O TAGORE, THOU ART TRANSLATED
Poetry and community: lectures and essays, 1991-2001 By William Radice, Chronicle , Rs 450
This is a rather unfortunate book by one of Rabindranath Tagore’s translators into English. Page 48 is followed by a rerun of pages 33 to 48, followed by page 65 and the rest. The messed up pages do scant justice to what Radice himself describes as “my relentless hard work over the last thirty years”. His words set the tone of pompous self-promotion kept up through every lecture and column. Most of them are about translating Tagore’s poetry, a calling taken up by Radice because of his “strong sense of the injustice that Tagore as a self-translator — had done to himself”. Most of the lectures are used to puff Radice’s own translations — and worse still, his own grimly mediocre poems — quite relentlessly. He “hopes” that his own Myths and Legends of India is “a work of imagination, gusto, sympathy, insight, humour, feeling and joy”. He illustrates his own “post-post-modernist classicism” with a sprinkling of bad occasional poems, some of them written for his colleagues at SOAS to be circulated in the internal mail (the “SOAS Verses”). The introductory eulogy to Radice describes “how lovingly an old lady, who knew Tagore closely, waded through the small crowd around him and conveyed her good wishes”. A telling image of the Tagorean establishment in Calcutta.
OF SCHOLARLY CONCEITS
At home in diaspora: South Asian scholars and the West Edited by J. Assayag and V. Benei, Permanent Black, Rs 495
When south Asian scholars win acclaim in the Western academia, East and West meet contra Rudyard Kipling. In this volume, a handful of such social scientists reflect on their predicament and on their intellectual concerns. The volume has eminent names but there is very little sense of engagement. Anybody who is aware of the respect and influence Partha Chatterjee’s name commands in US campuses will find it difficult to accept his conclusion that he has less than one vote in the global republic of letters. Ramachandra Guha has an interesting essay on those who stayed behind in India, and Sanjay Subrahmanyam makes a nice point when he points out that the career of Ranajit Guha in Sussex and Brighton moved from eclipse to high noon. Most of the essays are marked by much narcissism and self-indulgence, which is surprising since most of the contributors are well into the middle age.
VOICES FROM THE PAST
Historical thinking in South Asia: a handbook of sources from colonial times to the present Edited by Michael Gottlob, Oxford, Rs 695
This is a useful handbook for students and teachers of Indian history. It provides a selection of sources which articulates the various ways in which the Indian past has been imagined and constructed. The selections include over 50 representative excerpts from the writings of scholars, social reformers, writers, politicians, social scientists and cultural critics. Each section is prefaced by a short but perceptive statement by the editor which discusses the importance of the issue and the selected excerpts. Its range is exhaustive — from the writings of William Jones to the rantings of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. This is a good reference book which will stand the test of time.