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Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

A merry rout at baboo Rammohun’s

Begums, Thugs & Englishmen: The journals of Fanny Parkes (Penguin, Rs 395) selected by William Dalrymple is a delightful and substantial account of a spirited Englishwoman’s residencies and journeys in India in the 1820s and 30s. Fanny was married to a junior official in charge of ice-making in Allahabad who regularly went mad in winter. The governor general’s daughter finds her interesting and a bit tiresome: “She has been a beauty and has remains of it, and is abundantly fat and lively. At Benares,... she informed us she was an Independent Woman.” Fanny was in what appears to be a state of perpetual bliss in India, a fluent Urdu speaker, warm-heartedly storming zenanas inspired by the writings of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Her curiosity is insatiable, and her energy inexhaustible. There is also a genuinely free-spirited capacity for fascination in Fanny which gives to her writing a slightly hysterical, but infectious energy. Her wonderful account of a very decadent party at Rammohun Roy’s in Calcutta might make his current followers gasp a bit.

Q-squared: Qualitative and Quantitative methods of poverty appraisal (Permanent Black, Rs 195) edited by Ravi Kanbur brings together a number of short papers by world leaders from both sides of the “Qual-Quant” divide in poverty analysis. This is a specialist volume which gives the state of the art in its subject, useful for both analysts and policy-makers.

Entrapped in academia (Writing Inc, Rs 150) by Laxmi Parasuram blends personal experience and “imagined nightmares” to depict the academic life of Nalini, who returns to India with an American degree to teach English at a University in an Indian small town. “Yes, it is that familiar academic scenario — its many promises, true and false, its betrayals, frustrations and rewards, as well as the easy sense of escape and refuge it offers to millions of our young generation.” This is a well-intentioned novel which should not have been published at all.

Healing streams: bringing back hope in the aftermath of violence (Penguin, Rs 295) by Sushobha Barve starts with the violence after Indira Gandhi’s assassination and then explores Bhagalpur 1989, Mumbai 1992 and Ahmedabad 2002. Barve is the executive secretary of the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation and spends a lot o time in Jammu and Kashmir. This is a personal book, which also tries to analyse riots and their aftermath.

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