22 September 2015


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.

HB/ Rs 895/978-81-7824-399-3/374 pp

24 August 2015

The Calling of History

A leading 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.

Through 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.

Insightful 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 career.

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

18 August 2015

Nature and Nation

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. 
978-81-7824-459-4 | 360 pp | HB | Rs 795

15 August 2015

REVIEWING ASHOKA: Breathing Life Back into an Emperor

The buzz around Nayanjot Lahiri's new biography of Ashoka (Permanent Black and Harvard University Press) 
is growing into a clamour.  

If you read this excellent review below, 
it'll be clear why.

Ashoka in Ancient India 
by Nayanjot Lahiri 

Steve Donoghue

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.

17 July 2015

Unifying Hinduism: Statements from the Author and from the Publisher

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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.

However, 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.

One 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

Ironically, 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 supervisor at the University of Chicago.

Rajiv 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.

But he 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.

Regarding 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.

There 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 predict that my words will be taken out of context to support a Hindutva agenda.

Sadly, 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 them.

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 worldview.
“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 publisher.

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 Malhotra.

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 plagiarism.

Rukun Advani 

Read this where is was first published, at Scroll.in

07 July 2015


Nayanjot Lahiri

Ashoka in Ancient India

Ancient rulers regarded him as the iconic Buddhist king. Jawaharlal Nehru considered him the greatest emperor of all time. H.G. Wells portrayed him as the sole shining star of antiquity. But who was the flesh-and-blood Ashoka?

The third emperor of the Maurya dynasty, Ashoka ruled an empire encompassing most of India as well as its western borderlands. He was normal as a ruler of uncommon ambition, but utterly unusual as the pioneer of a model of humane governance.  In fact the candour and emotion of his messages on stone show him less as a political figure than as a self-reflective individual.

Recovering Ashoka’s life and times from legend, Nayanjot Lahiri crafts a wonderful biography of this most extraordinary emperor. She provides him with contextual flesh, teasing out his psychology and personality from his edicts and archaeological data about life in India over the last few centuries BCE.

This is the most historically rich and readable book on Ashoka and his context.

established her reputation as an accessible historian of Indian antiquity with Finding Forgotten Cities: How the Indus Civilization was Discovered (2005). Her books include Marshalling the Past: Ancient India and Its Modern Histories (2012) and The Archaeology of Indian Trade Routes (1993). She won the Infosys Prize 2013 in the Humanities—Archaeology. She is Professor, Department of History, University of Delhi.

Hardback / 410pp + 4pp colour / Rs 895 / ISBN 81-7824-388-1 / South Asia rights /  july 2015 / copublished  by harvard university press

07 June 2015


Europeans and Americans tend to hold the opinion that democracy is a uniquely Western inheritance. In The Common Cause Leela Gandhi recovers stories of an alternative version. Using ethics as a lens, she describes a transnational history of democracy in the first half of the twentieth century.

She identifies a shared culture of perfectionism across imperialism, fascism, and liberalism — an ethic that excluded the ordinary and unexceptional. But she also illuminates an ethic of moral imperfectionism, a set of anticolonial and antifascist practices devoted to ordinariness and abnegation that ranged from doomed mutinies in the Indian military to Mahatma Gandhi’s spiritual discipline.

Reframing the way we think about some of the most consequential political events of the era, Leela Gandhi presents moral imperfectionism as the lost tradition of global democratic thought.

She offers it to us as a key to democracy’s future. In doing so, she defends democracy as a shared art of living on the other side of perfection and mounts a postcolonial appeal for an ethics of becoming common.

LEELA GANDHI is Professor of English and Humanities at Brown University. She is the founding co-editor of the journal Postcolonial Studies. Her publications include Postcolonial Theory: A Critical Introduction and Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought and the Politics of Friendship. She is John Hawkes Professor of English and Humanities at Brown University. She is the founding co-editor of the journal Postcolonial Studies.

495.00/978-81-7824-457-0/252 pp/Paperback

22 May 2015

Niraja Gopal Jayal Winner of the A.K.Coomaraswamy Prize 2015

How wonderful that Citizenship and its Discontents, by Niraja Gopal Jayal has won the 2015 A.K. Coomaraswamy Prize. Here's the citation from the Association for Asian Studies. All the praise in the citation is richly deserved.

It's about to come out in paperback with this lovely new cover.

Paperback/ Rs 595

19 May 2015

All Crown, No Hollow


some of them even write books.

NICHOLAS B. DIRKS, FAMOUS FOR HIS MONOGRAPH THE HOLLOW CROWN (1988), knows south india intimately because he spent several years there as a child and spoke tamil fluently. 

he is now chancellor, university of california, berkeley. 

he must have written this book (below) before he became the burra sahib. 

in fact, perhaps he got the big babu's job because he wrote it . . .

Nicholas B. Dirks
Autobiography of an Archive:
A Scholar’s Passage to India

The decades between 1970 and the end of the twentieth century saw the disciplines of history and anthropology draw closer together, with historians paying more attention to social and cultural factors and the significance of everyday experience in the study of the past. The people, rather than elite actors, became the focus of their inquiry, and anthropological insights into agriculture, kinship, ritual, and folk customs enabled historians to develop richer and more representative narratives. The intersection of these two disciplines also helped scholars reframe the legacies of empire and the roots of colonial knowledge.

In this collection of essays and lectures, history’s turn from high politics and formal intellectual history toward ordinary lives and cultural rhythms is vividly reflected in a scholar's intellectual journey to India. Nicholas B. Dirks recounts his early study of kingship in India, the rise of the caste system, the emergence of English imperial interest in controlling markets and India's political regimes, and the development of a crisis in sovereignty that led to an extraordinary nationalist struggle.

He shares his personal encounters with archives that provided the sources and boundaries for research on these subjects, ultimately revealing the limits of colonial knowledge and single disciplinary perspectives. Drawing parallels to the way American universities balance the liberal arts and specialized research today, Dirks, who has occupied senior administrative positions and now leads the University of California at Berkeley, encourages scholars to continue to apply multiple approaches to their research and build a more global and ethical archive.

Nicholas B. Dirks is Chancellor, University of California, Berkeley, where he is also a professor of history and anthropology. An internationally renowned historian and anthropologist, he is known for his work on the history of kingship and the institution of caste in India, as well as for his writing on the British empire. His major works include The Hollow Crown: Ethnohistory of an Indian Kingdom; Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India; and The Scandal of Empire: India and the Creation of Imperial Britain. He has edited several books, including Colonialism and Culture, Culture/Power/History: A Reader in Contemporary Social Theory, and In Near Ruins: Cultural Theory at the End of the Century.

Hardback / 400pp / Rs 895.00 / ISBN 978-81-7824-458-7 /  South Asia rights / Copublished with Columbia University Press / May 2015


When the influential Marxist historian Perry Anderson ventured into Indian territory, he did not bargain for this . . .

Partha Chatterjee, Sudipta Kaviraj, Nivedita Menon
The Indian Ideology
Three Responses to Perry Anderson

With an Introduction by Sanjay Ruparelia

When the Marxist historian Perry Anderson published The Indian Ideology—his scathing assessment of India’s democracy, secularism, nationalism, and statehood—it created a furore. Anderson attacked subcontinental unity as a myth, castigated Mahatma Gandhi for infusing Hindu religiosity into nationalism, blamed Congress for Partition, and saw India’s liberal intelligentsia as by and large a feckless lot.

Within the large array of responses to Anderson that appeared, three stand out for the care and comprehensiveness with which they show the levels of ignorance, arrogance, and misconstruction on which the Andersonian variety of political analysis is based. Collectively, these three ripostes represent a systematic critique of the intellectual foundations of The Indian Ideology.

Confronting Anderson’s claim to originality, Nivedita Menon exposes his failure to engage with feminist, Marxist, and Dalit scholarship, arguing that a British colonial ideology is at work in such analyses. Partha Chatterjee studies key historical episodes to counter the “Great Men” view of history, suggesting that misplaced concepts from Western intellectual history can obfuscate political understanding. Tracing their origins to the nineteenth-century worldview of Hegel and James Mill, Sudipta Kaviraj contends that reductive Orientalist tropes such as those deployed by Anderson frequently mar European analyses of non-European contexts.

Vigorous polemic merges with political analysis here, and critique with debate, to create a work that is intellectually sophisticated and unusually entertaining.

partha chatterjee is Professor of Anthropology and South Asian Studies, Columbia University, New York, and Honorary Professor, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. His many books include Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World (1986), The Nation and Its Fragments (1993), A Possible India (1997), The Politics of the Governed (2004), Lineages of Political Society (2011), and The Black Hole of Empire (2012).

sudipta kaviraj is Professor of Indian Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University. He taught for many years at SOAS, London University, following a long teaching stint at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He has been a Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford, and a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as at the University of Chicago. His most recent books are The Invention of Private Life (2014), The Trajectories of the Indian State (2012), The Enchantment of Democracy and India (2011), and The Imaginary Institution of India (2010).

nivedita menon is Professor, Centre for Comparative Politics and Political Theory, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She is the author, most recently, of Seeing like a Feminist (2012) and editor (with Aditya Nigam and Sanjay Palshikar) of Critical Studies in Politics: Exploring Sites, Selves, Power (2013). An active commentator on contemporary issues in newspapers and on the blog kafila.org, she has translated fiction and nonfiction from Hindi and Malayalam into English.

sanjay ruparelia is Assistant Professor of Politics at the New School for Social Research, New York. His publications include Divided We Govern: Coalition Politics in Modern India (2015), and Understanding India’s New Political Economy: A Great Transformation? (2011).

Hardback / 175pp / Rs 495 / World rights / April 2015

24 April 2015


Publishing in April 2015

Thomas R. Trautmann

Elephants and Kings: An Environmental History

Because of their size, elephants have long been irresistible for kings as symbols of eminence. In early civilizations—such as Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus civilization, and China—elephants were used for royal sacrifice, spectacular hunts, public displays, and their ivory—all aspects driving them toward extinction. The kings of India, however, Thomas Trautmann shows, found a use for elephants that actually helped preserve their habitat and numbers in the wild: war.

This book traces the history of the war elephant in India and its spread as an institution from there to the West, where elephants featured within some of the greatest wars of antiquity. Southeast Asia and China are also examined for comparison and contrast within this environmental history spanning 3000 years and covering a vast terrain, from Spain to Java.

Trautmann shows Indian kings capturing wild elephants and training them, one by one, through millennia. He reveals the political compulsions requiring the protection of elephants from hunters and their forests from being cut down. Taking a wide-angle view of human–elephant relations, he throws into relief the structure of India’s environmental history and the reasons for the persistence of wild elephants in its forests.

Written with uncommon flair and elegance, this is a monumental work of environmental history using Indian antiquity as its entry point. It will interest lay readers, historians, and environmentalists.

Thomas R. Trautmann is Emeritus Professor of the University of Michigan, where he taught the history of ancient India and the anthropology of kinship.  Some of his books are Dravidian kinship (1981), Aryans and British India (1997), The Aryan debate (2005), Languages and nations: the Dravidian proof in colonial Madras (2006), The clash of chronologies: ancient India in the modern world (2009), India: brief history of a civilization (2011) and Arthashastra: the science of wealth (2012).



Hardback / c. 400pp (+ c. 40 b/w pictures inc. 4 full colour) / ISBN 978-81-7824-391-7 / Rs 995 / South Asia rights / 2015 / Copublished by the University of Chicago Press

09 April 2015

Meera Kosambi: A Tribute by Supriya Guha

(Published in H-Asia, Thursday, March 12, 2015)

Although we had met at Women’s Studies conferences in the early 1990s, Meera Kosambi and I became better acquainted with each other in 1994 when she visited the Research Centre for Women’s Studies at the University of Calcutta. A very large audience had come to hear her speak, at least some of whom were drawn by her famous surname. In typical Meera Kosambi style, she disappointed the adulatory “questioners”, who stood up at the end of her talk and attempted to pay fulsome tributes to her father, by asking how their remarks were relevant to the subject, which was the Age of Consent Bill of 1890. I observed at that time that she had mixed feelings about being known as D.D. Kosambi’s daughter. She told me later that she had been very close to her father but his had been a formidably scholarly reputation to live up to.  Although her introduction to the world of women’s studies was because of her biographical study of Pandita Ramabai, her original research had been in the field of urban planning and she was eager to visit Fort William to study the layout of the Fort. She observed that it was like a mirror image of the plan of the Fort at Bombay.

Some years later, I joined the Research Centre for Women’s Studies at the SNDT Women’s University in Mumbai and worked under Meera. The Centre had been the pioneering Centre and the prototype for the series of University Centres established with state funding across the country. The vexed question of the relative emphasis on academic work and “outreach” activity (in other words, interaction with NGOs) had led to somewhat blurred lines in some centres but Meera was quite categorical that she saw Women’s studies as being deserving of the same rigour and respect as any other discipline. She disapproved of the “happy-clappy” climate of some of the women’s studies workshops and conferences she had attended and declared that the Centre she was in charge of was not to be regarded as a “drop-in centre” and it was not to be regarded as a place for folk singing, craftswomen and political activity. While some of the staff missed the old friendly milieu, the excellent library and documentation centre were more conducive to research.

At that time, Meera was working on a series of letters written by Anandibai Joshi from India to an American correspondent. The American family had preserved these letters and given them to Meera when she visited them in the USA, after visiting Anandibai’s grave in Poughkeepsie, NY.  I remember she showed me one in which Anandibai wrote to thank “Eighmie” (surely the most fanciful spelling of Amy that you could have) for a curl from her head.  I imagined the disgust a tuft of human hair might have caused in a Brahmin woman of the 19th Century, but Meera pointed out that Anandibai had in fact reciprocated and sent back a lock of her own, though with an explanation of what a daring business it was for a married woman to be cutting her hair.

I noted Meera’s extremely meticulous manner of working and her complete concentration on whichever task she had at hand. She lived at that time as a lodger with a family in South Bombay and she told me that her way of relaxing, after a hard day of academic and administrative labour, was to do fine embroidery. My colleague, Veena Poonacha, pointed out that her scholarly work had precisely the same fineness of detail as her needlework.

She spoke with disappointment of what she saw as the erosion of the academic culture of Maharashtra or of the lack of veneration for scholarly achievement. Her own strength was that she was completely bilingual, having had her primary education in Marathi. Meera told me that because she was a girl her father had encouraged her to enrol as a member of the Rashtriya Sewa Dal, which was affiliated to the socialist, rationalist strand of political activism in her native Poona. (She was distinctly piqued when someone assumed that this was in some way connected with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which was anathema to her.) She spoke with respect and awe of her father and grandfather but with the deepest affection of her mother.

Meera began writing and publishing fairly late in her career. It might almost appear that she lived under that overwhelming shadow of her distinguished father well into her middle age and it took her time to come into her own. She often spoke to me of the importance of self-belief and knowledge of self-worth. And when she did finally discover her niche, she produced a body of work that reflected her own thorough, punctilious personality and her loathing of pretension.

Supriya Guha

01 April 2015

At the University of Stirling I Sat Down and Did not Write

(From the University of Stirling website, slightly modified as a short piece about the coming into being of Permanent Black fifteen years back.)

Rukun Advani

Rukun Advani Charles Wallace FellowRukun Advani is the author of Beethoven Among the Cows (1994), a novel; E.M. Forster as Critic (1985), a critical study; Indian History from Above and Below: Two Academic Parodies (1999); and Written For Ever: The Best of  'Civil Lines' (2009), an edited anthology.

After a BA and MA from St Stephen's College, Delhi University, and a PhD in English from Trinity Hall, Cambridge, he learnt publishing from Ravi Dayal at Oxford University Press, New Delhi. He now collaborates with his wife, Anuradha Roy, in running Permanent Black, one of India’s most respected academic imprints. He was Writer in Residence at the University of Stirling in 1997.


My Time at Stirling

The odd thing about my time in Stirling as writer-in-residence is that my stay was very successful in convincing me I was not cut out to be a writer and that I was at heart a petty merchant who ought to stick firmly to making money as a publisher. The stay may also have been doubly successful in sparking off the creative impulse in my wife Anuradha Roy, who was there with me the whole time in October-November 1997. It was a honeymoon fellowship for us, we were married a few days before we reached Stirling. She has since published a couple of very well-received novels with a third to be published this year (2015). So the Stirling fellowship may have achieved a global first of sorts with me, or rather us: the first successful transfer of a creativity baton from husband non-writer to wife-writer. Odd how things have turned out, and it may not be the kind of advertisement you [the University of Stirling] have in mind for the fellowship programme, but we remember it as entirely successful, in fact as a great and life-changing time of happiness....

... I was employed as history editor by OUP India at the time I got the Stirling fellowship. Having published one novel, which made me feel on top of the world because I’d never imagined I had what it takes to write a novel and because it was accepted by Faber, I thought I should attempt another. I did try quite hard to get something going over the weeks at Stirling, but the only result was the realization that I was forcing myself in a direction leading nowhere. Meanwhile I’d begun missing unfinished projects back in my office, and, specially, the regular feedback on sales and how much money the books in my history list had made. This was how Stirling made me see that I was at heart a member of the trading castes. I was delighted when the two publishing studies people in Stirling suggested a seminar with their students, and that went off really well, I think, even if it wasn’t what the audience expected, because I spoke on the philosophy of good publishing and its cultural and moral importance — a very Leavisite defence of high traditions along with a sniffy view of pulp fiction and lowbrow publishing. This was a bit of a paradox since I was arguing for the kind of publishing that makes less money than the one I was being sniffy about. The money-making meant a lot to me, but only if it went hand in hand with publishing what was culturally and ethically contributing in its own little way to an improved world (or at least to a world that in my opinion had not been de-proved).

Three years later, Anuradha and I had a huge row with a new ruling dispensation at the OUP and left to set up Permanent Black, a small academic press which over the past fifteen years has become widely known as the press for South Asian history, cultural studies, politics, and sociology. We have nearly 300 hardback and 150 paperback titles in our list. At the start of the venture, fifteen years back, we sometimes wondered, when viewing with dismay the expression of gloom and doom on the face of our accountant, if we shouldn't have called ourselves Permanent Red.

Over the years, we tried to keep overheads low and editorial skills high. We managed to strike copublishing deals with a large number of reputed American university presses. Our distributors in India, Orient Blackswan, became colleagues, supporters, and friends without whom we would not have lasted more than a year or two. And so the name we'd chosen worked. A smile would occasionally suffuse the face of our accountant. He no longer puffed nervously at his cigarette.

We’ve remained small and sniffy: no employees, just the two of us (we use freelance proof-readers). It is not easy to be published by Permanent Black. We take on quite few books and turn down many because the money-making has to go hand in hand with high quality intellectual publishing which academics will value and use, and which via them will trickle through into the minds of their students. I can’t say this is only the result of Stirling, but Stirling helped very fundamentally to settle me in this professional direction.

Permanent Black Turns Fifteen Today

Permanent Black turns 15 today! 

About 280 titles published, of which 150 have appeared in paperback editions, and another 75 in electronic format. Copublications with the university presses of Columbia, Harvard, Duke, Texas; Princeton, Chicago, Rutgers, Indiana, Minnesota, Stanford; Uni of California at Berkeley; Cambridge UP; Oxford UP, NY; Cornell UP; New York UP, Univ of Washington Press, North Carolina UP; plus Palgrave Macmillan, Hurst, Seagull.

This year's highlights:

Nayanjot Lahiri has made quite a name for herself as a historian who can also reach readers outside university enclaves. We will publish her excellent new biography of Ashoka, entitled Ashoka in Ancient India (rights outside South Asia with Harvard University Press). And Thomas Trautmann, the American who knows more about ancient India than any other American, is publishing a fascinating environmental history of the ancient world called Elephants and Kings (copublisher: the University of Chicago Press). 

Both these books will appear within a new series titled ‘Hedgehog and Fox’ (for reasons not difficult to guess) that we have just begun with Ashoka University and in which we have already published Steve Wilkinson's Army and Nation and The Indian Ideology: Three Responses to Perry Anderson, a wonderfully readable denunciation of Perry Anderson’s The Indian Ideology by three eminent thinkers: Nivedita Menon, Partha Chatterjee, and Sudipta Kaviraj.  

The series editor is the new vice chancellor of Ashoka University, Rudrangshu Mukherjee (author of Awadh in Revolt, his revised Oxford PhD). A book by Dipesh Chakrabarty of Chicago (on Sir Jadunath Sarkar), will follow in this series.

Books by two old friends of Permanent Black, Leela Gandhi and Mahesh Rangarajan, are in the works. Watch this space.