008), Dr Harish Puri touches on a number of points .

Continue reading “Dalit Assertion- Not always for the better”

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!”

1857- A Dalit Narrative

Hindi writer Badri Narayan puts together a riveting narrative of the role of dalits during the 1857 revolt. As with any historical narrative, it is as much an attempt to re- write the past as it is to bring a historical perspective to contemporary struggles and claims to the nation.

Although we know that the colonial archive has been created guided by the needs of the colonizers, yet these narratives function as rays of light in the search for the role of dalits in the 1857 revolt. The narratives around dalit identity which the dalits are using to prove their role in the 1857 revolt are also based on the colonial archives that enlist the names of the people who were hanged for their role in the revolt, since the mainstream nationalist Indian history completely ignores the contribution of dalits in the revolt. For example Matadin Bhangi, a sweeper in the British army at Barrackpore, who is claimed by the dalits to have spearheaded the 1857 revolt since he was the first to make Mangal Pandey, the mainstream nationalist originator of the revolt, aware of the fact that the cartridges were greased with cow fat, has been overlooked by the official record of the revolt. However that he was not a figment of the imagination of the dalits can be proved by the colonial archives that show that he was hanged to death for participating in the revolt. In the same vein there is another myth about a dalit hero of the 1857 revolt which is popular in the oral memories of the region adjoining Kanpur and Bithoor. This is the myth of Gangu Mehtar who is also known as Gangu Baba. The people of that region say that Gangu Baba was a Bhangi who worked as a drum beater (nagarchi) in the army of Nana Saheb. He was built extremely powerfully and was also a wrestler. He himself owned a wrestling ring where many youths practiced wrestling under his tutelage. During the 1857 revolt Gangu Baba fought against the British along with his students at a place near Satichaura and killed many of them. After the revolt was quelled he was arrested by the British and hanged to death. The story of Gangu baba has transcended from the real world into the ethereal world and there is a popular story about him that is still circulated among the people in the region where he died which establish his supernatural qualities.

Link to Pratilipi via Publisher’s Post.

Caste, Class and Anti- Imperialism

Joseph D’souza reviews Anti- imperialism and Annihilation of Caste by Anand Telumbde.

Teltumbde is most provocative when he argues that the primary caste contradiction is between Dalits and all non-Dalits or savarnas and not between dwija and not-dwija. He also shows how one can and needs to perform a class analysis to show contradictions between castes. For example he boldly highlights Dalit and OBC class contradictions by showing how the dwija vs. non-dwija categories which place the large population of OBCs as allies of all Dalits, hide the real class contradictions between them. Thus, Teltumbde is not satisfied with opportunistic attempts to put together electoral formations of “bahujan” since these do not represent the “ground reality” of Dalits (218). Nonetheless, he is also careful to argue that each of these legalistic caste categories itself contains a heterogeneous class population.

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European Left, Blogging Soviet life, Borges, Savi Savarkar, Discount Books

Former left wing dissident, Boris Kagarlitsky, assesses the changes in the European Left over the last two decades.

A decade ago, the triumph of liberalism in Europe was so overwhelming that even parties that traced their political lineage to the early 20th-century revolutionary working class movement did not to speak openly about the radical transformation of society. Communist parties closed down or hastily reinvented themselves as Social Democrats, while Social Democratic parties became liberal parties.

In the same newspaper, Victor Sonkin, writes on the nostalgic blogging of the Soviet years.

The sub genre of literature blogs seem especially interesting. One blog consists of short memoirs of not very distant times, which are now becoming increasingly “retro.” Before reading the website I thought that most mundane details of everyday life escaped attention, were forgotten and eventually lost. How, for example, did one pay the fare for a Moscow streetcar in 1979?

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A biographical sketch of Luis Jorge Borges at The Garden of Forking Paths.

“Through the years, a man peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, tools, stars, horses, and people. Shortly before his death, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the image of his own face.”

As a bonus, the article also gives the correct pronunciation of Borges’ name!

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On a dark winter night, as mists slowly swirled around us, a bearded man and I got talking in the dhaba where we were having a late night dinner. The man turned out to be a painter and took me to see his paintings in his studio in the nearby Sukhrali village, now engulfed within Gurgaon. His paintings were full of angst and we had a long discussion on Hinduism, Dalits, Ambedkar and Marxism. Over a decade after that it makes me very happy to see that Savi Savarkar is getting his due as the most eminent Dalit artist of our age. His paintings were exhibited last week at Ravindra Bhavan, Lalit Kala Academy in New Delhi.

A repeated use of red, blue, yellow and black is a striking feature of Sawarkar’s work. Colour activates the surface of the piece, as if there was a fierce struggle between the figure and the surface grounding it. To borrow a phrase from Mikhail Bakhtin, you might even call Sawarkar’s art a “carnival of the grotesque”. He keeps returning to the fact that what we often recognise as normal — whether it is the human body or human ways of thinking — must take into account the grotesquerie that is an everyday experience for many people.(link)

Check out the gallery at his site. The paintings that I saw in his studio were very scathing, the ones at his site look relatively more tempered. One that is etched in my mind specifically is where a dalit man is carrying the village waste (night soil) on two pots hanging at the two ends of a stick, and is spitting into one of them.

The pot that he is spitting into is marked with the swastika and below it reads the word: “Om”.

Link via Subaltern Studies

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A lot of books at a discount sale from Columbia University Press. Most books are at 50% discount, some at even 80%. Quite a few books on Asian (mainly Chinese and Indian) history and literature. Nothing, alas, on Latin American literature, though.
(via email from Philip Leventhal of the Columbia University Press)