Politics and culture are originally related in the city of Calcutta. The period (1940s to 1950s), was chaotic and turbulent, yet, this was also a time of significant creativity in literature, art, films and music in the city. This is an unusual feature of any city but is interestingly characteristic of Calcutta.
The originality of the work lies in blending poetry with historical writing, retaining the essence of both forms against the backdrop of the tumultuous events of the critical decades, as against the entire historical period of a city. This historical method together with twenty-one papers give the reader a sense of the pulse of this complex city ‘emerging creatively and chaotically from its colonial past’.
From Popular Movements to Rebellion: The Naxalite Decade argues that without an understanding of the popular sources of the rebellion of that time, the age of the Naxalite revolt will remain beyond our understanding. Many of the chapters of the book bring out for the first time unknown peasant heroes and heroines of that era, analyses the nature of the urban revolt, and shows how the urban revolt of that time anticipated street protests and occupy movements that were to shake the world forty-fifty years later. This is a moving and poignant book. Some of the essays are deeply reflective about why the movement failed and was at the end alienated. Ranabir Samaddar says that, the Naxalite Movement has been denied a history. The book also carries six powerful short stories written during the Naxalite Decade and which are palpably true to life of the times. The book has some rare photographs and ends with newspaper clippings from the period. As a study of rebellious politics in post-Independent India, this volume with its focus on West Bengal and Bihar will stand out as an exceptional history of contemporary times.
India and China in the Colonial World brings together thirteen essays by eminent Indian and Chinese scholars as well as young researchers who look at the multidimensional interaction between the two countries. This interaction was of many kinds and took place at various levels. This volume casts new light on some of the problems that have confronted the relations between India and China as new states and, in doing so, challenges stereotyped images of this relationship.
The major areas of India-China relationships covered in this book include some aspects of the situation during and after World War II. Some papers, such as those on the importance of Shanghai in Sino-Indian trade, the presence of the Chinese community in India and Indians in China; Indian fighters in the Taiping Rebellion; Gandhi and the Chinese in South Africa; and ties between south-west China and north-east India during World War II; present the findings of new research. Others such as those pertaining to India-China relations in the period, such as the opium trade; the controversial visit of Rabindranath Tagore to China; and the complexity of Subhash Chandra Bose’s position with relation to both China and Japan have been put in a new light.
The essays in this book are particularly relevant as they help to understand the relationship between India and China in the context of a historical perspective.
In Jassa Singh Ahluwalia (1718-1783): The Forgotten Hero of Punjab, Sumant Dhamija describes the riveting history of Punjab’s struggle for freedom and sovereignty. A key role was played by Jassa Singh and his fellow misl sardars who came into conflict, principally, with Ahmad Shah Abdali ‘Durrani’ (1724-72), King of Afghanistan, regarded as the greatest conqueror of his time. Inspired by Guru Gobind Singh, Jassa Singh united the panth, leading the Dal Khalsa, the Sikh army, to ultimate victory. The people of Punjab looked up to him as the warrior-saint. This victory puts Jassa Singh in the front rank of the heroes of Indian history.
Based on oral history, fiction, interesting intellectual gossip, and records of the Coffee Board of India, Much Ado Over Coffee: Indian Coffee House Then and Now is a many-sited description of the Indian Coffee House, possibly the world’s first coffee house chain.
The book offers interestingly written accounts of the addas or informal meetings, of the educated middle class in the cities of Calcutta, Allahabad and Delhi. Addas initially flourished in the neighbourhood tea shops, and then switched to the newly created coffee houses.
Readers will encounter their favourite writers, and other famous people at close quarters here. Bhaswati Battacharya brings to life the lanes and by-lanes of these cities as they were then, through the sheer gift of her ethnographic skills. Some workers, now forgotten but who were once immensely popular with the regular visitors of the coffee houses, live on again on these pages bringing back old memories. In this context one should perhaps mention that in an interesting departure, some footnotes in this book are used to carry video links of luminaries visiting these coffee houses.
Change has set in here too as everywhere else.
Of Colonial Bungalows and Piano Lessons can be read as a metaphor — as an icon — of the encounter between cultures. The memoir is based on Monica Chanda’s recollections between about 1913 and 1927, of life in Calcutta, districts of undivided Bengal, holidays in Kashmir and in Europe. There is more than a whiff of a Victorian upbringing in the pages. Neither honed in one culture nor fully at home in those practices superimposed by Monica’s father’s professional life as a member of the Indian Civil Service, her dilemma comes through in these writings. While her father, Jnanendra Nath Gupta, was avowedly against formal schooling for girls, he encouraged his daughter to undertake long and at times hazardous journeys by river, rail and road to perfect her skills as a pianist. Though there was an occasional longing for a freer life like that lived by her cousins, yet, Monica also enjoyed the privileges of living in spacious bungalows with a retinue of servants, going on exclusive launch trips down the Ganges, and being invited to parties at Government House and even Buckingham Palace. While there is a tautness palpable in her narration of an encounter with a clearly racist Eurasian sergeant and almost near-encounter with a tiger, Monica’s style avoids hyperbole and dramatic sequences. She presents facts and situations as she saw them — though there are a few times when emotions of love, fear and excitement ripple through the pages of this tightly–woven memoir.
The traditions and creativity of Cambridge University have survived 800 years. In celebration, this first-ever combined historical and anthropological account explores the culture, the customs, the colleges and the politics of this famous institution. As professor there for nearly forty years, the author sets forth on a personal but also dispassionate attempt to understand how this ancient university developed and changed, and how it continues to influence those who pass through it. This book delves into the history and architecture as well as the charm and the ghosts of Cambridge presenting a valuable resource for anyone who studies, teaches, visits, or is intrigued by this great intellectual centre
This charming book The Many Worlds of Sarala Devi and The Tagores and Sartorial Styles, as the titles suggest, contain two separate but related writings on the Tagores. The Tagores were a pre-eminent family which became synonymous with the cultural regeneration of India, specifically of Bengal, in the nineteenth century.
The first writing is a sensitive translation of Sarala Devi’s memoirs from the Bengali, Jeevaner Jharapata, by Sukhendu Ray. It is the first autobiography written by a nationalist woman leader of India. Sarala Devi was Rabindranath Tagore’s niece and had an unusual life. The translation unfolds, among other things, what it was like to grow up in a big affluent house Jorasanko, that had more than 116 inmates and a dozen cooks! The second writing by Malavika Karlekar is a photo essay, creatively conceived, visually reflecting the social and cultural trends of the times, through styles of dress, jewellery and accoutrements. The modern style of wearing a sari was introduced by Jnanadanandini Devi, a member of the Tagore family.
The introduction by the well-known historian, Bharati Ray, very perceptively captures the larger context of family, marriage, women’s education and politics of the time which touched Sarala Devi’s life. She points out that if memoirs are a kind of social history then women’s diaries record social influences not found in official accounts and are therefore, a rich source of documentation.
The lower deltaic Bengal, the Sundarbans has always had a life of its own, unique in its distinctive natural aspect and social development. Geographical and ecological evidence indicates that most of the area used to be once covered with dense, impenetrable jungle even as patches of cultivation sprang intermittently into life and then disappeared. A continuous struggle ensued between man and nature, as portrayed in the punthi literature that thrived in lower deltaic Bengal between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.
The construction of a permanent railroad connecting Calcutta to Canning further facilitated the influx of new ideas and these, subsequently, found expression in the spreading of co-operative movements, formation of peasant organizations, and finally culminated in open rebellion by the peasants (Tebhaga Movement). The struggle between men and the dangerous forests was therefore overshadowed by the conflict among men.
This book will be of great interest to students of history, sociology, anthropology and economic geography.