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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