The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

Kabir says, I’m off to my wedding

Kabir: The Weaver’s Songs (Penguin, Rs 295) translated by Vinay Dharwadker is a valuable English edition of 100 poems, songs and aphorisms of one of India’s greatest mystics. Dharwadker’s Kabir is also a satirist and philosopher, standing at the intersection of Islam and Hinduism, Bhakti and Yoga, immersed in theology and social thought, music and politics. These are limpid, moving translations, substantially introduced and annotated. There is an exhaustive bibliography and a detailed textual apparatus. In “Wedding”, Kabir sings, in Raga Gauri, about his bridegroom, King Rama: “Three hundred and thirty million gods/ and eighty-eight thousand sages/ are here to attend/ the ceremony./ Kabir says, I’m off to my wedding:/ I’m marrying/ the Imperishable One.”

Leadership secrets from the mahabharata (Penguin, Rs 125) by Meera Uberoi attempts to read this epic as a conduct book for “leaders”, comparable to The Prince or Tsun Zu’s The Art of War. The wisdom is arranged under the following heads: duty, war, spy, subject, friend, foe, counsellors, finance and conduct. Most of the nuggets sound rather obvious and dated when taken out of their complex, and often highly ambiguous, human context. Some of the advice sounds comically vicious and contradictory. “War” begins, harmlessly enough, with “Victory acquired by battle is very inferior”, and then goes on to this: “He should bale out the waters of all tanks in his dominions or if incapable of baling them out, cause them to be poisoned.”

Guide to trekking in himachal (Indus, Rs 275) by Minakshi Chaudhry is a useful book with lots of information, maps and photographs, and plenty of very sound advice drawing on the author’s own trekking experiences. But the trekker will have to plough through a great deal of bad, gushy writing, most of which could have been edited out of the book.

The land of naked people: encounters with stone age Islanders (Penguin, Rs 250) by Madhusree Mukerjee is a very readable account of a physicist’s encounters with the Sentinelese of the Andaman islands, “probably among the last of the planet’s first humans”. This is a rather guilt-tormented story of modernization and colonization — the dedication is “to natives unknown on whose bones we stand”. Juxtaposing personal experience with anthropological gleanings, Mukerjee’s book is a way of atoning for being an “outsider” who has been able to get special “access” to a vanishing world.

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