Krishna Sobti, the grande dame of Hindi literature (as she is often called in India), passed away in January this year. She was an unusual writer, writing as a woman and publishing some of her work under a masculine name. Her writing in Hindi is inflected with Urdu and Punjabi ways of speaking and makes translating her a challenge. Among her last works was Gujrat Pakistan se Gujarat Hindustan (2016), a novelized memoir about the early years of her career and of independent India.
Wisdom has it that forgetting the past risks repeating it. The old must remind both themselves and the young where they came from, what happened to them and why, and who was responsible.
Deborah Baker opens The Last Englishmen with the admission that she was looking for a new way to write about WW2 India when she came across the papers of John Bicknell Auden, the older brother of the well-known British poet, WH Auden. In her explorations, she found another brother of another poet—Michael Spender. The fortuitous connections lead her to yet another man, this time no brother, but a poet himself, Louis MacNeice. The result is a book that is a detailed account of who was having an affair with whom, especially one Nancy Sharp, a painter, and when, and who climbed which mountain peak and when, and discovered what. The book is three books in one: loving, mountaineering, and Baker’s original ambition to write a book about India.
In his new book, The Origins of Dislike, Amit Chaudhuri unwraps several aspects of reading, writing, publishing, criticism, and thinking in general, mostly to dismantle the perceived virtuosity of these phenomena.
In popular imagination and even works of scholarship, the names of the six Great Mughals—all male—dominate the narrative of the Mughal Empire in the history of India. School textbooks name them, detail their conquests, their religious tolerance or intolerance, the art and architecture they ushered in, and the gardens they left behind. That Nur Jahan, the 20th wife of the fourth emperor Jahangir (the son of Akbar the Great), was co-sovereign is missing from even the trivia people know about the carefree Prince Salim, the later Emperor Jahangir.
For fifty years after the independence, Indian scholars looked at 1947 as a year of “triumph and tragedy”. Freedom from the British rule was the triumph of the nationalist movement and the Partition of the subcontinent into India, East Pakistan and West Pakistan was the tragic co-effect of the independence. It took about half a century for Indians to realize that there has been an uncanny silence around the riots that affected millions of people trying to escape to a land of a safer religion or to hold on to the place they felt they had always belonged.
Asia has a long history of the printing and dissemination of news. In his book on origins of modern journalism in India, Andrew Otis mentions bulletins published by the Chinese, handbills by the Japanese and newsletters distributed by runners. Ever since the introduction of the printing press in India in the 16th century by the Portuguese Jesuits, the European colonists and missionaries used the technology to print their newsletters.