03 July 2014

UDAY SINGH MEHTA IN CONVERSATION WITH AKEEL BILGRAMI ...


To mark the publication of Akeel Bilgrami’s major recent book, Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment (Permanent Black, 2014, details below), we requested the political theorist, Uday Singh Mehta,
UDAY MEHTA
 
to converse with Akeel Bilgrami on issues raised by his book and related matters. Uday Singh Mehta is the author of the pathbreaking Liberalism and Empire: Nineteenth Century British Liberal Thought (1999), which won the J. David Greenstone Book Award 2001 for the best book in history and theory. 

It turned out to be a scintillating, deeply thoughtful discussion.
AKEEL BILGRAMI


Q1
I think of you, especially in the essays that constitute this book, as doing a rather particular kind of philosophy. It is a very distinguished tradition of practitioners, including the late Richard Rorty, Bernard Williams, and Alasdair MacIntyre in the Anglo-American tradition; Michel Foucault, in the French tradition, Adorno and Walter Benjamin in the German tradition, and of course several others. One of the things that marks this way of doing philosophy (if that is the term we should use) is that the familiar, and typically sharp lines, that separate philosophy from the humanities and the social sciences are willfully and self-consciously breached. I don’t mean that they are breached just for heck of it, but that questions are posed in such a way that makes answering them reliant on such a breach. Bernard Williams, as you know, proudly affirmed philosophy as a humanistic discipline. Your own work is heavily informed by the Dissenting tradition of 17th century thought and by contemporary history and social science. And, yet, in many ways this way of doing philosophy is the minor key of contemporary Anglo-American, and increasingly, even Continental philosophy. How would you describe what you do? Does it matter to you if it is thought of as “doing philosophy,” or does that description seem arcane to you, as it did for Richard Rorty?

A1
I must confess that my work has not been motivated by any self-conscious effort towards trying to reorient the discipline of philosophy nor even to follow a tradition set by the philosophers you mention, much as I admire them all.  Rather, it’s just that certain issues grabbed my interest and I followed what I thought was most important and urgent in them and when that led to having to read history and intellectual history, and to study some political economy and politics and a variety of cultural phenomena, I just followed that lead as best I could—mostly for the sake of coming to some fundamental understanding of the issues.  You are certainly right that most philosophers do not have a capacious understanding of their subject and many might even view this sort of outreach as contaminating their discipline.  However, looking at things from the other side, we mustn’t forget that the social sciences themselves, particularly Economics, have manifestly abandoned the historical, the broadly conceptual, and, above all, the value-oriented aspects of their pursuits.  So it is possible that we are now at a disciplinary moment when philosophy is poised to pick up that slack and pay close attention to the very things that the social sciences have abdicated.  This would, then, be an exciting time to be doing philosophy. 



Q2
One of the very striking claims you have been making for several years, and which you make in these essays (and which has had a huge influence on me), is that for a figure like Gandhi, politics in its many forms, including in our agency as citizens, just was not the terms through which he thought of bettering the world. This is a remarkable claim, especially since we so often think of Gandhi as having inaugurated mass politics in India. Encouraging a certain type of mass public action is one of his most enduring influences all over the world. The idea that there could be something profoundly wrong with the world; and that nevertheless, the redress to that condition was not to be secured through political means, goes against the dominant grain of modern thinking. Could you say more about this? Is this a way of animating the category of ethics as something sharply distinct from politics, rather than the way it is typically thought of as something tied to politics?

A2
When I made the claim you cite, I was trying to understand what I described as a “studied indifference” in much of Gandhi’s theoretical writing (of course, we must not understand the  term “theoretical” here in any academic sense) to the kind of liberal, constitutional, framework within which the very idea of politics was mostly understood in the tradition of his colonial masters.  I was trying to put that indifference together, on the one hand with Gandhi’s incessant moralistic perspective on things and his constantly avowed religiosity and, on the other hand, with his resistance to political abstractions that took one away from the experiences of ordinary people in their quotidian social habitat.  In order to integrate these different aspects of his thought, it seemed to me right to attribute to him a skepticism about the idea that what is bad in human beings (a constant theme for Gandhi as for all religious moralists) can be set right simply by making them over into some abstract form of being called “citizens” in a form of polity that came to be associated with the nation-building exercises in Europe since the Westphalian peace.  That is what I meant when I suggested Gandhi was an anti-political thinker.  This is quite compatible with viewing Gandhi as having inaugurated a form of mass politics in India that was highly original and imaginative.  You ask something slightly different: whether he believed that a wrong in the world (which is somewhat different from what is bad in us) could be redressed by political means.  Well, for him, I think a lot depends on what that wrong is or, better, what level of description you give it.   It also depends on which phase and context of his thinking we are talking about.  So, for instance, if you described the wrong in terms of what he opposed in very specifically oppressive actions and policies of the British government in colonial India or colonial South Africa, he certainly repeatedly appealed to mass politics of one kind or other to resist such wrongs.  Clearly, in this sense, he believed in a politics of resistance.  So also, as others have pointed out, when it came to the resolution that was moved at the Karachi Congress in 1931, he found himself in a context where he openly committed himself to a radical (rather than an orthodox liberal) version of political principles and rights.  Even on secularist politics he changed his mind, as Bipan Chandra has documented, from the time of his early writings to what he was saying by the 1940s.  (I discuss some of this in my chapter on secularism in the book.) But it is also well known that he believed that there was a great deal in modern civilization of the West that was tied to capitalism and more generally to attitudes of gain and profit and consumerism that you could not merely constrain by liberal or even social-democratic conceptions of politics, i.e., by a familiar set of political, legal, and economic constraints.  Rather one should shun the entire mentality that underlies it.  He certainly did not have a socialist alternative that was supposed to follow upon a transcending of capitalism in the way that Marx did; instead he wanted to preempt capitalism in India (not unlike Marx in his very late phase when he was focused on the peasant communes in Russia) and to do so by repudiating the mentality, the cognitive outlook, that lay behind it.  This required a deeper reflection about what the corrosive moral and political effects of that mentality are.  Hind Swaraj, among other things, is a harshly worded reflection about just that.



Q3
Staying with Gandhi, one of the ways in which Gandhi strikes me as almost unique among colonial critics of imperialism is that his challenge to the empire seems singularly unmarked by a sense of inferiority, or a lack of self-confidence—itself so often a product of the empire. This does not seem to me to be true of Nehru, Ambedkar Jinnah, or for that matter Kenyatta or Nkrumah.  They all appear not just to have been influenced (as Gandhi clearly was too) by the ideas and practices of the empire, but also in some way distorted, even disfigured, by them. I am not sure you agree with this characterization of Gandhi (and the others), but it makes me wonder if the reason for it might have something to do with what you argue, namely that Gandhi’s opposition to the empire is ultimately a part, and only a part, of a much larger critique of modernity. Gandhi (like Marx), as you point out, is ultimately really concerned with a kind of alienation from nature and from ourselves, which for both of them are the defining traits of modernity. In that sense his critique of empire, even though very sharp, is almost a secondary purpose, and because of that he can inoculate himself from the distortions, such as those that stem from wanting to wrestle power from the imperialists.

A3
The way I’ve put the point you are making is to say that Gandhi had a very specific sort of confidence that later, even very powerful, anti-imperialist voices such as Fanon or, say, Edward Said, did not possess.  Your term “inferiority” is perhaps a slightly misleading description to put on what the source of the lack of this confidence in the others really is.  So take someone like Said, who is so widely read today. He wrote eloquently about the distortions that “the West” has shown in its understanding and conceptualizations of the cultures of the global South (or what was called the “Orient”).  But he never really asked what was wrong in the West’s own civilizational tendencies, in its own conceptualizations, in short what was wrong in the West’s understanding of itself.  It requires a specific kind of confidence to ask that, a confidence that comes not from overcoming a sense of inferiority so much as from possessing a set of intellectual and conceptual reserves.  It really comes, in my view, from being a philosopher of a sort that I believe Gandhi was and Said and Fanon were not.  It comes from having deeply reflected on moral concepts and the moral life and its relation to politics and economics and culture.  That is really my primary reason for being so interested in Gandhi and, as you say, for my placing him side by side with Marx and looking at his ideas on nature, alienation, and so on.  Your question, as you have formulated it, makes it seem that if one sees this quality in Gandhi’s thought, one must see his anti-imperialism as secondary and somewhat unimportant.  I wonder if that can be right.  It would be a bit like saying Marx’s anti-capitalism is made less important because he believes that transcending capitalism is in the service of freeing human beings into a new and liberated subjectivity that is unalienated.  I would prefer to say that Gandhi’s anti-imperialism was supremely important to him but it nested within his eventual ideal of a self-governing moral human subject, just as Marx’s critique of capitalism did.



Q4
You were a close friend and colleague of the late Edward Said. By pure happenstance during the last conversation I had with Edward (on the phone) he mentioned you with great affection and admiration and spoke of the course you were teaching together. You write very movingly in your essay about him. It is an essay about Edward but also about friendship. Your relationship was clearly a friendship of many parts — shared intellectual passions, political commitments, a deep love of music, and many other things. Reading your essay on Said it made me think about friendships and the academy. How have these and other ( I am thinking of Noam Chomsky and Prabhat Patnaik to whom you dedicate this volume) specifically “academic” friendships molded your life in the American academy and are there such friendships that link you with India? Has friendship been important to the ideas that you cherish?

A4
It’s hard to talk about specific friendships in a public forum, Uday.   But, I do see the point of your question.  Speaking generally (individuals apart), in the academy and in intellectual life more broadly, when you learn about ideas from others they become friends in a way that is closely tied to personal respect as much as intimate or amiable relations.  Anyone with any experience in the academy will notice that intellectual ability is far more common than intellectual character, and may even perhaps be less important than it.  I reckon all of us over a lifetime of thinking and writing come across and, if we are lucky, come to know a handful of people (if that) of whom one thinks:  if he or she thinks I am alright, I must at least approximate being alright. They may be one’s friends, of course, but they are not merely so.



Q5
Finally, since this book is being published in America and India, what are your thoughts about these two rather difference contexts in which you are intervening? This is clearly not a book of policy recommendations, but you are avidly engaged with public and intellectual life in India. What are some of the points where you see your work as confronting the new political dispensation in India following the recent elections?

A5
I do spend about six weeks in India each year and yes I do try and keep up with Indian politics and occasionally, if asked, write about India in more public spaces than books and learned journals.  About the outcome of the recent elections, I can’t, in a short space, do much more than say that there is nothing to do but to work as hard as we can in the next few years to try and make sure that there is a very different outcome next time.  It has never before been as frustrating for me to be away from India since it is more urgent now than ever before (except perhaps the brief period of ‘the emergency’) to put one’s effort in opposing the government and its policies.




Q6
Could you name 5 or 6 books outside your discipline that have influenced your work in recent years?

A6
In no particular order and without too much reflection let me put down the following:

1) Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down
2) Various writings of Marx that I have studied over the last few decades including (what is often excluded by others influenced by Marx), the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844
3) Dostoevsky, Brothers Karamazov
4) M.H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism
5) Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation
6) Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action



Akeel Bilgrami
Secularism, Identity, and
Enchantment

“Akeel Bilgrami, a leading analytical philosopher, has over the years also engaged philosophically with contemporary issues of Indian politics. The essays in this volume show him intervening with great analytical skill as well as sagacity in the debates over secularism and identity politics.”—Partha Chatterjee

“It is a rewarding experience to read these thoughtful and penetrating essays, with their wide-ranging, provocative, and challenging ideas and insights, deeply informed and carefully reasoned, and reaching to issues of fundamental concern in the contemporary world.”Noam Chomsky

The jacket photo is of an installation by Manisha Bhattacharya
Bringing clarity to a subject clouded by polemic, Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment is a rigorous exploration of how secularism and identity emerged as concepts in different parts of the modern world. At a time when secularist and religious worldviews appear irreconcilable, Akeel Bilgrami strikes out on a path distinctly his own, criticizing secularist proponents and detractors, liberal universalists and multicultural relativists alike.

Those who ground secularism in arguments that aspire to universal reach, Bilgrami argues, fundamentally misunderstand the nature of politics. To those, by contrast, who regard secularism as a mere outgrowth of colonial domination, he offers the possibility of a more conceptually vernacular ground for political secularism. Focusing on the response to Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, Bilgrami asks why Islamic identity has so often been a mobilizing force against liberalism, and he answers the question with diagnostic sympathy, providing a philosophical framework within which the Islamic tradition might overcome the resentments prompted by its colonized past and present.

Turning to Gandhi’s political and religious thought, Bilgrami ponders whether the increasing appeal of religion in many parts of the world reflects a growing disillusionment not with science but with an outlook of detachment around the rise of modern science and capitalism.

AKEEL BILGRAMI is Sidney Morgenbesser Professor of Philosophy and Director, South Asian Institute, Columbia University.
 
“Carrying on the critical spirit of Edward Said, Bilgrami presents a profoundly original emancipatory genealogy of secularism-and-religion, identity, and enchantment, and, in so doing, of the hidden historical and conceptual connections between them. It is emancipatory in bringing to light within them the possibility of a distinct kind of radical politics today—one that draws on seventeenth-century English radicalism, German romanticism, Marx, and especially Gandhi, among others. In the conclusion he shows the striking affinities of this remarkable achievement to Said’s critical humanism. This is a must-read for anyone who wishes to think differently about these central problems of the present and respond constructively to them.”James Tully

“Bilgrami became known as one of the leading voices on the problem of secularism long before the topic became fashionable in the United States, and has continued to articulate a thorough and rigorous approach to tough questions that are now very widely debated. One has a strong sense of the continuity of position—and more impressively, the continuity of Bilgrami’s recognizable voice, with its combination of seriousness about thinking, the humanity of wide sympathies, and a certain argumentative ferocity—over a period of some twenty years. This book has been eagerly anticipated by a wide interdisciplinary audience as essays from a leading thinker in the field; it will appeal broadly, and its lasting impact is assured.”Michael Warner

Hardback / 412pp / Rs 895 / ISBN 81-7824-385-7 / South Asia rights / Published May 2014
Copublished with Harvard University Press

19 June 2014

THE ACADEMIC PILGRIM'S PROGRESS


The ancient India historian Nayanjot Lahiri, author of several books published by Permanent Black -- including the unputdownable academic thriller Finding Forgotten Cities about how the Indus Civilization was discovered -- has just finished writing a biography, ASHOKA IN ANCIENT INDIA, which will appear in mid 2015. Needing a break from the Buddhist emperor, she went on a pilgrimage to the forgotten home of a Buddhist saint ...

REMEMBERING AND FORGETTING
Dharmanand Kosambi and Other Goan Saints

Nayanjot Lahiri

Sancoale seemed similar yet different from many of Goa’s villages. Spread across a couple of hills, its traditional houses near the edges of forested tracts were like those that grace rural landscapes elsewhere. Mercifully, because of its interior location, far from sand and surf, the strawberry pink and fluorescent yellow flats that have come up in many of the more accessible villages were missing.

The house in Goa where Dharmanand Kosambi and his family lived more than a century ago

My reasons for coming to Sancoale had nothing to do with its physical beauty. I came because I had read about Dharmanand Kosambi's birth here in 1876. It was from Sancoale that this self-taught scholar-sage began a trajectory of intellectual and ideological adventure’ that transported him in search of knowledge about Buddhism to various places in India, Nepal, Ceylon, Burma, Russia, and America. His son D.D. Kosambi, the mathematician turned historian, was also born in this village. So, for people who dig history, Sancoale has a kind of incantatory resonance attached because of the Kosambis.

Their old home still stands with a forest in its vicinity and a flat valley of fields as frontage. The house was locked but I could wander around its large compound and take in the surrounding vegetation, especially the coconut trees, a reminder of the grove that Dharmanand tended as a teenager. Accompanying his father, his main job there was ‘to protect the coconuts from monkeys and thieves’. Looking at the landscape of his childhood, it struck me that Dharmanand’s autobiography Nivedan (translated by his grand-daughter Meera Kosambi and published by Permanent Black in 2011) could have been subtitled ‘From Coconut Groves to Wide(ne)r Vistas’. Dharmanand’s memoir shows us a rare and astonishing transition, almost certainly without parallel in Indian academic life: a young village boy with no English education chasing away primates, growing to become the great Pali scholar of his day who edited Buddhaghosha’s Visuddhi-magga in the environs of Harvard’s Widener Library.

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Three other things struck me about Sancoale, and the remembrance of people and things past.

First, there is no material pointer to the fact that the Kosambis lived here. The house is now the Sancoale Ashram of the Sahaj Marg Spirituality Foundation, presumably given to it by a part of the Kosambi family. Neither the family nor the foundation have thought it necessary to put up signage saying Dharmanand was born and brought up here. (Incidentally, the founder of the Sahaj Yoga movement, Nirmala Devi, was married to Sir C.P. Srivastava, the biographer of Lal Bahadur Shastri.) I am sure earlier academic pilgrims have felt saddened by this saintly forefather of ours having simply been forgotten in his own home; or will feel so if they visit.

Second, Sancoale actually produced two saints, Dharmanand’s predecessor in the holiness stakes, Joseph Vaz, having been born in the middle of the 17th century. This Vaz is remembered for his travails and travels in Sri Lanka; he seems to have saved Christians being persecuted there by the Dutch and has long been regarded as a founding father of the Church in Sri Lanka. Many books have been written about him. In 1995 he was beatified by Pope John Paul II and became the ‘Blessed Joseph Vaz’. The speed with which this has happened must be the envy of the Indian legal system: why does Indian litigation have to progress at such a dizzying pace? Mother Teresa will, if fast tracked, be Saint Teresa within a mere couple of centuries. What's the rush?

This first saint’s memory is alive and well in Sancoale. A big church is named after St Vaz, a small museum illustrates his life-history, and a surviving room in the house associated with him carries a chronology. Judging by the two Sancoale saints, it looks like in India unless you’re a Tagore or a Gandhi or a Nehru, only religion will save you from the oblivion of cultural amnesia: thus Dharmanand.

And third: Dharmanand, who connected himself and Joseph Vaz, got his facts wrong. While speaking of his service to Roman Catholicism in Ceylon, he said Vaz ‘could not in his wildest dreams have imagined that at the beginning of the twentieth century a young aspirant from his native village would undergo ordeals to reach Ceylon in order to study the religion which he [Vaz] had taken such pains and endured such adversities to destroy.’ Nivedan shows us Dharmanand studying Buddhism and Pali in imperial Ceylon, but only that bit of his statement is true. Vaz’s mission had little to do with the Portuguese and his relationship with the Buddhist kingdom of Kandy, which is part of local lore there, was actually very cordial, even warm.

Vaz does not figure in the writings of Dharmanand’s son D.D. Kosambi. In a historian who showed such deep interest in his surroundings, this looks a strange omission. Kosambi the Son remembered churches in various parts of Goa -- including those where he lived -- coming up on the ruins of temples. He mentions the Narasimha temple which, as in his day, continues as the main temple of Sancoale. D.D. wrote at length about the village community in Goa too. But having read practically the lot, I’ve never seen Vaz in his writings. 

Which may be because Kosambi was mostly preoccupied poking the earth around his own bungalow in Pune, nosing around for his version of truffles: potsherds.

Permanent Black welcomes contributions of this broad type by friends, scholars, etc. If you've been anywhere interesting and feel like writing up a short and generally accessible reflective essay about a place or event or whatever, email it to The Publisher, Permanent Black: perblack@gmail.com and we'll get back to you very quickly about whether we'd like to blog it here.

05 June 2014

On World Environment Day




On World Environment Day, pick up one of our fascinating, informative books. From the deeply scholarly look at ecology and culture to polemical works to the straightforwardly enjoyable, there is plenty to read on nature, culture and the environment.
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Vasant Saberwal and Mahesh Rangarajan (eds), Battles over Nature

Mukul Sharma: Green and Saffron

Mahesh Rangarajan, India’s Wildlife History

Julie Hughes: Animal Kingdoms


Ramachandra Guha,  Unquiet Woods
 
 Mahesh Rangarajan and K. Sivaramakrishnan (eds): India's Wildlife History ( 2 volumes)

Valmik Thapar (ed.), Saving Wild Tigers 1900–2000

Dhriti K. Lahiri Choudhury: A Trunk Full  of Tales

Zai Whitaker, Sálim Ali for Schools

Aasheesh Pittie: Birds in Books

Gunnel Cederlöf and K. Sivaramakrishnan (eds), EcologicalNationalisms

EHA (E.H. Aitken), Zoo in the Garden


Ghazala Shahabuddin & Mahesh Rangarajan





22 May 2014

THE CHANDA YAKSHI

The Discovery of Ancient India
Early Archaeologists and the Beginnings of Archaeology


“... tells the tale through the life histories of monuments, through the motivations and tensions that marked British rule in India and, above all, through those individuals who pioneered a shift from a textual depiction of India's past to one based on archaeology” — Nayanjot Lahiri, India Today

The Chanda Yakshi graces this gorgeous new cover for Upinder Singh's indispensable book, written as much for the general reader interested in India’s antiquity and its pioneering archaeologists, as for students of the history of archaeology, colonialism, and constructions of the past. It breaks colonial archaeology down into its specific constituents and examines the ideas, impulses, tensions, and individual contributions that comprised early studies of India’s ancient past.
It focuses, at the outset, on the ideas and work of Alexander Cunningham, the first Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India, as well as his assistants. It then looks at a number of related issues — the different definitions of archaeological research; the conflict between field archaeologists and architectural scholars; the debate over whether antiquities should be left in situ or removed to museums; the different approaches and initiatives towards the conservation of historical monuments.
Finally, it looks at the contributions of Indian scholars to archaeology, and of the Indian princes to the conservation of historical monuments.

UPINDER SINGH is Professor of History, Delhi University. Her earlier books include Ancient Delhi (2004) and A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India (2008)

Paperback/Rs 450/ ISBN 817824127-7/ World rights

New in Paperback



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Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam
Writing the Mughal World
Studies in Political Culture
In this book, two leading historians of early modern South Asia present nine jointly authored essays on the Mughal empire, framed by a long Introduction which reflects on the imperial, nationalist, and other conflicted trajectories of history-writing on the Mughals. Using materials from a large variety of languages—including Dutch, Portuguese, English, Persian, Urdu, and Tamil—they show how this Indo-Islamic dynasty developed a sophisticated system of government and facilitated an era of profound artistic and architectural achievement, setting the groundwork for South Asia’s future trajectory.
In several ways the joint work of Alam and Subrahmanyam, best represented here, provides the most significant innovation, expansion, and rethinking about the Mughal imperium for many decades. The present book intertwines political, cultural, and commercial themes while exploring diplomacy, state-formation, historiography, religious debate, and political thought. It focuses on confrontations between a variety of source materials that are then reconciled by the authors, enabling readers to participate both in the debate and the resolution of competing claims.
Interdisciplinary and cutting-edge, this work adds rich dimensions to research on the Mughal state, early modern South Asia, and the comparative history of the Mughal, Ottoman, Safavid, and other early modern empires.
MUZAFFAR ALAM is George V. Bobrinskoy Professor in South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. He is the author of The Crisis of Empire in Mughal North India and The Languages of Political Islam in India: c. 1200–1800.
SANJAY SUBRAHMANYAM is professor and holder of the Navin and Pratima Doshi Chair of Indian History at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of several books, including The Career and Legend of Vasco da Gama and the two-volume Explorations in Connected History.
Alam and Subrahmanyam have jointly edited The Mughal State 1526–1750 and coauthored Indo-Persian Travels in the Age of Discoveries, 1400–1800.
paperback / 536pp / Rs 595  / South Asia rights / May 2014 / copublished by columbia university press

02 May 2014

The Story of a Book


This is the story of how Deki, a wild, freedom-seeking mountain dog, allowed itself to be tied to Permanent Black. Written by the celebrated biologist George Schaller, DEKI, THE ADVENTURES OF A DOG AND A BOY IN TIBET, has just been published by Black Kite and Hachette India (and is available from most standard retail outlets).

I first encountered George Schaller in Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard, a book that won the US’s National Book Award for its passionate and profound account of a journey through Nepal and Tibet in search of the elusive leopard. Matthiessen’s companion on this journey is Schaller (throughout called GS), and the book is also an account of the tense and halting evolution of a travel friendship:

“What seems abrasive in GS’s behaviour is often merely abrupt… but as I learn more about this man, I see that … on a hard journey such consideration (extended also to the sherpas) is far more valuable than mere ‘good manners’ … In the lowlands, GS was a formal man who could not quite communicate his feelings; in the freedom of the snow mountains he is opening out in true, warm colours.”
George Schaller (courtesy of George Schaller)
Fortunately for me, I met George Schaller in the highlands -- at the Winterline Literary Festival in Landour, Mussoorie in 2010. One of Permanent’s Black’s publishing interests is wildlife and environmental studies and one of George Schaller’s books is The Deer and the Tiger, a landmark study of wildlife in India published in 1967 and still cited everywhere. Did he, by some miracle, have a manuscript we could publish? GS promised that, some day, he would give us a book. I attributed it to the mountain air, expected nothing of it. And then, a few months later, DEKI arrived -- as promised.

DEKI is a magical book that will have you instantly under its spell. It is a blend of great story-telling and acute observation of nature and animals. As you read it you travel the stark, barren plateau of Tibet and discover its animals, monasteries, birds, nomads. Thrilling chases and cliff-hanger moments decide the battle between good and evil as the book explores the question: freedom or security, which do you choose?

The book is illustrated by an artist from the Tibetan art collective, Gyurmey Dorjee. It is aimed at young adults, which is why, instead of publishing it in our own Nature, Culture, Enviornment series, we copublished it with Hachette India, who have a thriving children’s list.

One eleven-year-old, Abhishek Roy from South City School, Kolkata, who reviewed DEKI for Permanent Black said:
"I thought the book was absolutely touching. It was a novel that inspires hope, and gives inspiration. … This book made me feel like I was walking through the cold mountains of Tibet, shivering. Overall, I liked this book a lot.”

In other reviews, The Telegraph said:
"Schaller weaves a story that moves with the 'clouds, wild winds and seasons' and is full of the richness of emotion associated with friendships, farewells, the heavy, fulfilling relationship between man and animal and the mystery that is Tibet. While Schaller’s imagining of Deki is undeniably anthropomorphic, this does not detract from the charm of her character. This book is a triumph on many counts, not the least of them being the delightful illustrations by Gyurmey Dorjee."

Indian Nerve said:
"The characters have been strikingly detailed, and the backgrounds well sketched. The captivating illustrations by Gyurmey Dorjee are just another win for the book, and assist the narrative with all their vivid imagery. Deki is pictured in an anthropomorphic form, and that further connects her with the young readers. Schaller peppers in his book richness of all emotions, and glorifies them all the more with the many friendships and farewells accounted for in those pages. Be it animal-animal friendship among Deki, Tashi and Changku or the man-animal friendship between Deki and Karma, there is an underlying wisdom channelled through each of these relationships. This book also forms a tribute to the charm and enigma that is Tibet."


Published by Black Kite and Hachette India Children's Books/Paperback/144 pp/ ISBN 9789350098479/ Rs 250
(Posted by Anuradha Roy)













01 May 2014

ROSALIND O'HANLON'S NEW BOOK

At the Edges of Empire
Essays in the Social and Intellectual History of India



THIRTY YEARS AGO, A BOOK TITLED Caste, Conflict and Ideology:  Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Low Caste Protest in Nineteenth-Century Western India (1985) astonished the world of South Asian Studies, in part because it brilliantly historicized Mahatma Phule and his context, in part because the author was neither a Chitpavan or any other variety of Maharashtrian Brahman but a SOAS scholar who had mined the Marathi sources bewilderingly well. Professor O’Hanlon’s book soon acquired the status of a classic academic work on the history of Maharashtra as well as early Dalit struggle. Most agree that it has not been superseded (it is available in South Asia with a new Introduction as a Permanent Black paperback), in part because it is extremely accessible and attractively written.

Over the last two decades, Rosalind O’Hanlon has engaged with key questions in India’s history, culture, and intellectual life. At the Edges of Empire is the first major collection of her essays. They reflect her interest both in the leading theoretical debates of recent years, particularly in the Subaltern Studies project, and in the development of novel and path-breaking approaches to questions about caste, gender, and religious cultures across a range of historical milieus.  

Some of the essays here explore the new perspectives on colonial social change opened up by the expanding knowledge of India in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Others explore important and little-understood aspects of popular culture, from histories of the male body over the longue durée, to the institutional framework within which ordinary Hindus developed their understandings of sin and purification. 

The essays range over a broad chronological period, from the development of new understandings of Brahman community and intellectual identity in early modern India, to the modern conflict over the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya. In different ways, each of the essays demonstrates the potential of longer-term historical perspectives for advancing our understanding of pressing issues in India’s colonial past and its present-day  politics.   

ROSALIND O’HANLON is Professor of Indian History and Culture in the University of Oxford.  She took her PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and taught for many years at  Clare College, Cambridge.  Her research interests lie in the social and intellectual history of early modern and colonial India.

Hardback / 560pp / Rs 995 / ISBN 81-7824-381-4 / World rights / May 2014