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Showing posts from 2015

That Time of Year

The year's ended on a wonderfully happy note for Permanent Black, with several of our books featuring in year-end Best Book lists. In Open, Ramachandra Guha gave a five star to BODIES OF SONG by Linda Hess: "I have read many good books this year, none better than Linda Hess’ BODIES OF SONG: Kabir Oral Traditions and Performative Worlds in North India . This book examines the rich after-lives of a man who, with the possible exception of Tulsidas, is the most famous of all Indian poets. Dr Hess focuses on how Kabir is sung, performed, and interpreted, combining lyrical descriptions of what she saw (and heard) with subtle translations of the poetry. This is a magnificent work of scholarship, and a rollicking good read. In Biblio ,  Amita Baviskar's Book of the Year: "Thomas Trautmann’s ELEPHANTS AND KINGS: An Environmental History (Permanent Black) was the best book I read this year.. .Pulling together a vast array of sources, this erudite and engag

The Most Important Book on Caste since Dumont's 'Homo Hierarchicus' ...

Sumit Guha Beyond Caste Identity and Power in South Asia: Past and Present   “Sumit Guha’s  Beyond Caste  is the most important synoptic study of caste since Louis Dumont’s  Homo Hierarchicus . Guha is an historian, not an anthropologist, but anthropologists should take note. He has marshalled a vast array of evidence drawn from native and pre-colonial sources, rather than the more conveniently accessible colonial reconstructions that Dumont and others depended on, along with an up-to-date reading of historical literatures few anthropologists are aware of, to powerfully challenge both popular and anthropological common sense on the topic.”— Nathaniel Roberts “Caste” is today almost universally perceived as an ancient and unchanging Hindu institution preserved solely by deep-seated religious ideology. Yet the word itself is an importation from sixteenth-century Europe. This book tracks the long history of the practices amalgamated under this label and

Infosys Laureate 2015: Srinath Raghavan

For publishers, the wonderful thing about authorial prizes and honours is getting to bask in the reflected glory. This morning we heard that Srinath Raghavan has been named one of the Infosys Laureates of 2015. Some years ago, we published Srinath's first book, War and Peace in Modern India , and subsequently, 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh . He is also editor of The Collected Essays of S. Gopal . Previous Infosys Laureates whom we have published include Nayanjot Lahiri, Upinder Singh, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Nandini Sundar, Amit Chaudhuri, Amita Baviskar. Dr. Srinath Raghavan Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi Srinath Raghavan’s career path has been unusual. He is possibly the only Indian scholar of the first grade who has also been a second lieutenant. Born in 1977, he joined the Indian army after  being at schools in Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Chennai. His bachelor’s degree was in physics from the University of Madras (1997). An in


Kabir’s work lends itself to topics that range from subtle inner states to political argument and activism—the relation between the religious-spiritual and social-political. An iconoclastic mystic who criticized organized religion, sectarian prejudice, caste, violence, deception and hypocrisy, Kabir also speaks of self-knowledge, deep inner experience, confrontation with death, and connection with the divine. Ambiguously situated among Hindu, Muslim, Sufi, and yogic traditions, he rejects religious identities and urges fearless awakening. Bodies of Song  is the first scholarly work in any language that studies the poetry and culture of the still popular Kabir through the lens of oral-performative traditions. It draws on ethnographic research as well as on the history of written collections. It focuses on texts—their transmission by singers, the dynamics of textual forms in oral performance, and the connections between texts in oral forms, written forms, and other media. It att


Theodore Zeldin  has been named ‘one of the forty world figures whose ideas are likely to have a lasting relevance to the new millennium’ (Independent on Sunday). His books Conversations and An Intimate History of Humanity are international bestsellers. He has won the Wolfson Prize for history, been elected to the British Academy and the European Academy and been awarded the CBE. He is an Emeritus Fellow of St Antony’s College and an Associate Fellow of Green Templeton College in Oxford.  What new priorities can people give to their private lives? How can one escape from work colleagues who are bores and from organisations that thrive on stress? When the romantic ideal is disappointing, how else can affections be cultivated?  If only a few can become rich, what substitute is there for dropping out?  If religions and nations disagree, what other outcomes are possible beyond strife or doubt?  Where there is too little freedom, what is the alternative


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

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 b

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.   Professor Kumkum Roy, historian at JNU, writes:    The Mauryan emperor Ashoka has attracted the attention of scholars and laypersons with access to formal education for nearly two centuries since his ‘rediscovery’ in the 1830s. Nayanjot Lahiri’s work is the latest in a long, rich and diverse series of biographies of the ruler. It is significant as being the first major reassessment of Ashoka by a historian of ancient India in the twenty first century, also because it is explicitly meant for a general audience, and attempts to move, remarkably successfully, beyond a dry academic narrative. And if you read this excellent review below,  it'll be clear why. REVIEW OF   Ashoka in Ancient India   by Nayanjot Lahiri   Steve Donoghue As University of Delhi history professor Nayanjot Lahiri

Unifying Hinduism: Statements from the Author and from the Publisher

Ads by MacVx Ad Options 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 pe


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 historical


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 s

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

All Crown, No Hollow

C HANCELLORS, IT SEEMS, ARE NOT BABUS EVERYWHERE.  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 cus


--> 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, national ism, and statehood—it created a furore. Anderson attacked subcontinental unity as a myth, castigated Mahatma Gandhi for infusing Hindu religiosity into national ism, 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. C ollectively , these th