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Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

Subjects, partitions and archives

Portraits and memories (Thema, Rs 130) by S.C. Sengupta is a collection of reminiscences as well as a valuable historical document. This eminent Shakespeare scholar and professor of English was born, in his own words, “on the eve of Lord Curzon’s Partition of Bengal and the Swadeshi agitation it provoked”. Sengupta had written his own account of the nationalist struggle in India Wrests Freedom after a series of books on Shakespeare. His life, professional career (in Calcutta, Dhaka and Delhi), critical writings, and these recollections, explore and embody the complex history of English literary studies in imperial and postcolonial India. His essays on such teachers and men of letters as Manmohan Ghose, Praphulla Chandra Ghosh, Kiranchandra Mukherjee (“a crazy teacher of mine”) and Taraknath Sen are rich in anecdote, historical perceptions and human sympathy. This is a vanishing, perhaps vanished, world of writing, teaching, reading, conversation, eccentricities and intellectual hybridity — an invaluable archive, poised on the brink of oblivion to which historians need to have access through books like this one.

Israel/Palestine: How to end the war of 1948 (LeftWord, Rs 150) by Tanya Reinhart focuses on the post-Oslo era, and follows Israel’s policies in the three years since Ehud Barak became prime minister, until the summer of 2002. It sees the shift in Israeli policy as neither a spontaneous reaction to terror nor an act of self-defense, but calculated plans, systematically executed.

Home truths: Stories of single mothers (Penguin, Rs 250) by Deepti Priya Mehrotra is an important book about all aspects of the life of a single mother in India. It starts with theoretical and methodological questions, and the description of the varied “terrain” in which single mothers have to live their everyday lives. She then presents the “stories”, in-depth narratives, of 14 working-class and 12 middle-class women from the Sikh, Christian, Muslim and Hindu communities. She ends with brief reflections on some themes common to these lives, finishing with a number of unavoidable and crucial questions regarding women’s lives and sexualities. A well-researched book which will be accessible to a wide readership as well.

The name of the book, Sovereign Spheres: Princes, Education and Empire in Colonial India, by Manu Bhagavan, was printed as Sovereign Spaces (“Relaying Modernity”, June 6). The error is regretted.

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