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Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

Battles, fires, hunts and harems

Jatakamala: stories from the Buddha’s previous births (HarperCollins, Rs 295) translated by A.N.D. Haksar provides important evidence — according to the dalai lama, who writes the foreword — of the continuity between the Hinayana and the Mahayana traditions of Buddhism. The originals here are by the Sanskrit poet, Arya Shura, composed about 1,700 years ago, to be later translated into Chinese. These are wonderfully readable stories, taking in battles, voyages, forest fires and royal hunts, moving through hell and harems, to provide ethical instruction and narrative pleasure.

The gift of a daughter: Encounters with victims of dowry (Penguin, Rs 200) by Subhadra Butalia is a lucid polemic against dowry and a personal account of a life of activism. From the nationalist to the women’s movement in India, Butalia, in her eighties now, presents her own growing understanding of the problems of Indian women. This is also the story of Karmika, a counselling and legal aid centre run by the author for women victims of domestic violence and dowry abuse. Informed by clear thinking and a wealth of experience, Butalia’s slim volume is an important but unobtrusive contribution to Indian women’s activism and its prolific literature.

The maverick republic (Roli, Rs 295) by Javed Laiq is a journalist’s clippings file arranged thematically to cover thirty years of Indian public life. The net effect is quite interesting, even entertaining, giving the feel of how “stories” are made out of the stuff of chaos and unpredictability. There are sections on Indira Gandhi’s assassination and its aftermath, elections and the Emergency. What emerges is a multifaceted anatomy of the Indian democracy and the many faces of corruption that it affords the critical eye.

GeorgeJoseph: the life and times of a Kerala christian nationalist (Orient Longman, Rs 325) by George Gheverghese Joseph is a political biography which locates its subject (the author’s distinguished grandfather) in the political and social context of modern Indian history. It opens out into wider issues of the meanings of secularism and affirmative action, and the position of religious minorities in India. This book is also a social history of the Syrian Christian community in India, focussing on the life and times of one of its members. Joseph provides an extremely detailed and personally insightful account of a fascinating but forgotten figure in Indian history.

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