Liberal intellectuals, whether in India or writing about India, may not take kindly to Brian A Hatcher’s latest book Hinduism Before Reform. But it is a book that they must read to examine the roots of their attitude towards everything perceived as right-wing Hinduism in India and the Indian diaspora.
In the 19th century, long before Barack Obama’s election as the President of the United States in the face of jokes about the possibility of a black man living in the White House, the British mocked another “black man” who dared to stand in elections to be elected to the House of Commons in England. Dinyar Patel’s Naoroji: Pioneer of Indian Nationalism is a biography of that “black man”. Straightforward in style, and well-detailed in approaches to a life as it intersected with multiple, complex movements, places, ideologies, Naoroji addresses the vacuum in the pre-Gandhian political history of modern India. It is a much-needed intervention in acknowledgment of the contribution of Indian freedom fighters before there were Indian freedom fighters.
There ought to be a word for the opposite of xenophobia—not in the sense of love for people from other nations (which is xenophilia perhaps, the love of things that are foreign), but in the sense of fear and suspicion of the citizens of the same nation.
Mumbai, or Bombay as it was once known, has a Christian memory. This needs pointing out because it is not among the frequently consulted or talked about whenever the city is mentioned in Bollywood or even the fiction produced about the city.
The Tantra is an Indian esoteric doctrine of mysticism spanning Hinduism and Buddhism. It incorporates not just the spiritual but also the sexual ways of becoming one with the divine. While the Indian poets belonging to the devotional bhakti movement have written about the possibilities of the union with God with a hint of eroticism, this extreme route of using sexual practice to know everything, including the ultimate divinity, has remained unexplored.
Rudyard Kipling’s 1888 short story “The Man Who Would Be King” (well-known thanks to the Sean Connery film by the same name) is about two English ex-army ruffians who want to become kings; they do indeed come to rule a kingdom in Afghanistan. Eventually, the two die when their “subjects” turn against them. Rishi Dastidar uses this colonizer’s desire and ambition to be king as material for his Saffron Jack. The resulting long poem is the story of a British citizen who is told he does not belong in Great Britain, and decides to have a nation of his own to rule over.
Indian poet-diplomat Abhay K is out with a larger collection of Indian poetry combining his earlier anthologies of a hundred poems each. The resulting book is The Bloomsbury Anthology of Great Indian Poems covering English poetry as well as English translations of poems written in 28 Indian languages.