Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Debating Vivekananda

April 2, 2016

A good read; strongly recommended if you are interested in Vivekananda.

Gandhi’s religion: a home spun shawl

January 20, 2016

The line from Ram Guha’s introduction to the book captures my thoughts (before I read the book) rather well:

Could we not follow Gandhi in his empathy for the poor and his insistence on non-violence while rejecting the religious idiom in which his idead were cloaked?

Guha continues:

Ramu Gandhi argued that the attempt to secularise Gandhi was mistaken. If you take the Mahatma’s faith out of him, he told me, then Gandhi would not be the Mahatma.

After reading the wonderful (and thoroughly gripping) book by JTF Jordens Gandhi’s religion: a homespun shawl, I can see Ramu Gandhi’s point. A great read. Strongly recommended. Here is the Hindu review: the last paragraph of the review summarises the experience of reading the book rather nicely:

The image of Gandhi’s religion as a “bulky homespun shawl” is poetic. “At first it looks very plain to the eye, but we can detect the beauty of the strong patterns and the contrasting shades of folk art. With its knots and unevenness, it feels at first rough to touch; but soon we can experience how effective it is in warming cold and hungry limbs.” We feel that warmth by reading Jordens too.


Linda Hess’ Bodies of Song

January 20, 2016

Linda Hess’ book on Kabir oral traditions called Bodies of Song: Kabir Oral Traditions and Performative Worlds in North India is a great read. I also watched some of (though not all) of the documentaries made by Shabnam Virmani as part of the kabir project while reading the book. Both the book and the documentaries are strongly recommended. In Hess’ book, the fifth chapter on theory of oral tradition, at least for me, did not jell well with the rest of the book. But that is only a minor quibble. I also discovered some great artists such as Kaluram Bamaniya, Prahlad Singh Tipanya and Bheru Singh Chouhan and rediscovered some like Kumar Gandharva, Shubha Mudgal and Madhup Mudgal thanks to the book and documentaries!

Rudranghsu Mukherjee’s Parallel Lives

December 22, 2014

An excellent book; I am almost half-way through. Strongly recommended. Here is Mukul Kesavan on the book; here is Narasaiah.

The Magician’s Land

December 17, 2014

A good read; I agree with this reviewer — this probably is the best of the three books — even though, I found some of the later chapters a tad too lengthy.

Chembai and the Music Academy

December 12, 2014

Sriram’s article on Chembai and the Music Academy is a must-read.  It is very difficult to argue forcefully or fight with Institutions while maintaining no ill-will. Chembai seems to have managed it. When we are on the topic, let me also strongly recommend Lakshmi Subramanian’s From the Tanjore court to the Madras Music Academy: A social history of music in South India. I am yet to complete the book. But I liked whatever I have read so far.

Biography of Bhagvad Gita

December 11, 2014

I read Richard R Davis’ The Bhagvad Gita: A biography. Doniger’s review of the book is here. A good read.

Vijaya Ramaswamy’s Walking Naked: Women, Society, Spirituality in South India

December 10, 2014

Though this books seems was published in 1997 (and, I have 2007 second revised edition with me), I was unaware of its existence till I saw a reference in one of Ram Guha’s articles. It is a must-read, especially if you are interested in the poetry of Mira, Andal and Akka Mahadevi. I especially liked the sections of the book on Sangam literature, Budhdhist and Jain literature and Veerashaiva movement — obviously because of my own interests. Strongly recommended. If I have any quibble, it is that some of the pieces are a bit dis-jointed and there are a few minor mis-prints and mistakes.

Two novels

November 15, 2014

Read Ian McEwan’s Atonement and Lily King’s Euphoria. Liked Euphoria a lot. Strongly recommended. Atonement is good too. (There is no comparison between the two novels. Just that I happened to read them one after another and liked one better than the other).

Syeda Saiyidain Hameed’s Maulana Azad, Islam and the Indian National Movement

August 27, 2014

Is a must-read. The book got a very positive review at the Hindu by S Ananthakrishnan:

In this book, Syeda Saiyidin Hameed has brought out the eminence of Maulana Azad with great aplomb. … The book being extremely analytical crisscrosses the life and times of Azad seamlessly adhering to his concepts of Muslim advancements and Hindu-Muslim unity. Indeed a book to be reckoned with in understanding the Muslims, national movement and of course Maulana Azad.

After having gone through only about one fifths of the book, I am already convinced that the book is a must-read for anybody interested in Indian national movement.

There are quite a few surprises (for me, at least) in the book. For example, I did not know that one of the Sufi saints (Mansur Hallaj) declared An-al-Haq ‘I am Truth’. I also did not realise that for people like Maulana, the participation in Indian freedom movement was a religious duty:

He reminded the Muslims that thirteen hundred years ago they had embarked upon bringing freedom to all mankind. They owed it to their belief in Allah and His Prophet that India’s freedom should be achieved and achieved only through their vaseela (intercession).

Till now, I (at least) have never heard of this strand of Indian national movement.

As a matter of fact, I found the views of Maulana on religion to be the most interesting:

There is one type of religion — hereditary; believe what your forefathers believed in. Another type is geographical, which comprises of the well-worn path travelled by many on any given piece of the earth. Then there is religion of the census survey; put down ‘Islam’ in the appropriate box. There is also the conventional religion — the compendium of rituals and ceremonies, do not tamper with it; allow it to run all over you. Apart from all these there is the haqiqi (true) religion and it is the path to this which somehow always gets lost.

From the preface, I understand that Oxford India rejected the manuscript in 1997 while OUP, Pakistan published it. Now, in 2014, OUP, India has published the book. Better late than never, I suppose.

The only thing that I would have liked more is if there were more photographs added to the book — though the two (on the cover) and the one with the author’s family (By the way is it K M Munshi with the Gandhi cap in the photo?) are really nice!