This book is a novel attempt to think about the eighteenth-century view of India and the West Indies together, arguing that this is how Edmund Burke and Denis Diderot actually saw them.
The interest in more than one geographical space is revealed to be a largely unacknowledged part of Enlightenment thought. Focusing on colonized regions in relation to the Enlightenment, Agnani demonstrates how Burke’s horror of the French Revolution—the defining event of modernity— was shaped by prior reflection on these other domains.
Exploring with sympathy the angry outbursts against injustice in the writings of Diderot, Agnani nonetheless questions understandings of him as an unequivocal critic of empire.
By looking carefully at the thought of both radical and conservative writers, Agnani asks what it means to critique empire “properly.” He draws from Adorno’s quip that “one must have tradition in oneself, in order to hate it properly.”
“Empire” and “the Enlightenment” are linked terms. Sunil Agnani shows us connections between them from a new perspective, ones that have hardly been known, much less outlined and analysed. His work is an important contribution to political theory, history, literary studies, and postcolonial studies.
SUNIL AGNANI is Associate Professor with the departments of English and History, University of Illinois at Chicago. He has held previous positions at the University of Michigan and the Princeton Society of Fellows. He teaches courses on the European Enlightenment, eighteenth-century British and French literature and thought, and the literature of empire and decolonization.
‘Significant volumes, authored both by single individuals and by larger collectivities, have been published on the literary cultures of South Asia, and on the fraught relationship between print and manuscript cultures over the colonial period, and even increasingly on what may very broadly be termed a “history of political thought.” It is my contention that a major role in these changes has been played by the author of the essays collected in this volume, Velcheru Narayana Rao . . . because of his rather atypical trajectory, and his distance from the more recognizable (or stereotyped) positions and “schools”, Narayana Rao’s larger contribution has not been adequately recognized beyond an “insider group” of scholars, even though his contribution to the study of Telugu literature itself is broadly known to a public of enthusiasts as well as scholars.’
Velcheru Narayana Rao’s contribution to understanding Indian cultural history, literary production, and intellectual life — specifically from the vantage of the Andhra region — has few parallels. He is one of the very rare scholars to be able to reflect magisterially on the pre-colonial and colonial periods. He moves easily between Sanskrit and the vernacular traditions, and between the worlds of orality and script.
This is because of his mastery of the “classical” Telugu tradition. As Sanjay Subrahmanyam puts it in his Introduction, “To command nearly a thousand years of a literary tradition is no small feat, but more important still is VNR’s ability constantly to offer fresh readings and provocative frameworks for interpretation.”
The essays and reflections in Text and Tradition in South India bring together the diverse and foundational contributions made by Velcheru Narayana Rao to the rewriting of India’s cultural and literary history.
No-one seriously interested in the history of Indian ideas, the social and cultural history of South India, and the massive intellectual traditions of the subcontinent can do without this book.
VELCHERU NARAYANA RAO (b. 1932) is a renowned scholar of Indian cultural and literary history. Educated in India, he taught Telugu and Indian literatures for thirty-eight years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has also taught at the University of Chicago and is currently Visiting Distinguished Professor of South Asian Studies at Emory University. He has written more than fifteen books, many of them in collaboration with David Shulman and Sanjay Subrahmanyam. These include the hugely influential Textures of Time: Writing History in South India (Permanent Black, 2001), and a translation of Peddana’s The Story of Manu (with David Shulman; Harvard University Press, 2015).
“The field of Gandhi-studies has taken off in refreshing ways in the last decade or so. Ajay Skaria's book offers the most important recent historico-critical reading of — and commentary on — Gandhi’s major text, Hind Swaraj, and some other related writings by the Mahatma. He cleaves closely to Gandhi’s words, comparing Gujarati originals with their English translations while engaging, simultaneously, several noted commentators on Gandhi as well as liberal, communitarian, and deconstructive traditions of thought. Not everybody will agree with every conclusion of Skaria’s, but no one interested in the Mahatma will be able to ignore this book.”
Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago
“Unconditional Equality spells out nothing short of a total revaluation of Gandhi's political thought, systematic, comprehensive, and authoritative. Ajay Skaria brings a depth of understanding to the material that will be hard to duplicate. This is a tour de force.”
Mrinalini Sinha, University of Michigan
Unconditional Equality examines Mahatma Gandhi’s critique of liberal ideas of freedom and equality, and his own practice of a freedom and equality organized around religion.
Sometimes working against the grain of Gandhi’s explicit formulations, this book reconceives satyagraha (passive resistance) as a politics that strives for the absolute equality of all beings. Liberal traditions usually affirm an abstract equality. For Gandhi such equality is an “equality of [the] sword”—because it excludes those presumed to lack reason (such as animals or the colonized), but also because those included lose the power to love.
Gandhi professes instead a politics organized around dharma, or religion. For him, there can be “no politics without religion.” This involves self-surrender, a freely offered surrender of autonomy and everyday sovereignty. For Gandhi, the “religion that stays in all religions” is satyagraha.
Ajay Skaria argues that, conceptually, satyagraha insists on equality without exception of all humans, animals, and things.
AJAY SKARIA is Professor of History at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Hybrid Histories: Forests, Frontiers, and Wildness in Western India and co-editor of Subaltern Studies XII: Muslims, Dalits, and the Fabrications of History.
'History in India has been driven by identity': Dipesh Chakrabarty on historian Jadunath Sarkar
The noted subalternist on the life and times of the colonial-era historian.
Born in 1870 in East Bengal, Jadunath Sarkar was an academic and public
intellectual who was a pioneer in the art of history writing in India. He was
knighted in 1929 and became the first Indian historian to gain honorary
membership in the American Historical Association. His comprehensive histories of
Aurangzeb and Shivaji greatly shape modern India’s understanding of these two
figures even if Sarkar was marginalised by much of academia after 1947 by India’s
as postcolonial historians.
Noted subalternist Dipesh Chakrabarty’s recent book The Calling of History examines Sarkar’s
career and uses that to understand and discuss the history of Indian history,
as it were. Chakrabarty teaches history at the University of Chicago, and is
the recipient of the 2014 Toynbee Prize that recognizes social scientists for
significant academic and public contributions to humanity.
As history becomes keenly contested in India’s polticial
space, Scroll.in speaks to Dipesh
Chakrabarty to understand how the issues and debates from Sarkar’s time can
help inform us today.
Why did you write
this book? What drew you to Jadunath Sarkar?
There were many reasons, actually. One of them was an
accident, which is that I chanced upon several excerpts from letters that had
passed between Sarkar and Sakharam Govindrao Sardesai, an eminent historian
from Maharashtra. And those letters were all about historical research, the meaning
of historical truth, what a good historical source was, what constituted a
first-hand account, the merits of an eye-witness account versus old secondary
accounts, relation between history and identity and that of history and truth. And
I found these letters fascinating; found it fascinating that they were debating
these issues in the later years of colonial rule, from 1904, the year they
started working together, till when Jadunath died in 1958.
And my other reasons were very academic. Historians have
stopped discussing these people. Jadunath has become a forgotten person, thought
of as a communal historian by many in academia. Marathas thought of him as
pro-Muslim in his historical accounts of Shivaji while Muslims thought him
pro-Hindu. He did make some remarks against East Bengali Muslims after
Partition that today we would regard as communal.
What were those
He thought that East Pakistan would lose terribly by losing
all the Bengali Hindus because the Hindus were the educated class. They were
throwing their talented “Jews” out, so to say. And in that assumption that East
Bengali Muslims wouldn’t be able to do without Bengali Hindus, Sarkar’s biases
came out. It is true that East Pakistan did suffer a shortage of good teachers,
and other professionals for a while, but they eventually made up for it. Personally,
I think the Partition of Bengal was unfortunate but then Sarkar did ally with
the Hindu Mahasabha in those years, when
it was demanding Partition. And you must remember, his son was killed in Calcutta
during the communal frenzy of 1946-'47, stabbed
by a stray Muslim guy, as he got off a tram in Dharamtalla, after which he died
in the hospital. So, the Hindu-Muslim problem in Bengal had a personal
dimension for him.
The letters I mentioned were fascinating, and they projected
Sarkar as quite a character. But when I now look back and think about what drew
me into the project intellectually, in today’s terms, it was Sarkar’s failure to
understand the relationship between identity and history, that people might
want to have a past that makes them feel proud of what they were (particularly
Dalits or any other people who’d been told that they were inferior because of
their pasts). This Sarkar didn’t understand. On the other hand, something he
did struggle for is also vital in today’s context. He struggled for a space for
reasoned argumentation about what was factually true about the past. Because
sometimes in the clamour to have a past that glorifies our identity, not only
do we make non-factual or factually wrong statements – like Hindus invented the
aeroplane – we also claim them to be facts. Jadunath Sarkar understood that
facts are not always given, they have to be inferred, you have to reason them
out. He understood that establishing facts required the employment of logic,
evidence and inference. And he struggled for that space. And I think that is a legacy worth remembering.
You mentioned a very
interesting point: Sarkar did not understand the draw of identity in writing
history. He had strong debates with a lot of Maratha historians on whether to
valourise Shivaji, and even with Bengali historians in the case of
Pratapaditya, the 16th century Raja of Jessore, who has been played
up as a resistance fighter against the Mughals – a narrative Sarkar disagreed
with. Do you see an echo of that struggle in India today as well?
History writing in India has predominantly been driven by
identity politics, whether of low castes, upper castes, Hindus, or Muslims. And
Jadunath was feeling the pressure of that. He didn’t realise that this would be
the long-term trend. There was only a moment in our post-Independence history
when Abul Kalam Azad, who was then India’s education minister, wrote to
Surendranth Sen, the first director of the national archives, asking him to
write a centenary history of the Revolt of 1857 from a non-partisan angle. Azad
told Sen that now that the British were gone and Indians were independent, there
was no further need to write this history in a partisan spirit. Sen didn’t have
to take an Indian or nationalist point-of-view, he could write objectively. But
that moment came and went and only ended up being a brief interlude.
Because the churning of our democracy, say, from the 1970s
onwards a lot of political power has accrued to leaders of marginalised groups,
low-caste and other oppressed communities. This churning has again brought to
the fore questions relating to the relationship between identify and history
writing or between identity and the past. Badri Narayan’s work on Mayawati’s
polticis and the kind of history that she invoked, for example, emphasied Dalit
claims to characters that they said were historical like Jhalkari Bai, who it
was said did more fighting that the Rani of Jhansi. And sometimes they’ve even
erected statues to unhistorical figures. Someone like Jadunath did not
understand that there is a legitimate side to this. But it becomes problematic
when you want to justify this legitimate claim to desrable pasts with the
rhetorical moves of the discipline of history. It is only when we want to claim these
alternative pasts as “historical facts” that could be proven by archival
research that Jadunath’s struggle becomes more relevant to our times.
But, on the other hand, what Jadunath didn’t understand is
that there are multiple kinds of pasts and people have a right to speak of
pasts which may not be the historians’ past but pasts that simply make them
feel good about being themselves, particularly people who have been told that
their past acts were responsible for their present injuries. For example, upper-caste
justification for someone being lower-caste often assumed that the latter had
sinned in their previous births. This thinking was once quite prevalent
globally, that the pasts of subaltern groups were responsible for their present
suffering. The British always claimed that they ruled India because Indians were
weak and internally divided. And a response to that charge formed the bedrock
of a lot of nationalist history that aimed to prove that we were strong and
were not divided. Jadunath didn’t understand that process as a process of
democratisation. But, on the other hand, if you have a democracy where you have
no struggle for facts or fact-based reasoning, then that democracy will also suffer.
You also need that space for rational argumentation. So it is in that question
that I see the positive legacy of Sir Jadunath, having worked on this book.
You say that there is
this resurgence of identity-driven history in India. However, a lot of your
critics would say that your book is a mistimed one considering the Hindutva
pressure on academia and Sarkar’s reputation, as you said, of being a “communal
historian”. How would you respond to that?
I think the Hindutva claims themselves are very non-factual.
So if you say we invented the aeroplane or the Mahabharat had an atom bomb,
that’s not factual. Amartya Sen has already made this point. Whatever claims
you make for Hindu glory should be verifiable factual claims and that’s why
Jadunath Sarkar comes back.
It is not a monopoly of any particular group to claim glory,
and upper caste Hindus can also do so. It can be legitimate in certain circumstances to
say, “look, the world doesn’t respect me enough”. Because it’s a matter of
perception. You might think that the Hindus are seen as weak, therefore they should
project a strong past. But if you want to invoke the methods of history to justify
the nonfactual claims that you make about the past, then a Jadunath Sarkar, I
think, would be as dismissive of these Hindu claims – as he was with
Pratapaditya – as he would be of non-factual claims coming from other groups.
So, to repeat myself, Sarkar did not understand that there
is a relationship between diversity, identity, the need for particular pasts.
But you must remember that this became a global realization only after World
War II, when minority histories in the US, indigenous histories in North
America and elsewhere, began to flourish.
Sarkar thus didn’t understand that the Maratha historians he
was fighting actually represented something of the future to come. Perspectives
were going to be more important than facts. Even when professional historians
such as ourselves were fighting our battles in the 1980s – subaltern studies
versus Cambridge historiography versus JNU historiography, which we called
Marxist-nationalist historiography – the debates were all about points of view.
We seldom debated the question of fact, whether facts were there, readymade, in
the archives or whether they needed to be inferred. The kind of questions
Jadunath was interested in had been almost forgotten by professional historians.
Jadunath’s view was that you could be entitled to your perspective, but only so
long as your facts were correct. And facts were not just given, you had to do
research to find the facts out. And for Mughal times those were real questions.
Where did a battle take place? Which village? There were many villages of the
same name. How many hours did the amry march? Sarkar used maps, he would go to the terrain to work out the
details of a battle. This kind of devotion to accuracy is missing today. We
were brought up on EH Carr who said in 1958 that we don’t have to make a fetish
of accuracy. But Sarkar’s first priority was accuracy. And there’s a legacy
there to be retrieved, since the space to discuss facts rationally on the basis
of evidence has been quashed in India’s democracy. In fact, the global historical
trend since the 1970s has been to value testimony as history and Jadunath is a
reminder that historians actually write history by questioning testimonies.
Did Sarkar get this
pushback while writing Maratha history? Were there Maharashtrian historians
telling him, you’re a Bengali, you can’t write our history?
Of course, he did. There was a lot of that. He was seen as a
Bengali interloper. There’s a very interesting anecdote around this. In North
India, in Hindi-Urdu, “Ji” is a honorific while “Rao” is the honorific in
Marathi. Hence, “Shivaji Rao Bhonsle”.
When the Mughal scribes, writing in Persian from north India,
took down Shivaji’s name, they excluded the “ji”, thinking it’s the Hindustani honorific,
not part of his name. And Jadunath, because he worked with Persian sources,
also used “Shiva”. This greatly upset the Marathas, thinking their respected
hero had been insulted. So one angry Marathi critic, wrote back to Sarkar,
asking “how would you feel if we called you just ”Jadu” and dropped “nath”?”
Sarkar had some very
positive views about the British Empire. And you say that these have been
“misunderstood”. What does that mean?
He thought that since the Muslims, i.e. the Mughals, had
missed the bus on making India into a modern nation – for which he blamed
Aurangzeb’s Islamic orthodoxy – the task
then, in his view, passed on to the
British. He assumed every country’s historical destiny was to become modern, become
scientific and become a nation-state. And he thought that if Aurangzeb had been
more curious, he could have built up on the earlier Mughals, who had united
India with a central administration. He regretfully said that the Mughal court had
seen European books but had still not imported even a single lithographic
stone. So he used to feel very frustrated with the Mughals’ lack of curiosity
about printing and modern scientific education. And he was convinced India
needed them, so he thought British rule was part of destiny. His regret was
that the two world wars forced the British to leave India before they had
completed the job. That’s why, when Sapru asked him in 1945, “when should
Indians get the vote”, Sarkar replied, “not before 1995”.
And he wasn’t alone in thinking this. There were many at the
time. Gandhi himself was a proud and loyal subject of the empire that till
In fact, given his views, Sarkar didn’t like Gandhi and his
mass politics which forced the British to quit. He once described Gandhi as a “demented
son of a bania playing this hide and seek game with the British”. So I’d call
Jadunath a nationalist, but not of the anti-colonial variety, which led many
people to accuse him of being a loyal subject of the British Empire later on as
nationalism become anti-colonial.
LITERARY HISTORY records the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s as having spawned some wonderful poetry and two memorable works of English prose: Orwell's Homage to Catalonia and Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls. With the publication last year of the first English translation of Joan Sales' Catalan epic, UNCERTAIN GLORY (MacLehose Press and Hachette India), everything literary that ever emerged from that war has been put into the shade.
Joan Sales was a Republican writer from the Barcelona region who had to flee the Fascists when Franco came to power. Someone in Franco's regime, if not the dictator himself, may have foreseen how powerfully the novel might elicit hostility against the victors, because it was banned in Spain. Outside Spain it was not known because it had been written not even in Spanish but in Catalan, a highly French-leavened dialect in the north-eastern regions of Spain bordering France.
The MacLehose Press, known for making the great literary texts of the world available in brilliant translations to speakers of English, has outdone itself by publishing the first English translation of this Dostoevskyian epic. The translation is luminous, breathtakingly good: anyone interested in how well a translation can read should study this. Hachette India has taken a financial risk and made the MacLehose edition available in paperback at a very reasonable Indian price. This is a book that Permanent Black recommends to every reader of serious fiction: there simply aren't unearthed classics of this calibre.
Sambudha Sen, eminent professor of English (and editor of a Permanent Black book of essays some years back), says much the same in this highly readable review:
Fantastic news: Theodore Zeldin's Hidden Pleasures of Life is the winner of the Transmission Prize. Now in its fourth year, Salon London's Transmission Prize rewards writers, speakers, scientists, philosophers and activists for their ideas and the way they communicate them.
Of this year's prize, the judges said: "The
philosopher’s work, using conversation to uncover the 'dark matter' of
each other's minds, was voted the biggest, boldest and most interesting
idea by the 2016 Transmission Prize panel. This year's prize centred on effective and personal ideas for change and no one captured this ethos as persuasively as Theodore."
Zeldin has been named ‘one of the forty world figures whose ideas are likely to have a lasting relevance to the new millennium’ (Independent on Sunday). His books Conversations and An Intimate History of Humanity are international bestsellers.
The Indian edition of The Hidden Pleasures is a lovely paperback at Rs 595. It's a brilliantly written, cosmopolitan, accessible book that speaks about the human condition and life today with wit, wisdom and intelligence and draws on histories and stories from across the world to illustrate its points.
Please join us for an evening with five scintillating speakers: Dipesh Chakrabarty, Swapan Dasgupta, Nayanjot Lahiri, Neeladri Bhattacharya and Rudrangshu Mukherjee. On 1 March 2016 at the University of Chicago Centre, DLF Capitol Point, Baba Kharak Singh Marg, Delhi 110001.
"I have read many good books this year, none better than Linda Hess’
BODIES OF SONG: Kabir Oral Traditions and Performative Worlds in North
India.This book examines the rich after-lives of a man
who, with the possible exception of Tulsidas, is the most famous of all
Indian poets. Dr Hess focuses on how Kabir is sung, performed, and
interpreted, combining lyrical descriptions of what she saw (and heard)
with subtle translations of the poetry. This is a magnificent work of
scholarship, and a rollicking good read.
In Biblio, Amita Baviskar's Book of the Year: "Thomas Trautmann’s
ELEPHANTS AND KINGS: An Environmental History (Permanent Black) was the
best book I read this year.. .Pulling together a vast array of sources,
this erudite and engaging account greatly broadens the scope of
environmental writing in India."
Also in Biblio, Steve Wilkinson's ARMY AND NATION was Vipul Dutta's Book of the Year: "A comprehensive account of the organisational principles of the
Indian Army and employs a unique, inter-disciplinary methodology to
address key concerns of civil-military relations in India....It is a
significant addition to the scholarship on not just civil-military
relations but also post-colonial ‘governance’..."
In The Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta said:
"Nayanjot Lahiri’s ASHOKA IN ANCIENT INDIA was a characteristically
wonderful and restrained sifting of literary, archaeological and
epigraphic sources on this pivotal figure..."
In the same article, Dr Mehta said: "Another must-read
historical work is Dipesh Chakrabarty’s The CALLING OF HISTORY: Sir
Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth. It is a detailed archival
history of the emergence of the historical profession in India, and even
the emergence of the archive itself. It leaves one with a haunting
question about historical methods and controversies: how did the creator
of “objective” history come to be classed as a communal historian? That
question says much about India and the idea of history."
The Telegraph's Books of the Year said that ELEPHANTS
AND KINGS is "an enjoyable account of the diverse facets of the
man-elephant relationship that has stood the test of time" and of ARMY
AND NATION they say: "The depth and richness of Wilkinson’s research
help unravel the subservient role that one of the largest standing
armies in the world has diligently played to a democratic polity".
Why did you call your latest book, 'Is "Indian Civilisation" a Myth?' And his answer was:
"It's interesting that on Amazon a number of people who haven't even
read the book have been ranting simply against the title, citing the
achievements of ancient Indian metallurgy! For me, the word
'civilisation' can be problematic. It allows some people to lord it over
others, claiming they alone have 'civilisation'. The only areas really
allowed to have a civilisation, it seems, are Europe or the 'West', the
Islamic world, India and China. There is a hierarchy between those
allowed to have a civilisation and those who aren't. For example, what
about the idea of African or Southeast Asian civilisations? Also, the
word civilisation usually implies values frozen in time, and it's a word
which can be used to shut out other people, such as shutting out
Muslims from Europe by claiming they are from another civilisation.
Culture to me is a far more flexible word, allowing for change.
Civilisation is often used as a weapon, as a stick to beat others with."We have lots in the pipeline that is new and exciting. We'll keep coming back here to let you know about it. But for the moment, we're hanging up our kettles and getting down to some serious Christmas baking and eating.
Merry Christmas, and a very happy new year to all our readers and authors!
and Power in South Asia: Past and Present
“Sumit Guha’s Beyond Caste is the most important synoptic study of caste since Louis Dumont’s Homo Hierarchicus. Guha is an historian, not an anthropologist, but anthropologists should take note. He has marshalled a vast array of evidence drawn from native and pre-colonial sources, rather than the more conveniently accessible colonial reconstructions that Dumont and others depended on, along with an up-to-date reading of historical literatures few anthropologists are aware of, to powerfully challenge both popular and anthropological common sense on the topic.”—Nathaniel Roberts
today almost universally perceived as an ancient and unchanging Hindu
institution preserved solely by deep-seated religious ideology. Yet the word
itself is an importation from sixteenth-century Europe.
tracks the long history of the practices amalgamated under this label and shows
their connection to changing patterns of social and political power down to the
present. It frames caste as an involuted
and complex form of ethnicity and explains why it persisted under
non-Hindu rulers and in non-Hindu communities across South Asia.
The author thinks the study of caste is like
the blind mens' study of the elephant: always incomplete
Sumit Guha has a
History PhD (1981) from the University of Cambridge. He is Frances Higginbotham
Nalle Centennial Professor in History at the University of Texas at Austin. His
previous books include Environment and
Ethnicity in India, c.1200–1991 (1999), and Health and Population in South Asia from Earliest Times to the Present
“A new book
on such a profoundly challenging and yet overworked subject needed to
join a number of qualities. Beyond Caste
combines theoretical rigour, a close
knowledge of the archives, the ambition to bridge the gulf of time and
premodern, the early-modern, the colonial and the present in a “longue durée”
account, and an elegant writing style enhanced by a fine sense of humour. These
characteristics, present in many of Sumit Guha’s publications, make him
one of the
most interesting and stimulating social historians today. This work justifies
that reputation.”—Tirthankar Roy
“. . . there is much in this book
besides caste, all of which is worth engaging with. The
book opens up new questions and invites us to imagine India and
its pasts afresh.”—Surinder S. Jodhka
Hardback / revised edn / 316pp / Rs 795 / South Asia
rights / ISBN 978-81-7824-465-5
/ nov 2015
For publishers, the wonderful thing about authorial prizes and honours is getting to bask in the reflected glory. This morning we heard that Srinath Raghavan has been named one of the Infosys Laureates of 2015. Some years ago, we published Srinath's first book, War and Peace in Modern India, and subsequently, 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh. He is also editor of The Collected Essays of S. Gopal. Previous Infosys Laureates whom we have published include Nayanjot Lahiri, Upinder Singh, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Nandini Sundar, Amit Chaudhuri, Amita Baviskar.
Dr. Srinath Raghavan Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi
Srinath Raghavan’s career path has been unusual. He is possibly the only Indian scholar of the first grade who has also been a second lieutenant. Born in 1977, he joined the Indian army after being at schools in Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Chennai. His bachelor’s degree was in physics from the University of Madras (1997). An infantry officer in the Rajputana Rifles, he decamped (metaphorically) in 2003 to do an MA, and then a PhD (2007) at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. War and Peace in Modern India came out of the dissertation he wrote there. After being Lecturer in Defence Studies at King’s College London for three years he returned to India and is now Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. Simultaneously, he is Senior Research Fellow at the King’s India Institute of King’s College London. Here's what the citation says:
Scope And Impact Of Work
Srinath Raghavan’s three books have established him as the most significant Indian exponent of military history and strategic studies.
His work is marked by conceptual and historiographical sophistication combined with rigorous and original archival work. His research offers new interpretative arguments - based on empirical material and nuanced readings - on important issues: the relationship between India’s domestic policy and the international system, the balance between civilian authority and military power, force and diplomacy in Indian policy, and India’s relations with its neighbors. Raghavan’s history of the 1971 India-Pakistan War judiciously examines its unfolding in the context of global engagements, and reveals the political choices of regional leaders in new light.
Drawing on the tools of the social sciences and of policy studies, Raghavan also uses his own military experience to impart a practical understanding to his scholarly work. From these elements, he builds a remarkable ‘total’ analysis that synthesizes international and strategic perspectives with regional and domestic context, thereby opening new directions of research in Indian scholarship.
By his commitment to teaching, policy engagement, and public commentary, Raghavan’s research is in turn informing debate and helping to deepen India’s strategic thinking at a critical period in the country’s history.
The Infosys Prize 2015 in Social Sciences –International Relations and Strategic Studies is awarded to Dr. Srinath Raghavan for outstanding research that synthesizes military history, international politics, and strategic analysis into powerful and imaginative perspectives on India in global context.
Citation By The Jury
Dr. Raghavan’s early research focused on India’s foreign policy during the Nehru years, analyzing Nehru’s use of diplomacy and coercive power. Raghavan examined a series of crises – including refugee influx from Pakistan, and border disputes with China – bringing rigor and nuance to the historical study of India’s international relations, a trait that marks all his subsequent work. His second book, on the 1971 Indo-Pak war and the creation of Bangladesh, used archival sources across the world, and international political economy, to locate the 1971 crisis in a context of global strategic, diplomatic and economic causalities. In his third book, on India in the Second World War, all Raghavan’s skills are visible, in a tour de force of historical social science analysis. Raghavan has also played a significant role in energizing the study of international relations in India, in mentoring younger scholars, and in contributing to national policy debate and formation.
Using creativity, Srinath Raghavan has woven different strands of thought and method to shed light on India’s military history and statecraft, thereby paving the way for better strategic thinking, as India takes its seat as a newly-emergent global force. It is uncommon in the social sciences to get a major award at such a young age. Congratulations. – Professor Kaushik Basu
Kabir’s work lends itself to topics that range from subtle inner states to political argument and activism—the relation between the religious-spiritual and social-political. An iconoclastic mystic who criticized organized religion, sectarian prejudice, caste, violence, deception and hypocrisy, Kabir also speaks of self-knowledge, deep inner experience, confrontation with death, and connection with the divine. Ambiguously situated among Hindu, Muslim, Sufi, and yogic traditions, he rejects religious identities and urges fearless awakening.
Bodies of Song is the first scholarly work in any language that studies the poetry and culture of the still popular Kabir through the lens of oral-performative traditions. It draws on ethnographic research as well as on the history of written collections.
It focuses on texts—their transmission by singers, the dynamics of textual forms in oral performance, and the connections between texts in oral forms, written forms, and other media. It attends to context, reception, and community. While demonstrating how texts work in oral-musical performance, it analyzes discourses of authenticity and provides a repertoire of Kabir songs as they might be heard in Central India in the early 2000s. Professor Hess considers theories of ‘orality’, looks at social perspectives, and examines communities of interpretation—including the Kabir Panth (a religious sect), Eklavya (a secular educational NGO), and urban fans of Kabir.
Linda Hess is Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies at Stanford University. Her various books include The Bijak of Kabir(translations and essays), Singing Emptiness: Kumar Gandharva Performs the Poetry of Kabir, and articles on interpretation and performance of the Ramayana.
Theodore Zeldin has been named ‘one of the forty world figures whose ideas are likely to have a lasting relevance to the new millennium’ (Independent on Sunday). His books Conversations and An Intimate History of Humanity are international bestsellers. He has won the Wolfson Prize for history, been elected to the British Academy and the European Academy and been awarded the CBE. He is an Emeritus Fellow of St Antony’s College and an Associate Fellow of Green Templeton College in Oxford.
What new priorities can people give to their private lives? How can one escape from work colleagues who are bores and from organisations that thrive on stress? When the romantic ideal is disappointing, how else can affections be cultivated?
If only a few can become rich, what substitute is there for dropping out?
If religions and nations disagree, what other outcomes are possible beyond strife or doubt?
Where there is too little freedom, what is the alternative to rebellion?
When so much is unpredictable, what can replace ambition?
These are some of the questions asked and answered in this book by one of the world’s most famous, original, and idiosyncratic historians. Deploying examples from the whole history of human civilization—ranging from China and India to Europe and the Americas—Professor Zeldin comes up with some of the most fascinating insights and answers about the meaning of life and how to live it in the modern world.
In her Introduction to this book—which showcases her work as a scholar of social, literary, and religious history—Vasudha Dalmia outlines the central ideas which thread her writings: first, to understand in greater historical depth the relationship between language, religion, and society in India, as well as the ever-changing role of its religious and social institutions; second, to recognize that the Hindu tradition, which colonials and nationalists tend to see as monolithic, is in fact a multiplicity of distinct and semi-autonomous strands.
Professor Dalmia’s work reveals a steady focus on Indian religious traditions, sects, and histories which, over several hundred years, came to collectively comprise what in the nineteenth century became known as Hinduism. In her first essay, Max Müller’s study of the Veda is positioned within a larger history of German philosophical interest in eastern thought. Müller appears less an exceptional German scholar and eccentric Oxford phenomenon once his derivation and links with earlier European Indology are made clear.
Subsequent essays look at the building blocks of colonial knowledge-formation, law-making, and pedagogy in colonial India, and the role in these of Banaras; at some of the major components of the Vaishnava Bhakti tradition; at pre-modern vernacular narratives that fed into constructing the modern Hindi novel and the Hindu ‘nari’; and at the history of modern Hindi literature.
Anyone interested in the plurality of Hinduism, women’s issues, and Indian cultural history will find this book immensely interesting.
Vasudha Dalmia established her reputation with a monumental monograph, The Nationalization of Hindu Traditions (1997)—her classic study of the origins of Hindu and Hindi nationalism in the ethos of nineteenth-century Banaras. She is known as a scholar in the classic Indological mould. She has also written widely on the theatre, including Poetics, Plays and Performances: The Politics of Modern Indian Theatre (2007). She has co-edited books on Hinduism, literary history, and modern Indian culture, and taught at the universities of Heidelberg and Tuebingen. She was for several years Professor of Hindi and Modern South Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She retired in 2014 as Professor of Hindu Studies at Yale.
scholar in early-twentieth-century India, Sir Jadunath Sarkar
(1870–1958) was knighted in 1929 and became the first Indian
historian to gain honorary membership in the American Historical
Association. By the end of his lifetime, however, he had been
marginalized by the Indian history establishment, as postcolonial
historians embraced alternative approaches in the name of democracy
and anti-colonialism. The Calling
of History examines Sarkar’s
career—and poignant obsolescence—as a way into larger questions
about the discipline of history and its public life.
close readings of more than twelve hundred letters to and from
Sarkar, along with other archival documents, Chakrabarty demonstrates
that historians in colonial India formulated the basic concepts and
practices of the field via vigorous—and at times bitter and
hurtful—debates in the public sphere. He shows that because of its
non-technical nature the discipline as a whole remains susceptible to
pressure from both the public and the academy even today.
Methodological debates and the changing reputations of scholars like
Sarkar, he argues, must therefore be understood within the specific
contexts in which particular histories are written.
and with far-reaching implications for all historians, The
Calling of History offers a
valuable look at the double life of history and how tensions between
its public and private sides played out in a major scholar’s
Dipesh Chakrabarty is the
Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor of History and South
Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. He is
the recipient of the 2014 Toynbee Prize, which is given to a
distinguished practitioner of global history.
978-81-7824-469-3/ Hardback/ 314 pp/ Rs 795/ Rights: South Asia only
Writing India’s environmental history is not easy. The country’s
territorial vastness, geographical complexity, and unusual biodiversity
make the task difficult. Relatively few scholars have shown the
historical range and intellectual depth required to tackle the area
compellingly and with sophistication. Mahesh Rangarajan is among the foremost scholars in this field. The
papers and books he has written or edited over more than two decades
have helped craft and enlarge Indian environmental thought as a whole.
They have established his reputation as a stimulating and wide-ranging
historian-thinker in the discipline.
The present collection comprises ten essays showcasing the core of
Rangarajan’s thought and interventions. They include comparisons of the
subcontinent with the world beyond, most specially with societies in
Asia and Africa once under Western domination. They also include studies
of specific historical conjunctures under regimes such as those of
Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, Jomo Kenyatta and Julius Nyerere. Environmental shifts and continuities in a massive Asian society and
polity are the central focus of this book. It discusses events and
processes to show how specific environmental changes happened. It
discusses the global ecological dimensions of Indian transformations.
Economy and ecology, state-making and identity, nature and nation
converge and cohere to make this a book for every thinking person.
MAHESH RANGARAJAN, has been Director, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi. His many books include Fencing the Forest (1996), India’s Wildlife History: An Introduction (2000), The Oxford Anthology of Indian Wildlife (2 vols, edited, 2001–2), and India’s Environmental History: A Reader (2 vols, 2012, coedited with K.
Sivaramakrishnan). Mahesh Rangarajan studied at Hindu College, Delhi. A
Rhodes Scholar, he was at Balliol and then Nuffield College, Oxford. He
has been Professor of History, University of Delhi, and Visiting
Faculty at Cornell University, Jadavpur University, and the National
Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru. In 2010, he was chair,
India’s Elephant Task Force, and was for many years a political analyst
and columnist in print media as well as on television.
The buzz around Nayanjot Lahiri's new biography of Ashoka (Permanent Black and Harvard University Press)
is growing into a clamour. Professor Kumkum Roy, historian at JNU, writes:
The Mauryan emperor Ashoka has attracted the
attention of scholars and laypersons with access to formal education for nearly
two centuries since his ‘rediscovery’ in the 1830s. Nayanjot Lahiri’s work is
the latest in a long, rich and diverse series of biographies of the ruler. It
is significant as being the first major reassessment of Ashoka by a historian
of ancient India in the twenty first century, also because it is explicitly
meant for a general audience, and attempts to move, remarkably successfully, beyond
a dry academic narrative.
And if you read this excellent review below,
it'll be clear why.
Ashoka in Ancient India
by Nayanjot Lahiri
As University of Delhi history professor Nayanjot Lahiri writes in her richly thoughtful new book Ashoka in Ancient India, the third-century BC object of her attentions stands out from the near-innumerable run of rulers, princes, officials, and emperors to a very marked degree. “The contrast with the archetypically self-serving politician,” she writes of the emperor Ashoka, “is so stark and rare that Ashoka arouses in historians a knee-jerk admiration virtually unseen in South Asia until the appearance of Mahatma Gandhi.”
In fact, that near-innumerable run of rulers tending to blend into each other raises all the more insistently the question of where Ashoka’s appeal originates (Professor Lahiri seems endearingly unaware that this appeal stops dead on the borders of her country and that Ashoka is as unknown outside of India as Ashurbanipal is unknown outside of Turkey; when it comes to name-recognition in Piccadilly, the Mahatma has the field quite to himself), and a significant and intriguing portion of this book is an attempt to understand that appeal. “In large part,” Lahiri thinks, it’s due to “his own keenness to appear to posterity as neither recondite nor imperious but instead as a flesh-and-blood emperor guided less by power than by compassion.”
That compassion was the result of the emperor, horrified by the carnage of his own conquests, adopting Buddhism and dedicating himself to becoming a merciful, enlightened ruler, someone who appears, from the records of his own time (many admittedly commissioned by himself), to be “the prototype of benevolence.” He made himself more accessible to the people he ruled than had any monarch in Indian history, encouraging the populace to petition for his wisdom or judgement on any manner of subject. Indeed, as Lahiri drolly puts it (this is, against all odds but wonderfully consistently, a funny book), “one is tempted to imagine the king’s eating and love-making interrupted by people with problems rushing in and out of his private chambers.”
In addition to some early Buddhist biographical tracts about Ashoka, he himself left behind many edicts carved in stone and erected in public gathering spots throughout his kingdom. Lahiri gives a full account of these carved edicts, sifts carefully through the ancient written sources, all in search of the man underneath the accretions of myth, and along the way, she does an understatedly effective job of dramatizing Ashoka’s entire world, from diet and entertainment to the royal peregrinations that formed so vital a part of keeping a big kingdom knit together:
Ancient India’s royalty travelled in style: that is what sculptural representations of large royal processions of chariots and elephants suggest. Some of the earliest such reliefs can be seen at Bharhut in Central India of the second century BCE, where historical kings figure. Prasenajiit of Kosala, for instance, is shown on a chariot drawn by four richly caparisoned horses with attendants and riders, while Ajatashatru of Magadha is depicted sitting on a state elephant with the others accompanying the leader controlled by female mahouts. Like military expeditions, the itineraries of travelling kings were presumably planned well in advance, with calculated halts on the way in villages, towns, and forests. The forethought that went into these expeditions was crucial because, to facilitate the movement of sovereigns and armies, travel tracks had to be made suitable for such retinues.
The result of all this careful, well-presented thought and research is what is certainly the best biography of Ashoka the Great ever written in English. “It is clearly not possible to write up Ashoka’s life in a way that meets modern biographical criteria,” Lahiri confesses early on in her book, and then, like a market conjuror, she proceeds to do what she’s just declared to be impossible. Certainly there have been longer biographies in 2015 of much more recent figures in history – presidents, Civil War generals, famous athletes and singers – that did, shall we say, a far less impressive job of bringing their subjects to life, despite having far more documentation at their disposal. It’s comforting to know, in fact, that the tenacity and the imagination of the biographer is still the deciding factor in books of this sort. Readers who know nothing of Ashoka – surely the majority of readers who will encounter this Harvard University Press hardcover with its bizarrely funereal charcoal-colored cover – are urged to let Lahiri make introductions.
PS by PERMANENT BLACK ---- Pity Mr Donoghue did not see the jacket of our edition, shown above.
I am the author of Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History (Columbia University Press, 2010, and Permanent Black, 2011), a work that was extensively plagiarised in Rajiv Malhotra’s Indra’s Net. I had planned to stay silent, as I usually avoid comment on heated, politicised issues such as this.
when Rajiv Malhotra described me as an “ally” of his on his Twitter
feed, I knew that the time had come to speak out to clarify the
differences between his views and my own. As upset as I am about his
plagiarism of my work, I am even more upset about his distortions.
of the more puzzling aspects of this whole affair is that Malhotra
praises my work effusively while vilifying the work of my mentor and
dissertation supervisor, Sheldon Pollock. Pollock is literally the first
person I thank in the acknowledgements of Unifying Hinduism, and knowledgeable readers will see that it is chock-full of
some of these ideas are the very same ones that Malhotra quotes and
praises in his book! I am enormously fortunate and proud to have had one
of the world’s preeminent scholars of Indian intellectual history as my
supervisorat the University of Chicago.
Malhotra does not know Sanskrit, so he has to rely on others who do in
order to amass the raw materials he needs for his books.
twists the words and arguments of respectable scholars to suit his own
ends. He has used my work and the work of the great historian of
philosophy Wilhelm Halbfass in such a parasitic way.
It is likely
that a careful reading of his books will uncover plagiarised and
distorted passages from other scholars as well. Harper Collins should
take this into consideration and thoroughly check the book for other
instances of plagiarism before it reissues Indra’s Net.
the substantive mistakes Rajiv Malhotra makes, it is hard to know where
to begin, as there are so many. Here I will briefly describe one.
Malhotra seems to have missed the part of my book where I say that
“‘Unifying Hinduism’ is a process, not an entity,” and then go on to
describe the unresolved conflict between Bhedabheda and Advaita Vedanta
visions of that unity (p. 202). Malhotra ignores this distinction, as
can be seen in his plagiarism of a part of page 14 of my book.
he steals my words but replaces the name “Vijnanabhikshu” (a 16th
century Bhedabhedavadin) with “Vivekananda” (a 19th century Advaitin),
as if they were interchangeable. Vijnanabhikshu actually considered
Advaita Vedanta to be a perverse Buddhist interpretation of the Vedas.
Had they lived at the same time, these two philosophers would have been
adversaries, and indeed Vijnanabhikshu would not have even considered
Vivekananda a Vedic (vaidika) thinker. Malhotra elides such differences, as his project in Indra’s Net is to homogenise and de-historicise Hindu philosophy.
On page 201 of my book, I actually predictthat my words will be taken out of context to support a Hindutva agenda.
this prediction has come true. Malhotra even has the gall to suggest
that he has not plagiarised my work but rather that he uses my words,
often without proper attribution or quotation marks, to “add value” to
I invite open-minded people to read the concluding chapter in Unifying Hinduism and compare it to Malhotra’s conclusions in Indra’s Net.
Then they can decide for themselves whether he is improving upon my
work or merely distorting and dumbing it down to fit his own Hindutva
“Pollockian” ideas. -Andrew J. Nicholson
The Publisher Permanent Black adds:
The South Asia edition of Andrew J. Nicholson’s Unifying Hinduism,
published in 2011 by Permanent Black and distributed by Orient
BlackSwan, very quickly attracted attention in the form of complimentary
reviews as well as responses, both favourable and hostile, to our
blogpost on the book. Scholars and serious readers recognized it as an
unusually thought-provoking and thoroughly researched monograph on the
history of Hindu philosophical ideas in the late medieval period. The
book has circulated very well and we are honoured to be its South Asian
The usual trajectory of such a book in the world of
scholarship is for it to become the focus of academic exchange, debate,
and critique, and for its ideas and arguments to percolate through
readers and teachers to students in colleges and universities.
Naturally, therefore, it is deeply disturbing for us, as a publisher of
the finest international scholarship on South Asia, to find that Unifying Hinduism has been used unethically by Rajiv Malhotra in Indra’s Net
(HarperCollins), the nature and varieties of misuse having been exposed
in the media. Such exposure is currently the best available redressal
mechanism in our context, and Professor Nicholson’s statement, which we
endorse, provides weight and specificity to the charges against Rajiv
As for HarperCollins, their willingness to rectify
future editions of Rajiv Malhotra’s book would be welcome were it not
for the fact that there may be nothing left for them to put in a
“corrected” edition: much of the book has been shown up as a patchwork
of other people’s work minus attribution. This is usually defined as