17 August 2012


Meera Kosambi, editor and translator
Women Writing Gender
Marathi Fiction Before Independence

Most modern literatures were initially dominated by men who claimed, at times, to speak for women. But when given an opportunity, women spoke differently.

This book tells the several stories of how Maharashtrian women found a ‘voice’ in the late nineteenth century. It shows how they created a literary space for themselves, deploying fiction to depict worlds other than those available in male writing, as well as dreams and aspirations unseen in society before they were articulated by their fiction. Having been excluded from mainstream prose, women also created a parallel reform discourse which displayed various shades of feminism.

After an introductory overview of men and women writers of Marathi fiction before Independence, this book presents in translation the work of six iconic women writers: Kashibai Kanitkar, Indirabai Sahasrabuddhe, Vibhavari Shirurkar, Geeta Sane, Shakuntala Paranjpye, and Prema Kantak. Their novels and short stories unfold the journeys of articulate women towards new paradigms, and ultimately towards a demand for gender equality.

MEERA KOSAMBI is a sociologist trained in India, Sweden, and the US. She has specialized in Urban Studies and Women’s Studies. She was Professor and Director of the Research Centre for Women’s Studies at the SNDT Women’s University in Mumbai. She has taught, lectured, and published widely in India and abroad. Her books include Returning the American Gaze: Pandita Ramabai’s ‘The Peoples of the United States’ (1889) (2003), Crossing Thresholds: Feminist Essays in Social History (2007), and Feminist Vision or ‘Treason against Men’? Kashibai Kanitkar and the Engendering of Marathi Literature (2008).

Hardback / 386pp / Rs 795 / ISBN 81-7824-336-9 / World rights / 2012

12 August 2012


Ramnarayan S. Rawat Reconsidering Untouchability Chamars and Dalit History in North India

'Awarded the Joseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences, Ramnarayan
Rawat’s Reconsidering Untouchability charts a new trajectory for scholarship
on Dalits in North India. Rawat engages two scholarly tasks. The first task is to
interrogate how the Chamar caste came to be associated almost exclusively
with leatherwork. The second task is to reclaim Dalit agency in historical narratives
of “untouched” (acchut) identity movements. Ramnarayan Rawat succeeds
admirably on both counts.
Rawat provocatively opens the discussion with reference to the murder of
five members of the Chamars caste who were stoned to death for purportedly
poisoning cattle so that they could profit from tanning the hides. This association
between Chamars, leatherwork, and criminality has a long history that Rawat dissects in order to challenge the dominant framework equating caste with hereditary occupation—an “analytic framework” that has only served “to obscure and erase history ...”' -- Mathew N. Schmalz in Journal of Asian Studies

' ... his argument begs to be heard as he offers a new perspective on the history of India, particularly its colonial and national past. The keen connection of socio-historical description, political awareness and moral argument is striking. The recent political success of Dalit movements is placed into a broader perspective and made comprehensible as the Chamars have been advocating a change in identity politics for much longer than most intellectuals have been aware. This book will have a major impact on the understanding of Chamars but can be viewed more broadly as exemplifying scholarship which uncovers the stigmatization of minorities and rewrites their history.' -- Andre Munzinger in the SOAS Journal

'Rawat's questioning of the occupational stereotype that has underscored anthropological and historical accounts where every Dalit caste is de ned solely in reference to a supposedly impure occupation that provides the basis for their untouchability is a deft move and certainly needs to be taken seriously. An intellectual genealogy of caste and untouchability cannot come about as a simple laterality; and it is definitely as raising the Chamars' approach to such questions in an exceptionally informed and admirably clear manner that I would commend Rawat's book.' -- Sasheej Hegde in H-Net

'Rawat’s reading of the history of Chamars in north India provokes us to rethink the agrarian and labor history of the region. It highlights the possibilities of Dalit
Studies and its potential to complicate, nuance, and challenge entrenched shibboleths of historical change in South Asia.
-- India Review, vol. 11, no. 3, 2012.
'the book is a major contribution to our understanding of the subject. It gives enough evidence that the caste system, and its virulent strain, untouchability, might not be "age-old" if not invented by the colonial state, at least the system had acquired its current shape during the past couple of centuries. In a way, the rise of the BSP, governing on its own in UP, vindicates Rawat’s version of the Chamars’ recent history.' --
Contemporary South Asia, vol. 20, no. 2, 2012.

‘A milestone in the study of caste.  Based on a wealth of archival, vernacular, and ethnographic sources, Rawat reformulates questions of untouchability, impure occupation, and identity, and reveals a previously unrecognized history of Dalit political mobilization in North India dating back to the 1910s and 1920s.’— Gopal Guru, Jawaharlal Nehru University

‘A wonderfully full and enlightening book which opens up a critical aspect of Indian social history.’—C.A. Bayly, Cambridge University

Often identified as leatherworkers or characterized as a criminal caste, the Chamars of North India have long been stigmatized as untouchables. In this pathbreaking study, Ramnarayan S. Rawat shows that in fact the majority of Chamars have always been agriculturalists, and their association with the ritually impure occupation of leatherworking has largely been constructed through Hindu, colonial, and postcolonial representations of untouchability.

Rawat undertakes a comprehensive reconsideration of the history, identity, and politics of this important Dalit group. Using Dalit vernacular literature, local-level archival sources, and interviews in Dalit neighborhoods, he reveals a previously unrecognized Dalit movement which has flourished in North India from the earliest decades of the twentieth century and which has recently achieved major political successes.

Ramnarayan S. Rawat is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Delaware.

This book won the Joseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences, American Institute of Indian Studies.

Hardback / 292pp / Rs 695 / ISBN 81-7824-355-5 / South Asia rights / May 2012
Copublished with Indiana University Press

08 August 2012


Xinru Liu, editor
India and Central Asia
A Reader
Mouth of a water fountain at Ai Khanoum

Central Asia has been a strategic region in world history because of its central location in the Afro-Eurasian land mass, and because it was the hinge between several different ecological zones. From the border of the Iranian plateau to the edge of the Takla Makan desert, and from the foothills of the Kunlun Mountains to the Taiga zone of Siberia, Central Asia encompasses peoples who spoke many languages and practised various forms of livelihood. 

For historians who have been focused on individual civilizations, or the societies which have left written records, Central Asia has seemed an ocean full of dark energy.  From time to time, ‘barbaric’ nomads flew out from Central Asia to loot villages and destroy cities in East and South Asia, and even Europe. 

In recent decades, research on the lives of nomadic people on the steppe, archaeological excavations of urban settlements on oases along the Amu and Sir rivers, and the discovery of more Hellenistic remains have made scholars look at this region from a different perspective. Looking towards Central Asia from the Indian subcontinent shows that the dynamics in Central Asia were often the momentum for fundamental changes in history which brought new cultural elements to South Asia.

XINRU LIU has a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. She teaches South Asia, Central Asia, and World History at the College of New Jersey, Ewing. She is also associated with the Institute of History and the Institute of World History, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Her many publications include Ancient India and Ancient China (1988); Silk and Religion: An Exploration of Material Life and the Thought of People in A.D. 60 –1200 (1996); Connections Across Eurasia: Transportation, Communications, and Cultural Exchange on the Silk Roads (with Lynda Norene Shaffer; 2007); and The Silk Road in World History (2010).

Hardback / 344pp / Rs 795 / ISBN 81-7824-347-4 / World rights / 2012

05 August 2012


In the Permanent Black pipeline for next year (2013) are two wonderfully interesting books by two great historians of ancient India, D.D. Kosambi and Romila Thapar.

Romila Thapar toasting Eric Hobsbawm at his 95th birthday celebration in London, July 2012

The book by Kosambi (actually, two parts of it are by him and one part is on him) is called UNSETTLING THE PAST. 

The book by Thapar is called THE PAST BEFORE US.

Unknown Aspects and Scholarly Assessments of D.D. Kosambi

The Kosambi book is a collection of obscure and pretty unknown writings by D.D. Kosambi alongside assessments of his contribution to various areas of scholarship -- ancient history, mathematics, Sanskrit literature, numismatics, and marxism as a method for understanding the past.

An array of the great man's unpublished letters, unearthed from the Harvard and TIFR archives by his daughter Meera Kosambi, will comprise one section of the book. Kosambi's correspondence includes an exchange with Robert Graves on comparative aspects of Indian and Greek myth.

Almost no one has ever seen this cache of incredibly interesting letters which reveal new facets of Kosambi's insights, range of interests, methods, friendships, and affections. Some wonderful photos of Kosambi, mostly unavailable, will also feature in the book. They reveal a man resembling a Greek god, 5 ft. 10 in. tall, who was humane, compassionate, and caring in unexpected ways, as for example in the photo below, showing him bathing one of his two dogs, Chatya. (The other one was called Bonzo, who too will be revealed in the book.) Some people have it all: intellect, physique, Harvard education, bungalow in Poona ... Kosambi had it all by the spadefull. It comes almost as a relief to know that in later life he suffered from arthritis -- though even about his illness Kosambi is wonderfully blunt. In the last year of his life, in one of his letters to a Japanese collaborator, he writes presciently:  "I find that my health trouble has been due to long standing and apparently incurable virus infection. The main site is the sinuses, with secondary sites in the chest and bowels. The arthritis is a result of this, and so cannot be cured except by death."   -->

Kosambi's famous falling out with Homi Bhabha at the TIFR (they got on fine initially) was in part because, at a time when scientists were debating the relative advantages of solar and nuclear energy, Kosambi argued for the sun whereas Bhabha preferred uranium and had the backing of Jawaharlal Nehru.

Here's an extract from the first of Kosambi's 'Three Essays on Solar Energy' (1957), an essay powered by the writer's fiery English prose, which concludes with a swipe at Bhabha and capitalist functioning more generally -- and which rings true in our time, when inflated costs in the execution of public works are the state's way of looting citizens. 

The cost of research on direct utilization of solar energy would be far lower than for atomic energy. India has much greater supply of solar energy than most other countries; in fact, the problem is to keep the land from being blasted altogether by the sun. One difficulty is that the sun’s energy is not constant. There is the variation between sunrise and sunset, with nothing at all at night. Again, cloudy days make a difference. The problem of storage, however, is not too difficult. Better storage batteries can certainly be produced, to give long life without heavy servicing. Another method would be to pump water by use of solar energy, at whatever variable speed the sun allows, into high-level tanks (say on towers). The water can then come down by gravity through turbines which turn electric generators, and can be further used for irrigation. The advantages are that the fuel—the sun’s radiation—costs absolutely nothing, and there are no harmful exhaust gases or radioactive byproducts. Moreover, the installation can be set up anywhere in India, and will work quite well except perhaps in the heaviest monsoon season. The research is of no use for war purposes. That is why it attracts some of us, but does not attract those who control the funds.

At another point in the same essay, Kosambi seems to anticipate modern objections to the anti-science aspect of Ashis Nandy's worldview:

 Already, before we have had any decisive benefit from atomic power, the problem of the radioactive waste, material which appears in the processing, has become formidable. This leads some prophets of gloom to the other extreme: humanity destroys itself by striving for progress; science is an evil. Let us go back to nature, the simple life of the villager.
This reaction is puerile. The clock cannot be turned back. Science is not to blame, only the greed that misuses it. Man in the state of nature was helpless in relation to the environment. For that matter, edible grain like rice and wheat is as artificial as a brick house; it took our ancestors a few thousand years to develop them out of the grasses; and if human cultivation stopped, nature would not give such food crops. The whole question of energy, atomic or any other, has to be considered dispassionately, without sentiment. 

Romila Thapar, Ranajit Guha, Sheldon Pollock, A.L Basham, B.D. Chattopadhyaya, Daniell Ingalls, Nayanjot Lahiri, Kumkum Roy, Kunal Chakrabarti, R.P. Goldman, Ramakrishna Ramaswamy, and Vivek Monteiro are the contributors who assess Kosambi in the second half of the book.

Romila Thapar's  


Historical Traditions of Early North India  begins by acknowledging an intellectual debt to Kosambi (one of Thapar's mentors). It is a book that even Kosambi, notoriously exacting and a difficult man to please, is likely to have congratulated her for.  She has written a massive tome of 250,000 words which is not only breathtakingly insightful but also 'breadth-takingly' incredible: it surveys the entire historiography of India's ancient past and shows why history in ancient India took the shapes it did. Here's a short description of what it does. (But before getting to her book, here's something even more consequential -- a picture of the author with her dog Amba, an absolute beauty named after the courtesan of Vaishali.)

It has so often been said that Indian civilization lacks historical writing—and therefore a sense of history—that this notion passes for a truism. There has been little attempt to show up the falsity of the generalization. In the present book—a magisterial historiographical survey of every major form within which ancient North Indian history is embedded or evident—Romila Thapar shows an intellectually dynamic ancient world profuse with ideas about the past, an arena replete with societies constructing, reconstructing, and contesting various visions of worlds before their own.

“To determine what makes for this historical consciousness”, says Professor Thapar, “is not just an attempt to provide Indian civilization with a sense of history, nor is it an exercise in abstract research. My intention is to argue that, irrespective of the question of the presence or absence of historical writing as such, an understanding of the way in which the past is perceived, recorded, and used affords insights into early Indian society, as it does for that matter into other early societies.”

She argues that to possess history a civilization does not have to reveal writing in forms regarded as belonging to the established genres of history. In fact, a variety of ancient Indian texts reflect a consciousness of history; and, subsequently, there come into existence recognizable historical traditions and forms of historical writing. Both varieties of texts—those which reflect a consciousness of history and those which reveal forms of historical writing—were deployed to “reveal” the past, and drawn upon as a cultural, political, religious, or other resource to legitimize an existing social order.

The Vedic corpus, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the itihasa-purana tradition, the Buddhist and Jaina canons, the hagiographical and biographical literature, the inscriptional evidence, a variety of chronicles, and dramatic forms such as the Mudrarakshasa are all scrutinized afresh in this book: not as sources for historical data, but instead as a civilization’s many ways of thinking about and writing its history.

ROMILA THAPAR, described here as “virtually the only living historian of 
-->ancient and pre-modern India who has risen to the rank of world-class historians”, is Emeritus Professor of History at Jawaharlal University, New Delhi. She holds an Honorary D.Litt. each from Oxford University and the University of Chicago, and is an Honorary Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and SOAS, London University. Her refusal to accept state awards has only enhanced her renown: in both 1992 and 2005 she declined the Padma Bhushan, awarded by the Indian Government, because, as she put it, “I only accept awards from academic institutions or those associated with my professional work, and not state awards.” In 2008 Professor Thapar was awarded the prestigious Kluge Prize of the US Library of Congress, which honours lifetime achievement in studies such as history which are not covered by the Nobel Prize.