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Entertaining Reflections

Bear

BOOK REVIEWEconomic & Political Weekly EPW june 28, 200883Bear’s in-depth descriptions of the Ahmed, the Vanjos, the Campbell, and the Dover family in Kharagpur and the Jones family in Kolkata enliven her theoretical discussion of the ties that bind and the is-suesthat threaten the existence of Anglo-Indian families in Bengal. Although most of these Anglo-Indian informants hesitated to respond to questions about their fami-ly’s history, they tended to structure any family histories according to procedures of the railway archive and frequently lament their lack of official documents from the earlier generations of their families. Baptismal records were sometimes availa-ble but they lacked legitimacy with the railways, the Anglo-Indian Association or governments when Anglo-Indians applied to migrate. Many Anglo-Indians were aware that their bodies, especially skin colour, bodily habits such as sitting at a table to eat, and dress, were major factors in com-municating their identity along with their religious community and schooling in ap-propriate English-language institutions. In chapter eight Bear asserts that “The present–orientation and bilateral reckon-ing of family ties has made them [Anglo-Indians] highly flexible in a historical con-text of abandonment [by the British], in-stitutionalisation, and fluctuating socioe-conomic fortunes” (p 198). Because her life histories of these families are so vivid, readers would appreciate knowing if their names were pseudonyms and when their responses and recollections were obtained, especially since Bear states that her dis-sertation research was done in India between 1993 and 1997 and her book has appeared in 2007. One wonders how these Anglo-Indian families have coped with the effects of globalisation. But this desire arises only because the richness of Bear’s narrative makes the reader want to know more about these families.Written in clear prose with graphic de-tails to illustrate perceptive arguments, Lines of the Nation illustrates the value of multidisciplinary research that bridges the great divide between the colonial and inde-pendence eras of Indian history. Because it makes substantial contributions to the study of railways, labour, families, and Anglo-Indians over the course of a tumultuous century, Bear’s work is a signal achievement.Email: Barbara.Ramusack@uc.eduEntertaining ReflectionsK S Krishnaswamy Deena Khatkhate should be a familiar name to readers of this journal, to which he has been a valued con-tributor for several decades. He will be specially remembered for his writings on economic and monetary matters. In this book, however, he appears in a different avatar, as a commentator on persons, places and perceptions, flitting from one to another with acute observations. Most of these pieces are culled from his earlier writings inEPW, with some from The Times of India, Business Standard or other publications – to recapture, as he says, the “passion, idealism and social awareness” of his earlier youth. Containing around 80 short impressions or reflections, it is a selection which should be savoured in bits and pieces rather than as a whole.Though Deena writes on familiar themes or Indian economists of repute, his viewpoints often differ from common perceptions. This applies particularly to those grouped under “Americana” and “Indica”. Unlike the young and well heeled in India who are fascinated by all things American, he is not enamoured of that country’s society or culture. He feels deeply for the homeless, for children for whom the future is bleak, unwed mothers and unwanted parents and sundry others who constitute the dregs in that melting pot of economic and social cultures. He is “dis-combobulated” (rather than disturbed) by the “scatological chaos” that characterises their life, language or art. A quality differ-ence that is forgivable or forgettable in their own culture becomes unforgivable elsewhere. Khatkhate is not unaware of the social discipline, respect for law, effi-cient organisation, patriotism and so forth which are also impressive features of the United States. But in these short pieces he gives vent to his anger or disgust that a people who have so much going in their favour yet wallow in filth. Maybe this is implicit in the essential freedoms embodied in their constitutions. Even so, Deena finds it all very unsavoury.‘Indica’Ruminations on India of the 1980s and 1990s figure in the “Indica” section, which is more solid than Deena’s reflections on America. This was a period of transition from Nehruvian planning to the market and private enterprise. When things came to a head in 1991, the era of government controls gave way to reforms, fiscal man-agement, devaluation and so forth. As the government withdrew from the commanding heights, the private corpo-rate sector quickly moved in. Political power shifted from agriculture to industry and services, from rural to urban India, fromthepublic to the private sector. A closed economy gradually became more open, one which welcomed globalisation. For Khatkhate, who by then had been firmly established in the IMF, this transi-tion was clearly heart-warming. All this comes through vividly in his riddles of India’s economic growth and in his tributes to economists, administrators and others in the next part – persons whose heterodoxy he admires and whose philosophies he finds generally agree-able. Much of this is already familiar to those who have read his writings on monetary and financial policy.Far more interesting are his reflections on countries which have been caught up one way or another in the ideological conflict between the communist and capitalist behemoths. There is Afghanistan where theUS encouraged and armed the Mujahideen to oust the Russians, only to find them turn against theUS; or Japan and Germany which America helped Ruminations of a Gadfly: Persons, Places, Perceptionsby Deena Khatkhate;Academic Foundation, New Delhi, 2008; pp 409, Rs 795.
BOOK REVIEWjune 28, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly84greatly after the second world war, only to see them cock a snook when they returned to prosperity. Or again Israel, to help which “courageous and visionary American Jews who risked their all by talking to Arafat andPLO” (p 336) were branded renegades to the cause of Zionism. These countries were no doubt caught in the cold war; but that was not all. They were in different ways children of their own histories, sub-ject to pressures not all of which emanated from their recent past. This was not some-thing that a country with hardly three centuries of history could appreciate. Nev-ertheless, Khatkhate’s comments in this section are perceptive and novel. He should perhaps have elaborated on these themes; but we have to recognise that he could not write a treatise in the space available.Karl Marx Meets Jyoti BasuThe 10 or more pieces in the final section are all devoted to the transmogrification of communists and their countries. Starting from Gorbachev, these essays culminate with an imagined meeting of Karl Marx with Jyoti Basu and his fellow communists. In between Khatkhate takes us to different places and persons, some remaining com-munist (more or less) while others moved away. But even those calling themselves communist or socialist today are a far cry from the Soviet Union of Lenin and Stalin or the China of Mao Zedong. They may not quite be democracies orcapitalist in the American sense. But they are in different degrees part and parcel of the globalisation process, willing to use market instruments when needed, or resort to state control when necessary. More relevantly, Marxism (or its variants) has ceased to be a religion unfor-giving to apostates or inhospitable to million-aires intheir midst. Flexibility in attitudes and policies characterises many of them – a trend wholly approved by the author.Altogether, this is a volume which is both entertaining and educative. One also is a wee bit amused by Khatkhate’s choice of strange terms where a simple alternative could have served just as well. But then, these are matters of indi-vidual choice – to which obviously Deena Khatkhate fully subscribes.Story of a Rebel Poetsajal nag The book under review is about the life, career and times of a rebel poet of Bengal, Kazi Nazrul Islam. It is a nuanced attempt to locate him within the “dissenting traditions”. Tradi-tions of dissent are not new in India. As the author has shown through the works of eminent historians like Romilla Thapar that dissenting discourses were prevalent in early India as well. In pre-renascent Bengal, various sects like the ‘Kartabhoja’ of ‘Aulechand’ in Nadia, the ‘Charan dasi’ sect of Charan Das of Dahra in Alwar, ‘spastodayaka’ sect of Rupam Kaviraj, the ‘Swami Narayan’ sect of Sahajananda of Oudh, the ‘Paltu Das’ sect of Paltu Das, the ‘Apapanthi’ sect of Munna Das, the ‘Balarami’ sect of Balaram Hari replen-ished this dissenting tradition by going against the established tenets of brahmanical Hinduism. In modern India, the dissenting notes were struck by Derozio and his follow-ers, Michael Madhusudan Dutta, Nazrul and Sarat Chandra Chottapadhyay in various fields by going against the dominant trends of reform movements. Although the Bengal renaissance was a product of western liberalist thought and its myriad offshoots, it also resuscitated and strengthened revivalist trends in Indian religions, developed communalist con-sciousness and created newer establish-ments. StandardisationOne such establishment was in the domain of literature and the other in political philosophy. The standardisation of Bengali language and literature by Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Bankimchandra Chatterjee created a standardised literary tradition. The emergence of Tagore, and especially his winning the Nobel, consolidated this standardisation and created an establish-ment. A whole school including a coterie as ably shown by the author, developed around Tagore who dictated the norms and traditions of Bengali literature. Any-body who deviated from it was considered a renegade and attacked. Similarly, the spectacular rise of Gandhi in Indian political scene with the thumping success of non-cooperation movement, Gandhian political ideology of non-violence and passive resistance were established as the dominant ideology and tested modes of anti-imperialist struggle. Any deviance was frowned upon and con-sidered rebellious. Kazi Nazrul Islam did not have the background of elite family or educational institution. He was a self-made man of natural talents. He was not aware of the prescribed literary norms. In literary practice, he followed his own cultural pasts, training, instinct and spontaneity. He was a poet but did not conform to the literary traditions prescribed by the Tagorean school. Hence he was ceaselessly attacked. As a political activist, he believed in armed rebellion and outright politicalindependence from British rule as opposed toGandhian method, hence he was “othered”. He was scathing in his attack on British imperialism, his poetry generated extreme revolutionary spirit, hence his books were proscribed, he was imprisoned. He was a Muslim but hardly conformed to the religious practices, hence he was denounced and ostracised by the Muslim community; he was extremely critical of the evil social institutions practised by the Hindus who saw in him a threat and an unwanted interventionist. In fact, the en-tire life of Nazrul was a ceaseless struggle against these established norms either po-litical, social or cultural all of which wielded tremendous power and authority and absorbed the counter-attack that was launched against him which even took the form of physical attack.The Dissent of Nazrul Islam: Poetry and History byPriti Kumar Mitra; Oxford, New Delhi, 2007; pp i-330, Rs 695.

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