It was 1675, and Londoners were eager to see the King’s Company production of the latest play by John Dryden, playwright and Poet Laureate. Aureng-Zebe, for so it was titled, was a heroic verse-drama written in rhyming couplets based on near-contemporary events in India. It featured an exotic combination of eastern despotism, lust and dynastic rivalry, together with an invented love-story, all of which was bound to satisfy an audience still in the throes of an “oriental” craze.

Dressed like Rajput princesses in bangles, rhinestones and brocade tightly fitted over their svelte bodies, the young women created a stir when they entered the elevator of our nondescript apartment block in Singapore. Only later did I learn that these were bar dancers, dispatched by their needy families in rural Bihar to earn 200 hundred dollars a week in the clubs on Circular Road. 100 years earlier these women might have aspired to become elite entertainers, tawaifs, for the aristocrats of Benares or Lucknow. Saba Dewan’s magistral work explains the decline and fall of this storied tradition.

John Oliver has been blamed, among other things, for helping Donald Trump win the 2016 US Presidential race. Rather than dealing with the rise of right-wing populism, liberals like Oliver chose to deride, ridicule and dismiss. Worldwide, liberals are seen as elitists and out of sync with the problems of the common man. In her book Reading India Now: Contemporary Formations in Literature and Popular Culture, Ulka Anjaria approaches the issue through the examples of literature and popular culture produced in India since 2000.