27 April 2009

THE FOUNTAINHEAD OF THE SUBALTERN MOVEMENT




RANAJIT GUHA
The Small Voice of History
Collected Essays

Edited and with an Introduction by
PARTHA CHATTERJEE

At A CEREMONY IN HONOUR OF RANAJIT GUHA ON 2 MAY 2009 IN KOLKATA, THE GREAT MAN WAS PRESENTED THE FIRST COPY OF HIS BOOK BY PARTHA CHATTERJEE. LATER, RG AUTOGRAPHED NEARLY 50 COPIES FOR BUYERS IN THE AUDIENCE




Ranajit Guha is arguably the Indian historian whose writings have had a massive and formative impact on contemporary scholarship in several disciplines throughout the world: on postcolonial studies in literature, in anthropology, in history, in cultural studies, in art history.

Guha first became known as the practitioner of a critical Marxism that ran parallel to the work of British and French Marxist historians of the 1960s and 1970s but which, instead of re-creating a ‘history from below’, sought active political engagement with the present by deploying insights drawn from Gramsci and Mao. More recently, Guha’s writings have drawn attention to the phenomenological and the everyday, and been noticed for their sustained critique of the disciplinary practices of history-writing.

Guha’s reputation rests most famously on his international role as founder and guiding spirit of Subaltern Studies, the series of essays and monographs that have, over the past three decades, critiqued colonialist and nationalist historiographies. While spawning new ways of thinking about history in Europe, Latin America, and the USA, these have created a ferment richer than anything else emerging out of modern South Asia, even as they have unsettled many existing frameworks of thought.

Guha’s fascinatingly diverse historical and political writings, dating from the 1950s and tucked away in obscure journals and collections, have been virtually inaccessible: they are brought together for the first time in the present volume, which comprises his Collected Essays in English, forty-four in number.

These writings have been put together by Partha Chatterjee, whose long association with Guha as a founder-member of the Subaltern Studies editorial board is complemented by his own international stature as a historian, political theorist, and public intellectual. Chatterjee’s Introduction sketches the professional life and intellectual trajectory of India’s most profoundly influential modern historian.

Every serious student of South Asian history, politics, and anthropology will be enriched by the astonishing diversity of insights and learning within this book.

RANAJIT GUHA, renowned as the founding father of Subaltern Studies, is the author of several pathbreaking works, including A Rule of Property for Bengal (1963), Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India (1983), and Dominance without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India (1997).

PARTHA CHATTERJEE’s many influential books include Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse? (1986), The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (1993), and A Princely Impostor: The Kumar of Bhawal and the Secret History of Indian Nationalism (2002; arguably the most readable and thrilling book ever written by any historian of India).


ISBN 81-7824-255-9 / hardback / 676pp / Rs 895 / May 2009

07 April 2009

FIRST PERMANENT BLACK BOOK TO WIN THE COOMARASWAMY PRIZE



THE MANY LIVES OF A RAJPUT QUEEN
Heroic Pasts in India, circa 1500-1900

by RAMYA SREENIVASAN


THIS BOOK HAS WON THE PRESTIGIOUS ANANDA KENTISH COOMARASWAMY PRIZE FOR 2009


THE CITATION READS
"This wide-ranging monograph effortlessly traverses regions and genres to study the evolution of a historical memory. The Padmini story of a beautiful queen who is desired by a powerful enemy and who finally immolates herself rather than surrender has been current in South Asian folk and high literary traditions for over five centuries. In the colonial and post-colonial era it has been appropriated by Hindu nationalists as a narrative of purity and virtue. Rather than accept this recent retelling, Sreenivasan analyzes Padmini's story through its entire narrative trajectory, deploying at once the skills of a historian who combines an understanding of religious thought and social history and those of a literary scholar deeply familiar with gendered tropes in narrative and discourse.

The Padmini story featured largely in Tod's early colonial history. Sreenivasan goes beneath that colonial discourse to recover previous (and parallel) indigenous narratives, and she goes into the archive to show how James Tod and others actually worked. She tracks how nationalists -- both religious and secular -- have appropriated the same theme. Sreenivasan is never reductionist. She consistently locates and situates the texts she analyses in the conjunctures in and for which they were produced, whether by North Indian Sufis, Arakanese kings, Jain businessmen and literati, Rajput lords or Bengali bhadralok. She thereby undercuts the recent heroic narratives of the colonial and post-colonial era that have taken the Padmini story out of context in order to sustain the credibility of Hindu fundamentalism and the discourse of Islamic separatism."


AND ACCORDING TO ONE EMINENT SCHOLAR:
"Ramya Sreenivasan’s study of the multiple narrative traditions surrounding Rajasthan’s legendary fourteenth-century queen Padmini is a masterful and admirable scholarly achievement. The tale of Padmini, as it is widely known in Indian popular culture, portrays a fabled beauty around whom a fatal chain of intrigue, plot, counterplot, and battle ultimately leads to massive heroic deaths, including the celebrated jauhar, or collective self-immolation, of Padmini and her female companions. In the end, the deluded sultan of Delhi, Alauddin, who sought to possess Padmini, attains only the ashes of victory when he finally enters Chitor. You can read this sad and dusty saga in the lobby of the Government Tourist Bungalow in Chitor, and—as Sreenivasan notes on her first page—in the Amar Chitra Katha comic book series as well. However, the plot soon thickens.

Sreenivasan’s singular accomplishment in this meticulously researched account is to demonstrate more convincingly and thoroughly than I have ever seen done before the wonderfully complex entanglements of literature and politics, of history and legend. She adroitly tracks the ways in which apparently infinite narrative permutations may both reflect and influence real events. Padmini herself probably never existed, as we learn in passing early on, but that is of little significance. The queen’s story in its “many lives”—as religious allegory, royal selfaggrandizement, colonial confabulation, nationalist inspiration, patriarchal parable—is likely more compelling than any actual historical personage’s ever could be." -- Ann Grodzins Gold, Journal of Asian Studies


Hardback / 286pp / ISBN 81-7824-185-4 / Rs 650 / Published in October 2007 for South Asia / Copublished by the University of Washington Press