ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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D D Kosambi: Genius of Renaissance Versatility

The Many Careers of D D Kosambi: Critical Essays edited by D N Jha (New Delhi: Leftword), 2011; pp 02, Rs 275.

This is an anthology on D D Kosambi, aimed primarily at paying homage to the genius of “Renaissance versatility”. But there is also another ­objective behind it: to present “a balanced and critical appraisal” in contrast to some of the articles in the birth centenary special issue published by the ­Economic & Political Weekly (EPW), which were allegedly “far from being impartial and objective”, “unduly critical”, and with one of them “bordering on vitriol and vituperation”. It is paradoxical for a scholarly volume to allege that the EPW special issue on Kosambi is ­seditious in order to justify its own publication. The EPW volume was indeed a critical appreciation, with a few articles being more academic than sentimental about showing Kosambi’s attitudes, views and methodology as being amenable to criticism, a quality that only reaffirms the scientific nature of Kosambi’s contributions. The present volume’s avowed purpose of balancing goes against the scientific temperament that Kosambi embodied.

The volume consists of eight essays, of which those by D N Jha and Irfan Habib are revised versions of the original published in Marxist XXIV, October 2008. The essay by Prabhat Patnaik is a reprint from the same journal, and the one by C K Raju, a reprint from EPW (XLIV, 20, 2009). Jha’s scholarly essay, the editor’s tribute to Kosambi the extraordinaire, composed in eight units, starts off with a brief review of the academic career and achievements of the all-time genius historian who applied mathematics to the study of social sciences, explanatory history to the study of numismatics, and Marxist political economy to the study of history. Jha shows how Kosambi took off from the debasement issue of the post Gupta ­period by probing the paucity of coinage, the decline of trade and ­urban centres, and the growth of the self-sufficient village economy, and ­became an accomplished historian of ­“Indian feudalism” in particular and the characteristic features of the early medieval period of Indian history in general. His essay also shows how the political economy of coins led Kosambi to Sanskrit studies in class theory perspective and how he took to archaeology and went beyond antiquarianism of Indian archae­ologists as well as the positivist obsession of western archaeology represented by Mortimer Wheeler, with strat­igraphy that “serves as chronometer of culture sequences”. Jha has lucidly ­analysed as to how Kosambi’s astounding scholarship in varied fields and creative engagement with historical materialism enabled him to reach out to the roots of ­Indian culture and comprehend its history in a holistic perspective.

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