In the town of Dalai Lama – 3

Dharmshala is a bigger town than Macleodganj-Forsythganj. One thing that strikes you immediately about Dharmshala is the total absence of political hoardings in every square. Pune is utterly infamous for its flex culture pouring out it’s ugliness in the name of pomp and exhibiting insecurity of some people. Vanity of vanities, as the Bible says. It was therefore very pleasant to see cityscape clear of political hoardings.

.
We didn’t have much time there but one thing no one wanted to miss was the majestic Dharmshala cricket stadium. It overlooks the snow-clad Dhauladhar summits in the background. Really majestic yet sublime. I am not a cricket fan but those of you who are should come here once. 

.
Because the Shimla side of Himachal is more known, the number of outsiders on the Kangra side is relatively less but yet sizeable. It’s all poised to change now. The present CM of Himachal has been holding winter sessions of the state assembly in Dharmshala for last many years and he recently announced it to be the second capital of the state. It’s supposed to be the master-stroke in the upcoming assembly elections there. 

.
On the journey, we also got an opportunity to meet the manager of Palampur tea processing cooperative. He was a very well informed and also enthusiastic enough to talk to us. Kangra valley tea is somewhat different from the Darjeeling and Assam tea. The kind is different and so is the processing. The cooperative was loss making a few years ago and the government had to take over. Today the losses are minimised and it is working fine. There are some private factories around but overall area under tea cultivation is not large here, people prefer other traditional crops like rice over tea. The harvest season here is shorter compared to the eastern Himalayas, and thus smaller is the processing season. And the usual paradox of India – that labour is difficult to find in the country of 1.3 billion population – was true here too. Plucking season demand of labour is huge. I have never understood this paradox well. The whole tea processing that we witnessed is a simple drying and segregating process – but the weathering stage which is crucial in the whole scheme of things is the most energy and time consuming. Most of the final product is green tea and black tea, not the CTC type which Indians largely consume, and thus its largely exported. But not directly. They auction it at Kolkata Tea Board first. 

.
There is a place nearby in adjoining Mandi district for commercial paragliding. It’s a good place if you are interested in some adventure. Although largely safe and simple, it does take some gumption to jump in the valley.

.
People here are involved in constructing homes and hotels everywhere – in the plains and on the slopes, in the corners and on the road side, near the markets and far away. There is some amount of prosperity here largely owing to tourism industry as the local economic activity is mostly very basic. SBI ATMs can be sighted everywhere. Noticing it gives you some kind of patriotic feeling, like the one when we locate Indian Post Office in random border town. There is a narrow-gauge train too, coming from Pathankot. It’s not as famous as Kalka Shimla one but there is some scope to improve the connectivity. The roads however are superb. One must salute the state government for that. Shimla side people find Chandigarh nearer and go there for marketing or for other needs. For Kangra and Chamba it’s Pathankot, not Chandigarh. There is one Himalayan Bioresource Technology Institie of CSIR there. We didn’t get time to go there and see what they do. 

.
There are many small cantonments here, dotting the landscape. Many schools here are named after Vikram Batra (PVC) who belonged to this region. Kangra also has distinction of producing the first PVC of India – Captain Somnath Sharma. Like the neighboring Kumaun Himalayas, this region is also known for producing excellent jawans and many officers, known for their professionalism and valour.

.
That is all.. It was a short trip of two days. Final impression is that of the Himalayas. It’s lasting. It’s a beauty where serenity meets majesty and creates a magic. That magic keeps you calling back to Himalayas again. That magical feeling never goes away. That magic persists deep inside your heart. That magic of the Himalayas.

Advertisements

In the town of Dalai Lama – 2

Tibetans are somewhat interesting stock of people. They are stereotyped as peace-loving, spiritually oriented, meek and straightforward people. And yes, they are also supposed to invoke sympathy if not pity because they have lost their homeland.

.

They are trying to survive in an alien country, with their population fragmented across different provinces while in their own country they are being systematically reduced to minority by immigrant Han Chinese population. They have struggled hard to gather support and keep the movement alive for over two generations now. And they also face many problems. Finance is the least of it. 

.
They seem to have devised various ways of mobilising financial support. Many nations and many nationals seem to be providing the funds. Some unscrupulous elements from amongst the Tibetans also seem to have mastered the art of luring the impressionable people and monetising the gathered sympathy. Many have left India and settled in the developed world and send money from there or help their fellow brethren migrate there. Selling Tibetan art and culture is just another way. Finance is therefore not the major bottleneck it seems.

.
Major problems afflicting their movement are two – post Dalai Lama future and danger of keeping the Tibetan identity intact in the foreign land, esp when the population is fragmented. 

.
Post Dalai Lama future is the imminent issue. Dalai Lama has carried the mantle of Tibetan cause for over half a century very artfully and with dignity. That he has not reached anywhere by and large is a different issue. And what after him? Panchen Lama, the second most revered Lama of the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism, and the one who selects the boy reincarnating the Dalai Lama, has been abducted by the Chinese government during very young age. Suspicion is that he is kept in hiding somewhere and is being raised up as per the wishes of the Chinese state. When the time comes, he could very well select the future Dalai Lama from amongst the pro-Chinese Tibetan population from the region under tight grip of China. To obviate this possibility, the present Dalai Lama, the 14th one in the unbroken chain for over many centuries, has given indications that he might very well choose not to be reborn at all. There is another interesting possibility – of two Dalai Lamas, one pro China and other anti China. However, the government-in-exile already exists, pointing towards gradual separation of the political from the spiritual and thus some dilution in the authority of the office of Dalai Lama. No one can predict the future but everybody is seriously apprehensive. The day is not afar.

.
Tibetans are settled in various parts of India and there is also a huge expatriate community. It comes with a cost. They are finding it difficult to maintain their separate identity. Inter-racial marriages are not uncommon, their next generation is increasingly being raised up in non-Tibetan neighbourhoods. It’s a real struggle to maintain the cultural identity. 

.
They seem to have done commendable job at Macleodganj nonetheless. There is a traditional way of teaching the Tibetan philosophy, traditional art forms of metal work, wood work and thang-ka paintings, as showcased at Norbulingka. They get lavish support from abroad. They have not stopped using Tibetan language for both official as well as mundane purposes yet. Hindi is used but not with acceptance. Social distance is tried to be maintained from the Indians wherever possible but economic interactions can’t be avoided. Many monasteries are built at regular distance with community support which provide focus to community identity as well as some cohesiveness. There are many camps dotting the whole landscape of Kangra valley from Dharmshala to Palampur. Lamas are generated at regular rate from upasaka families, keeping the balanced population. 

But some strains are visible to a keen onlooker. I met some youth interested in finding out Katappa ne bahubali ko kyo maaraa and hotly discussing it, some girls listening to A R Rahman and even one random Lama cozying up with a runaway Tibetan girl in a secluded place in the valley. It’s difficult to remain in a land as interesting as India and not get affected by it. Many Tibetans regularly flock to Delhi, we were told, in the hope of getting a visa to the US. Not sure what’s the truth in it but wheels of modernisation and of human emotions are as ruthless as the relentlessly spinning wheel of dhamma.

In the town of Dalai Lama – 1

I recently visited Macleodganj, the seat of the Tibetal government-in-exile, and the place where people generally go for smoking joint. It’s a calm place, a small sleepy town in the laps of Dhauladhar range of the mighty Himalayas, hustling with tourists. 

.
Every visitor has a different purpose in mind – some want to see the famous monastery and listen to Dalai Lama, some are interested in adventure sports while others are there to enjoy Pahadi beauty. The market is full of Tibetans selling good fortune Buddhas, Thang-kas and Free Tibet flags, Biharis selling shirts and coffee, Kashmiris selling mufflers and overcoats. Hotels are full of authentic Tibetan food, continental items, and Punjabi dishes. Like Kasauli, the veritable Jewish town in the Himachal, Macleodganj is also famous for ease with which people can obtain some drugs. There are many Cafés here and there serving muffins and cafe latte. Tibetan owned hotels, along with serving thukpa and lamb momos, always exhibit a huge wallpaper size photo of Lhasa – a constant reminder to everyone of their homeland. Lamas in red robes rush up and down the streets. The firang visitors are interested in spiritual awakening or political understanding and are generally visibly involved in some kind of interaction with the Tibetans. Indian tourists of family type are more interested in visiting ‘spots’ and eating ice cream. And yes, taking selfies. Air is salubrious, sky is clear and weather is pleasant. It was a short trip for a couple of days.

.
There is one temple there – called Bhagsu Nag temple. And there is an old Church there – called St. John in the Wilderness. One is a typical of Shaiva temples all across the world – that are located in difficult terrains at some corner of the mother earth. The other is also a typical of neo-gothic architecture – impressive simplicity and profound sense of calmness amidst the Deodar forest. And yes, the Belgian tinted glass gifted by Lady Elgin. The one is a kul-devta of the Gorkha Rifles. All their regiments perform annual pooja there. The St John in the Wilderness is the Church of their former gora officers, as the numerous plaques and memorial stones indicate. Had Lord Elgin had his way, Macleodganj could have been India’s summer capital instead of Shimla.

.

In the western Himachal Pradesh, there is a Kangra valley and then the Chamba valley. Macleodganj falls near Kangra. Like all other Indian places, it has its own layered history. Its own original history is of of Gaddi tribe involved in transhumance, the vertical economy. They take their sheeps up and down the Himalayas seasonally and harness the costly and cozy wool. The landscape is full of lush green pastures in the valleys. Gaddi numbers are dwindling though as the next generation is not willing to get into the hard life of a migrant herder. Then the region also has the history of the numerous hill rajas, who gave patronage to the Pahadi paintings of rutu-mala and raag-malas, and the rajas who fought with each other and with the Mughals and also with the sikh gurus. Then it’s the same region that formed the inner line of defence of India during the British times. British Indian foreign policy that was obsessed with the Russian bear’s imminent aggression for over a century considered the inner line of Himalayas important for the defence of India. It was a favourite retreat of Lord Elgin, the famous liberal Whig viceroy in the 1860s, who is also buried here. When the Holy Dalai Lama, the spiritual-cum-political leader of the Tibetans, had to flee Tibet in late 1950s, he chose this place for his permanent residence and thus ensued a huge immigration of Tibetan population that changed the demography of the region. At that time it was called PEPSU and was a part of the larger Punjab. It was carved out separately by Indira Gandhi in the next decade. Today it’s a complete khichadi, like any other part of India. Common in uniqueness.

Lifting Padmini’s Veil

I just read this Scroll article which is being shared on Facebook by some good people. Following are the arguments in support of Sanjay Leela Bhansali made in this article (along with some other articles too, clubbed together) –
1) It’s not a ‘distortion’ of history because the ‘saga’ never happened in the first place. Two proofs forwarded are –
  • Malik Muhammad Jayasi wrote the book called Padmavat – hundreds of miles away from Rajputana and hundreds of years later than the incident said to have happened.
  • There is no corroborative contemporary evidence of Padmini ever having existed. The main source of Alauddin Khilji’s Chittore siege is Amir Khusro and he never mentions her.

vk6conrx

2) It’s a freedom of speech and expression issue – the basic civic right of each citizen in a liberal democratic set-up. Everyone has a right to interpret and analyse and then portray. And the people who are opposing it are by definition thus anti-democratic in spirit.

The article then goes on to suggest that today the Rajputs are ashamed because their daughters were once given to the Mughal kings in treaties as token of their subservience and loyalty. The same Rajputs who were once the carrier of the flag, known for their valour and loyalty, are now marginalised in their own territory, emasculated politically, economically and socially. Democracy’s number game has disadvantaged them because of their numerical inferiority. They are thus now turning to save their dignity with such vicarious-but-patriarchal methods as attacking the set of film-shooting, trying to protect their lost honour in the myth of Padmavati. Padmavati is this as mythical as the Rajput valour (another myth created by Tod). Thus, this frustration induced backlash.

bibliotheque-nationale-de-france-paris-wikimedia-commons

This is what the article says, I think. Its easy to counter some of these arguments.

First things first – the sources.

That Jayasi wrote the poem a couple of centuries later and a few hundred miles afar makes it abundantly clear that it’s not a primary and hence totally reliable source. At best it can be a secondary source and thus in absence of the primary source, it’s less reliable. There is also no denying that fact.

However, citing Amir Khusro’s non-mention (who was to be her supposed contemporary) of the Padmini affair as a proof of her non-existence is nothing but a logical fallacy. Proof of absence and absence of proof are two different things altogether. At best we can infer that there is no contemporary source. But to jump from this argument to the next level by saying that it proves her as a mythical character is little bit daring. This for two reasons.

A. Amir Khusro: A Poet, a Historian –

khusro1

Amir Khusro, despite having written a couple of histories, was not a regular historian is a settled fact among historians of today. He may be a great court poet and musician and a famous sufi murid. He may well deserve the epithet of Tuti-e-Mir and Turkalla. But his writings are mostly masnavis and other kinds of poetry which are packed with historical inaccuracies, geographical and chronological mistakes, undue exaggerations and deliberate omissions. He mentions, even in his histories, only those parts where he thinks would earn him praise of his master. Court historians are known to be like this everywhere and all the times. Its their job.

In Islam, history writing was a specialised job and it took many years of training under a master to be able to do so. Not only Elliot and Dowson, the authors and translators of (ill)-famous The History of India as Told by its Own Historians say so but the modern historians of medieval India like Satish Chandra have cautioned against liberally using his writing as history. Peter Hardy, one of the eminent historians of the medieval India has clearly cautioned against labeling Amir Khusro as a historians. Even Prof. Harbans Mukhia has said that Khusro could be used to understand socio-cultural ethos, customs, practices and traditions of the time… but to use him as a historian would be a mistake.

And when a mere non-mention by ‘poet’ Amir Khusro is being peddled as a proof of Padmini being a later-era myth, it brings me pain. Its a convenient smokescreen. Mind well – not for a moment I am suggesting that the whole saga is a history. It very well might not be. The logical inference is – we don’t know. There is no conclusive proof.

B. Absence of Proof as a Proof of Absence – 

Some readers of this blog would be surprise to know that there some queer cases like Meera. Meera is not known to have mentioned in any contemporary record. Earliest records that we find today are at least a century later – like in Bhaktamal of Nabhadas. Should that be taken as a proof of her being imaginary?

sanjay-leelaDefinitely, Padmavat is a very bewitching poem with a hold over public psyche for many centuries. It takes forward the tradition of bardic poetry of the Rajputana. It’s also the landmark in the medieval development of Hindi. Along with khyats (like burunjis of Assam), the Rajasthani bardic poetry has enriched our society, literature and also history to certain extent.

In Defence of the Indefensible: The Annals of James Tod –

Today, people are fond of attacking James Tod as a myth-maker. He relied mostly on bardic narratives and family annals. His resources were limited and biased, his methods unsophisticated and his approach uncritical. His reliance on bards is specially taken as a point to debunk each and everything he wrote.

History, both in substance as well as method, has changed very much after Tod’s romanticisation – they say. In between we have rise and fall of the Victorian era, well represented by imperial historians like Moreland and Vincent Smith, countered by nationalist historians of Rajasthan like Gauri Shankar Ojha. Then we have the Allahabad school succeeded by the Aligarh Marxist school. Today we have post-Marxist theories with multi-disciplinary approach and critical perspective. Tod, thus they say, is an outdated Scottish, India-lover Company-officer, who needs to be thrown in the dustbin of history or be rejected as romantic – not be treated as a historian.

idl214

These people may well be partially justified. But only partially I must say. For one, Tod is not ‘out and out’ useless, there are various parts in his two volume book which still hold ground. Secondly and more importantly, oral history has been gaining quite some respect for last couple of decades. Not only from the narrative-reconstruction point of view but also in its own respect. Historians are adopting various new methods from different disciplines today – one of which is realisation of importance of ‘orature’ as historical resource. These methods are being borrowed from two different disciplines – anthropology (for tribal studies) and literary theory (for studying classics like Homer or Shahnameh).  Arrival of critical and post-colonial methods in social sciences has furthered such approaches.

In short – debunking Tod in off-hand manner only because he relied heavily on bards to construct his narrative may be fashionable but not strong enough reason. Its not only irresponsible but also cavalier. We can rather look at Tod today in a totally different perspective than we did in the previous century. It may not speak of history of instances, but it does speak of a different history – of people or ‘history of mentalities’ of the Annales school type (of both the medieval Jayasi-era Rajputs and also Scottish-Enlightenment inspired servants of the East India Company) or simply history of what people considered cherished and why.

Distort the Myth, Let Alone the History – 

Now, coming to the later half of the Scroll argument – the author seems to suggest that because the Padmavat-story it is not a history, it can be liberally interpreted. As the Padmini herself is a myth, so is the upcoming film – so where is the harm?. Why to cry about ‘distortion’  when the base itself is imaginary?

TS Elliot would have said –

Between the idea, and the reality
Falls the Shadow
Between the conception, and the creation 
Falls the Shadow

There is a two-level problem in the argument.

Firstly, its not always possible to separate history from myth. There are always some narratives. Fact-value is not as clinically dichotomous as it may appear at the first impress. Where to draw the line then? How to separate one from the another? I think its not only difficult but sometimes even practically impossible. Some historians have turned their gaze in other ways now and they study the attitudes, power-equation, approaches and shifts in such narratives today, rather than dealing in black-and-white.

(There is implied suggestion also that adhering to history as fact is rational but to myths is irrational. However, the author is blissfully unaware of the changed contours of the concept of rationality – both in psychology as well as in history of ideas. Holding dear the post-Enlightenment rationality by rejecting myth as irrational and considering positivist history as rational is fine sometimes but doesn’t paint the whole story.)

nzb808

Secondly, even if it is granted that such clinical separation of fact-value is possible upto some satisfactory extent, the corollary that emanates from it is this – history should be strictly interpreted while myth can be modified freely. Aren’t the problems in both the parts obvious? History can be imaginatively interpreted. Look at the work of the people like Prof Shahid Amin on Imaginary Gandhi. And if the author is claiming that all kind of distortion of any myth is legitimate by virtue of it being a myth, well then there is no end to it. It takes us to the second set of argument – freedom of expression.

The Speech: Free and Fair – 

Let me make my position clear – I am in support of total freedom of expression. Even to the extent that it shouldn’t matter if it causes offence to some individual or group. I believe that the speech is not progressive enough if its not causing offence to sizable number of people (however it’s converse is not true, as in the case at hand). There could have been no Buddha and Mahavira or Shankaracharya without the tradition of respecting free speech by their opponents. There could not have been any social reform in Hinduism starting in the 19th if we were so sensitive about not causing offence.

shutterstock_187662866

However, the question is of intent. The controversy in its most crude form erupted with the Danish cartoon in Europe a few years ago. Was that in poor taste? – yes. Was that progressive in any way? – Perhaps not. Was there possibly some malicious intent? – Possible. Will the ban on such cartoon be the suppression of artistic and journalistic freedom? – definitely. What should be done then? – not sure. The debate in the classical liberal democratic place like Europe is not settled yet. Everyone agrees that there should be some line. But no one agrees on where that line should be.

The issue in India is however somewhat more complicated by the fact that India is NOT a classical liberal democracy. There are multiple laws and rules, state enforcement is weak, capacity is feeble. And moreover, the society is not as ‘progressive’.

Some people say these are the colonial era archaic laws that restrict the free speech. Its all the colonial legacy – starting from defamation secion in the penal code, sedition amendment later, gag act of Lord Lytton and Rangila Rasool controversy in 1920s. However this is just a partial picture again. The very first amendment to the constitution  of the free India was done to curb the free speech and it was done by Babasaheb Ambedkar and Chacha Nehru together. The two magazines in question were creating hurdles in the government land reform policy measures – one was Marxist while the other was religious right wing. The Indian state’s record is not blameless. It has buckled all too very often in last six decades.

karani-toplogo

To be sure again – there is no legal and moral justification of the criminal conduct of the Karni Sena. All that we can say is SLB’s poor taste resulted in his having to face some uncouth, anti-social elements. And the state had neither will or capacity to impose the rule of law.

As the issue stands today – there is the Article 19(2) of the constitution which allows reasonable restrictions on the free speech on eight specifically enumerated grounds – nothing more and nothing less. But there is a due process. If the people had issues with the picturisation, they should have fully utilised the laws and processes available. Such street-level goonda-gardi is reprehensible.

Extrapolation: Reading Through the Fine Print – 

However, I would not like to judge the cause of their discontent or being felt offended in so off-hand a manner as the author of the Scroll article does. His line of argument can be converted in these words without any loss of meaning – that if Rajputs can themselves send off their daughters to the Mughal kings in marriage for centuries, SLB should have the right to picturise a dream sequence showing Alauddin and Padmini in romance. SLB’s ‘crime’ evidently is of lesser magnitude than the kaum of Padmini herself and  thus Rajputs have no moral right to claim any offence. These are not the author’s words, but this is what he seems to be saying in nutshell. I don’t need to expound on his arrogance of the author and his regressive-ness here.

If he had delved into history a bit more, what is called as ‘due diligence’ in a professional manner, he would have found that its the same Sena which has vandalised other film sets before and had indulged in some similar un-civil activities in the past. These are the habitual offenders who get habitually offended. To extrapolate immediately from that and paint the whole Rajput community in one brush is not only over-generalisation, but also criminal stereotyping. It only betray’s his own regressive attitude.

The Narratives: Created and Re-created – 

Anyway. History is and will remain a sensitive subject. And an object.

Also no one can rule out the possibility that this was all staged – by SLB himself – as a publicity stunt. That can also be one possible and probable ‘narrative’ for historians of Scroll.

Sumit Sarkar 2.0

sumitwithbookProf. Sumit Sarkar is not keeping well for last many months, I hear.

He published his latest book Modern Times a couple of years ago. It was initially supposed to be just an update over his 1983 classic Modern India but he felt that the original book is ‘thoroughly dated’ and thus couldn’t be updated. He instead is bringing out a two-volume set titled Modern Times. The first was published in around 2015 and the second one is awaited.

Reading both the books (1983 and the latest one), it seems that his writing is still as terse as it was then, but has lost that bit of sharpness. It was unforgettable when he called Gen. Dyer as ‘the butcher of Jallianwallah’, and Churchill as ‘pigheaded’ or Gandhi in 1942 being ‘in uniquely militant mood’. Although very prose, it has a kind of embedded liveliness into it. The new book is still dense but the sharpness seems to have matured now.

Significantly, it’s a difficult read because he seems to have a specific reader in mind who is fairly familiar with the debates on-going in the discipline. Back in 1983, he was enamoured by the subaltern school, which was relatively new. Back then, there was not much debate on ideology and Foucauldian analysis was not in vogue. Saidian methods were yet to touch modern Indian history. Modernity was still modern, so to say. Today, the subaltern group doesn’t exist, it’s splintered and its members went into different directions. Sumit Sarkar himself later seems to have decried demise of the subaltern in subaltern. Prof. Sarkar also quips the random and loose usage of post-modern and critical theories in the latest book.

One important development is the theoretical awareness of the narrative. The olden times, the narrative books were different and the books dealing with references and methods were written separately for a select few. Now the situation is changed for there is an awakening that the narrative can’t be separated from theory. Prof. Sarkar has done good justice to it. It’s a rare skill to find a powerful narrative which is theoretically informed and yet not boring.

modern-india-400x400-imadxngmxdmy6cnfIn between the two books (the intervening ~30 years), there were many developments in the field of history. New Cambridge series appeared. Sociology became much more sophisticated and active into history. Gender and caste studies exploded. Apart from peasants, tribals and workers, many other sections, aspect, regions and era started receiving due attention. Many history departments in India either became defunct or substandard. Except in few cases, the American academia became extremely active and powerful in not only doing latest research but also setting the tone. There were some other indigenous developments too.

The 1980s was the time when environmental history started as an academic discipline in India – thanks to the pioneering work of people like Ram Guha and Madhav Gadgil. That has been largely incorporated into the mainstream of modern India now. Back then there was scanty research available on North East India. It hardly existed in the books. Now that some substantial body of work has evolved due to labours of some hardworking individuals, it’s poised to be integrated into the mainstream narrative. Same is the case with legal history – which was back then studied either by law fraternity or only for the sake of understanding the evolution of administration, a dab topic considered back then. Sociologists have done immense work on the legal aspect of modern India and that work is now well integrated into the main narrative, which is getting amply reflected into Sarkar’s new book.

Also, the correlation between what was happening in Europe or the world over and in India is better brought into the narrative. Back then, it was mostly about London politics or European wars but the horizons are expanded today. Many more connected points between global happening and Indian developments are suggested.

Culture, back then, was thought as either bourgeoisie phenomenon or reflection of production relationships. Marxist historians thus gave very less importance to those aspects compared to the politics and state which were considered as the central issues of interest. (It’s surprising not least because Marxist activists were the ones at the forefront of the folk theatre with IPTA) That issue has been gladly resolved now that copious amount of work is done on music, architecture, dance, painting, drama, novels etc. Prof. Sarkar has also attempted to include those aspects. His chapters on print culture, Hindustani classical music and urbanisation are superbly written. This shift in the focus away from state and politics is well summed up in the change of title itself – from Modern India to Modern Times.

modern2btimes

Also, the old had sharp dates – 1885 to 1947. Today it’s realised that both the events – the formation of Congress (1885) and freedom with partition (1947) don’t really represent as sharp breaks as were thought of earlier. Significance doesn’t mean discontinuities, especially in history. The new book thus talks about a period from the 1880s to 1950s.

Sarkar is a historians’ historian and thus the book is totally unreadable for a layman (as was the previous one). Although it’s full of jargon and requires some time to comprehend, if one has read the earlier book, it becomes easy. It’s a highly dense book, with huge data habitually compressed into a few lines. Also, at many places, instead of enunciating his arguments separately, he brings forth those forth through the facts. Getting used to his style takes some time as well as efforts.

His influence has been immense. He never flinches from taking sides, his words are precise. If we notice the two important interventions in modern Indian history textbook writing in the last decade, these are undoubtedly by Sekhar Bandyopadhyay and Ishita Banerjee-Dubey. Both confessedly give a huge credit to Prof. Sarkar.

I am not a Marxist by a far shot (and there indeed are some places where I do disagree with his conclusions). Yet, Prof Sarkar’s is one of the most rigorous books I have ever read. I also prefer him over some other historians like late Bipan Chandra whose books are not as good or deep but are (unfortunately) famous I suspect primarily because of simple (or rather simplistic) writing.

The second volume is still awaited. I hope Durga Maa gives him enough power and life to complete it soon.