The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

An orchestra of suckers and slurpers

Sacred spaces: exploring traditions of shared faith in india (Penguin, Rs 250) by Yoginder Sikand weaves together legend, history, ethnography, travel-writing, reminiscences and critical analysis to explore popular religious cults from various parts of the country that defy the logic of communities as neatly separated from and necessarily opposed to one another. At Hazrat Nund Rishi at Charar-e-Sharif, or the Wavar shrine at the Ayyappa pilgrimage of Sabarimala, at the temple of Goddess Elamma of Sauditti, or the dargah of Sarmad of Delhi, Sikand meets saints, keepers and devotees who are part of heterodox and pluralist traditions which offer humanist visions of the sacred, freed from the boundaries of caste and dogma. Written in the face of “theological terror”, this book celebrates “indigenous theologies of inter-faith dialogue and social liberation” as embodied in some “men of God” Sikand meets in the course of his travels.

India in the world order: searching for major-power status (Cambridge, Rs 950) by Baldev Raj Nayar and T.V. Paul examines India’s relationship with the world’s major powers and its own search for a significant role in the international system. Central to the argument is India’s belief that the acquisition of an independent nuclear capability is the key to obtaining such status, and the book details the major constraints at the international, domestic and perceptual levels that India has faced in this endeavour. Nayar and Paul conclude that India is indeed a rising power, but that significant systemic and domestic changes will be necessary before it can achieve its goal.

Dreams of the dragon’s children (Penguin, Rs 250) by Navroze Contractor combines travelogue, cultural study and film history, all in a breezy colloquial style to provide a chronicle of daily life in the China of the mid-Eighties. Contractor is an Indian cinematographer who visits China as part of an international crew making a film on the country’s young people. “The Chinese are loud eaters. They slurp and suck at the chopsticks and the ceramic spoons. Fifty-odd eaters doing it together sounded like an orchestra of suckers and slurpers. We joined in. Some more women arrived. They went straight for the food. Some mixed with the men and some sat alone and joined in the sucking and slurping. I started to shoot. Whenever I’d point the camera at the women they would all burst out laughing. Some tried to hide behind each other and some just stared at me very seriously.”

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