The sudden departure of MSS Pandian, historian, scholar and extraordinary teacher, adds a sense of emptiness to these terrible times. A massive heart attack following a gastro-intestinal complication, of which he wasn’t fully aware, took him away on 10 November 2014 at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi. On the way to the hospital in the morning he was worrying about the MA class he was to teach at 4:00 in the afternoon at the Centre of Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, where he was a professor. He will be missed by his students, friends and colleagues. A radical, avant garde scholar with deeply egalitarian moorings, his work will remain an example of a prose that is objective, political and moral.
“For a man born in 1906 and witnessed the most acute battles around caste — whether it be M K Gandhi’s threat to suicide which robbed by means of the Poona Pact the ‘untouchable’ communities of separate electorate, or the nation-wide movement for temple entry by the untouchables, or the rise of the non-Brahmin politics in the Madras Presidency during the early decades of the twentieth century — R K Narayan’s forgetfulness about caste comes through as a bit surprising. But this feeling of surprise fades away when one does a closer reading of his autobiography. All through the autobiography, caste masquerades as something else and makes its muted modern appearance. For instance, writing about his difficulties in getting a proper house to rent in Mysore, he writes, ‘…our requirements were rather complicated — separate room for three brothers, their families, and a mother; also for Sheba, our huge Great Dane, who had to have a place outside the house to have her meat cooked, without the fumes from the meat pot polluting our strictly vegetarian atmosphere; a place for our old servant too, who was the only one who could go out and get the mutton and cook it.’ It does not need much of an effort to understand what ‘strictly vegetarian atmosphere’ or meat, which is specified as mutton (that is, it is not beef) encodes. It is caste by other means.The subtle act of transcoding caste and caste relations into something else — as though to talk about caste as caste would incarcerate one into a pre-modern realm — is a regular feature one finds in most upper caste autobiographies. Caste always belongs to someone else; it is somewhere else; it is of another time. The act of transcoding is an act of acknowledging and disavowing caste at once. In marked contrast to the upper caste autobiographies, the self-definition of one’s identity, as found in the autobiographies of the lower castes, is located explicitly in caste as a relational identity. The autobiographical renditions of Bhama or Viramma, two Dalit women from the Tamil-speaking region, the poignant autobiographical fragments of Dalits from Maharashtra, put together by Arjun Dangle in his edited volume Corpse in the Well, and Vasant Moon’s Growing up Untouchable in India are all suffused with the language of caste — at times mutinous, at times moving. Most often the very act of writing an autobiography for a person belonging to a lower caste is to talk about and engage with the issue of caste.5 In other words, we have here two competing sets of languages dealing with the issue of caste. One talks of caste by other means; and the other talks of caste on its ‘own terms’ ” MSS Pandian(‘One Step Outside Modernity: Caste, Identity Politics and Public Sphere’).
Excerpt from Afthab Ellath’s Wall.
“Everything that brought the country [the U.S.] to 9/11 remains in place.”
– Perry Anderson. (From Americana, his forthcoming book)
In her introduction to the annotated critical edition of Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s ‘Annihilation of Caste’ (Navayana, 2014), Arundhati Roy looks at the ways in which caste plays out in modern India, and how the conflict between Ambedkar and Gandhi continues to resonate into the present day.
To mark the launch of the book Arundhati Roy will be in conversation with Asad Zaidi, Hindi poet and publisher, Three Essays Press.
Saturday, March 15, 2014, 7:00 pm
Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre, Lodi Road, New Delhi
Deepa Ganesh gives a “captivating and perceptive account of the life and music of Gangubai Hangal”.
Deepa Ganesh’s biography, A Life in Three Octaves, brings alive the musical journey of Gangubai Hangal and her day-to-day existential struggles. It was a life fraught with financial difficulties, which was made worse by a lack of worldliness—singers with half or a third her talent were paid twice as much—and an innate modesty marked by a kindness of spirit that was rare even in her time; Ustad Bismillah Khan, the shehnai maestro and her dear friend, was the other exception in Hindustani music. The writer, through a proliferation of detail gathered from conversations with Gangubai Hangal and those close to her, manages to make the reader connect with the deeply compassionate, giving woman who sang with such power, conviction and feeling.
Full review: http://www.frontline.in/books/a-life-of-music/article5749586.ece
Three Essays books at the New Delhi World Book Fair 2014 (15-23 February) at the IPD Alternatives stall (Hall 14, Stall 13)