Friday, June 22, 2007

Review of Study of Indian History

Kosambi is a master of all he surveys in this book - his dexterity, scholarship and decisive judgments reminded me of Eric Hobsbawm. The book is fascinating in many respects - the choice of photographs, the detailed endnotes, the insistence on deducing historical information from observing ritual and practice among the various castes and tribes in India, the obvious comfort with the ancient history of Iran and the near east, the deep knowledge of Sanskrit and Sanskrit literature, Kosambi's scientific studies of coin hoards etc. His contempt for poor scholarship is expressed without reservation and with caustic precision. His writing is terse and elegant. It often rises to the eminently quotable:

  • Chapter 1, Note 11, on sources of information about castes and tribes:
The Indian decennial Census reports are useful before 1951, when the whole idea of classification by caste was officially abandoned as a Canutian method of abolishing caste distinctions.

  • Chapter 3, Section 3.1, p.51, describing the blocks of 12' x 20' two-room tenements discovered during excavations at Mohenjodaro and Harappa:
These were called 'coolie lines' by the excavators, whose ingenuity had found modern names for the streets, but rarely any explanation beyond the mental reach of an Imperial Briton.

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A Touching Dedication

I was reading an anthology of a Indian historian- cum- mathematician- cum- statistician: D.D. Kosambi. The book is called "Combined methods in Indology and other writings". The first chapter is an introduction to how Mr. Kosambi worked and how his work is important in the present day context with respect to Indology. Then comes the part of the personality of Mr. Kosambi, where his love and care for his family members, friends, and peers are brought out. In writing that the author takes out a dedication of Mr. Kosambi. Here goes that dedication.

"At a time when my health and finances were both ruined, and the work would have been suspended, she put at my disposal, unsolicited, the meagre savings of a lifetime devoted to the service of her children. To these funds, given without condition in the disappointed hope that I should use them to improve my health, this edition owes its very existence. A matron in the noblest Indian tradition, one to whom even Bhaasa's broken hero of the shattered thigh, abandoned on the field of
battle, might pray with his dying breath, 'If merit be mine and rebirth fall to my lot, be thou again my mother', she deserves to have a far better work dedicated to her, just as she deserves a far better son. However, if she will condone the shortcomings of the book as she has those of the child, both are hers."

Kosambi on Jnaneshwar

As the historian D. D. Kosambi wrote, “Though an adept in yoga as a path towards physical immortality and mystical perfection, there was nothing left for [Jnanesvar] except suicide.” The ideas were glorious, but there was no institutional platform to realize them.
Letter to an American Hindu

Kosambi on Dange

Secondly we were also aware of the most fundamental criticism made by Professor. D.D. Kosambi on Mr. S.A. Dange in connection with the latter’s work ‘India primitive communism to slavery’. Professor Kosambi wrote that in order to defend Engels he had to deny Dange. Dange’s work was unquestionably a caricature of Engel’s work. Further the communist party too never bothered to examine Dange’s credentials as a Marxist. That it could not do so also was not in any way a surprise.

That was precisely because none of its leaders could be called a Marxist. The leadership neither had the ability to teach nor the humility to learn. Further we also did not like the insolent manner Dange answered. Finally Kosambi called Dange a bourgeoisie peddler. Very soon (1955) we arrived at the conclusion that the Indian Communist party for all intents and purposes had abandoned the very idea of a popular revolution. It was just nominally a communist party. It is so
to this date.

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