The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

A sky full of floating animals

Mapping The Deep: The Extraordinary Story Of Ocean Science (Sort of Books, £ 5.99) by Robert Kunzig is a state-of-the-ocean report on the sea and its science. Amazing oases teeming with life have been found in deep sea volcanic vents, but we have hardly begun to identify their resident species. Apart from plumbing these depths (sometimes in a homespun “bathyscaphe”), Kunzig also puts together a compelling narrative of oceanographers past and present — scientists, pioneers, maverick thinkers, deep water divers and submersible pilots. The allure of the writing is a trifle overdone: “Imagine you looked out of your window one morning and saw a sky full of floating gelatinous animals — jellyfish, siphono- phores and salps sucking in microscopic plankton...A sky like that would be worth exploring, would it not'”

Harvest Of Hate: Gujarat Under Siege (Rupa, Rs 150) by Swami Agnivesh and Valson Thampu is the fruit of a “multi-religious pilgrimage of compassion” undertaken by the authors together with 70 religious leaders in the wake of the pogrom. One wonders if the survivors might not have already had a surfeit of religion, and whether “compassion” is all that spirituality has to offer them. Gujarat books were selling once. This one comes with pieces by Harsh Mander and Arundhati Roy, both of which have been widely circulated in magazines and on the net before being reprinted here.

TheFolk-songs of Southern India (Rupa, Rs 150) by Charles E. Gover is a reprint of an 1871 collection, done for the Royal Asiatic Society, of “Canar- ese”, Badaga, Tamil, Coorg, Telugu and Malayalam songs. The prime intention of this excellent and fascinatingly annotated collection is “to exhibit irrefragable evidence of the real feelings of the mass of the people, and thus enable Europeans to see them as they are”.

Joothan: a Dalit’s Life (Samya, Rs 185) by Omprakash Valmiki traces the life of a sensitive and intelligent Dalit youth in independent India. Valmiki grows up as an untouchable Chuhra in a village near Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, to gain an education and join the “slowly growing ranks of Dalit intellectuals in India”. “Joothan” refers to the scraps of food left on the plates for Dalits. Arun Prabha Mukherjee translates very readably from Valmiki’s original Hindi. Her introduction is learned and lucid, and fills out the socio-legal and activist backgrounds to this important contemporary work.

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