The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

The broad field of human ideas

A Tagore Reader (Rupa, Rs 195) edited by Amiya Chakravarty is a reprint of an important anthology compiled by this scholar, poet and associate of Tagore in 1961, the centennial of Tagore’s birthday. Chakravarty, having travelled with Tagore “in many parts of the world”, makes a special claim to studying “the richness of his mind”. Representing the great breadth and modernism of Tagore’s writings is the editor’s mission in this selection: “Tag- ore’s own writings as a poet, traveller, diarist, short story writer, novelist, and a commentator on international affairs came out of the ferment of the modern age while they helped to shape the course of literature in Asia and the West and deepened its resources.” The English of Tagore and his contemporaries, however mellifluous, is perhaps not the best medium for conveying the essence of his vernacular modernity: “The world today is wild with the delirium of hatred,/ the conflicts are cruel and unceasing in anguish,/ crooked are its paths, tangled its bonds of greed.”

Roots (Orient Longman, Rs 195) by Malayatoor Ramakrishnan has been translated by V. Abdulla from the original, Verukal, a Sahitya Akademi winner. In the story, Raghu reasserts the values he most believes in by turning to explore the enduring bonds that tie him to his land. As the bureaucrat travels back to his ancestral property, to escape the stifling conflict within his marriage, his search for roots reveals the narrownesses that underlie existence in both country and city. The clash between two attitudes in his conjugal life transfers itself into his new surroundings. Yet he retrieves a lost bond with his land, and his growing conviction is rendered realistic through the concise and humorous presentation.

The Elephant Paradigm: India Wrestles with Change (Penguin, Rs 295) by Gurcharan Das argues that India, in “the age of liberation”, may never zoom ah-ead like the Asian tigers but will move slowly and steadily — and wisely — towards the full potential of its growth and civilization. Divided into three sections, Das’s essays deal with the political, social and economic aspects of changing life, while laying out the background for the changes and examining how they affect or are affected by the private beliefs of individuals.

Shining Hero (HarperCollins, Rs 395) by Sara Banerji retrieves the tale of Karna, Kunti and Arjuna from the Mahabharata to weave a new story which begins on the riverbank of a village very near Calcutta. Centred around brotherly rivalry and strewn with dacoits, film stars and politicans, this fast-moving tale achieves an intriguing balance between matter-of-fact description and a tranquil dependence on traditional stories.

Autobiography of Charles Darwin (Rupa, Rs 150) has two appendices by his son, Francis Darwin, which describe his father’s everyday life and discuss his religion. This is a useful little volume, because the reader can hear the great man’s voice speaking casually and intimately in memoirs meant originally only for his children and family. A short introduction is all that is missing.

Folk Tales of Bengal (Rupa, Rs 195) by Lal Behari Day is a beautiful edition of the original 1883 volume with colour illustrations by Warwick Goble. Day’s conscious effort to reproduce for Bengal a book of folk tales similar to the Grimm Brothers’ Mährchen, Dasent’s Norse Tales or Campbell’s Highland Stories is a remarkable example of many-layered effects of the colonial encounter. Day’s introduction is a valuable document that lays out the terms for this complicated interweaving of tradition and modernity.

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