The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

Rambling for the good of the Empire

Rambles and recollections of an Indian official (Rupa, Rs 595) by Sir W.H. Sleeman is an invaluable and entertaining reprint of a mid-19th-century classic — the journals of an eminent colonial administrator who “rambled” from the banks of the “Nerbudda” to the “Himalaya mountains” in 1835-36, “in search of health”, with his wife and “little son”. Sleeman was based for most of his Indian career in Jabalpur as General Superintendent of the operations for the Suppression of Thuggee. The original editor, who puts in generous notes, a bibliography and an index, explains why Sleeman was such a good archivist: “He thoroughly understood the peculiarities of the various native races, and the characteristics which distinguish them from the nations of Europe; while sympathetic insight into Indian life had not orientalised him, nor had it ever for one moment caused him to forget his position and heritage as Englishman. This attitude of safe and discriminating sympathy is the right attitude for the Englishman in India.” Sleeman was well versed in Arabic, Persian and Urdu and also knew Latin, Greek and French.

Riot after riot: Reports on caste and communal violence in India (Roli, Rs 195) by M.J. Akbar is a collection of journalistic pieces on incidents of mass violence in India over the last nine years — RSS-inspired riots in Jamshedpur, the provincial armed constabulary opening fire on 40,000 Muslims in Moradabad, the killing of Harijans by Thakur Rajputs in UP, dacoit raids in Bihar, starvation deaths in Kalahandi and the Gorkha separatist movement. The last piece is called “Bonfires of the Heart: Notes from the Shadows of Ayodhya”.

Love’s perfumes (Penguin, Rs 200) by Rita Rahman is a novel about a Carribean environmentalist and Dutch civil servant who meet at the World Food Summit in the Netherlands. The civil servant is insomniac and the environmentalist knows a way of making him sleep, in exchange of which the civil servant guides her through the cities of Europe.

Kumari: The Virgin Goddess (Roli, price not mentioned) is a book of postcard photographs taken by Thomas L. Kelly and introdced by Carroll Dunham and Daniel B. Haber. It depicts the rather discomfiting Nepalese ritual of worshipping pre-pubertal girls, practised for 700 years now, as incarnations of the goddess Taleju. The written introduction provides lurid details of these girls’ ruined childhood, and the little kumaris look miserable in most of the photographs.

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