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 From 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.

17 March 2015


The Indian Express has called it "perhaps the most important book to come out on India’s armed forces in  recent years." You can read the complete review here.

Army and Nation draws on uniquely comprehensive data to explore how and why India has succeeded in keeping the military out of politics, when so many other countries have failed. It uncovers the command and control strategies, the careful ethnic balancing, and the political, foreign policy, and strategic decisions that have made the army safe for Indian democracy. Wilkinson goes further to ask whether, in a rapidly changing society, these structures will survive the current national conflicts over caste and regional representation in New Delhi, as well as India’s external and strategic challenges. This is the most important book to have appeared on the Indian armed forces in more than four decades.

On 19th March 2015, 6.30 pm, India International Centre, Delhi, the author will give an illustrated lecture on his book, and Srinath Raghavan will chair. The event is open to all, please come.

Steven I. Wilkinson is Nilekani Professor of India and South Asian Studies and Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at Yale University.

Srinath Raghavan is author of the acclaimed books, War and Peace in Modern India and 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh. He is Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, and Lecturer in Defence Studies at King’s College London.

Hardback| 304 pp| Rs 795

To buy from the distributors, click here.

02 March 2015


Over our many years of publishing Meera Kosambi's books, including her brilliant translation of the memoirs of Dharmanand Kosambi, the author became a friend with whom much was shared and exchanged. She will be deeply missed.

A detailed blogpost will follow shortly.

From the Hindu:

A wide-ranging writer and intellectual, she authored numerous essays and books on topics ranging from Marathi theatre to the social ecology of Mumbai.

Noted sociologist Meera Kosambi, the youngest daughter of the great historian and mathematician D.D. Kosambi, passed away at a private hospital in Pune on Thursday after a brief illness aged 75. 

Ms. Kosambi, who did not marry, had an illustrious academic pedigree. Her father, a polymath, was India’s pre-eminent Marxist historian, while her grandfather was the renowned Buddhist scholar and Pali language expert, Acharya Dharmananda Damodar Kosambi. 

Ms. Kosambi, who did her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Stockholm, wrote, co-wrote or edited more than 15 books which reflected a lifelong preoccupation and passion for with the notion of the modern, emancipated Indian woman. 

While all her works are shot through with brilliant and incisive scholarship, Ms. Kosambi’s crowning achievement was to turn the light on Pandita Ramambai, the great 19 century Indian reformer and educationist and early pioneer of women’s emancipation in India. 

Through her splendid translations of Returning the American Gaze: Pandita Ramabai’s the people of the United States (1889) and a volume of Ramabai’s Selected Works, Ms. Kosambi was instrumental in salvaging the great reformer’s reputation from the debris of time and restoring Pandita Ramabai to the pedestal of one of Modern India’s most illustrious figures. 

A wide-ranging writer and intellectual, she authored numerous essays and books on topics ranging from Marathi theatre to the social ecology of Mumbai. 

She retired as a professor and director of the Research Centre for Women’s Studies, a post that she held for a decade, at the SNDT Women’s University in Mumbai. 

Sad news of the death of prominent sociologist, writer, and translator Meera Kosambi, in Pune on February 26, was received as
a double blow in her ancestral Goa. Many friends and admirers did not know she was ailing. The news was a shock.

There was also immediate recognition that an era had passed—76-year-old Meera Kosambi was the last living link to the prodigious intellectual legacy of her father, D D Kosambi, and her grandfather, Dharmanand Kosambi, who set out on foot from Sancoale in Goa in 1899 to found one of the greatest intellectual dynasties of the 20th century.

Every Indian schoolchild learns about the Tagores, but very few are taught about the Kosambis, despite three generations of truly exceptional achievement backed by pioneering work in multiple fields of research and scholarship. This 'recognition gap' can be attributed to the fact that the Kosambis stood alone, usually far ahead of their contemporaries.

Meera's description of her grandfather aptly summarizes the family character: "solitary thinker(s)... refusal to court public adulation, coupled with plain-speaking and unwillingness to compromise."

The combined story of the Kosambis is almost unbelievable.

Dharmanand's powerful thirst for knowledge—first, about Buddhism—led him to leave his wife and infant daughter and walk out from Sancoale across the border of Portuguese India to Pune, then Varanasi, where he learned Sanskrit while subsisting like a mendicant.

He trudged to Nepal to study Pali, then to Sri Lanka where he was ordained a Buddhist monk. By 1910, he was working at Harvard University in the USA. After learning Russian, this intrepid Goan scholar went on to teach at Leningrad University as well.

Dharmanand returned to India to participate in the freedom struggle against the British. He was imprisoned for six years for his key role in the salt satyagraha. But he continued to write and teach about Buddhism—his influence led B R Ambedkar to convert.

When he sought to give up his life through voluntary fasting just before independence, Mahatma Gandhi prevailed upon him to reconsider, but Dharmanand was steadfast. He died at Sevagram in June 1947.

In the introduction to her masterly translations of 'the essential writings' of Dharmanand, Meera acknowledged: "I did not
know my grandfather", but sought to "claim him as an intellectual ancestor".

She did meet him as a child, and her rigorous, sensitive approach to translating his writings from Marathi —especially the spellbinding autobiographical 'Nivedan' —more than demonstrates a powerful connection.

Even stronger ties bound the adamantine scholar D D Kosambi to his devoted daughter.

Her last book 'Unsettling the Past: Unknown Aspects and Scholarly Assessments of D D Kosambi', was released in Goa in December 2013.

Meera's father was a spectacular polymath with major contributions to the study of ancient history, mathematics, Sanskrit literature, numismatics, and energy policy.

He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard in 1929, before returning to India and writing a long series of highly original papers—backed by painstaking, innovative fieldwork—that define the meaning of 'Renaissance Man'.

Just as Meera's terrific translations of her grandfather's work have proven integral to Dharmanand Kosambi's continuing relevance, her collection of D D Kosambi's writings secured her father's place in history.

The three essays on solar energy alone illustrate how far ahead he was of his time. If India had heeded him instead of his some-time nemesis Homi Bhabha, there is no doubt the country would be far ahead today.

The youngest link in the Kosambi intellectual chain was much more than merely the champion of her father and grandfather.

Meera was a strikingly distinctive feminist thinker and writer, as well as one of the most meticulous scholars and translators
of her generation.

25 December 2014

Letter from a Reader


I have just completed reading the  captioned book by Bill Aitken. (Paperback,2011). I just wish to convey to you my pleasure and gratitude for publishing such a nice book, in such a nice manner.  Though termed a paperback, it is so well printed and  and so securely bound, sewn at the section, instead of being glued. This is such a thoughtful  step, as the glue does not hold for long in our climate, and does not even allow us to open the book fully, without fear. This is such a book as one would not like to read  and throw, or even forget. The book in the present binding will easily last 30 years- which is great for the environment! Both the subject and author have been properly honoured by the quality of your publication. And you have honoured us readers, by  both the high quality and low price! It is almost like a gift! The illustrations are very good. ( I have other books of Bill Aitken published by others, including some well-known international names, and know how poor these are.)

The only deficiency I have felt is the absence of a map or even a rough sketch of the area covered, which would have  helped us appreciate the matter better. But please take this as a suggestion, and not as a complaint.
Please permit me to record my heart-felt thanks for such a nice book.

Yours truly,
(This letter, about Footloose in the Himalaya, is reproduced with permission)

22 December 2014

Fifteen Years, 275 Great Books

Now Fifteen Years Old
(1 April 2000 -- )

On All Fools’ Day 2015, Permanent Black will be fifteen years old. Tumultuous festivities are likely within the swarming intelligentsia of Ranikhet, the new academic hub of international thought processing in the lower Himalaya, which is where we are based for much of the year. Somewhere between 275 and 280 Permanent Black titles will have been published by then, of which 150 will have also appeared in paperback editions, and another 75 in electronic format.

Over these years our personnel strength has increased by twenty-five per cent: one year into our life we were, in 2001, joined by our first assistant, Biscoot (stray road-Asian); fourteen years on there has been a second retruit, Barauni (stray hill-Bhutia; ‘Barauni’ being the local pronunciation of Brownie), who has also been welcomed in at the level of assistant. His promotion to managerial rank will depend on how invitingly he barks in potential authors.

Animated barking, accompanied by some fairly furious tail-wagging by these two assistants, has greatly reduced our productivity and hugely increased the happiness with which we have published. Other than the publisher Rukun Advani, and the jacket designer and general dogsbody Anuradha Roy, we remain without permanent staff, which helps keep us permanently in the black.

Over the course of our fourteenth year we have published one more clutch of first-class books in history, politics, and related areas. Sumit Sarkar’s Modern Times: India 1880s–1950s deserves most special mention because it shows Professor Sarkar performing something of a Lazarus act—he returned from many weeks in an intensive care unit to provide his huge following of fans and readers this wonderfully synthesizing narrative about the late colonial period.

Two major books to see the light of day over the past months have been Akeel  Bilgrami’s Secularism, Identity and Enchantment (copublished with Harvard University Press), and Sudipta Kaviraj’s The Invention of Private Life (originated by Permanent Black, copublished by Columbia University Press). It is an achievement for us to have become the publishers of four books by Professor Kaviraj, an academic known for his immersion in the oral tradition (conversations and lectures).  Rosalind O’Hanlon’s At the Edges of Empire appeared at the start of the year and is her second with us—a great book equally for people interested in currents of historical thought, caste and religious conflict, and aspects of society in Western India. Vasudha Dalmia’s Hindu Pasts: Women, Religion, Histories will appear soon.

M.S.S. Pandian, author of one of our finest academic bestsellers, Brahmin and Non-Brahmin, passed away with a terrible suddenness. Professor Pandian had been working on a book he had signed on with us, on contemporary Tamil politics and we’re keeping fingers crossed for his JNU colleagues to work out how that nearly finished script might be salvaged.

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. The series editor is the new vice chancellor of Ashoka University, Rudrangshu Mukherjee (author of Awadh in Revolt, his revised Oxford PhD). A book each by Steven Wilkinson of Yale (on the Indian army), and 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, as is a wonderfully readable denunciation of Perry Anderson’s The Indian Ideology by three eminent thinkers: Nivedita Menon, Partha Chatterjee, and Sudipta Kaviraj.

We wish all friends happiness among books in the new year—among our books, naturally!

05 December 2014


Arvind Krishna Mehrotra on how translated works speak in the voice of the translator and, conversely, how the poet often speaks in the voice of the writer he is translating. And on the logic behind The Illustrated History of Indian Literature in English (Permanent Black, 2003)

Watch the interview here.

24 November 2014


ROMILA THAPAR, whose monograph, THE PAST BEFORE US, was published last year by Permanent Black (and copublished by Harvard University Press), will be eighty-three on 30 November 2014. 

We are happy to announce that her book has recently been made available in paperback.

While wishing her Many Happy Returns of the Day and many more productive years as historian and activist, we'd like to show thousands of her admirers across the world two extremely rare pictures. Neither of these photos has ever been made public, and Permanent Black is privileged in having been allowed permission by Professor Thapar to show them on its blog.

The first, showing Romila Thapar chairing a talk by Bertrand Russell, dates to 1955 in London. The second, showing her chatting with J.K. Rowling, dates to fifty years later, when it so happened that the University of Edinburgh bestowed an honorary doctorate each on one woman who made her name by arriving at conclusions from potsherds, and another who created a Potter. 

Professor Thapar was at pains to say that these photos should not suggest close friendship with either Russell or Rowling: she happened to interact with them and enjoyed the occasions very much. She says with a laugh that J.K. Rowling very sweetly apologised to her when they met at the convocation, saying she had not read any of Professor Thapar's books. Upon which Professor Thapar smiled and said something like, "Well that's a relief! Because I've read none of yours!"

29 October 2014


Much has changed in the world of South Asian history-writing since Sumit Sarkar’s renowned classic, Modern India (1983). “The passage of thirty years having rendered that work thoroughly dated, the futility of any attempt to revise it became increasingly clear to me, especially as over this period my own historical perspectives took new and unexpected directions”, says the author. The present work is an entirely fresh view of the same period.

Focusing on three huge areas — Economy, Environment, and Culture — Professor Sarkar offers his magisterial perspective on these.

Scientific discourses, laws, forest administration, peasants and adivasis, irrigation, and conflicts over land-use are examined, as are agrarian relations, commercialization, indebtedness, and famine. Trade, finance, and industry are other major focus areas.

Modern urban India is scrutinized via the literature on its big cities. Sociabilities, caste configurations, and public culture (theatre, cinema, and sports) are discussed, as are literature, dance, music, and painting.

In conclusion, says Professor Sarkar, “I have within each chapter incorporated the relevant historiographical developments, changes, and debates. Separate bibliographical sections will I hope facilitate the work of teachers and students.”

After Professor Sarkar's serious illness nobody had imagined he would be able to complete this monumental work. What went into the writing of it could make another book. The first copies were presented to him over a ceremonial dosa and a cup of tea -- that is the way he wanted it.

Tanika Sarkar (left) and Sumit Sarkar examining the first copy of MODERN TIMES. (photo by anuradha roy)

SUMIT SARKAR is among the most influential and widely admired historians of modern India. His several books include The Swadeshi Movement in Bengal, Modern India 1885–1947, Writing Social History, and Beyond Nationalist Frames. Following a distinguished teaching career, he retired as Professor of History, Delhi University. He lives in New Delhi and is working on his next book.

HARDBACK| Rs 895|456 pp| world rights|BUY

20 October 2014


Sudipta Kaviraj has long been internationally recognized as a political analyst and thinker. In this book he shows that he is also one of the most acute writers on the interconnections of literature and politics. The essays here lie at the intersection of three disciplines: the study of literature, social theory, and intellectual history.

Kaviraj argues that serious reflections on modernity’s predicaments and bafflements lie in literature. Modernity introduced new literary forms—such as the novel and the autobiography—to Indian writers. These became reflections on the nature of modernity. Some of the questions central to modern European social theory also grew into significant themes within Indian literary reflection.

What was the nature of the self—did modernity alter this nature? What was the character of power under conditions of modern history? How is the power of the modern state felt by individuals? How does modern politics affect the personality of a sensitive individual? Is love possible between intensely self-conscious people? How do individuals cope with the transience of affections, the fragility of social ties? Kaviraj’s essays show modern Indian literature as reflections on modern times, particularly of their experiential interior.

SUDIPTA KAVIRAJ is professor of Indian politics and intellectual history at Columbia University. He has also taught for many years at SOAS, London University, and 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.

HARDBACK| 376 PP| Rs 895| Published by Permanent Black for South Asia| Copublished with Columbia University Press| BUY (in South Asia only)  Buy (outside South Asia)|

19 August 2014


Ratna Raman
chances upon an Unrecorded
Vocabularian-Phonetic Rebellion
Hitherto Unknown Even to the Postmodern
Phase of Subatern Studies History

How Subalterns
Squashed the Tea Estate Burra Sahibs

From Bagdogra Airport it is a lovely afternoon ride to the Dooteriah tea estate. The tree plantations start almost as soon as we get off the main highway and both sides of the road are thickly carpeted, with dense green tea bushes. Tea leaves plucked from bushes growing at a higher altitude are more flavourful, Babua, the man at the wheel, informs us while the car begins its smooth, gradual ascent into the hills. The journey is beautiful and we unwind on the way to the tea estate, drinking in the colours of the sky and the earth. At the start of the tea estate the smooth road is replaced by badly rutted, narrow roads that were originally horse carriage routes through which the tea estate managers travelled up and down. Now cars and jeeps travel on them jostling shock absorbers and the innards of people sitting in them.
Photograph by the author

We arrive at the Dooteriah Estate in the early evening and alight at the Guest house, a gorgeous old building with high ceilings and ancient red oxide floors, once characteristic of South Indian architecture. The floor has a fabulous sheen, despite hairline cracks all over, rather like those on heritage porcelain taken out of ancient family chests. There is many a slip and unceremonious sprawl to be got past before we eventually sit down to our first cups of freshly brewed Darjeeling leaf tea, the flavour enhanced by Britannia Top biscuits. The view from the top is nothing short of spectacular. Lush, blue-green, triangular mountain ranges frame sloping valleys with large circular bushes of tea that taper into greenness while all around the bungalow, end-of-summer flowers  burst into colour within beds and in black polythene bags filled with soil. This horticultural practice of growing plants in durable black polythene containers in most places in these mountains sustains not only green life but also precious clayey soil since the requirement for terracotta containers has been greatly reduced by the sustained use of portable polythene.

The visiting estate manager invites us to look at the sifting and processing of tea on the estate. The journey begins from the point handpicked leaves packed into plastic bags arrive via ropeway from different gardens in the mountains. The leaves are spread out to dry and then processed, eventually dried and then sorted into four categories. It is a fascinating process and we also taste different flavours. When asked if the name Dooteriah meant anything specifically, he draws our attention to the tall Datura bushes with large white flowers that grow all over the estate. “It is possibly a corruption from the name Datura,” he observed laconically, pushing us to recall how many similar instances of naming were part of the legacy that the British left behind in India, in the course of moving back to their more scientifically named destinations. We have, of course, quickly renamed all our significant roads and cities. (Not that such change is ideal or advisable since it short-circuits and compresses memory while erasing history.) However, in quieter and relatively undisturbed pockets of the Indian subcontinent, older names remain and reverberate, endorsing the multiculturalism of time via language.

Dooteriah for Datura is a charming example of the sort of naming specific to the British residency in India. As was the elaborate ritual of tea tasting that we were drawn into during the  subsequent  period of our stay. Although great tea grows now on our mountain ranges, our tea drinking (and coffee drinking) traditions date back to the British, who planted and oversaw the idyllic, luxurious tea estates, where the only thing that everyone really did was to grow, pluck, process, pack, brew, and drink tea. Every other activity was only incidental, since in good weather the mountains ask very little of inhabitants and visitors alike.

On the way to other tea estates as we drove in and around the various valleys, we saw little shops selling green produce on different sides of the road. Many kinds of mountain greens, violet radishes, luscious green gourds, and small round red chillies that I first mistook for cherry tomatoes greeted us. Among the spread out vegetable ware, I was struck by the abundance of a vegetable that appeared sporadically on Delhi’s vegetable carts for two days in October and disappeared almost as if it were only a mirage.

 When we visited our grandparents in Chennai and uncles and cousins in Bangalore and Mysore, usually in the summer, we were first introduced to this vegetable. Akin to the gourd and the pumpkin families, at home we referred to it as chow chow and in South India it was called Bengalooru Katthirikai (eggplant). Other than the fact that its oval shape was reminiscent of medium-sized green brinjals, there was little other similarity between the real eggplant and this green vegetable that grew on a vine. It could be cooked into a stew, along with lentils or cubed  and cooked into a dry vegetable, garnished with coconut and eaten as an accompaniment to Saambar rice (spicy tamarind lentil mixed with plain rice). The peel of the chow chow was thick and covered with a sort of white stubble. This was usually transformed into a smooth thohayal (chutney). For making the chutney, the peel was roasted along with black gram dhal and ground with a little tamarind and red chillies. The resultant paste was garnished with mustard seeds and asafoetida and subsequently eaten with rice, dosas, chappatis, and pooris. The peeled vegetable was often cut into roundels and dipped into thick chickpea batter (mixed with a little rice flour, salt, and a pinch of asafoetida) and served up as platefuls of hot fritters, with steaming cups of coffee, that we consumed on hot lazy afternoons.

 Here in the hills there seemed to be two varieties of chow chow,  pale green and creamy white. Stopping by the stately Teesta river at the vegetable market adjoining the highway, I am informed by the women selling the vegetable that the white variety is costlier and has a longer shelf life. I am intrigued further by its local name, Iskush. They offer me stems and leaves of the Iskush and I learn that these are cooked by themselves as greens or with yellow lentils and eaten with rice. As I mouth the name Iskush in order to remember it better, Babua, our charioteer, amused by my interest, regales me with stories of the Iskush.
When he was a little boy, Babua tells us, in a village not very far from Kalej valley, his grandfather would come home beaming from ear to ear, at the end of a day’s work. When asked why he was so happy, he would proudly announce “momo khaya (I ate momos). ” Babua went on to explain that long ago “momos” (steamed dumplings), now part of popular street food in much of North India, were made by monks at the not-so-nearby Buddhist monasteries. Cooking food for an entire community, these dumplings (mostly vegetable) were steamed inside enormous containers, and lay visitors such as his grandfather had access to them if they were in the vicinity of the monastery at mealtimes. “We used to wonder then,” Babua muses, “what this momo was that made our grandfather so happy. Only when we were older and could head to the monasteries did we find out. These days, every household makes momos, not only with vegetables, but also with chicken and pork, and everyone owns small steamers in which they cook them, so now every child knows the taste of momos.”

“You must try iskush momos,”  he adds, deferring to our herbivorous preferences. As we head home he stops and draws our attention to a small wood-and-iron shed beside a tea garden over which green leafy vines have been trained. Stepping out of the car we can see Iskush gourds of varying sizes draped in pleasant green foliage. My daughter, who does not share my fascination for Iskush, asks Babua why he does not extol the potato which is so much more delicious. “The potato can be found all the year round,” replies Babua. “The Ishkush is there for only a season and we eat its leaves and its stems and its fruit. Then it is gone and we miss it. In my village, after the fruit is over and the leaves and vines have been consumed, the roots are dug out and eaten and relished. Then we wait for the next season!”

We reach the guest house and savour Iskush momos (reminiscent of ravioli-stuffed zucchini) that Mahendra has made for dinner. The next morning, following a pre-breakfast huddle with Mahendra, green Iskush paranthas (the leaves and vines are cooked and ground and kneaded with flour and spices) find pride of place at the dining table. Crisp and green, the paranthas are served with savoury yellow lentils cooked with Iskush stem and leaf. Washing all this goodness down with steaming cups of tea, I wonder idly if Iskush was introduced to the Kanchenjunga ranges  by plantation wives who grew them in the impromptu kitchen gardens that frame the sides of magnificent tea estate bungalows. 
The Ishkush on its vine. Photograph by the author.

Slowly, it dawns on me that maybe, when plantation wives arrived in India, they were armed with squash from their gardens. They must have planted a few aged squash in the lush soil, longingly hoping to propagate familiar associations of home in a strange new land. Emboldened by the familiar climate, the squash rooted itself effortlessly in this foreign environment. It appealed to local residents who took to this English vegetable, root, shoot, and leaf. They eventually appropriated its name and made it their own. Iskool and iscooter  are two significant (north) Indianizations of  the words ‘school‘ and ‘scooter’,  both of European origin. The third and perhaps more endearing (north) Indianization that I have come upon is the exotic Iskush which has now replaced the low profile, more prosaic, ‘squash’.  With the season’s last crop of Iskush carefully rolled in old newspapers, and tucked into carry bags, we headed for Bagdogra, from where we would soon return to the workaday plains.

Read her own blog, in the midst of life, here