Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Crossing Thresholds: Feminist Essays in Social History by Meera Kosambi

Scholars without Borders
Meera Kosambi is a prominent Indian sociologist. She has done her PhD in sociology from the University of Stockholm and has authored several books and articles on urban sociology and woman's studies in India. She is the youngest daughter of a prominent Marxist historian and mathematician, D. D. Kosambi, and grand-daughter of Acharya Dharmananda Kosambi, prominent Buddhist Scholar and a Pāli language expert.

In her book "Crossing Thresholds: Feminist Essays in Social History" Kosambi states that 'The notion of the threshold, indicating the restricted periphery of the 'woman's place' in family and society, was firmly embedded in the psyche of nineteenth-century women in western India. Yet some remarkable and articulate women (who are the focus of this book) 'transgressed' patriarchal boundaries--crossing thresholds, literally and metaphorically--to make their mark in the public sphere. These Indian women created the 'first ripple feminism' of the region.

Nineteenth-century men also inbabit the book--social reformers and those who helped these women, as well as conservatives who opposed both the reformers and the progressive women. The central objective of Professor Kosambi's book is to interrogate official social history--which posits strong male reformers and passive women recipients--as well as retrieve and assess women's own pioneering contribution to their proto-feminist efforts.

The Introduction presents a conceptual framework of public/private spheres, attempts to retrieve women's subjectivity through their published narratives, and discusses questions of representation and 'voice'.

The ten essays that follow span a variety of topics--the politics of iconizing individual women, women's complex relationships to their homes and their bodies, women's exposure to education and nationalism, the nature of conjugality and 'consent', ideas of motherhood and widowhood.
Uniting all these themes is the effort to amplify women's voices and reconstruct their experiential worlds.

The book straddles the areas of Gender Studies, History, and Asian Studies while underscoring the resonance of these women's lives with those of other women across South Asia and the West. '

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Middle Class in Colonial India- a book review

The Hindu : Book Review : The making of the Indian middle class
THE MIDDLE CLASS IN COLONIAL INDIA: Edited by Sanjay Joshi; Oxford University Press, YMCA Library Building, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 795.

This thought-provoking book is a compilation of readings on the making of the Indian middle class from the late 19th century to the early 21st century. There is both a challenge and an advantage in compiling such a volume. The challenge: what to include and how to order it. And the advantage: an enviable opportunity to make a critical appraisal of the essays. On both counts, Sanjay Joshi has performed admirably.

Microscopic minority

What or who constitute the Indian middle class? Since the secular and liberal Western middle class is taken as the norm, its Indian counterpart will often be seen as falling short of the ideal, so to speak. In 1888, according to the outgoing Viceroy, the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, it was a “microscopic minority” that was incapable of representing the interests of the masses.

Even today, the middle class in India does not occupy a median position, and may, more properly, be dubbed an “elite, affluent class,” as Aurobindo Ghosh anticipated in his 1893 essay (“A Cheap Shoddy Import”) and D.D. Kosambi recalled, some 50 years on, in his review of Jawaharlal Nehru's Discovery of India. One of the earliest tributes paid to the Indian middle class is to be found in the 1961 essay by B.B. Misra, where he called it “a product of British benevolence.”

It is not as if such a class did not exist in pre-colonial times. The main change in its status came about in the form of its participation in the public sphere (which C.A. Bayly calls ‘ecumene'), resulting in a kind of universalisation of middle class norms. But this so-called universalisation was tainted owing to the colonial experience.

The post-colonial subject, from Jawaharlal Nehru to the Bollywood scriptwriter (as M. Madhava Prasad argues), was forced to indulge in a paradoxical nationalist discourse, hoping to reconcile the goals of objective Western rationality and subjective Indian antiquity. To this day, there have been an uneasy, troubled coexistence of liberalism and caste endogamous practices in virtually all parts of the country. Nevertheless, the Indian middle class is not a monolith, as suggested by the various ways in which the contributors describe it — the non-fixity of the Western middle class narrative within the Indian context (Dipesh Chakrabarty); the Bengali rentier component giving rise to complex gender politics (Tanika Sarkar); players of cricket in the extended Macaulayan education system (Boria Majumdar); the prudent white-collar Kanara Saraswat community in Bombay (Prashant Kidambi); the family-oriented merchant class (Claude Markovits); the new sharif Islamic class divorced from the nobility and the lower classes (Margrit Pernau); and the educated Tamil Brahmins, who embody a schizophrenic realm of Westernised public and Sanskritised private values (M.S.S. Pandian).

Not demarcated

In reality, the ‘public' and the ‘private' are not very clearly demarcated as the ‘Westernised material sphere' and the ‘native spiritual sphere' respectively, as Partha Chatterjee would have it. According to Chatterjee, there can be no such phenomenon as the Indian middle class in colonial times, simply because the natives were excluded from the public sphere of economics and politics. Since the natives were confined to the private sphere of the household, religious, caste and gender hierarchies flourished in the Indian community during the colonial phase. However, as Sanjay Joshi (‘Re-Publicising Religiosity') points out, the native private sphere did not remain private; it acquired an aggressive public face, as in the case of religious expression, in defiance of the British colonial embargo on native participation in politics.

In a lighter vein, A.R. Venkatachalapathy tells us that even a private pleasure like coffee drinking — initially viewed as a Western vice — acquired a public face in the form of Brahmin-run coffee houses, which before long gave rise to the ‘other', namely the working-class tea houses, all over Tamil Nadu.

The importance of a volume like this lies in that it throws light on the historical evolution of the values of the middle class that are naturalised and taken for granted in the present-day.

Saluting a Genius: Dr K K Kusuman

Saluting a genius
Sabloo Thomas
First Published : 14 Jun 2010 01:38:46 AM IST

When Dr K K Kusuman, former head, Department of History at the University of Kerala died in a road accident in 2007, a group of his friends decided to bring out a volume in his memory. Dr Suresh Jnaneswaran, presently Reader of History at the University, who was then working in SN College, Chempazhanthy, was asked to take up the task of coordinating the work. and he accomplished the feat in time.

During the work, Jnaneswaran realised that there has been no similar work to honour Dr T K Ravindran, former Vice Chancellor of Calicut University and one of the prominent historians of our time.

In fact, Ravindran is among the few historians of his generation who has not been honoured with such a work.

‘‘That was when I decided to initiate a work that would be a tribute to the great scholar,’’ Jnaneswaran told.

Jnaneswaran single-handedly took up the task of bringing out the book. ‘‘The response from historians was very encouraging as most felt the need for such a book,’’ said Jnaneswaran.

‘‘Many, who could not contribute as they were working on other projects, were disappointed with the fact that they could not associate with the work.’’

It was during the course of the work that Jnaneswaran realised that there were other facets to Ravindran’s personality. Ravindran is a poet with over 20,000 poems to his credit. He is also an amateur painter. Historiography was selected as the topic for the festschrift, as it was Ravindran who introduced historiography as a topic for study in universities in Kerala, said Jnaneswaran.

The work ‘Historiography: Structure and Practice,’ a festschrift in honour of the eminent historian and teacher, has turned out to be a scholarly work and a fitting honour to the great man.

Union Minister for State for Home Mullappally Ramachandran released the book at a function at Palakkad on May 16.

‘‘The Minister cancelled all the programmes for the day to attend the book release function. He arrived well before the scheduled time and sat through the entire programme. This clearly showed his reverence for Ravindran who was also his teacher,’’ said Jnaneswaran.

It is a mystery why many consider Ravindran as an anti-Marxist historian, says Jnaneswaran. ‘‘He, in fact, is the one who first introduced the writings of Marxist historians like D D Kosambi and R S Sharma to the students in Kerala,’’ Jnaneswaran said.

Contributors to the festschrift include most of the prominent historians - Aditya Mukherjee, professor of Contemporary History, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University; Dr Sukumar Bhattacharyya, former Professor of History, Viswa Bharati, Shantiniketan; Professor R Mahalakshmi, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University; Professor M G S Narayanan, former Chairman, Indian Council of Historical Research and Prof B Sheik Ali, former Vice-Chancellor, Goa and Mangalore universities.

Some of the themes dealt in the book are ‘Ideas in History and Reflections on the Emergence of Indian Historiography;’ ‘D D Kosambi and Historiography in India’ and ‘The Return of the Colonial in Indian Economic History: The Last Phase of Colonialism in India’.

The book is a vast collection of articles that will add to historical knowledge and will serve as a reference book for teachers, researchers and students.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

DDK- A paper on mathematics

I am not sure what this paper is about, it is too obtuse for me to understand, but there seem to be significant references to DDK's work on mathematics. Download.