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Book Briefs

In the lawyer’s defence

Will to survive

Ram jethmalani: The authorized biography By Nalini Gera, Viking, Rs 499

Does Ram Jethmalani deserve a biography, authorized or otherwise' He is an eminent lawyer and a politician, he has served as cabinet minister. There have been others who were all these. Take Ashoke Sen, for example, who was one of the finest legal brains of his time and politician and minister. But nobody dreamed of doing a biography of Sen. Times have changed and there are publishers, very good ones, who are willing to put their imprint on books which have no great relevance. It is a shame to count Penguin India among these, but there it is. Jethmalani, in his professional life, has thrived on controversy. He shot into public prominence with his defence of Haji Mastan, the smuggler. An authorized biography always hovers close to being a hagiography and this one is no exception. The biographer tells us that Jethmalani is deeply spiritual and philosophical. Someone, perhaps Scott Fitzgerald, once said that an artist is a person who can hold two contradictory views and survive. Jethmalani was a friend of both Nusli Wadia and the late Dhirubhai Ambani, and survive he does.

Knowledge At most dubious

A shared heritage: the growth of civilizations in india and iran Edited by Irfan Habib, Tulika, Rs 450

Surprised eyebrows may be raised about this book which brings together papers presented at a panel in the Indian History Congress in 2001. Why, one may well ask, did the IHC and the Aligarh Historians’ Society feel the need to organize a panel on such a theme. The question is important because none of the historians, including the editor (who only writes the introduction), is a specialist on the theme. Some of them know their Indian history, but their claims to know the history of Iran are at best dubious.The answer to the question raised should be obvious to those who know how these things work: there was a grant from the office of the cultural counsellor, embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The net result is an indifferent volume whose only selling point is the name of India’s most distinguished medievalist as its editor.


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