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Paperback Pickings

When Pinki gets into a trance

Regime change (Penguin, £ 4.20) by Christopher Hitchens is a collection of polemical articles on the Iraq war published in a couple of online magazines and The Wall Street Journal. For Hitchens, this war began when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, only a few months after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Hitchens had then taken the side of the Iraqi and Kurdish opposition to Saddam, hoping for their victory. He portrays himself as remaining so now, and therefore firmly on the side of Bush and Blair, against the “bovine” Europeans and their anti-war “piffle”.

Between worlds: Travels among mediums, shamans and healers (Penguin, Rs 225) by Uma Singh is a disconcertingly credulous book about an “alternative magico-religious reality” based in the Ravi river valley. This is not an anthropological study, but a “sharing” of the author’s “amazing” experiences among the “beautiful people”: “Trance mediums and Gaardhis, practitioners of traditional magico-religious healing, are ordinary men and women, people of their times, yet painfully set apart from their society by virtue of inhabiting a separate reality, of being blessed — or cursed — with extraordinary powers of perception, divination and healing.” There are pictures of “Mahinder Singh going into a trance; during the trance, having pierced his tongue with a miniature trishul; after the trance, smoking a beedi”, of “Kishni drinking the blood of a sacrificial lamb”, and of “Pinki getting into a trance, helped by her father; and preparing to flagellate herself while in trance”. A shockingly unnecessary book.

The great arc (HarperCollins, £ 4.99) by John Keay is subtitled “The dramatic tale of how India was mapped and Everest was named”. It tells the story — very readably — of the Great Indian Arc of the Meridian, the longest measurement of the earth’s surface to have been attempted, which began in 1800 and lasted for nearly 50 years. The survey was conceived by William Lambton and completed by George Everest, through hill and jungle, flood and fever, from the southern tip of India up to the Himalayas.

Light of the universe (Three Essays, Rs 160) by Ashraf Aziz is a series of short essays on singers, musicians and lyricists of “Hindustani cine-music and cine-song”. This is an eccentric study of the popular cultural forms taken by certain specific forms of melancholy or “griefwork” in the songs of Noor Jehan and Sajjad Hussain among others.

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