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.