Most urban populations in the world are far removed from the unfolding and the consequences of global warming. Therefore, their reflections on global warming tend to revolve around corporate greed, economic policies and the nature of expectations people have from development. In her book, Caring for Glaciers: Land, Animals, and Humanity in the Himalayas, Karine Gagné turns to the community of elderly farmers and herders in Ladakh to understand how they make sense of the melting of the glaciers, a phenomenon directly visible to the people living there. She finds that their responses to questions about the melting of the glaciers invariably involve the words “One day the Pakistanis came …”.
Society consists of more than just people; many studies of society, indeed, focus on people’s interaction with material things. Fewer delve into the relationships between people and animals.
Sudipta Sen appears to have premised his encyclopedic Ganga: The Many Pasts of a River on the words of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru: that the story of Ganga was the story of Indian civilization and culture. Written over twelve years using a wide range of sources from Hindu scriptures, archeological findings, writings of foreign travellers, and historical documents, Sen’s history of India’s “national river” begins in the mythological past and ends with controversies around the dams built on the river. It explores how the river and its valley have “sustained the imaginative life, material culture and daily subsistence of millions of inhabitants of the subcontinent.”
It may come as a surprise to Indians, although perhaps it should not, that were colonizers who were less than comfortable with the entire project of colonization. With the advantage of hindsight, and the availability of archives, the new writing about the empire has begun to disrupt the boundaries the colonized and the colonizers as mutually exclusive categories. One new book in this vein is Kief Hillsbery’s The Tiger and the Ruby: A Journey to the Other Side of British India, the account of a clerk who came to Calcutta to make a career but soon sabotaged it by getting himself transferred to a provincial city, and later on disappeared from India but did not return to England.
Persia was long a fault-line in an Islam that liked to think of itself, and was often presented as being, monolithic. Notwithstanding the best efforts of the Umayyad Caliphate—which defeated the Persian Sassanids in the 7th century—at both Arabization and Islamization, linguistic, cultural and even religious divisions remained. Persian identity began to reassert itself soon thereafter and the turn the of 10th century, the rise of the Ghaznavids constitute a very intriguing period from the point of view of flourishing of Persian literature, art, music, philosophy, and contribution in science and mathematics.
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.