Tanmoy Sharma on Sanjib Baruah’s new book In the Name of the Nation: India and Its Northeast; Stanford University Press, 2020
Tag: Book Review
What does it take to build a nation? Hiren Gohain and Sanjib Baruah once had a prolonged debate on the stakes of nationalism during the Assam Movement in the 1980s. Professor Gohain, broadly skeptical of the Assam Movement, argued that it was a bourgeois reaction to the consolidation of communist organizing in the region. Professor Baruah, more sympathetic, suggested that it was a strategic mobilization responding to India’s continued treatment of Assam as a colony. Revisiting that debate, one is struck less by their disagreements— which were many and profound—but by the impossibility of that argument today. This is partly because of the intervening forty years, of course, especially the collapse of the organized Left, the rise (and betrayal) of ULFA, and the saffronization of nationalism, such that even imagining it could be an emancipatory vision seems ludicrous these days. It is also because, as both Professors Gohain and Baruah emphasize in their recent books, the rest of the country never grasped the sheer novelty of the Assam Movement. Most of us today remember the Assam Movement only insofar as it led to the Assam Accord, which we in turn blame for the NRC and the CAA. Read together, Professors Gohain and Baruah offer us an important corrective to that narrow and self-serving narrative, even as they highlight different aspects of the complex history and consequences of that moment in Indian history.
But is that really so? Is Bhagat Singh like Gandhi? Are the rituals that are conducted every year mere lip-service or do they mean something else? Not really is the argument of Chris Moffat’s new book India’s Revolutionary Inheritance: Politics and the Promise of Bhagat Singh. How is Bhagat Singh different and what prompts people to treat him differently from the others who were active in the anti-colonial movement like Nehru, Gandhi and Bose or those who were pre-eminent in interrogating the social order and demanding a new one in addition to independence like Ambedkar?
Fear of Lions sets the bar for South Asian historical fiction. Aurangazeb is neither vilified nor celebrated, he and his reign are showcased with all its problematic and a rare honesty. The book sets up describing every aspect of socio political life during this period – caste, bureaucracy, political intrigues, army, revenue system, administration, aristocracy, commerce, migration, mobility etc. through an intertwined fictionalized narratives about individuals. If I were teaching a course on this period of history, I would prescribe this as an essential reading.
The final list of NRC published on 31st August, 2019 is a culmination of a long drawn process that can be traced back to the state politics of Assam in the pre independence period. The state’s history is marked by incidents which continue to shape the politics of the state. Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty’s book Assam: The Accord, the Discord tries to do exactly this – revisit the roots of the problems and understand when the seeds of discord were sown.
Hartman de Souza on memoirs of an old time Naxal
Much before the world caught up with V S Naipaul’s Brahmanical rants wrapped in exquisite prose, Nissim Eziekiel, Indian Jewish poet and essayist of Bombay, had figured out Mr. Naipaul. This classic review of An Area of Darkness, Naipaul’s ode to defecation, which appeared in Imprint, has to be the pirated RAIOT obituary for Sir Vidia.
Most books in English on the subject matter are about Muslims and address non-Muslim readers—painstakingly defending or decrying Islam. Till Talaq Do Us Part by Zia Us Salam is refreshing in also addressing Muslim readers. It is positioned as a primer on the issue of Talaq busting myths of all kinds and making a strong case for potential for gender justice from within Islam.
Documentary film has had a long and interesting career in India. It was mobilised, until Independence, as a vehicle for Imperial propaganda, and put in the service of the nation-building project in free India. To be sure, much of Films Division (FD) sponsored documentary work also did not rise much above the status of propaganda, but its ideals were self-avowedly loftier – to educate the ‘masses’ beholden to tradition, to create modern and scientific-minded citizens, national integration, etc. Work of several filmmakers, like S. Sukhdev and SNS Sastry, supported by FD in the 60s and 70s did betray an independent streak, evidenced by their efforts to tackle difficult subjects coupled with bold formal experiments, but their critical perspective seems to have dissipated by the time of the Emergency.
Ramachandra Guha is among Indias’ most visible intellectuals, and his newspaper columns and television appearances mark him off from the more reticent world of academic historians. At 900 pages his new book India after Gandhi is not shy of claiming its own space on the bookshelf: from it’s title page, where it announces itself as “The History of the World’s Largest Democracy” (not A History, mind you, but The History); to it’s end papers, which tells us that the author’s entire career seems in retrospect to have been preparation for the writing of this book.
One needs to constantly remind oneself of the impossibility of extrapolation especially when using few stories to stand in for the whole. For example, the reading of ‘Meitei women’ as ‘unique as they are deeply concerned about the society they live in and are involved in various social organizations,’ or ‘This little girl grew up, got married and like most Meitei women, got actively involved in social work.’ is remarkable in its lack of nuance and (mis) reading the parts for the whole.
Many moons ago, as a 12 yr. old bookworm, I was allowed access to a cupboard full of books in my school. My father was posted in Jowai, a little town in Meghalaya where the marketplace, school, movie hall and police station were at walking distance from each other. With the nearest bookstore some more than 60 kilometers away in Shillong, that joy came occasionally. So when Sister Rose allowed me access to that cupboard, my joy knew no bounds! Her kind soul must have noticed my hunger for the written word and she decided to go out of her way and allow me this luxury. Among the old books, mostly donated from schools in the US and UK, I found a copy of The Room on the Roof. Thus began my tryst with Ruskin Bond.
Witness / Kashmir 1986-2016 / 9 photographers – can never be confused with the old ‘touristy’ coffee table relics of photography I remember, not even by accident.
Review of Man Tiger – a supernatural tale of murder and desire by the rising star of Indonesian fiction
For long, Kashmiris have been captivated by the power of photography. But why? Why have so many of the world’s greatest geniuses with the camera produced some of their best work in Kashmir? Is it the unique tragicomedy of spectacular natural beauty and a gruesome conflict that has consumed generations? Why are there so many good photojournalists and photographers in Kashmir and why is their number on the rise?
It’s a slim book with big fonts.
And you will be done reading it from cover to cover in less than two hours.
Eat Dust is no work of fiction, although one is left wondering at the bizarreness of the truth behind the loot. It is a book however that passes on timeless lore, like the story of Paikdev’s spring. As Hartman takes us over hills that once stood in Goa, to the court room, and river side, and traces his own story from Kenya to Goa, one gets a rich context for what is actually, and incredibly, unraveling in Goa.
Faiz Ullah reviews Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India by Akshaya Mukul
Nabina Das reviews the loves and desires of Hoshang Merchant’s latest collection
River of flesh and other stories: the Prostituted Woman in Indian Short Fiction is a book that begins with an aim of prescribing an Indian prostitute’s problems through pity. The choice of the title, which is a title of one of the stories in the book, as a representation of the collection of stories, relegates the whole collection to a simplified, moralistic view. It is telling of the editor’s and publisher’s condescending attitude towards prostitutes. By appealing to pity and sensationalization, it reveals the patronising disregard they have towards the complex varieties of voices from prostitutes.
And yet the stories on the other hand portray the complexities of a prostitute’s life and experiences very effectively…
Rochelle Pinto reviews Filipa Lowndes Vicente’s ‘Other Orientalisms – India between Florence and Bombay 1860-1900’, a book tracing the interaction between Florence and Bombay