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Review

Beyond Dharma

Book Review by Bhaskar Parichha

Title: Beyond Dharma – Dissent in the Ancient Sciences of Sex and Politics

Author: Wendy Doniger

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books, 2020

When one of the world’s most acclaimed and charming scholars of Hinduism presents a trailblazing interpretation of ancient Indian texts and their historic influence on subversive resistance, the book ought to be of more than ordinary interest.

Eminent Indologist Wendy Doniger’s book was published by Yale University Press earlier under a slightly different title. It has now been republished in India by Speaking Tiger Books, thus widening the scope of readership.

Their blurb on the book reads: “Ancient Hindu texts speak of the three aims of human life: Dharma, Artha and Kama. Translated, these might be called religion, politics and pleasure, and each is held to be an essential requirement of a full and fulfilling life. Balance among the three is a goal not always met, however, and dharma has historically taken precedence over the other two qualities, or goals, in Hindu life.” 

 Doniger is the author of several acclaimed and bestselling works, among them, The Ring of Truth: Myths of Sex and JewelryHindu Myths; On Hinduism; Siva, the Erotic Ascetic; Dreams, Illusion and Other Realities and Reading the Kamasutra. She is the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago and has also taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and the University of California, Berkeley. Then, she has also been a controversial historian. Her earlier book The Hindus: An Alternative History was banned in 2009 because of some disruptive exemplifications of Hindu gods. 

In the present book, she offers a spirited and close reading of two ancient Indian writings—Kautilya’s Arthashastra and Vatsyayana’s Kama Sutra. She argues that scientific disciplines have offered animated and continuous criticism of dharma over many centuries. While she chronicles the tradition of veiled subversion, she uncovers connections — to voices of dissent all the way through Indian history. 

The book offers deeper insights into the Indian theocracy’s subversion of science by a limited version of religion these days. In the preface she contends: “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attempts to replace genuine science with ludicrous religious science debases not only the work of real scientists working in India today but a strong ancient tradition of scientific opposition to religious dogma, a tradition that we can see at work in the two great texts.”  

The Hindu belief system has always encouraged deliberations, debates and questioning of not only one’s beliefs but also, of all the ancient Indian texts — whether they are religious or impious. Consequently, Doniger’s book offers to the readers an occasion to deliberate on Indian texts in the modern day context. 

The book with its exemplary research is insightful and also somewhat controversial as it attempts to define the elusive word dharma and its overall place in human life. It is not just about the philosophical aspect of dharma, rather it draws parallel between Kautilya’s Arthashastra and Vatsyayana’s Kama Sutra and how both oppose what is mentioned in the Dharmashastras.

The book picks up popular terminologies from Hinduism, such as moksha (freedom from the cycle of birth) and provides different views of the word when mentioned in Arthashastra and Kama Sutra.

While talking about Hinduism and dharma, it is impossible to not talk about Manu. Doniger argues, “There are many other dharma texts, with significantly different ideas on many of the subjects that concern us here; some are older, some later than Manu… But Manu’s text remains the gold standard that later texts either accepted or rebelled against, and it provides a base against which we may measure the other two texts that are our main concern.”

Doniger makes some interesting observations that exists in the two ancient texts. For instance, in the section ‘Spying and Seducing’, the author brings out exhilarating facts. “The paranoid psychology of the political text casts its shadow over the erotic text. Eternal vigilance is the price of tyranny — but also the price of adultery.”

Divided into eight chapters, the book pronounces, “As not only Protestants but Victorian Protestants, the British rejected as filthy paganism the sensuous strain of Hinduism, both the world of kama and much of Hindu theological dharma, with what they saw as kitschy images of gods with far too many arms. It reminded them of Catholicism.”

In the epilogue, Doniger brings forth the colonial impact on these texts. She says, after the British colonized India in the eighteenth century only a sanitized version of the Kamashastra arrived.

As a whole, Doniger’s book must be read with panache. Even though it is a well–researched book with a liberal outlook, her point of view would surely give rise to opposing discourses.

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Bhaskar Parichha is a journalist and author of No Strings Attached: Writings on Odisha and Biju Patnaik – A Political Biography. He lives in Bhubaneswar and writes bilingually. Besides writing for newspapers, he also reviews books on various media platforms.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

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Review

The Brass Notebook

 A recently penned autobiography by eminent economist Devaki Jain, written based on a suggestion made by Doris Lessings in 1958, with a forward by Amartya Sen and reviewed by Bhaskar Parichha.

Title: The Brass Notebook – A memoir

Author: Devaki Jain

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2020

This is an unusual memoir. Unusual because it isn’t archetypal, not old-fashioned nor even written in a sequential order. The autobiography is set apart into personal and professional years, covering all that happened in a long and distinguished career.

The Brass Notebook by the celebrated economist-writer, Devaki Jain, is structured in such a way that it is no-holds-barred and edifying. In the brilliant life account, she recounts her own story and also that of an entire generation and a nation coming into its own.

Born in 1933, in Mysore, Karnataka, Devaki Jain was the daughter of the Dewan (prime minister) in the Princely States of Mysore and Gwalior. A student of Mysore University, where she studied Mathematics and Economics, she furthered her education in St Anne’s College, Oxford University and graduated in Economics and Philosophy, where she is now an Honorary Fellow.


Devaki Jain made significant contributions to feminist economics, social justice, and women’s empowerment in India. From 1963 to 69, she was a lecturer in economics at Miranda House, Delhi University. She moved on from teaching to full-time research and publication as the director of the Institute of Social Studies Trust.

Over the years, Devaki Jain founded a wide range of institutions such as the Development Alternatives for Women for a New Era (DAWN), a Third World network of women social scientists, and a research Centre in Delhi — Institute of Social Studies Trust (ISST). She had been a member of several policy-making bodies in India and abroad, including the State Planning Board of Karnataka; the erstwhile South Commission, established in 1987 under the chairmanship of Dr Julius Nyerere; the Advisory Committee for UNDP Human Development Report on Poverty (1997), and the Eminent Persons Group associated with the Graca Machel Committee (UN) on the impact on children of armed conflict.

A recipient of the Padma Bhushan (2006) and an honorary doctorate from the University of Westville, Durban, South Africa, the eighty-seven-year-old wrote: “It was difficult to reveal my personal life, but because I felt that my story could be a source of strength for many women, I decided to share both my political engagements and my personal adventures.” Her earlier works include Close Encounters of Another Kind: Women and Development Economics and Harvesting Feminist Knowledge for Public Policy: Rebuilding Progress.

With a ‘Foreword’ by Amartya Sen, The Brass Notebook has been inspired by Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook. Not just the title, but the idea of the book itself was suggested by Lessing when Jain first met her in 1958. It took Jain 60 years to honour that advice.

In the memoir, Devaki Jain begins with her childhood in south India — a life of comfort and ease. But there were restrictions too, that come with growing up in an orthodox Tamil Brahmin family, and the rarely spoken about dangers of predatory male relatives. 

She writes in the autobiography, “While most of the other students, largely Anglo-Indian or Goan Christians, would walk or cycle from their nearby homes, my younger sister and I came to school every day, to our great embarrassment, in a coach drawn by a beautiful chestnut brown horse. There were no buses or any form of public transport from where we lived to the Cantonment. It was like two different cities. We wore the standard school uniform: a blue serge pleated skirt with a white shirt, tucked neatly in, and a brown-and-gold tie with diagonal stripes. We all sang the school anthem–‘Brown and Gold’–with great fervor, every morning at assembly.

I loved the various prayers and litanies that were part of the Roman Catholic tradition of the school. I would go to the chapel, make the sign of the cross, and sing all the hymns, ‘do’ the rosary (a friend gave me one to pray with). The rosary had to be hidden when I was at home, and my private devotions restricted to the bathroom. Like so many girls who feel the aesthetic appeal of Catholicism, I wanted more than anything to be a nun. Of course, I breathed nothing of these thoughts to my family at home, upper-caste Hindus who would have been shocked at one of their children abandoning both her family’s religion and hopes of a happy domestic life.

“As it was, we were not allowed to enter the house proper without first shedding our uniforms, bathing and changing in the bathroom which we were to enter by the back door. We had two very orthodox grandmothers living with us who regarded close proximity to Christians as polluting.”

Elsewhere in the memoir she writes about the Gandhian way of life at Wardha Ashram: “Another experience, which took me deeply into the ethos of India’s freedom movement, while I was still cocooned in the orthodox family, was a student seminar in Bangalore in 1953. This was convened by the Quakers, in this case the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Normally I would not be allowed to go to such workshops and conferences, but as I have mentioned earlier in this memoir, my brother Sreedhar had me invited. He was studying in the US and was drawn to the spirit and culture of the Quakers.

“At the seminar, I was gripped by the simple attire and eclectic ideas of two young men, aged twenty-one and nineteen, who had come all the way from Gandhi’s ashram in Wardha–one British, David Hoggett, and the other Indian, Vasant Palshikar. I was fascinated by their attitude, behaviour, clothing and ideas. They were living in Wardha at the Sarva Seva Sangh Ashram. They dressed like Gandhi–that is, dhotis made of khadi, tucked high up between their legs, a light sleeveless banyan, vest, also made of khadi, and coarse handmade leather chappals. They were very calm, friendly and totally at ease with the mixed bag of people that we were.”

Ruskin College, Oxford, gave Devaki Jain her first taste of freedom in 1955, at the age of twenty-two. Oxford brought her a degree in philosophy and economics — and hardship, as she washed dishes in a cafe to pay her fees. It was here, too, that she had her early encounters with the sensual life. With rare candor, she writes of her romantic liaisons in Oxford and Harvard and falling in love with her ‘unsuitable boy’– her husband, Lakshmi Chand Jain, whom she married against her father’s wishes. 

Devaki’s professional life saw her becoming deeply involved with the cause of ‘poor’ women — workers in the informal economy, for whom she strove to get a better deal. In the international arena, she joined cause with the concerns of the colonized nations of the south, as they fought to make their voices heard against the rich and powerful nations of the former colonizers. 

The book — divided into seven parts and running into a little over two hundred pages and with photographs from the album —  is as absorbing as thought-provoking. In all these encounters and anecdotes, what sparkles is Devaki Jain’s uprightness in telling the story. In the chronicle, there is a message for women across generations: one can experience the good, the bad and the ugly, and remain standing to tell the story. Honesty permeates the narrative in whatever challenges Devaki Jain has faced in her life.

An entrancing memoir, The Brass Notebook is a must-read for women who want to know how to survive and succeed in a patriarchal society, for men to know that women are not a weaker sex but just uninformed about their inherent strength, and for policymakers to know that even seven decades after Independence, the basic flaws in their policies on women’s empowerment have still not been addressed.

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Bhaskar Parichha is a journalist and author of No Strings Attached: Writings on Odisha and Biju Patnaik – A Political Biography. He lives in Bhubaneswar and writes bilingually. Besides writing for newspapers, he also reviews books on various media platforms.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

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Essay

Role of Editors in News Media

Bhaskar Parichha, a senior journalist, explores the role of editors in swaying public opinion.

In recent years the increasing influence of the media has changed the shape of Politics all over the globe. Consequently, it has raised provocative questions about journalism’s role in the political process. There are questions about media’s effect on the political system and the subsystems– the legislature, the executive and the lobbies.

Is media power in politics a myth or an exaggeration? Who influences whom? When does the media power peaks and when does it touch the bottom — these and similar other questions, however, defy any clear cut answer.

Research suggests that the media effect on politics cannot be answered in broad generalities. There are various types of effects, on various types of political dispositions, at various levels of political activity, under various conditions. Further, the mass media are highly diverse in content, of which politics is only a minuscule part .

In politics, the mass media influences not only individual opinion but also the way politics is conducted. If political roles are changing, so are the expectations of politicians. Changes take place even between the relationship of followers and leaders, and also, perhaps, some of the values of political life itself.

Walter Lippmann, the renowned American Journalist and political analyst, once said: “Journalists point a flashlight rather than a mirror at the world.” Accordingly, the audience does not receive a complete image of the political scene, they get a highly selective series of glimpses instead. Reality is also tainted. It was his view that the media cannot possibly perform the functions of public enlightenment that democratic theory requires. He  reasoned that  mass media cannot  tell the truth  objectively because  the truth is subjective and entails more probing and explanation  than the hectic pace of news production  allows.

Images of reality portrayed by the media differ from country to country. Judging by their respective media, audiences are apt to form varied images about events and the international ramifications. Different media produce different opinions. There is no commonality in   which political actors and actions deserve the spotlight and which should be regarded positively, negatively, or neutrally.

Influence also depends on the credibility of the media and on the esteem with which their audiences regard them. A TIMES NOW story or one by CNN-IBN will attract diverse opinion from viewers. So,credibility is the big thing in media exposes.

Nearly everyone acknowledges that  the media play a powerful role  in our public and private lives. Also,opinions about the media  and estimates of their influence  on society’s other institutions are  important barometers of democracy’s functioning. On the other hand, attitudes about the media have at times been   highly critical and  critiques of the press have spanned a century and several continents..

Whether the media actually impede the operations of the other three organs  of democracy is difficult to say, but as the Indian experience shows, media have  an abiding influence on government and its institutions than the institutions have on the media.

American humorist Will Rogers said long ago, “All I know is just what I read in the papers.” For many Indian politicians there is a good bit of truth in this aphorism — what they learn about ongoing political events — comes primarily from the news media.Therefore, media as a supplier of information undoubtedly  molds public opinion and influences political decisions. If the media guides citizens’ attention to certain issues and influences their thinking process, it goes without saying that the media influences politics. That, in essence, is the reasoning behind the agenda-setting hypothesis of scholars like Maxwell E. McCombs and Donald L. Shaw.

Agenda-setting or the ability of the media to influence the course of events in the public mind has been part of the   political culture of the United States of America for nearly a century. The idea of agenda-setting asserts that the priorities of the press to some degree become the priorities of the public. What the press emphasizes is, in turn, emphasized privately and publicly by the audiences.

In 1952, the Republicans  led by Dwight Eisenhower successfully exploited the three Ks — Korea, Corruption and Communism — in order to regain the White House after a hiatus of twenty years. The prominence of those three issues, cultivated by press reports extending over many months and accented by partisan campaign advertising, worked against the incumbent Democratic Party.

There are numerous instances of how popular American presidents’ actions and statements reported in the media affected public opinion. These include President Nixon’s  persistent opposition to accelerating troop  withdrawals from  Vietnam during 1969,1970 and 1971;Reagan’s  1981 argument of AWACS   airplane sales  to Saudi Arabia; Carter’s 1977-78 increased attention to Arab countries, his 1982 bellicose posturing  towards the Soviet Union; Ford’s 1974-75 defense of military spending and Carter’s advocacy of   cuts in domestic spending . In contrast, a number of  unpopular presidents made serious efforts to advocate policies but failed to persuade the public.

In no area of public life have practicing politicians take media effects more seriously than during elections. Political campaign organizers spend much time, effort and money to attract favorable media attention to candidates for major electoral offices. When their candidates lose, they frequently blame the tone of media coverage or rather the lack of it.

There is an old saying that there is many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip. It is one thing for politicians to try to create a particular image and another for that image to be conveyed to people and, through them, to the voting public.

Systematically establishing the impact of election communication on the public’s opinions and behavior is a real challenge. The nature of campaign coverage has also a profound impact on the way people vote. This is confirmed by how people tended to view the candidate – as the winner or the loser. As for the media, that old line of legendary coach Vince Lombardi – Winning Isn’t Everything, It’s The Only Thing — is taken to heart and the public response usually follows suit.

The media affect politics and public policies  in a variety of ways. By mobilizing hostile public or interest group opinions the media may force a halt to political choices. But, as a general rule, journalists should disclaim any motivation to influence public policies through their news stories. Except for the editorial pages, their credo calls for objective, neutral reporting. Only investigative stories may be the major exceptions to this rule.

Contemporary political folklore pictures the media as adversaries of officialdom who alert the citizens to governmental misdeeds or failures. In reality, there are, or may occur, many situations   when officials and journalists work together to bring about needed action.

The power of news people rests largely in their ability to select news for publication and feature it as they choose. Many people in and out of government try to influence these media choices.  But in the ultimate analysis, it is the editor and news directors –the gatekeepers in news media — who decide which item to pass and which to kill.

First published in Bhaskar Parichha’s blog

Bhaskar Parichha is a journalist and author of No Strings Attached: Writings on Odisha (2020) and Biju Patnaik – A Political Biography. He lives in Bhubaneswar and writes bilingually. Besides writing for newspapers, he also reviews books on various media platforms.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Excerpt

No Strings Attached

Book Excerpt from Bhaskar Parichha’s new book

The Tragedy of Itishrees 

Babina, Itishree, Nirbhayas-the list is lengthy. As 2013 fades away into history, the struggle that women face are enormous, and cases of gender inequality are monumental. Despite positive progress and legal guarantee, women continue to experience injustice, brutality, and unfairness in their homes and at the workplace. The devaluation of women and social domination of the male continues to worry sociologists and planners alike. Women in India are viewed as a shade lesser than men, the weaker gender, and this entrenched perception has led to their social and economic dispossession.

The key factor driving gender inequality is the preference for boys. Boys are deemed to be more useful than girls. They are given exclusive rights to inherit the family name and property. Bias also comes in the shape of religious practices making sons more attractive. What is more, the saddle of dowry discourages parents from having daughters. Thus, a combination of factors has shaped the imbalanced view of sexes in India.

The number of girls born and surviving in India is yet another worrisome factor because female fetuses are being aborted and baby girls deliberately neglected and left to die. Gender selection and selective abortion were banned in India under the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostics Technique Act, in 1994 but the use of ultrasound scanning for gender selection continues unabated.

In 1961, the Government of India passed the Dowry Prohibition Act, making the dowry demands in wedding illegal. However, many cases of dowry-related domestic violence, suicides, and murders are still reported. At least a dozen die each day in ‘kitchen fires’. Of course, amongst the urban educated dowry abuse has reduced dramatically. But rural women continue to be victims of dowry torture. Issues affecting Indian women are numerous. But it is domestic violence that impacts women the most. True, there are laws to protect them. Yet, they are defenseless and laws ultimately turn out to be mere pieces of paper.

In 1997, in a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court took a strong stand against sexual harassment of women in the workplace. The Court laid down detailed guidelines for the prevention and redressing of grievances. The National Commission for Women subsequently elaborated these guidelines into a Code of Conduct for employers.

 Whether it is self-employment, domestic work,   or even government jobs the discrimination of women more glaring. Equal pay laws may have been enacted, but women are still paid less than men across states and sectors. As if that isn’t enough, they are prohibited from working in the same industries as men. Several studies have linked the gender pay gap with women’s caring responsibilities- a responsibility which comes to women not on their own volition but according to their physique.

Talk about justice to women, the broad issue is one of empowerment. Even though there have been steep increases in women’s representation in parliament, state assemblies, and the Panchayati Raj institutions, there exists a case for more women in politics and public life. The horrendous crime perpetrated on Indian women says volumes about their vulnerability. The individual lives, the catastrophes, and the abuse that are the daily lots of millions of India’s women reveal poignant stories of bravery and struggle.

While there is a growing incidence of violence, many women shrink away from reporting crimes due to social stigma and weak justice systems. The costs and practical difficulties of seeking justice too are prohibitive — from travel to a distant court to paying for expensive legal advice. The result is high dropout rates where women fail to seek redress on gender-based violence. The phenomenon of honor killings is another variety of violence girls in India where village caste councils, or khap panchayats, often operate as an extralegal morals police force, issuing edicts against couples who marry outside their caste or who marry within the same village.

Though gradually rising, the female literacy rate in India is lower than the male literacy rate. Compared to boys, far fewer girls are enrolled in schools, and many of them drop out. According to various reports, the chief barriers to female education in India are inadequate school facilities such as sanitary, shortage of female teachers, and gender bias in curriculum. India has witnessed substantial improvements in female literacy and enrolment rate since the 1990s, but the quality of education for females remains to be heavily compromised.

Women in India suffer from yet another advantage. They are not allowed to have combat roles in the armed forces. According to a study female officers are excluded from induction in close combat arms, where chances of physical contact with the enemy are high. Even a permanent commission has not been granted to female officers.

Gender Inequality Index (GII) is a new index for the measurement of gender disparity that was introduced in the 2010 Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). According to the Gender Gap Index 2011 released by the World Economic Forum (WEF), India was ranked 113 out of 135 countries polled. This represents a poor distribution of resources and opportunities amongst the male and female.

Since independence, many laws have been promulgated to protect women’s rights. The Constitution prohibits discrimination on several grounds including sex and recognises the principle of equality for all before the law and of opportunity in matters relating to employment. Women’s empowerment in India is a challenging task because gender-based discrimination is deep-rooted social malice. This sexual discrimination can be erased only through awareness of the ‘problem’ at all levels in society.

Acknowledging the presence of a problem will lead to solutions sooner or later. While the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women has to be the goal, what is important is a fundamental change in the misogynistic attitudes that exist in our society. 

(This was excerpted from the book ‘No strings Attached: Writings on Odisha’ by Bhaskar Parichha. Click here to buy)

About the Book: No Strings Attached  : Writings on Odisha

The past twenty years have been action-packed in Odisha’s millennial history – political bluntness, natural adversity, economic deceleration, community resilience and so forth. All these are part of the narrative of this book. Every single piece in the collection is the upshot of an occurrence. There are profiles, there is politics, and there are controversies and issues that have been part of the larger political process. The book is an Eldorado.

About the Author: Bhaskar Parichha is a journalist and author of Biju Patnaik – A Political Biography. He lives in Bhubaneswar and writes bilingually. Besides writing for newspapers, he also reviews books on various media platforms.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are solely of those of the author.

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Review

A Plate of White Marble: A Woman’s Journey

Book Review by Bhaskar Parichha

Title: A Plate of White Marble

Author: Bani Basu, translated from Bengali by Nandini Guha

Publisher: Niyogi Books, 2020

“The house at Number 45 Shyambazar Street had its date of construction engraved right at the top of its façade. From this, it could be learnt that the house was not built in this century. If not a hundred, it was close to eighty-five years old. Thanks to the moist winds from the holy Ganges in its close proximity and the salty winds from the Bay of Bengal within 105 kilometers to the south, houses in Kolkata do not survive as long as the rich, traditional manor houses of England do. However, first-class materials from the British companies — marble, pillars, arches, tiles, original Burma-teak windows, doors, rafters, and the limestone-layered, twenty-inch-thick brickwork — continued to ostentatiously preserve the antique glory of these homes till today. This carefully polished old heritage, going by the name of ‘aristocracy’, may well be called stiff-necked orthodoxy, with all its evil fallout.” These are the opening lines of the novel A Plate of White Marble (Swet Patharer Thala) by Bani Basu. 

One of the most versatile contemporary writers in Bengali, academician, poet, novelist, essayist, critic, and translator of eminence, Basu writes on diverse topics ranging from history and mythology to society, psychology and gender. From Sri Aurobindo’s poems along with two volumes of Somerset Maugham’s stories to a volume of D.H Lawrence’s stories, there is a huge readership of her work. Janmabhumui-Matribhumi (Motherland), Antarghat (The Enemy Within), Maitreya Jatak (The Birth of Maitreya), Kharap Chhele (Dark Afternoons), Pancham Purush( Fifth Person ) are some of her other novels.

Translated into English by Nandini Guharetired Associate Professor of English at University of Delhi and a well-known translator of some seminal Bengali novels – A Plate of White Marbles brings to a wider audience the imperious social concerns.

First published in 1990 in the original Bengali, A Plate of White Marble tells the tale of the ‘new woman’ of an era that just witnessed the independence of a nation. Bandana, the protagonist, though grieves over her husband’s early death, never conforms to the social subtext and ideals of ‘widowhood’, thanks to her uncle. She dares to begin her life afresh in every possible sense. But, the road proves to be full of thorns as she gradually faces bitterness from many quarters of the society. The only thing she clings to is her son,  but once that anchor too is lost, she leaves behind the safe concrete walls of what she used to consider ‘home’, only to work for a far greater cause—she joins a children’s home to work for those who need her the most.

Post her husband’s demise, the Bhattacharjee family is left grappling with the aftershock of the loss and the new set of “rules and rituals of widowhood” that she has to follow — a life devoid of colors, sweetmeats and celebrations.

Savor these lines of Bandana’s mother-in-law and her appearance!  “Serving Atap-rice on the plate from a small saucepan, the middle-aged, heavily built mother-in-law suddenly broke into wails. One-fourth of her hair had turned grey. A broad streak of vermilion was visible in the broad parting of her hair. She was in an artistically woven, red-bordered sari, with three rows of the traditional temple pattern. She would wear nothing but these colorfully bordered saris. Her arms were full of loudly jangling gold bangles, wristlets, and the special wedding bangles of iron and conch shell.

But for the young widow, the kind of stuff in the house were cruelly painful: “The prescribed meal of a widow’s broth of boiled rice, potato, and green banana — just would not go down Bandana’s throat today. Combined rage, mortification, and a sense of disgrace caused the food to turn into a coagulated lump in her throat.”

The novel has a riveting description of the Bengal countryside: “The early morning cacophony — the clangor from the local tube well as its handle rose and fell, the clang of utensils being scoured, the swish of brooms and the hoarse voices of housewives issuing orders and instructions — touches such a quarrelsome decibel that neither the Vedic hymns nor the tuneful Rabindrasangeet, in a grave baritone, or soft tenor, can find a way through, sadly beating a hasty retreat.”

As times go by, Bandana’s Kaka (uncle)visits her and unable to withstand her deteriorating health, he takes his neice and her son Roop to their maternal home, leaving House number 45 Shyambazar Street behind and shunning the absurd sacrificial rituals for women.

Through Bandana, the status of woman in an old-fashioned Bengali society comes to the fore. It also portrays how they’re rendered miserable and are arbitrated for their choices, when they try to break free from stereotypical shackles. Published thirty years ago, the novel hasn’t lost its appeal because the same old shenanigans   bring into being even today.

 A Plate of White Marble has several dimensions: how even an educated and modern woman is helpless when she is widowed at a tender age 0f twenty-seven; how she is forced to lead a life of austerity as a “virtuous widow“, by her in-laws and how she eventually comes out of the shackles and stops confirming to the conformist traditions that were forced upon her. Even when she begins to live a new life, she had to face difficulties, though she bravely fights the battle for a liberated life.

The plot of the novel is captivating and inspiring. The characters, the backdrop, and the portrayal are entrancing. The translation has impeccably captured the essence of Bandana’s numerous roles; a wife, a daughter-in-law, a widow, and a mother who is hell-bent on bringing up the child even if it meant sacrificing one’s own comforts.

Bani Basu’s original  novel  and the translation magnificently throws  light on the age-old  customs, the gender-based discrimination in a patriarchal society that  doesn’t allow women to come out of  the shadow of a man, the superstitions  within and outside the homes.

 A Plate of White Marble has a touching story to tell and it weaves the narrative fabulously.

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Bhaskar Parichha is a Bhubaneswar-based  journalist and author. He writes on a broad spectrum of  subjects , but more focused on art ,culture and biographies. His recent book ‘No Strings Attached’ has been published by Dhauli Books. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.

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Review

How old is the Kashmir Dispute?

Book review by Bhaskar Parichha

Title: Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris

Author: Christopher Snedden

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2020

There can be, and have been, countless books on Kashmir and Kashmiris. Given its geopolitical importance in the Indian subcontinent and the constant needling by Pakistan, Kashmir has been a boiling point in the relationship between the two disagreeing neighbors. It has now been a year since the Indian government changed the status of Kashmir by making amendments to Articles 370 and 35A. Since then, Pakistan’s efforts to highlight this unilateral change and the human rights violations within it have been under the spotlight.

The challenge in writing a book on undivided Jammu & Kashmir — the only Muslim majority state in India — in the backdrop of four wars with Pakistan in 1948, 1965, 1971, and 1999 and also in the context of Chinese conflict in 1962 is enormous. Fortuitously, Christopher Snedden has come out with a book that is unprejudiced and at the same time comprehensive. Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris is just the book you want to read on Kashmir.

Australian politico-strategic analyst, author and academic specializing in South Asia, Snedden has worked with governments, businesses, and universities. Currently, a professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu, Hawaii, he  visited J&K frequently to undertake research for this and has interviewed many elder statesmen involved in the Kashmir dispute. This authoritative book is the result of that endeavor.

Reads the blurb: “In 1846, the British created the state of Jammu and Kashmir and then quickly sold this prized region to the wily and powerful Raja Gulab Singh. Intriguingly, had they retained it, the India-Pakistan dispute over possession of the state may never have arisen, but Britain’s concerns lay elsewhere — expansionist Russia, beguiling Tibet and unstable China — and their agents played the ‘Great Game’ in Afghanistan and what was then known as ‘Turkistan’.”

Snedden contextualizes the geo-strategic and historical circumstances surrounding the British decision to relinquish Kashmir and explains how they and four Dogra maharajas consolidated and controlled J&K subsequently. He details the distant borders and disintegrated peoples that comprised the diverse princely state. It explains the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir’s controversial accession to India in 1947 — and its unpremeditated consequences.

Writes Snedden in the introduction, “The Kashmir dispute is now seventy years old. This makes it older more than ninety percent of Indians and Pakistanis. Its longevity surpasses the average life expectancy of a Pakistani male (65.16 years) and an Indian male (66.68 years)…Wistfully, some of my friends in J&K, India, and Pakistan tell me that the Kashmir dispute would continue for another two-thirds of a century…This book provides sufficient background information for a reader to understand why such a woeful scenario is possible.

Surely, the ground situation in J&K has changed since the book was written and, particularly, after 5th August 2019. But the dispute is far from over because  Pakistan constantly harks back that Kashmir cannot be removed from the agenda of the United Nation Security Council, which was committed to resolving the issue according to the wishes of the Kashmiri people.

Coming back to the politico-historical analysis of Kashmir, Snedden weaves a compelling narrative that frames the ‘K’ dispute, explains why it continues, and assesses what it means politically and administratively for the divided peoples of the state and their undecided futures.

Divided into five parts and punctiliously done chapters, Snedden begins with the Sikhs:  “We now come to an intriguing matter concerning the Sikh Empire: the significant role played by two powerful and influential brothers from Jammu, Gulab, and Dhyan (Dhian) Singh. In particular, as we shall see, the British took Raja Gulab Singh very seriously. The Sikh Empire had many non-Sikhs serving as soldiers and administrators. These included Gulab and Dhyan Singh, plus their other brother, Suchet, from the Jammu area that was located immediately to the south of Kashmir and north of the Sikh Empire’s Punjab heartland. Jammu had some strategic importance as its hilly uplands were relatively remote from traditional invasion routes into India that crossed Punjab. People had sought refuge from invaders in such areas, including most recently from marauding Afghans. Nevertheless, there was no distinct geographic division between Jammu and Punjab. Essentially, Jammu was an undulating-to-hilly extension of the Punjab plains that rose northwards to the Pir Panjal range located at the southern edge of the Kashmir Valley, with this range providing a natural boundary between Kashmir and Jammu.

Because Gulab Singh was a brave and capable soldier, in the 1810s, he caught the eye of the Sikh Maharaja. This was significant as both men thereafter engaged in a mutually beneficial partnership that brought them extensive benefits. For the effective but vigilant Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Gulab provided a non-Sikh ally whom the ruler could trust, an important factor in a fractious empire in which Ranjit was the senior Sikh. The ambitious Gulab Singh used Ranjit as a vehicle for Gulab to advance himself and his interests. Gulab Singh apparently first came to Ranjit Singh’s notice in the Kashmir campaign of 1813, after which Gulab was given control of the Reasi area, north of Jammu, in 1815. Later, because of his actions suppressing the uprising in Jammu in 1819, Ranjit Singh recognized the Jammuite as ruler of Jammu in 1822.”

What enhances the beauty of this 360- page is the in-depth analysis is the lucid explanation. Written in a language that is most nourishing and generous, this book is by far the best chronicle on Kashmir. Snedden has adroitly handled the dispute along with its intricate political and geo-strategic dimensions. He goes that extra mile to probe at length the history of the oft-neglected Kashmiris too.

An excellent account of Kashmiri identity and the conflict between India and Pakistan, the book is peerless on one of the world’s most ‘intractable disputes.’

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Essay

Binapani Mohanty: The iconic Odia story-teller

By Bhaskar Parichha

Binapani Mohanty

‘Writing comes spontaneously from the heart, from one’s own experience, from search for truth and by empathizing with characters and grappling with incidents.’ — ‘Meet the Author’ programme by Sahitya Akademi

When eminent author Binapani Mohanty was recently conferred with the prestigious Atibadi Jagannath Das Samman –- Odisha’s topmost literary award — at her Cuttack residence in the midst of the pandemic, it was only a fitting compliment by the Odisha Sahitya Akademi to an author who has immensely contributed to Odia literature and enriched it.

In a literary career spanning six decades, Mohanty has carved a niche for herself in the field of Odia fiction writing. She was awarded the ‘Padma Shri’ this year. Numerous other awards have come in her way during the long career. 

Born to Chaturbhuja Mohanty and Kumudini Mohanty of Chandol in an otherwise politically sensitive district of Kendrapara, the eighty-four-year-old Binapani Mohanty is a retired professor of Economics at Cuttack’s Sailabala Women’s College — an exalted institution that has added a glorious chapter in the realm of women’s education in Odisha. Mohanty had also been a chairperson of Odisha Lekhika Sansad — the women writers’ group.

Binapani Mohanty’s career as a story-teller began with the publication of ‘Gotie Ratira Kahani’ (Story of a Night) in 1960. Some of her best-known stories are ‘Khela Ghara(Doll House),’Naiku Rasta’(Road to a River), ‘Bastraharana’(Disrobing), ‘Andhakarara Chhai (Shadow of Darkness), ‘Kasturi Mruga O Sabuja Aranya’(Kasturi Deer and the Green Forest).

But it was Pata Dei and other Stories that won her the Kendriya Sahitya Akademi Award in 1990. Mohanty’s oeuvre has been ever-expansive: thirty short story collections, three novels (Sitara Sonita, Manaswini and Kunti, Kuntala, Shakuntala); autobiography; translated Russian folk tales from English to Odia. She has also   a one-act play entitled ‘Kranti’ to her credit. Several of her short stories have been translated into different Indian languages:  Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Bengali, Urdu, Telugu and obviously English and Russian.

If Odia short stories have evolved over time and kept pace with the changing trends, writers like Binapani Mohanty have experimented the form in all its hues and colors. A feudal society with all its specious characteristics, Odisha has been a fertile ground for literary exploration and the short story genre has only facilitated that quest.

Social injustice, women’s rights, and the caste system have been the central themes of Mohanty’s short stories. The focus has, all along, been on the storyline and the circumstances rather than the new-fangled aspects of syntax and language.

 ‘Pata Dei’ essentially talks of how women are expected to conform to societal norms and are taken for a ride by the very people who take advantage of their hopelessness.

The story begins somewhat like this:

 “Nobody had ever seen Pata dei (1) after that fateful night of Dola purnima. It seemed as if the night itself had engulfed her. The moon was spread clear and bright all over the village. After the ritual journey from house to house the deities were being gathered in the field. The air was thick with the swelling crowds, the sounds of cymbals and bells, and the children smearing colours on one another. The excitement of the purnima night is very different from what follows the next day – the Holi celebrations. This night comes once a year, only to disappear before one realizes it was there. But the experience generally settles down like dust, like the colours, unnoticed by all. It clings to the body and mind the whole year long – piled up inside. That is how, maybe, behind her pleasant smile Patadei had layers of worries spread like slime inside her.”

Mohanty’s Pata Dei (Elder Sister) tackles the hypocrisy that surrounds sexual assault in society. As Pata Dei — the protagonist — returns to her father’s home with a child, slanderous accusations are hurled at her and the villager’s question who the child’s father is. Defiant and fearless, Pata Dei narrates to the villagers the trauma of the night when a group of her own village men had raped her

“You want to know who the father of this child is. There, they are all standing here. Ramu, Veera, Gopi, Naria and a couple more of them later. How can I tell whose child this is? That night, during the Dola festival when the mock fight was going on, these people had stuffed a cloth in my mouth and carried me away to the edge of the graveyard. There, behind the bushes, they had chewed me up alive…like plucking out flesh from bones. My mouth was closed but before losing my senses I did recognize them all by the moonlight. How can I tell whose child this is? Ask that Hari Bauri. He took money from all of them to leave me at Cuttack. I didn’t come all these days because I didn’t want to bring more shame on my father. After returning too, I’ve revealed nothing. But ask them all now. Let them swear on themselves and decide who the father of this child is.” (Translation by Sunita Mishra*)

Then she turns to her infant son and says, “…Why should you cry, dear? Don’t be afraid of these people. None of them is man enough to stand up and admit to being your father. But your mother is always there for you…” 

 Pata Dei was serialized as ‘Lata’ in the now extinct Femina in and around 1986. In 1987, its Hindi dramatization was telecast on Doordarshan as a series entitled Kashmakash.

Many of Binapani Mohanty’s stories are grim tales where characters refuse to bow down to social prejudices, despite undergoing extreme torment. But then the reader does not lose all hope and there is a silver lining at the end of each story.

*Sunita Mishra teaches in the Department of English, University of Hyderabad.

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Bhaskar Parichha is a Bhubaneswar-based  journalist and author. He writes on a broad spectrum of  subjects , but more focused on art ,culture and biographies. His recent book ‘No Strings Attached’ has been published by Dhauli Books. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Review

A History of Desire in India

Book Review by Bhaskar Parichha

Title: Infinite Variety – A History of Desire in India

Author: Madhavi Menon

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2018

Taṇhā in Pali or trishna in Sanskrit roughly means desire, thirst, longing, and greed. Whether physical or mental, taṇhā is an important Buddhist concept found in early texts. Out of the four ‘Noble Truths’, the Buddha identified taṇhā as a principal cause in the arising of dukkha (suffering, pain, dissatisfaction).

Take no notice of what ancient Indian texts said about desire; look at this stupendous book that portrays the notion of desire whilst bringing out its myriad colors. Part of queer theory, it travels across the subcontinent in the hunt for diverse manifestations of desire.

Madhavi Menon’s Infinite Variety – A History of Desire in India is a rebellious account of desire and is full of astonishing analyses and insights. Menon – professor of English at Ashoka University – writes on desire and queer theory with panache. She has authored a number of books resembling the subject: Wanton Words: Rhetoric and Sexuality in English Renaissance Drama; Unhistorical Shakespeare: Queer Theory in Shakespearean Literature and Film; and Indifference to Difference: On Queer Universalism.

Pleasant and edifying, the book, as the blurb says, “reveals not purity but impurity as a way of life. Not one answer, but many. Not a single history, but multiple tales cutting across laws and boundaries.”

In Bhakti poetry, Radha and Krishna disregard marital fidelity, age, time, and gender for erotic love. In Sufi dargahs, pirs (spiritual guides) who were married to women are buried alongside their male disciples, as lovers are. Vatsyayana, the author of the world’s most famous manual of sex, insists that he did not compose it for the sake of passion, and remained celibate through the writing of it. Long hair is widely seen as a symbol of sexuality; and yet, shaved off in a temple, it is a sacred offering. Even as the country has a draconian law to punish homosexuality, heterosexual men share the same bed without comment. Hijras are increasingly marginalized; yet gender has historically been understood as fluid rather than fixed” – the book says it all in splendid details.

Written in an impeccable style, the approach is spanking new and commonsensical. What enhances the beauty of the book is that the author plots a route through centuries, geographies, personal and public histories, schools of philosophy, literary and cinematic works. It meanders through contemporary studies on sexology, dissects Bollywood films based on the subject, depicts symbols, and even juxtaposes the object of desire with yoga, philosophy, and commonplace events.

While Menon examines the numerous faces of desire in the Indian subcontinent, for the most part, we are exposed to amazing tales and factoids dug out from enormous archival material and public spheres. The study ranges from the erotic sculptures of the Khajuraho temple to the shrine of the celibate god Ayyappan; from army barracks to public parks; from Empress Nur Jahan’s paan to home-made kohl; from cross-dressing mystics to asexual gods. It shows us the connections between syntax and sexual characteristics, between mane and warfare, between self-restraint and gratification, between love and death.

Loaded with factoids and figures and with a spiky introduction, the book is neatly divided into twenty long chapters –- desire in education, desire in suicide; law and psychoanalysis, desires among bhabhis (sisters-in laws) to grandparents, desire in celibacy, desire while dating and make-up et al.

The work is phenomenal –- both because of the subject and the approach. That an entire book could be written on ‘desire’ is inspiring. But more important is the way it has been conceived. There is an element of gracefulness, lucidity, and enchantment as one flips through the pages. No one who has a desire can afford to fail to notice this meticulously-researched book.

Together with germane photos to buttress her argument, Menon’s book pivots around   texts, oral traditions, schools of philosophy to exhibit   the sub-continent’s nebulous, many-sided, and rich tradition of desire. Her deft handling of the theme and narrowing it down into a single book is truly commendable.

Infinite Variety: A History of Desire in India is deeply insightful, across-the-board, and stimulating.

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Bhaskar Parichha is a Bhubaneswar-based  journalist and author. He writes on a broad spectrum of  subjects , but more focused on art ,culture and biographies. His recent book ‘No Strings Attached’ has been published by Dhauli Books. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

 

Categories
Slices from Life

Unbowed, She Stayed

By Bhaskar Parichha

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Muta Maathai

Born in Nyeri, Kenya, in 1940, she died in Nairobi in 2011. Wangari Muta Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, which has  — through networks of rural women — has planted over 30million trees.

Africa’s future has been the subject of fierce debate with the international media: full of warnings about environmental and economic collapse.

True, development workers continue to create hypothetical solutions to the problems they see, yet with little effect and much controversy. While these outsiders haggle over projections and prophecies, Africans had been working on a variety of small, grassroots projects, which they believe, might change the course of their future.

The Green Belt movement is one such project which has been creating and recreating history. It is so easy, in the modern world, to feel disconnected from the physical Earth!

Despite dire warnings and escalating concern over the state of our planet, many feel out of touch with the natural world. But, the Green Belt organization — which has planted millions of trees throughout East Africa in order to provide sources of fuel, food, and a way to stop soil erosion and environmental degradation — is one example of an indigenous movement working to influence Africa’s ecology.

When Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, she began a poor people’s environmental movement, focused on the empowerment of women that soon spread across Africa.

She spent decades working with the Movement to help women in rural Kenya plant—and sustain—millions of trees. With their hands in the dirt, these women found themselves empowered and “at home” in a way they never did before.

Maathai wanted to impart that feeling to everyone and believed that the key lies in traditional spiritual values: love for the environment, self-betterment, gratitude and respect, and a commitment to service.

While educated in the Christian tradition, Maathai drew inspiration from many faiths, celebrating the Jewish mandate ‘tikkun olam‘ (repair the world) and renewing the Japanese ‘termmottainai‘ (don’t waste).

Through rededication to these values, she believed Kenyan women could finally bring about healing for themselves and the Earth. Unrelenting through run-ins with the Kenyan government and personal losses, and jailed and beaten on numerous occasions, Maathai continued to fight tirelessly to save Kenya’s forests and to restore democracy to her beloved country.

The Green Belt Movement became the inspiring story of people working at the grassroots level to improve their environment and their country. Their story offered ideas about a new and hopeful future for Africa and the rest of the world. Besides being a native writer, Wangari Maathai was also a parliamentarian.

In 2002, she was elected to Kenya’s Parliament in the first free elections in a generation. In2003, she was appointed Deputy Minister for the Environment and natural resources.

However, worldwide recognition came her way when she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2004. In 2009; she was appointed a United Nations Messenger of Peace. This Nobel Peace Prize laureate recounts her extraordinary journey from her childhood in rural Kenya to the world stage in her autobiography Unbowed: A Memoir.

 Her trailblazing story illustrates how African women are striding out.

Infused with her unique luminosity of spirit, Wangari Maathai’s remarkable story of courage, faith, and the power of persistence is destined to inspire generations to come.

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Bhaskar Parichha is a Bhubaneswar-based  journalist and author. He writes on a broad spectrum of  subjects , but more focused on art ,culture and biographies. His recent book ‘No Strings Attached’ has been published by Dhauli Books. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Review

‘The Cultural Ambassdor of India’

Book review by Bhaskar Parichha

Title: Critical Lives: Rabindranath Tagore

Author: Bashabi Fraser

Publisher: Reaktion Books Ltd- /Speaking Tiger, 2020

Almost even eighty years after his death, Rabindranath Tagore continues to be written about. Any biographical account of Tagore’s life and works — whether it is in Bengali, English or any other language — is attention-grabbing and is received with awe and admiration. Indeed, for the bard whose immortal lines echo even today – Jodi tor daak shune keyo na ashe, tobe aakla cholo re (If no one answers to your call, walk alone) — no number of books is enough to have another look at his great mind, make another study of his brilliance.

Emeritus Professor, co-founder, and Director of the Scottish Centre of Tagore Studies (ScoTs) at Edinburgh- Napier University, Bashabi Fraser’s newest book on Tagore ( Reaktion Books, London/Speaking Tiger Publishing, New Delhi) is a brilliant account of the Kobiguru simply for the reason that it is both enlightening and at the same time perceptive. This discerning and sophisticatedly brought out a book of 250 pages gives a unique insight to Tagore’s life, his experiences in India, Europe, China, and Japan and cites numerous incidents from his life that directly influenced some of his great works.

Says Fraser in the introduction of her book: “this biographical study reassesses the Renaissance man, a polymath, who embodies the modern consciousness of India, engaged as he was in nation-building and contributing to the narrative of a nation.”

Part of the series ‘Critical Lives’ of leading cultural figures of the world in the the modern period, this biography explores the life of the great artist, writer philosopher in relation to his creations.

As the blurb says, “polymath Rabindranath Tagore was the first non-European to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1913. But Tagore was much more than a writer. Through his poems, novels, short stories, poetic songs, dance-dramas, and paintings, he transformed Bengali literature and Indian art. He was instrumental in bringing Indian culture to the West and vice versa, and strove to create a less divided society through mutual respect and understanding, like his great contemporary and close friend, Mahatma Gandhi.”

Even though Annie Besant was the first to call Gandhi a ‘Mahatma’, Tagore made the name popular. In the author’s view, “both Tagore and Gandhi, who were and still remain India’s greatest intellectual and political minds, respectively, continued to depend on each other for mutual support until Tagore’s death in 1941. Both believed that man needed to rely on his inner resources, on truth, love, and compassion to find full freedom to realize himself and fellow human beings as brethren.”

But, then, she sees a difference between the two great men: “While Gandhi was against technological advancement and science, Tagore, as a modernist believed that science and humanities were needed for holistic education and social advancement.”

Divided into a dozen chapters (‘The Tagores of Jorasonko’, ‘Growing up in the Tagore Household’, ‘English Interlude’, ‘Journey to the Banks of Padma’, ‘The Abode of Peace’, ‘From Shantiniketan to the world Stage’, ‘The renouncement of Knighthood’, ‘Where the World Meets in a Nest’, ‘The call of truth’, ‘Waves of Nationalism’, ‘Tagores’ Modernity and The legacy: At Home and the World’) the book has more than thirty illustrations — culled out from various albums.


Besides making a timely re-evaluation of the poet’s life and work, Fraser weighs up Tagore’s “many activities and shows how he embodies the modern the consciousness of India”. She examines in great detail Tagore’s ties with his childhood in Bengal, his role in Indian politics and his interests in international relationships, as well as addressing some of the misreading of his life and work through a holistic standpoint.

Fraser says, “India’s debt to Tagore is immense, and together with Mahatma Gandhi, he remains one of the architects of modern India and India’s primary soft power. Tagore’s liberal humanism and modernity make him relevant today and his place in world literature can be endorsed by a close study of his life, times, and work.”

This intuitive and charmingly written biography of a man who transcended all sorts of borders is a must-read. For someone who is interested in knowing the events which shaped Tagore’s literary career, this concise and yet critical book will be of immense help. More than anything else, the present volume is an indispensable and resourceful guide to know all that Viswakobi Rabindranath Tagore stood for. 

Bhaskar Parichha is a Bhubaneswar-based  journalist and author. He writes on a broad spectrum of  subjects , but more focused on art ,culture and biographies.His recent book ‘No Strings Attached’ has been published by Dhauli Books.