30 December 2017

Living Class in Urban India: by Sara Dickey

Honorable Mention in the 
Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy 
Book Prize 2018

"She achieves an extraordinarily intimate understanding of her subjects' circumstances"

Economic and Political Weekly

 Many people still envision India as rigidly caste-bound, locked in traditions that inhibit social mobility. In reality, class mobility has long been an ideal, and today globalization is radically transforming how India’s citizens perceive class. Living Class in Urban India examines a nation in flux, bombarded with media images of middle-class consumers navigating the currents of capitalism and the inequality they can produce.

Anthropologist Sara Dickey puts a human face on the issue of class in India, introducing four people who live in the “second-tier” city of Madurai: an auto-rickshaw driver, a graphic designer, a teacher of high-status English, and a domestic worker.
Drawing from over thirty years of fieldwork, she considers how class is determined by both subjective perceptions and objective conditions, documenting Madurai residents’ palpable day-to-day experiences of class while also tracking their long-term impacts. By analyzing phenomena like wedding ceremonies, religious practices, philanthropy, and loan arrangements, Dickey’s study reveals the material consequences of local class identities. Simultaneously, this gracefully written book highlights the poignant drive for dignity in the face of moralizing class stereotypes.
Through extensive interviews, Dickey scrutinizes the idioms and commonplaces used by residents to justify class inequality and, occasionally, to subvert it. Along the way, Living Class in Urban India reveals the myriad ways that class status is interpreted and performed, embedded in everything from cellphone usage to religious worship.

Sara Dickey is a professor of anthropology at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. She is the author or co-editor of several books including Cinema and the Urban Poor in South India, Home and Hegemony: Domestic Service and Identity Politics in South and Southeast Asia, and South Asian Cinemas: Widening the Lens.

HB| 280 pp| Rs 795 

27 November 2017


“… here we see Sarkar grappling with his intellectual heritage, negotiating his own location within the new Marxist nationalist history of the period. Working within its frame, he pushes at the boundaries, disturbing neat classificatory schemes, resisting false historical comparisons, problematizing categories, and questioning linear narratives. The desire to explore contrary experiences and contradictory pictures is part of his process of questioning”


For the past forty years or more, the most influential, respected, and popular scholar of modern Indian history has been Sumit Sarkar. When his first monograph, The Swadeshi Movement in Bengal 1903–1908, appeared in 1973 it soon became obvious that the book represented a paradigm shift within its genre. As Dipesh Chakrabarty put it when the work was republished in 2010: “Very few monographs, if any, have ever rivalled the meticulous research and the thick description that characterised this book, or the lucidity of its exposition and the persuasive power of its overall argument.”

Ten years later, Sarkar published Modern India 1885–1947, a textbook for advanced students and teachers. Its synthesis and critique of everything significant that had been written about the period was seen as monumental, lucid, and the fashioning of a new way of looking at colonialism and nationalism.

Sarkar, however, changed the face not only of modern Indian history monographs and textbooks, he also radically altered the capacity of the historical essay. As Beethoven stretched the sonata form beyond earlier conceivable limits, Sarkar can be said to have expanded the academic essay. In his hands, the shorter form becomes in miniature both monograph and textbook.

The present collection, which reproduces many of Sarkar’s finest writings, shows an intellectually scintillating, sceptical-Marxist mind at its sharpest.

SUMIT SARKAR is unarguably India’s best-known and most widely admired scholar of modern Indian history. His many books include Writing Social History (1997), Beyond Nationalist Frames (2002), and Modern Times: India 1880s–1950s (2014). He has co-edited (with Tanika Sarkar) Women and Social Reform in Modern India (2007), and Caste in Modern India (2013). He was for many years Professor of History at the University of Delhi, Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, and visiting professor at illustrious campuses in the USA and Europe.

HB | RS 1495 | BUY HERE | OR HERE |

29 September 2017


“Jean Drèze is one of the world’s finest development economists. He works in a space that is widely but incorrectly ignored by most. The practical implications of evidence-based economics cannot be worked through without engaging all of society in democratic discussion, including (especially) those who are working for change. Economics itself fails without that engagement. In this collection of beautiful essays, some previously unpublished, Drèze uses economics, philosophy, and his extensive practical experience to illuminate the whole range of social policy in India. Read on!”

Nobel Laureate, Economic Sciences, 2015

Photograph of Jean Dreze copyright Anuradha Roy

  Jean Drèze has a rare and distinctive understanding of the Indian economy and its relationship with the social life of ordinary people. He has travelled widely in rural India and done fieldwork of a kind that few economists have attempted. This has enabled him to make invaluable contributions not only to public debates on economic and social policy but also to our knowledge of the actual state of the country. 

Drèze’s insights on India’s “unfashionable” issues – hunger, poverty, inequality, corruption, and conflict – are all on display here and offer a unique perspective on the evolution of social policy over roughly the past two decades. Historic legislations and initiatives of the period, relating for instance to the right to food and the right to work, are all scrutinised and explained, as are the fierce debates that often accompanied them.

“Jholawala” has become a disparaging term for activists in the business media. This book affirms the learning value of collective action combined with sound economic analysis. In his detailed Introduction, Drèze persuasively argues for an approach to development economics where research and action become inseparably interconnected.

This is a book as much for economists as for every reading citizen.


"A wonderful book by Jean Dreze, India’s Orwell... a distinctly Orwellian anger at poverty and injustice, combined with sparse prose & forensic eye for detail. Dreze is Orwell Plus." 
-- Duncan Green 

"Beautifully produced, with a catchy and moving introduction...this collection is a pleasure to read. Drèze writes elegantly and passionately, shorn of rhetoric, arguing that we see India from the lens of the marginalised" 
ASHWINI DESHPANDE, Professor of Economics at Delhi University, in the Indian Express

INDIA's economists should listen to its activists. Economist Jean Dreze's new book makes an increasingly necessary argument that creating a morally good, progressive society is as important as improving traditional development indexes 

It is this combination of passion and humour, of sincerity and argumentativeness, that makes Jean Dreze's book such a compelling read. You may not always agree with the happy warrior, but you have to engage with him. Besides, he is good company! 
 Maitreesh Ghatak, Professor of Economics at the LSE, on NDTV 

"Offers a remarkable view of these tumultuous years...Not just younger readers but even those familiar with the ground covered in the book will find it useful – occasionally startlingly – to be reminded of the distance India has travelled"
Supriya Sharma in Scroll

"The essays make a rich contribution to several ongoing debates... The right-based schemes, the debates regarding universal basic income and formulation of public policy through a democratic process owe a huge intellectual debt to the jholawalas, of which Jean Dreze is a giant. It is unfortunate that governments have been shutting down skylights, windows and doors to ideas and inputs from outside. Challenges faced by India are too complex to be resolved from fortresses atop Raisina Hill. History bears testimony to that" 
Sunil Bahri reviews SENSE & SOLIDARITY in Outlook.

"Hope the book is translated into the many regional languages of India."  
Huffington Post reviews Sense & Solidarity 

"What distinguishes Dreze from many economists is his solidarity with the lower strata of Indian society. He has used his understanding of economics to study their day-to-day problems, of making a living, of attending to their health problems, of educating their young ones, and much more. This is the content he gives to what has come to be known as “development economics”"
C. T. Kurien in FRONTLINE

Jean Drèze studied Mathematical Economics at the University of Essex and did his PhD (Economics) at the Indian Statistical Institute. He has taught at the London School of Economics and the Delhi School of Economics, and is currently Visiting Professor at Ranchi University. He has made wide-ranging contributions to development economics, with special reference to India. He is co-author (with Amartya Sen) of Hunger and Public Action (1989) and An Uncertain Glory: India and Its Contradictions (2013). He is also one of the co-authors of the Public Report on Basic Education in India, known as the PROBE Report. Drèze is active in various campaigns for social and economic rights as well as in the world-wide movement for peace and disarmament. Since 2002, when he became an Indian citizen, he has lived and worked in India.


25 September 2017


If you missed these books when they came out in hardback it's time to get them now.

Bodies of Song by Linda Hess

Text and Tradition in South India, by Velcheru Narayana Rao

Beyond Caste, by Sumit Guha

Print and Pleasure, by Francesca Orsini

Dalit Studies, edited by Ramnarayan S. Rawat and K. Satyanarayana

Unconditional Equality, by Ajay Skaria

Nature and Nation, by Mahesh Rangarajan

Writing the First Person, by Udaya Kumar

The Gender of Caste, by Charu Gupta

21 September 2017

Jean Dreze: Undefeated Road Scholar

Jean Dreze was gifted the first copy of his new book, Sense and Solidarity: Jholawala Economics for Everyone, at a pine-cone studded book-launch yesterday. The launch took place at the corporate headquarters of Permanent Black in Ranikhet, Uttarakhand. 
A huge audience of deodar trees attended, listening to every word in rapt silence.

Chief Guest Prakriti Mukerjee has been among Jean's band of road scholars, being one of the many students who camped for days in remote villages working on NREGA and PDS surveys through baking summer weather. She is now Research and Communication Officer at Lok Chetna Manch, Ranikhet, and she took time out of her busy schedule to hand over a be-ribonned copy of the book to Jean, as pictured below.

Jean's new book, a superb combination of scholarship, passion, and commitment, is that rarest of things: a work of scholarship that is gripping and accessible. Angus Deaton, Nobel Laureate, who calls Dreze "one of the world's finest development economists", has described the essays as "beautiful", and says they "illuminate the whole range of social policy in India."

Jean looked pretty happy once he'd got the book out of its red ribbons.

The man in the checked shirt to the extreme right is Rukun Advani, Jean's publisher and editor. Their almost daily correspondence during the making of this book would provide material enough for an entertaining little volume; however, editorial communication at Permanent Black is covered by the Official Secrets Act. 

We can tell that the designer and general dogsbody at the press, Anuradha Roy, didn't do much more than grin in a dazed fashion. 

The support staff at Permanent Black appeared more interested in the small eats than in the book, but as publishing veterans are aware, that is the norm at book launches. 

The book will be in the market from 25th September 2017.  
We will post more information about it in the days to come.

06 August 2017


Traditional Indian panditya (scholarship) has a long and distinguished history, but is now practically extinct. Its decline is remarkably recent — traditional panditya flourished as recently as 150 years ago. The decline is also paradoxical, having occurred precipitously following a broad and remarkable flowering of the tradition between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. The important questions this decline poses are the subject of much ongoing work. The intellectual history of the period is still under construction, and the present book represents a major contribution to the edifice.

A notable impediment has been the lack of critical biographies of significant thinkers in this tradition. The importance of personal and social context for reconstructing intellectual histories is widely understood. In the classical Indian intellectual tradition, however, authors systematically exclude such context, making intellectual biography something of a rarity — very rare in English and sparse even in the regional languages.

This book contains translations from the original Kannada of the biographies of Garalapuri Shastri, Shrikanta Shastri, and Kunigala Ramashastri of nineteenth-century Mysore, all representing the highest echelons of traditional panditya at this critical period of transition. Their fields are literature, grammar, and logic, respectively. The biographies focus on the personal lives of these scholars and their many contexts.

These biographies are almost contemporaneous accounts, reflecting first-hand knowledge. The translations are accompanied by copious footnotes as well as appendices drawn from the relevant primary sources.

CHINYA. V. RAVISHANKAR has pursued life-long interests in the humanities as well as in science and technology.  He is Professor of Computer Science & Engineering and Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education in the Bourns College of Engineering at the University of California, Riverside. He has been on the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science faculty at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and has a Ph.D. in Computer Sciences from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

HB| RS 995| BUY

03 August 2017


“A model of how social history stands to gain from a fuller use of legal sources.”
C. S. Adcock, American Historical Review

“An invaluable contribution…arguably the most important work to date in [Parsi studies].” 
Simin Patel, Law and History Review

“ … formidably intricate story of legal change … the author has achieved something remarkable. A community and its laws are explained.”
Raymond Cocks, Journal of Legal History

Winner of the 2015 J. Willard Hurst Award
for best book in socio-legal history, Law and Society Association

Parsi Legal Culture • 1772–1947


This book explores the legal culture of the Parsis, or Zoroastrians, an ethnoreligious community unusually invested in the colonial legal system of British India and Burma.

Rather than trying to maintain collective autonomy and integrity by avoiding interaction with the state, the Parsis sank deep into the colonial legal system itself. From the late eighteenth century until India’s independence in 1947, they became heavy users of colonial law, acting as lawyers, judges, litigants, lobbyists, and legislators. They de-Anglicized the law that governed them and enshrined in law their own distinctive models of the family and community by two routes: frequent intragroup litigation often managed by Parsi legal professionals in the areas of marriage, inheritance, religious trusts, and libel, and the creation of legislation that would become Parsi personal law.

Other South Asian communities also turned to law, but none seems to have done so earlier or in more pronounced ways than the Parsis.

Read an excerpt here, at Bombaywallah

MITRA SHARAFI is an associate professor of Law and Legal Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, with an affiliation appointment in History. Her work has appeared in a variety of scholarly journals and has been recognized by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council in the USA.

Paperback| Rs 595| Rights restricted| Buy



From the early years of the Common Era to 1700, Indian intellectuals explored with unparalleled subtlety the place of emotion in art. Their investigations led to the deconstruction of art's formal structures and broader inquiries into the pleasure of tragic tales. Rasa, or taste, was the word they chose to describe art's aesthetics, and their passionate effort to pin down these phenomena became its own remarkable act of creation.
     This book is the first in any language to follow the evolution of rasa from its origins in dramaturgical thought—a concept for the stage—to its flourishing in literary thought—a concept for the page. A Rasa Reader incorporates primary texts by every significant thinker on classical Indian aesthetics, many never translated before.
     The arrangement of the selections captures the intellectual dynamism that has powered this debate for centuries. Headnotes explain the meaning and significance of each text, a comprehensive introduction summarizes major threads in intellectual-historical terms, and critical endnotes and an extensive bibliography add further depth to the selections.
     The Sanskrit theory of emotion in art is one of the most sophisticated in the ancient world. A Rasa Reader's conceptual detail, historical precision, and clarity will appeal to any scholar interested in a full portrait of global intellectual development.

"It is a pleasure to follow the various streams of argument that Pollock traces through the classical texts. A poet does not pour forth rasa until he himself overflows with it, so it is with this insightful scholar. This is indeed a source book for rasa. What now remains is for regional scholars to take up and continue the debate on why and how aesthetics came to be subjugated to or dominated by knowledge. This could help us understand ourselves a little better by coming to terms with art and literature and reintegrating with the world at large."
 Murali Sivaramakrishnan, The Hindu

SHELDON POLLOCK is the Arvind Raghunathan Professor of Sanskrit and South Asian Studies at Columbia University. His publications include Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia (2003); The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture, and Power in Premodern India (2006); and World Philology (2015). He is founding general editor of the Murty Classical Library of India, recipient of the Padma Shri award from the Government of India, and fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


02 August 2017

Provisional Authority: Police, Order, and Security in India

Hindi noir meets the banalities of everyday life in the police barracks and tea shops
of Uttar Pradesh

Policing as a global form is often fraught with excessive violence, corruption, and even criminalization. These sorts of problems are especially omnipresent in postcolonial nations such as India, where Beatrice Jauregui has spent several years studying the day-to-day lives of police officers in its most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. In this book, she offers an empirically rich and theoretically innovative look at the great puzzle of police authority in contemporary India and its relationship to social order, democratic governance, and security.

Jauregui explores the paradoxical demands placed on Indian police, who are at once routinely charged with abuses of authority at the same time that they are asked to extend that authority into any number of both official and unofficial tasks. Her ethnography of their everyday life and work demonstrates that police authority is provisional in several senses: shifting across time and space, subject to the availability and movement of resources, and dependent upon shared moral codes and relentless instrumental demands. In the end, she shows that police authority in India is not simply a vulgar manifestation of raw power or the violence of law but, rather, a contingent and volatile social resource relied upon in different ways to help realize human needs and desires in a pluralistic, postcolonial democracy.

Provocative and compelling, Provisional Authority provides a rare and disquieting look inside the world of police in India, and shines critical light on an institution fraught with moral, legal and political contradictions.

Beatrice Jauregui is assistant professor at the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto. She is coeditor of the Handbook of Global Policing and Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency.

HB | Rs 695 | Rights restricted | BUY

30 May 2017


Nayanjot Lahiri wins a major international prize for her biography of Ashoka 
(also included below is the IESHR review of May 2017)

October 3, 2016

Washington, DC— Nayanjot Lahiri of Ashoka University has been selected as the winner of the 2016 John F. Richards Prize for her book Ashoka in Ancient India (Permanent Black and Harvard University Press, 2015). The Richards Prize is awarded annually by the American Historical Association (AHA) to honour the best book in South Asian history. The prize will be awarded during a ceremony at the Association’s 131st Annual Meeting in Denver, CO, in January 2017.

Professor Lahiri’s biography was edited and typeset at Permanent Black, India’s leading academic publisher, and will be available in paperback later this month. (The American edition was offset from the Indian edition and published by Harvard University Press.) The series in which the South Asia edition appears, called “Hedgehog and Fox”, conceived and managed by the Ashoka University Chancellor, Rudrangshu Mukherjee, comprises what has been widely recognized as the cream of recent historical scholarship on South Asia.

To quote from the judges’ statement: “Reversing all conventions of kingship, the Emperor Ashoka recorded his greatest military triumph as tragedy, proclaiming an order of non-violence . . . Lahiri deftly adjudicates between archaeological, textual, and geographical evidence to offer a dazzling interpretation of a remarkable figure of the ancient world and a deep history of ancient society. Her innovative linking of archaeology and biography recasts our understanding of historical methods and ancient worlds alike.” 

Paperback, Rs 595 

In the introduction to this volume, historian and archaeologist Nayanjot Lahiri asks: 'Why another Ashoka?' For, the celebrated third century BC  Mauryan emperor has been the subject of numerous monographs and studies. She provides two answers.

        First, Aśoka is a figure of enduring fascination to whom scholars, politicians and writers have continued to return over time, and the book is meant for a popular audience: ‘readers who enjoy digs into the past’ (p. 21). Second, and more substantively, she seeks to present ‘a narrative account of Ashoka in which a clear path that follows the trajectory of his life cuts through the jungle of legends and traditions, the epigraphs and monuments, and the archaeological facts and detail that surround them’ (p. 21). On both counts, Lahiri has delivered, presenting an accessible and engaging biography of the emperor in his time that navigates the complex terrain of available evidence.
         The great challenge in an undertaking of this kind has to do with the nature of our sources. While Aśoka’s edicts are the most remarkable and personal documents of the ancient period, they cover only a few years of his reign and are silent on the rest of his life. They must be supplemented, therefore, by much later legendary accounts of uncertain historical value, primarily the Aśokāvadāna (ca. second century CE ) and the Sri Lankan Pāli chronicles Dīpavasa (ca. fourth century CE) and Mahāvasa (ca. fifth century CE). Anyone seeking to use them to discover the historical Aśoka will either have to present novel historiographical methods for extracting historical evidence from them or settle for a rather more speculative approach. Lahiri seeks to split the difference.
         Methodologically, the book attempts to use archaeology as a historiographical touchstone: ‘The reliability of historical detail in such texts . . . can be assessed by juxtaposing them with what can be reconstructed about those times through archaeological evidence’ (p. 6). This method contributes greatly to our understanding of the world that shaped Aśoka and how considerations of locale may have influenced his messages and their reception, and the book often shifts its focus away from biographical narrative, which sometimes recedes into the distance. It is rather less successful, however, in separating the historical milk from the legendary water, and Lahiri freely recognises that any comprehensive biography of Aśoka will require speculation and that plausibility will often have to substitute for evidence (p. 104). And so the book blends legend with history to tell the story of Aśoka’s life. For the most part, Lahiri is careful to distinguish between the two, although one does occasionally detect a slippage between them.
         The story Lahiri traces begins with predictions of Aśoka’s birth and extends to his death and historical afterlife. The first four chapters relate his birth, early life as a prince, dispatch to Taxila by his father Bindusāra to quell an uprising, his marriage to Devī and his viceroy ship in Ujjayinī—all as related in the legends. These tales are contextualised with abundant archaeological and geographical information about the sites where they are to have occurred: Pāṭaliputra, Taxila, Vidiśā, and Ujjayinī and the routes between. It is in these digressions into landscapes and lifeways that the present volume truly shines. The fifth chapter covers Aśoka’s bloody accession to the throne and his cataclysmic invasion of Kaliga, shifting in the process from legend to the firmer historical ground of the edicts. From the sixth to the eleventh chapters, there is a focus on the edicts, both their contents and their settings, as well as Aśoka’s activity as a patron of religious sites and institutions. Here, a more personal picture of the man emerges. Lahiri gives a nuanced account of Aśoka’s development, from a zealous Buddhist convert, finding his imperial voice, to a mature and repentant political visionary seeking to rule through righteousness, to Buddhist leader, to ‘an impatient and imperious old sovereign’ (p. 262) looking back on his efforts and their results, and, finally, to his wasting away in piety and grief. A brief epilogue considers Aśoka in historical memory, which confirms the image she has sketched of him ‘virtually as a Buddhist zealot . . . the archetypal Buddhist king that so often recurs seems clear evidence of how he fashioned his image’ (p. 306).
         Lahiri has produced what is probably the best biography of Aśoka to date, but it is clearly written for a general audience rather than for specialists, who are apt to feel that she is more often speaking past them than engaging them. Textualists, in particular, may feel that the author is insufficiently critical in her use of sources, relying, it seems, on English translations and the textual expertise of others. As such, this book breaks no new ground in our understanding  of the sources themselves. Nevertheless, it does make significant contributions to Asokan studies, particularly by embedding  the legends and edicts in a robust archaeological  and geographic context, which yield  valuable insights into  how  the  messages were  shaped, disseminated and received. What is more, Lahiri takes seriously the internal chronology of the edicts as a means for thinking about the evolution of the man himself, something future studies will undoubtedly seek to build upon. Her interpretations of Asoka’s psychology, however, are sometimes of questionable value, as they are not always rigorously juxtaposed  with possible alternate interpretations of the textual features upon which they are based. For instance,  is Asoka's repeated  insistence in the major rock edicts that dhamma endure beyond his reign really a sign of his ‘deep insecurity’? (p. 193)  Other explanations suggest themselves.
         Ashoka  in Ancient  India is a welcome  and valuable  addition to the literature on the Mauryan  dynasty. Lahiri has produced  a uniquely  accessible  volume that draws readers  into the landscapes of Mauryan India and guides  them through  a rich encounter  with the Asoka of edict  and legend.  The difficulties  in such  an undertaking are immense,  and no single approach  will satisfy all audiences.  For all of us, however, Lahiri has succeeded  in giving a more personal feel for Asoka as a man and for the places and lives of the Mauryan period, bringing us closer to this alluring and elusive personality from the past.

Mark McClish
Northwestern University  

28 May 2017

Out soon in paperback: WRITING THE FIRST PERSON

"… written in lucid prose, Kumar’s rich cultural history is an important addition not only to Kerala Studies but to South Asian Studies at large" 

The Book Review


Literature, History, and Autobiography in Modern Kerala

Out now in paperback

Why did autobiographical writings emerge in Kerala more than a century ago? What were the social, material, and cultural features that motivated individuals to write  personal histories and memoirs? This book shows the complex ways in which private recollections, and the use of memory for loosely literary ends, also entailed the production of history by another name.

Udaya Kumar analyses this period of social transformation to show the emergence of new resources for the self-relective writer, as well as of new idioms of expression. Among the many genres and forms he studies are anti-caste writings, works advocating spiritual and social reorientation, monologic poetry, and early novels in Malayalam.

Sree Narayana Guru’s thought, the portrayal of women and desire in Kumaran Asan’s poetry, and the fictional worlds created by major novelists of this period (such as O. Chandu Menon and C.V. Raman Pillai), says Udaya Kumar, excited fresh appraisals of morality, personal emotions, and shared pasts. The envisioning of caste reform, the recording of historical change, and the creation of political identities, he shows, are often inextricable aspects of new literary practices.

Using Kerala’s cultural history as his entry point, Udaya Kumar has written an uncommonly inspirational book of ideas about the relationship of literature to history, on literature as—in a sense—‘history in person’.

Udaya Kumar is Professor at the Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He has been Professor of English at the University of Delhi and of Cultural Studies at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. He was Leverhulme Visiting Professor at Newcastle University, and Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, and at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study. His publications include The Joycean Labyrinth: Repetition, Time and Tradition in 'Ulysses' (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), and papers on contemporary literary and cultural theory and Indian literature. 

Rs 595| BUY HERE

18 April 2017

Fiction as History: An Extract

It was in 1964 that Nehru, the chief remaining embodiment of Indian political hope, died, leaving in his wake a vacuum that his successors soon distilled into a political cynicism and larger moral decline that marked the real break from the nationalist idealism that had begun fifty years earlier, with Jallianwalabagh and Gandhi’s arrival. And it was in 1968 that the ‘three language formula’, presaged by the foundation of linguistic states, was promulgated, making Hindi merely one of three languages taught in schools, putting paid to what had over the nationalist period been cast as a major objective of unification—Hindi as the sole national language of the country. There were furious anti-Hindi riots in 1966 across both North and South India, many of them bloody and destructive, the end result being the tacit acceptance and codification into a policy of the general preference for English in the upper echelons of society. It is for these reasons, then, that this book looks at the urban intellectual and cultural life of North India in the century or so that preceded the end of Nehruvian India.

Why urban North India and why the Hindi novel, when Hindi fiction is associated more with novels about peasants, particularly those of Premchand (1880–1936), now regarded as the classic Hindi author? For one, modernization took place at a greater and more discernible pace in cities than in the countryside. To focus on the city is to be able to look more clearly at the process of modernization. For another, the story of the rather more spectacular modernity of the Presidency towns—Bombay and Madras, and Calcutta in particular, the capital of British India from1858 till 1911—has been told and retold. Generations of Bengali scholars have pioneered the study of colonial modernity and taught us to read it through bhadralok culture, particularly through the novels of Bankimchandra Chatterjee and Rabindranath Tagore. The North, west of Bengal, has generally been regarded as lagging, provincial, and late on the literary scene. Leaving others to judge whether this was really so, it seems possible to outline several reasons why its story seems worth telling.

Unlike Bengal, which had the great urban centre, Calcutta, founded by the British and developed as the capital of British India, the North had a number of scattered cities, all of them older and with distinct histories of their own. In these cities there was already an identifiable elite culture in place, one that 1857 disrupted and shattered. The modernization that followed thereafter also had, then, other foundations than those to be found in Calcutta and the Presidency towns, and an important intellectual aspect of these was the Hindi literature that emerged within them. Modern Hindi was born in these cities of North India, where Urdu and Persian had prevailed, out of the need within an emergent Hindu middle class to find cultural and political expression. It was in these cities that this middle class faced the need to modernize, to accommodate and evolve social change, and where it received intellectual stimulation. This invigoration came from various encounters, through education in the new colleges in the cities, founded from the late nineteenth century on by the elite; from Western intellectual discourse as available through print—missionary tracts, newspapers, books; and through dealings with Western institutions of governance, the municipality and 
law court amongst others.


"Her book is a lucid entry point for those unfamiliar with the Hindi novel in the past 150 odd years and offers a sharp analysis of tradition, nationalism, and modernity."
Shantam Goyal, The Print

This book provides a panoramic view of the intellectual and cultural life of North India over a century – from the aftermath of the 1857 uprising to the end of the Nehruvian era.

The North’s historical cities, rooted in an Indo-Persianate culture, began changing more slowly than the Presidency towns founded by the British. Focusing on six major cities – Agra, Allahabad, Banaras, Delhi, Lahore, and Lucknow – Dalmia takes up eight canonical Hindi novels set in them to trace a literary history of domestic and political cataclysms. Her exploration of emerging Hindu middle classes, changing personal and professional ambitions, and new notions of married life provides a vivid sense of urban modernity.

She looks at the radical social transformations associated with post-1857 urban restructuring, and at the political flux resulting from social reform, Gandhian nationalism, communalism, Partition, and the Cold War. These, she argues, shaped the realm of the intimate as much as the public sphere. Love and friendship, notions of privacy, attitudes to women’s work, and relationships within households are among the book’s major themes.

Vasudha Dalmia is Professor Emerita of Hindi and Modern South Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Her scholarship includes a work on Bharatendu Harischandra and Banaras – a monumental classic now available as The Nationalization of Hindu Traditions (new edn, Permanent Black paperback, 2010). Her recent works include Hindu Pasts (Permanent Black, 2015), and, as co-editor The Cambridge Companion to Modern Indian Culture (2012), and Religious Interactions in Mughal India (2014). 

Read an extract here

Hardback / Rs 995/ BUY

16 April 2017


In classical times, India’s diverse groups – whether defined by family or caste, professional or religious association – settled on a concept of law. How did they reach consensus? Was it based in religion or transcendent knowledge? Did it depend on time and place? What apparatus existed to ensure justice and fair verdicts?

Addressing these questions and more, A Dharma Reader traces the definition and process of Indian law from the third century BCE to the middle ages. Its breadth captures the centuries-long struggle by Indian thinkers to theorize law in a complex society.

The volume includes new and accessible translations of key texts, notes that explain the significance and chronology of selections, and a comprehensive introduction that summarizes the development of various disciplines in intellectual and historical terms.
With exceptional detail and historical precision, this Reader provides unique insights into the legal interactions among India’s many groups.

Patrick Olivelle is professor emeritus of Sanskrit and Indian religions at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author and editor of a number of books, including King, Governance, and Law in Ancient India (2013); Visnu's Code of Law: A Critical Edition and Translation of the Vaisnava Dharmasastra (2009); Dharma: Studies in Its Semantic, Cultural, and Religious History (2009); Manu's Code of Law: A Critical Edition and Translation of the Manava-Dharmasastra (2005); and Dharmasutras: The Law Codes of Ancient India (1999).

Rs 1195/ HB/ Large format/Rights restricted/ BUY

15 March 2017

Udaya Kumar On Writing the First Person

Udaya Kumar on his new book, Writing the First Person.
With V. Sanil, Mohinder Singh, Prathama Banerjee
Monday 20 March, 5 pm, CSDS seminar room
29 , Rajpur Road, Delhi.

18 February 2017

The Making of Indian Literature

The Writer of Modern Life

Three scholars on the making of Indian literature

By VINEET GILL | 1 February 2017
"Modern writers and artists in India—and in other postcolonial countries—have always had to contend with the politics of cultural exchange between the colonised and the coloniser. When the Bengali critic Dineshchandra Sen, in a letter to the British historian EP Thompson, referred to Rabindranath Tagore as “a European writer of Bengali,” he was articulating a grievance against all cultural renegades. Yet far from being a failing on the part of the postcolonial writer or artist, the urge to cross over is essential to modernity. The scholar Rosinka Chaudhuri, in her 2014 book The Literary Thing—a fascinating study of the beginnings of modern poetry in Bengal—employs an interesting phrase to describe the phenomenon: “creative cross-contamination.” Let there be no doubt: the spirit of modernity is confused, many-hued, contaminated.

How that spirit manifested itself during the nineteenth century in the literary arenas of two of our richest languages—Bengali and Malayalam—is the subject of three recent books on Indian literary history: along with Chaudhuri’s The Literary Thing, Sudipta Kaviraj’s The Invention of Private Life and Udaya Kumar’s Writing the First Person.

“MOST OF INDIAN CRITICAL TALENT has been wasted,” wrote the linguist GN Devy in his well-known 1992 polemic After Amnesia, “in pursuit of theory, much of which has been totally irrelevant to literature in India.” After Amnesia was an attempt to shake up the field of literary studies in this country. Devy’s main allegation against students and professors of vernacular literature was that they were borrowing Western models of analysis that had little relevance in the Indian context, and that they had, on top of that, forgotten their real bhasha heritage.

The interest of Indian literature—“Indian” here being a convenient shorthand for a complex body of work composed in close to a hundred languages—lies in the multiplicity of its histories and sub-traditions. The worst we can do while trying to make sense of this complexity, Devy argues, is to break it down by adopting the “theoretical” approach peddled in India by the coloniser with a view to civilising the natives. English education was exported to the colonies as an instrument of asserting political power. Courses on English literature, for instance, were being taught in India at a time when even British universities had yet to offer them. So, Devy writes, “English became a basic theme in the Imperial enterprise.” This created a demand for critical works and theoretical studies about English literature in the colonies, and produced modern Indian critics reared on literary theories that belonged, in Devy’s view, to an alien culture.

Devy’s uneasy, almost wounded, tone is reminiscent of that of certain nineteenth-century critics from Bengal, and elsewhere in India, who made very similar arguments against paschatyabhav, or Western sensibility. Bengali intellectuals such as Budhev Mukhopadhyay and Dineshchandra Sen, while themselves well versed in Western ideas and languages, remained critical of all bijatiya, or foreign, influence. Many of these critics were champions of vernacular languages. As the editor and essayist Ramananda Chatterjee once wrote, “A foreign literature and foreign tongue, as English is, cannot serve as the medium through which we may know one another and interchange our deepest thoughts and feelings.”
Read the rest of the essay here, in The Caravan.

13 February 2017

ARMY AND NATION in the news

In his first speech after taking office, Pakistan's new army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, urged officers to read ARMY AND  NATION by STEVE WILKINSON, reports Salman Masood in The Nation.

ISLAMABAD - The gathering of senior army officers of Rawalpindi Garrison sat alert in the General Headquarters auditorium and listened to their chief intently. It was the last week of December and Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, the army chief, had been into the top job just weeks earlier. The general delivered his first speech – an articulation of his vision – as the new army chief in a poised manner and communicated it to his officers in unequivocal terms. The army has no business trying to run the government, the general said. The army must remain within its constitutionally defined role, he stressed. Gen Bajwa also alluded that an impression of a competition between the civilians and the military is counter-productive for the country. And, apart from other professional advice, he urged officers to read a book “Army and Nation”, written by Steven I Wilkinson.

The almost 300-page book makes for an interesting reading as it details why the democratic process in India has been a success. Wilkinson, a professor of Political Science and International Relations at Yale University, explores the command and control strategies, the careful ethnic balancing and political, foreign policy and strategic decisions that made the army not to interfere in Indian democracy...

Read the rest of the report here in The Nation

Read a review of the book here in The Indian Express

Available in paperback, Rs 595. Details here.

18 January 2017

The Quotidian Revolution
Vernacularization, Religion, and the Premodern Public Sphere in India

In thirteenth-century western India, venture spiritualists—entrepreneurial religious figures—challenged the linguistic and cultural hegemony of Sanskrit, a language restricted to high-caste men. They did this by formulating new texts and social orders oriented around the use of the regional languages that reduced the barriers to access that Sanskrit had imposed.

In so doing, these venture spiritualists created an early form of the public sphere in which the social ethics of caste and gender inequity were debated. This debate drew from, and reconfigured, the sense and scope of “everyday life” permeated by social distinction.

The configuration of a new public sphere in medieval India that engaged with questions of social equality in the context of expanding the scope of everyday life is the process called “vernacularization.”
The Quotidian Revolution examines this pivotal moment in Indian history and argues that the medieval public sphere endures as a key strand of the unique genealogy of Indian democracy and modernity.

Christian Lee Novetzke is professor of religious studies, South Asia studies, and global studies at the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. He is the author of Religion and Public Memory: A Cultural History of Saint Namdev in India (2008) and coauthor of Amar Akbar Anthony: Bollywood, Brotherhood, and the Nation (2016).

Hardback, Rs 895