20 February 2014


Srinath Raghavan
A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh

Like all writers, academics watch the progress of their peers, tracking who’s publishing what, noting who’s flying high or plunging low, registering reputations, spreading the gossip that predisposes hiring committees this way or that. The consensus among such scholarly peer-watchers is likely to be that an uncommonly impressive young achiever in their community is Srinath Raghavan, whose debut work, War and Peace in Modern India (Permanent Black and Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), drew on a huge pile of untapped documentation to illuminate Nehru’s approach to war and desire for peace—within India, in relation to Hyderabad, Goa, Bengal, etc., as well as externally, with China and Pakistan. The book ran to nearly 400 pages, elicited a load of acclamatory reviews, and brilliantly bridged the gap that often separates the disciplines of international relations, history, and war studies.

Earlier this year, 2013, Raghavan published (as editor) the Collected Essays of Sarvepalli Gopal. It took several years and ferreting in several archives for the editor to arrive at a comprehensive text. Prefacing the late historian’s essays is a 50-page Introduction by Raghavan on Gopal’s life and professional career, an Introduction worth reading for its own sake (though a perceptive review in The Book Review by the historian Partho Datta points out some weaknesses in Raghavan’s defence of Gopal’s variety of historiography). The hallmarks of Raghavan’s writing here, as in his first book, are jargon-free accessibility as well as evidence of his wide reading in literature, world history, and very many areas of South Asian Studies. Though he does not know as many European languages as Sanjay Subrahmanyam (well, not yet), Raghavan does read some, allowing him to note-take in archives that most South Asianists do not visit.

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. 

His next project, a book on India in the Second World War, has been already signed up and is scheduled to appear in 2014. By Indian academic standards, this pace of production seems almost frenzied: so many publications so many years before he's even reached 40? This alone makes it clear that Raghavan has not been infected by the torpor that afflicts scholars even in the best history departments, such as at JNU (Non-JNU Tambrams are the Bachs and Rossinis here, our cavalry charge of high-speed masterwork writers: Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Ramachandra Guha, Mahesh Rangarajan ... )

SRINATH RAGHAVAN’S NEW BOOK is the eleventh to be jointly published by Permanent Black and Harvard University Press. This is what the blurb says, and what some bigwigs say:

The war of 1971 was the most significant geopolitical event in the Indian subcontinent since Partition in 1947. At one swoop, it led to the creation of Bangladesh, and it tilted the balance of power between India and Pakistan steeply in favour of India. The Line of Control in Kashmir, the nuclearization of India and Pakistan, the conflicts in the Siachen Glacier and Kargil, the insurgency in Kashmir, the political travails of Bangladesh—all can be traced back to those intense nine months in 1971.

Against the grain of received wisdom Srinath Raghavan contends that, far from being a predestined event, the creation of Bangladesh was the product of conjuncture and contingency, choice and chance. The breakup of Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh can be understood only in a wider international context of the period: decolonization, the Cold War, and incipient globalization.

In a narrative populated by the likes of Nixon, Kissinger, Zhou Enlai, Indira Gandhi, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Tariq Ali, George Harrison, Ravi Shankar, and Bob Dylan, Raghavan vividly portrays the stellar international cast that shaped the origins and outcome of the Bangladesh crisis.

This strikingly original history uses the example of 1971 to open a window to the nature of international humanitarian crises, their management, and their unintended outcomes.

“A deeply impressive book at many levels: in the depth of its research (conducted in more than a dozen archives spread across four continents), in the acuity of its analyses, and in the power of its prose. The thematic scope is as striking as its spatial scale, with the author exploring and uncovering the military, political, economic, and cultural dimensions of the 1971 conflict. Through this magnificent work of scholarship, Srinath Raghavan has confirmed his standing as the leading historian of his generation.”—Ramachandra Guha, author of India After Gandhi

“Wonderfully written and deeply researched, Raghavan's book will become the standard account of India’s 1971 war with Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh. In a time when South Asia is edging to the forefront of world affairs, everyone interested in international politics should consult this superb interpretation.”—O.A. Westad, author of Restless Empire: China and the World since 1750

“Raghavan has written a meticulously researched and complex historical narrative that moves at a fast clip and brings a global perspective to what is all too often seen as a regional conflict—the Bangladesh independence war of 1971. It is sure to spark fruitful debate on South Asian history, as well as on contemporary historiography.”—Kaiser Haq, author of Published in the Streets of Dhaka

“The consequences of one of the last century's defining conflicts are still with us, and Raghavan brilliantly provides the definitive account of how high-level diplomacy involving the superpowers, India, Pakistan, and China shaped its outcome.”—Stephen P. Cohen, author of The Future of Pakistan

"[the book] is immensely rich in the evidence it unearths and the many dimensions that it opens up."—Rudrangshu Mukherjee, The Telegraph, Kolkata

“This is a splendidly researched book, which presents a logical well-argued case for revisiting the myths surrounding the birth of Bangladesh.”—Devangshu Datta, in Business Standard

Hardback / 368pp / Rs 795 / ISBN 81-7824-380-6 / South Asia rights / end Oct 2013
Copublished by Harvard University Press

If Srinath Raghavan breathed new life into the history of war, national diplomacy, and nation-making by taking these subjects to a new level of excellence in his earlier work, WAR AND PEACE IN MODERN INDIA, he has now similarly raised the bar for contemporary war history and international diplomacy with his new work, 1971. This isn't the publisher's view, there seems to be a growing consensus on the matter, as is apparent from the review excerpts below.

1971 is bound to reinforce Raghavan's reputation as a leading scholar on the security politics of India and the subcontinent … Raghavan has filled a big breach in understanding the evolution of contemporary India.” – C. Raja Mohan, Indian Express

 Starting with the rising tensions in South Asia, Raghavan uses archives from seven countries (plus the United Nations) to offer a panoramic view of the 1971 crisis … [An] impressive new histor[y].David C. Engerman, The Chronicle of Higher Education

[An] absorbing and very detailed account of the creation of Bangladesh … [Raghavan] has produced an impressive analysis of the way the international community reacted to events …David Gilmour, Literary Review

Raghavan has produced a scholarly study couched in sparkling prose ... He is at his best as a diplomatic historian.Chandrashekhar Dasgupta, Outlook

Raghavan offers fresh insights into the 14-day war that led to the creation of Bangladesh.Saikat Datta, The Hindustan Times

[Raghavan’s] superb analysis of the global intricacies of 1971 uses [a wide] lens with great precision to explain the breakup of Pakistan more convincingly than any preceding account …”—Sunil Khilnani, The New Republic

PerceptiveIsaac Chotiner, Times Literary Supplement

The vastly complicated international dimension of the Indo–Pakistan War is expertly mapped out by Srinath Raghavan in 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh … Raghavan analyzes with precision the military operations and economic realities of 1971; he also offers an indispensable array of international perspectives on the war...Thomas Meaney, The Nation
“[An] extremely important addition to the literature on the subject. Seven years in the making a massive amount of research has gone into it ... Much of it is new and quite revealing ... [A] piece of writing done with remarkable felicity.”I.P. Khosla, The Book Review

 “Raghavan breaks new ground by the use of archival material made available only recently ... The result is that he is able to put to rest some of the abiding myths surrounding the intervention.Manoj Joshi, The Hindu

18 December 2013


Mechthild Guha

Danube, Ganges, 
and Other Life Streams

Mechthild Guha, née Jungwirth, was born in 1943 in Germany and grew up in Austria. After a PhD in anthropology at Vienna she journeyed to Sussex for postdoctoral research. England was meant to be a staging point for her return to West Africa, where she had spent several months, and about which she published a book—on the history of Benin. Meeting Ranajit Guha at the University of Sussex changed all her plans. They married, lived for a time in England, then moved to Delhi, and then went to Canberra. Now retired, they live close to the Vienna woods.

Of this short but deeply thoughtful memoir Mechthild Guha says: “It had never occurred to me that it would be possible to pack the memory of seventy years into a few pages. Nevertheless, out of an eventful and varied life, I have tried to select those aspects which not only speak of me but also the many people and places that make up my memories.”

A lover of nature, cats, and solitude, Mechthild Guha’s sensitivity, humanity, and curiosity also make her an insightful observer. Among the many fine things about her account is her refusal to defer to reputation: in her observations and assessments there is always the assumption that social status is irrelevant, and she relates well only to those she likes as human beings.

Best of all, she does not offer a fresh perspective on Subaltern Studies, but merely a superb counterpoint to it.

Hardback / 118pp + 8 pages of b/w photos / Rs 395.00 / World rights / end December 2013

18 November 2013

Sunil Khilnani on 1971 and Srinath Raghavan; TCA Srinivasa-Raghavan on Sanjay Subrahmanyam

If there were textbooks teaching academics how to write their PhDs and subsequent books, this spoof would constitute excellent advice:


At the non-spoofy end you'd have Sunil Khilnani, who, even when he's just writing a book review, seems as a writer in nearly a class by himself ('nearly' only because he'd have one companion in that class: Mukul Kesavan):


Neither entirely spoofy nor entirely serious is the style long adopted by TCA Srinivasa-Raghavan:


05 October 2013



Mukul Kesavan
by the inimitable     
Mukul  Kesavan

One day, in about 1981, looking in his pigeonhole at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he was an M.Phil. student, Mukul Kesavan found a card from his supervisor Chris Bayly which included the line: ‘Cambridge isnt yet a holiday resort!’ The implication was that Kesavan better move it a bit on things academic. Later, Bayly presciently wondered if a career in journalism might not suit Kesavan well. A year or so later, while granting him his M.Phil., Kesavan’s external examiner Francis Robinson felt that with a little more effort the M.Phil. could be worked up into a Ph.D. Kesavan, thanking his stars for not having the money to work further at the wretched thesis, fled that corner of his foreign field happily clutching the M.Phil. Over the subsequent years he went back to Cambridge often, but mostly for the pleasure of punting on the Cam. Trapped as a student within a location bristling with libraries, he saw earlier than most the importance of enjoying Cambridge as the prettiest possible holiday resort.  

The directions of Kesavans early university years point to his later professional trajectory, which has been to combine everyday journalism with the higher learning. Taken to its highest form in Indian newspapers and journals, this is distinctively the art of Mukul Kesavan. A writer of the most witty, scintillating, excoriating, iconoclastic, and classical English prose—which in a quasi-Rushdiean way he has polished into an altogether superior idiom by layering it with sophisticated desi expression—Kesavan dodges classification. Neither fish nor fowl, a cat among the pigeons, he teaches history for a living and is formally a pedagogue, but virtually everything he writes seems implicitly to impale university prose so satisfyingly that, reading him, you can almost see the shaft travelling up the academic underbelly. Living within his tribe, he unsettles it as no one else merely by writing in the way he does. Or, to give it properly academic phrasing, he problematizes his profession. He complicates his colleagues. He liminalizes liminality.

Perhaps three-fourths of the essays and books that Indian social scientists produce are duller than ditchwater, the ditchwater very likely being deeply insulted by the comparison. The wealth of this variety of tripe, so conspicuous in India, may not be as apparent in other countries because, not being as rich in dysfunctional universities as us, they have fewer PhDs and conference-hoppers churning out hifalutin bilge, and therefore a smaller corpus of literature that can be immediately recognized as something that should never have come within sniffing range of a book, never mind becoming one. Of the remaining quarter, the bulk is perhaps passable, while a pretty tiny top-end shows up as imaginative, invigorating, analytic, and everything that academic prose of an international level ought to be. 

Had he put his heart into the academic profession, Kesavan would very likely have written the sort of attractive prose that Indian academics such as (for example) Sunil Khilnani, Arvind Mehrotra, Partha Chatterjee, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, and Sudipta Kaviraj have shown they can write. But as a writer Mukul Kesavan doesn’t really partake of this fine pinnacle either. Having climbed it, he has sidestepped it. The reason is that he does not desire to complicate or problematize or liminalize; he wants his writing to be accessible also within the university, not only within it. Consequently his forte has been the intelligent man's op-ed, the entertaining and thought-provoking analysis in a journal or weekly. 

The problem is that, all too frequently in India, the genres of writing that appear in such fora are seen as ephemeral and transitory, forgotten the day after they have been consumed, dismissed in a general way as the work of hacks. One answer to this difficulty is to collect the best columns and essays of the best journalists into a book, for whereas the single column vanishes from view within hours, a book of such pieces provides coherence and body, it enables the material to appear as a set of ideas, a worldview, a distinctive authorial viewpoint. You get a very different sense of the person writing if you can read 75,000 words by her through the pages of a book over four or five consecutive days instead of 1200 words piecemeal seen by chance over several years. 

  Columns by Indian journalists do sometimes get gathered into books, but the books they become bear little resemblance to the collections by, say, Virginia Woolf and George Orwell, Auberon Waugh and Clive James, where journalism-of-the-moment is so memorably shaped that it reads like art. (In our context the things nearest this are the essay collections of writers like Arundhati Roy, Ramachandra Guha, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Amit Chaudhuri, and William Dalrymple.) Until the recent appearance of Caravan magazine, and some might say Open magazine now and then, there hasn't since the demise of Modern Review and then Encounter and then the infrequently alive Civil Lines been space for the literary essay and strong narrative journalism. We've been short of a LRB, a NYRB. The result has been that high quality journalism, the pungent short essay, and the exquisite long one have been scarce, and these forms havent attracted anything like the sort of writers, money, and adulation that fiction has. Kai Frieze, Ruchir Joshi, and Pankaj Mishra come to mind as exceptional writer-journalists who may as a consequence have had shorter shrift in India than they might if our media and publishing cultures had been more supportive towards their genres. Additionally, because winning prizes is now The Big Thing, a gravitation towards the writing of literary fiction rather than literary journalism may have starved this variety of non-fictional prose. 

For all these larger reasons, and because Mukul Kesavan tends to spend more time talking than writing (his tongue may be the most exercised tongue in the country), it seems not to have been adequately noticed by the public at large that Mukul Kesavan is the finest living writer of Indian English non-fiction. We offer this opinion with provocation but without reservation, and with every expectation of hearing the whistle of hurled slippers. Absurd? Over the top? Maybe. But the assertion is a calculated exaggeration, made because there is no doubt in our minds that the prose offered up by Mukul Kesavan over the past decade or so is utterly exceptional, wholly international, and worth preserving for eternity. 

Sudipta Kaviraj narrates an incident which uncovers one aspect of our local university ethos that has generated vast reams of dreadful writing in the social sciences. At the end of one of his papers during a conference, Kaviraj says, he was approached by an eminent woman academic who said to him with no trace of doubt: ‘Your argument was so aesthetically expressed that I can’t take it seriously. I hope you will write a proper paper for the conference volume.’

Mukul Kesavan once wrote a paper for a conference volume. (He may have written more than one, but the wonder is that he even got to One.) It is titled ‘Urdu, Avadh and the Tawaif: The Islamicate Roots of Hindi Cinema’, and it is reproduced in Kesavan’s earlier Permanent Black collection of essays, THE UGLINESS OF THE INDIAN MALE AND OTHER PROPOSITIONS. Alongside his Cambridge M.Phil. thesis, which he was typically too lazy to rework into a monograph (a loss to Permanent Black; the offer to publish it remains open), this essay has one leg in academia and the other in the world of fine writing. It reveals, as do almost all his essays, that Kesavan is (pace the late Bernard Cohn) An Essayist Among the Historians. Kesavan’s new collection, below,

is, if anything, even more brilliant and wonderfully readable than that earlier one. What the blurb says is the bare truth:

‘Homeless’ in the title of this book means ‘cosmopolitan’. Mukul Kesavan, considered by many to be India’s most articulate and sophisticated scholar-journalist in English, covers a huge range of political and cultural subjects, local and international, in this collection of opinion pieces. These include Hollywood and Bollywood, Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis, Steve Jobs and Julian Assange, Sri Lanka and Israel, wildlife at the Kruger National Park and beachlife in Goa.
Kesavan’s viewpoints can veer from being scrupulously rational to extravagantly funny. Regardless of the tone he adopts, his observations are acute, his analysis of what he notices Orwellian. The perspective and worldview that emerges is that of a truly global intellectual who is both admirably idiosyncratic and secular to the point of being hidebound, a combination which makes this essay collection quite exceptional.
Identifiably Indian in its location, this book is written with such uncommon flair and intellectual passion, and in an idiomatic English of such polish and perfection, that it transcends the local. Journalism was never meant to be this good, and in India it has never been. The newspapers and newsmagazines in which this stuff first appeared just got lucky—this quality of writing should have originated in a book and been enshrined there forever.
Well, better late than never: buy it quick.

On hill stations: ‘Hill stations should come fitted with a thermostat. This way they’re just primitive forms of refrigeration.’

On wildlife: ‘Human populations shouldn’t be herded. Animal populations should—what are zoos for?’

On Nature: ‘I agree completely with Kingsley Amis who said “Nature is most pleasant when seen through the eyes of a character.”’

On Books: ‘I recommend magpie knowledge. Selective reading can be made to seem profoundly well informed.’

On Walking in Mountains: ‘There’s no option except to pretend we’re happy striding through this deranged topography.’

On Seeing a Hill Cow: ‘The cow is a creature of the most supreme stupidity. No wonder the Hindus warm towards it. Donkeys have some semblance of an impulse to spontaneity. Cows are only distinguishable from plants because they move.’

On Seeing a Wheatfield: ‘I must say, it requires a leap of faith to imagine the end product of something green and vertical as a chapati. From something long and thin and vertical and green into something flat and white and round. Vegetarianism has clearly stolen an aesthetic march over non-vegetarianism. It doesn’t require half as much imagination to see cooked meat as the end product of an animal.’

Inside five minutes of entering the [Kruger National] park, we saw our first substantial animal (I’m not counting deer which are to wildlife sanctuaries what weeds are to gardens), a rhino. After a quarter of a century of bourgeois travelling, I’ve arrived at a convergence theory of national parks, which is that all national parks are the same national park. Whether you’re at B.R. Hills near Mysore or in Sariska near Alwar or Kruger, there’s a road in the middle and scrubby wilderness on either side. The difference in Kruger was that there was visible wildlife as well, made evident by the rhino. It must have been all of twenty feet from the car and it was being stared at by a Land Rover full of safari-ing tourists. …
By the time we got to our lodge we had seen several giraffes. Giraffes aren’t native to Kruger. They are intelligent extraterrestrial life forms masquerading as earthly animals. I saw it at once in their lofty indifference to everything around them. We also saw two elephants, a big one and a little one which could have been its child, but we couldn’t tell what sex they were partly because it was dusk but mainly because we didn’t know exactly where to look on an elephant. Specially the African elephant, which is enormous. Ours seemed puny in comparison. I felt a pulse of elephant patriotism. This lot were large good-for-nothings. They couldn’t be taught or tamed or trained to do anything.  They just hung around in profile, staying still so people could take pictures. They made great silhouettes, though. They were so big that driving past one was a bit like driving by India Gate.
… the vehicle [stopped] so we could watch two white rhinos. One of them was defecating and he produced what can only be described as perfect, cylindrical shells that were expelled with such force that the crap was a kind of cannonade. After the rhinos left (both male, young: [the guide] Lazarus could always tell the girls and boys apart, even in the dark) he drove us down to their lavatory, which he called  a midden.
I have a very bad video of him standing outside the Land Rover surrounded by rhino turds, explaining that a midden wasn’t just a place to shit for the rhino, it was also a place for acquiring information, the rhino equivalent of a cyber-café. The midden told the rhino if there were any willing rhino maidens about, it told him if there were any pushy male rhinos horning in on his territory. Lazarus stopped to pick up an old rhino turd and crumbled it. You could tell from the turds, he said, if they had been produced by a black or a white rhino. The colour was different as was the content because the one grazed (ate grass) while the other browsed (ate twigs). It was fascinating but some part of me kept wanting him to wash his hands afterwards.

Hardback / 314pp / Rs 595.00 / World rights / mid October 2013

17 September 2013


All are welcome to this lecture by Professor Romila Thapar,
chaired by 
Professor Neeladri Bhattacharya

23 July 2013


When Permanent Black signed on this book, the agreement was that it would include around 40-50 illustrations. In print, the book will have more than 200. How come?

The reason is that the author is very persuasive. And he is very persuasive because he is both incredibly knowledgeable about his area of specialization, Telugu cinema, as well as enthusiastic about it to the point of being nuts. Facing a book which came in with four times the number of illustrations agreed to in the contract, it was surprisingly easy all the same for Permanent Black to say 'to hell with the agreement' because there is something quite special about this author's involvement in his subject. He has dug out an incredible array of songbook covers, film posters, and newspaper adverts from the most obscure and unknown private sources, and they are of immense value to his history.

The other thing about this book is that you don't need to be a Film Studies wallah to follow it. Srinivas has boned up on Film Studies theory and chucks in some impressive nuggets from it now and then, but he is careful to take it easy with the technicalities and jargon. He wants to reach you and me first, and Ravi Vasudevan, Madhava Prasad, and Ashish Rajadhyaksha later. (That he has also satisfied them is clear if you read to the end of this blog entry.) 

Centrally, this book is a social and political history of the Andhra region written by a madly involved cinema buff. And it is brilliant, in part because it so unusual. It shows us large sections of political and cultural life in urban and hinterland South India through the camera lens. No one ever saw Hyderabad, Teluguland, the Telengana region, Rayalseema, etc. etc. the way Srinivas sees it. His perspective is genuinely fresh, his enthusiasm for the world he investigates so infectious that you'll feel caught by the throat once you start reading it.

 Here is what the jacket blurb says:

This book provides a picture of the Telugu cinema, as both industry and cultural form, over fifty formative years. It argues that films are directly related both to the prominence of an elite which dominates Andhra Pradesh and other parts of India, and to the emergence of a new idiom of mass politics.

Looking in particular at the career of Andhra Pradesh’s best-known film star Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao (NTR), S.V. Srinivas reveals how the Telugu cinema redefined ideas of linguistic identity and community feeling within a non-literate public in South India. Dissecting NTR’s remarkable election campaign of 1982–3, he shows processes of political transformation and electoral mobilization via film, newspapers, and audio cassettes. He uncovers the complicated ways in which Indian politics can be linked with movie-going and, more broadly, cultural consumption. Cinematic and political performance are shown to be inextricably connected in ways disctinctively Indian.

NTR and the Telugu cinema, Srinivas argues, have shaped important aspects of Indian political and cultural modernity. Their legacies continue into the present time—when film has yielded pride of place to television, when the future of Andhra Pradesh’s statehood is unclear, and when Indian star-politicians no longer feel certain of success in the quest for power. 

S.V. SRINIVAS is Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore, and co-ordinator of the Culture: Industries and Diversity in Asia (CIDASIA) research programme there. He was educated at St Stephen’s College, Delhi, and the University of Hyderabad. He has taught at Arunachal University (now Rajiv Gandhi University), Doimukh, and held visiting positions at the National University of Singapore and Hokkaido University. He was ICCR Visiting Professor of Indian Culture and Society at Georgetown University for 2012–13. His publications include the book Megastar (2009) as well as many essays on popular culture as an industry.

“This book provides a historical and theoretically informed perspective on how Telugu cinema was implicated in, and contributed to, the rise of a new ruling caste-class constellation, the emergence of the star-politician, and a new idiom of mass politics in the Andhra region ... It skilfully weaves strands of economic, political, and social history with film history and textual analysis."Manishita Dass

“S.V. Srinivas’s Politics as Performance is an ambitious historical account of the agrarian background, caste profile, and political functions of the Telugu film industry, including a sustained narrative of the rise of N.T. Rama Rao. An exemplary text of film industrial history and political analysis, Politics as Performance makes a powerful argument for the importance of cinema studies in expanding and reconfiguring social science and historical research.”Ravi Vasudevan

“S.V. Srinivas’s long awaited book on Telugu cinema, seen from the vantage point of movie star-politician N.T. Rama Rao’s career, radically repositions the very concept of a star, and indeed that of the cinema, within modern politics. His site of inquiry, Andhra Pradesh, reveals an extraordinarily complex twentieth-century social and economic landscape, and the further manifestation of that landscape in one of India's largest film industries opens up new definitions of film narrative, the film industry, and the overall film economy. This approach to the cinema provides a completely new frontier for the discipline of film studies.”—Ashish Rajadhyaksha

“Unusually for these times, this is a work of film history that does not ignore the larger socio-economic realities of which any culture industry is a part. Indeed it seeks to demonstrate how the channels of mutual determination between socio-economic, political, and cultural instances work in practice. The Telugu film industry, one of the biggest in India, will now be assured of its place in Indian film history with Srinivas’s comprehensive, interdisciplinary study.” M. Madhava Prasad

Hardback / 454pp / Rs 950 / ISBN 81-7824-372-5 / 200+  rare archival pictures / world rights / SEPTEMBER 2013 / Published in 'The Indian Century' series, in association with The New India Foundation

also from permanent black

Ravi Vasudevan
The Melodramatic Public
Film Form and Spectatorship in Indian Cinema

Ranjani Mazumdar
Bombay Cinema
An Archive of a City

Mukul Kesavan
The Ugliness of the Indian Male and Other Propositions

Kathryn Hansen
Stages of Life
Indian Theatre Autobiographies

Jyotika Virdi
The Cinematic ImagiNation
Indian Popular Films as Social History

Monika Mehta
Censhorship and Sexuality in Bombay Cinema

15 July 2013


Admirers of Kathryn Hansen's 
Kathryn in Austin, Texas
many contributions towards understanding North Indian culture, literature, and theatre will want to read this interview. It provides an excellent synoptic view of a scholar who has devoted a large part of her life to a deeply empathetic engagement with things Indian. Not many know that she played the sitar and became, when she first came to India, a friend of Nikhil Banerjee.

Permanent Black was privileged to be approached by her to publish STAGES OF LIFE: INDIAN THEATRE AUTOBIOGRAPHIES (2011), one of the most accessible, readable, and enthralling books on our list. In this she both contextualizes four important autobiographies by four theatre personalities from the days of the Parsi theatre, and translates all four from Hindustani/Gujarati into excellent contemporary English.

Books by heavyweight scholars can seem intimidating; this isn't one of those. Kathryn Hansen entices you into the Bombay and Calcutta and Lahore and Karachi worlds before Bollywood with anecdote, poster reproductions, and critical analysis in prose that's never difficult. You don't have to be interested in theatre and cinema to enjoy this one, it's a book for everyone. Here are two small bits from it:

"In the early twentieth century, leading Parsi and Gujarati companies still hired men to perform women’s roles.  All the autobiographies mention this practice as routine, just as they refer to the employment of women as actresses, which had begun in some companies, as problematic.  None of the other autobiographies, however, describes how it felt for a man to play a woman’s role.  Sundari’s autobiography is extraordinary in documenting his experience as a female impersonator.   No other “lady actor,” as such performers were sometimes called, has left such an insightful account of the process of transformation from man to woman.  Sundari was a female impersonator of the highest order.  Through his method of total identification with women, he created idealized feminine characters that were widely imitated.  Sundari’s stage movements, attire, and speech became models for women offstage.  He was second only to the great Bal Gandharva in bringing about changes that led, paradoxically, to greater freedom for women."

"[...] There was one other incident between 1908 and 1909, when we were rehearsing Chandrabhaga.  One evening, as I was coming down the stairs in the Gaiety, Mr Clement the ticket master said to me, “A woman wants to meet you.  She’s sitting outside in her carriage.” 
I went to the door of the orchestra section and saw a beautiful young Parsi lady.  I approached her carriage and asked, “Did you wish to see me?” 
She smiled modestly and said, “Do you have a copy of the drama Lalita Dukhdarshak? I saw the play last week and enjoyed it very much.”
“Some books are on sale in the auditorium,” I said.  “Maybe the ticket master has it.  I’ll ask him to arrange a copy for you.”
The ticket master came up and said the book was sold out.  He recommended that she go to a certain bookseller.
“Mister Jayshankar,” the Parsi lady retorted.  “How can I go there, being a woman?  Can’t you order the book through the ticket master?  I’ll come and get it next time.”           
I did just that.  But she couldn’t come the next day, and several days later a letter arrived from Matheran in elegant handwriting.   It read, “My dear Jayshankar, I cannot forget you.  You have inhabited my heart.  You are such a gentleman—this I realized from our first meeting.  And seeing the Theosophy ring on your finger made me very happy.  I want to open my heart and tell you so many things.”
It was obvious from the handwriting that the letter was from a woman, but the mode of address struck me as odd.  There was no signature, and I wondered who the woman might be.  Suddenly I remembered the Parsi lady from a few days earlier.  Still, I couldn’t be sure it was she.
All my incoming letters were first read by my bosses before being handed over:  it was how they kept me under surveillance.  They were always alert lest another theatre company lured me away.  So they were abreast of everything in my life, and this had two consequences.  First, I bridled at these restrictions and was angry, and second I had to constantly bottle up my desires.  But like it or not, my life was the target of their moral rescue, and I was powerless to oppose it."


“These four autobiographies of artists and writers who shaped early Indian theatre during its most creative period are as riveting as the fare that the theatre itself provided. Kathryn Hansen’s lifelong and perceptive involvement with that rumbustious enterprise infuses every word of her translation of these texts.”Girish Karnad

“Kathryn Hansen has given us a special kind of book—one with many voices, on many layers, which cohere in a single, satisfying picture.  Autobiographical accounts of early pioneers of the Parsi theatre are enriched by the author’s considerable knowledge of this theatre, its performance styles and people and languages. This well-produced book includes original thinking about a number of topics, including autobiographical writing in India, its history in India and first-person narratives as a form of cultural memory.  The narratives themselves, which lie at the heart of the book, are lovingly translated, combining humour, flare and intimacy.  They read as they were written and bring us inside this world where stages of life were sung and danced and spoken under the lights.”— Stuart Blackburn

So, a book for everyone. And a career for her fans to admire and congratulate Kathryn Hansen for. We hope she will write many more books as brilliant as her last, and publish them all with us.