Saturday, October 20, 2012

Marxism and Classical Sanskrit Literature: D.D. Kosambi’s Approach and Assessment

Download Marxism and Classical Sanskrit Literature: DD Kosambi's Approach and Assessment

by Ramakrishna Bhattacharya

"In this essay I examine D. D. Kosambi’s approach and assessment of classical Sanskrit literature from the Marxist point of view. In the first part, I discuss S. N. Dasgupta’s critique of the Marxist approach to art and literature, arguing that Dasgupta had an idealist (and idealized) view of Indian society that does not match historical reality. I then contrast Dasgupta’s views with those of Kosambi. The latter asserted that there was no qualitative change in the means of production and hence in the relations of production in India before the imposition of British rule. In his view, classical Sanskrit literature too reflects this ground reality. In the second part, I discuss how Kosambi’s Marxist approach to art and literature was both aesthetic and historical. Through presenting Kosambi’s appreciation of classical Sanskrit literature, I show that Daniel H. H. Ingalls misapprehended Kosambi’s views and that his criticism of Kosambi was misdirected accordingly."

Monday, October 15, 2012

UNSETTLING THE PAST Unknown Aspects and Scholarly Assessments of D.D. Kosambi

In the Permanent Black pipeline for next year (2013) are two wonderfully interesting books by two great historians of ancient India,D.D. Kosambi and Romila Thapar.

The book by Kosambi (actually, two parts of it are by him and one part is on him) is calledUNSETTLING THE PAST. 

The book by Thapar is called THE PAST BEFORE US.

Unknown Aspects and Scholarly Assessments of D.D. Kosambi 

The Kosambi book is a collection of obscure and pretty unknown writings by D.D. Kosambi alongside assessments of his contribution to various areas of scholarship -- ancient history, mathematics, Sanskrit literature, numismatics, and marxism as a method for understanding the past.

An array of the great man's unpublished letters, unearthed from the Harvard and TIFR archives by his daughter Meera Kosambi, will comprise one section of the book. Kosambi's correspondence includes an exchange with Robert Graves on comparative aspects of Indian and Greek myth.

Almost no one has ever seen this cache of incredibly interesting letters which reveal new facets of Kosambi's insights, range of interests, methods, friendships, and affections. Some wonderful photos of Kosambi, mostly unavailable, will also feature in the book. They reveal a man resembling a Greek god, 5 ft. 10 in. tall, who was humane, compassionate, and caring in unexpected ways, as for example in the photo below, showing him bathing one of his two dogs, Chatya. (The other one was called Bonzo, who too will be revealed in the book.) Some people have it all: intellect, physique, Harvard education, bungalow in Poona ... Kosambi had it all by the spadefull. It comes almost as a relief to know that in later life he suffered from arthritis -- though even about his illness Kosambi is wonderfully blunt. In the last year of his life, in one of his letters to a Japanese collaborator, he writes presciently:  "I find that my health trouble has been due to long standing and apparently incurable virus infection. The main site is the sinuses, with secondary sites in the chest and bowels. The arthritis is a result of this, and so cannot be cured except by death." 

Kosambi's famous falling out with Homi Bhabha at the TIFR (they got on fine initially) was in part because, at a time when scientists were debating the relative advantages of solar and nuclear energy, Kosambi argued for the sun whereas Bhabha preferred uranium and had the backing of Jawaharlal Nehru.
Here's an extract from the first of Kosambi's 'Three Essays on Solar Energy' (1957), an essay powered by the writer's fiery English prose, which concludes with a swipe at Bhabha and capitalist functioning more generally -- and which rings true in our time, when inflated costs in the execution of public works are the state's way of looting citizens.