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Feedback Received / Letters to the Editors
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The Editors, Biblio: A Review of Books
New Delhi.

Dear Editors,
I enjoyed reading Brian Stoddart's spirited review of Boria Majumdar and J. A. Mangan eds. Sports in South Asian Society (Biblio, vol.10, nos. 4-5, May-June 2005, pp. 30-31) but thought should point out that Stoddart's polemics with my short, speculative, and introductory essay in the book is based on an unfortunate misreading of the piece. I never charged Stoddart's generation of sports-historians with "failing" in any absolute sense. I had no intention of not acknowledging the pioneering role that that generation played in creating a sub-field of sports history within the profession (otherwise why would I mention them?). Stoddart himself played a leading role in the process. There was no question of considering the "first wave" of sports history to be a "complete failure". The failure I had in mind was a larger one and was not caused by any historian's personal failing: sports history, even though its defenders in the seventies and the eighties argued that it was central to the business of doing social history, never quite became a mainstream subject to historians who saw themselves as engaged in that trade. Obviously, the weight of such a claim would vary from one national context to another. In Australia, the country where Stoddart works, sports were accorded a higher academic value than, say, in the leading History departments of Indian universities. But even there this marginality was quite visible. The History department in Melbourne University where I worked in the eighties was very much a social-history department. Most of the leading historians in the department were individually interested in sports. In fact, the discussion at tea-time was often about local "footie" matches (Aussie Rules football) and one risked being socially neglected if one did not keep up with their progress. But in my ten years at the university, the department never made a decision to hire a single sports historian. Stoddart himself acknowledges that even in Australia sports history suffered a certain kind of academic neglect. He attributes this to "a recalcitrant History profession that has refused persistently to see sport as a major and culturally significant social preoccupation.. ." Our difference is therefore not about the fact of this marginality of sports history. It revolves around the question "why". I argue that the very field of (British) social history or "history from below" had certain intellectual priorities built into it; sporting events were seen as less important than strikes or some other act of overt class-conflict or class-resistance. Stoddart's explanatory gesture, that the profession was "recalcitrant", depends too much on some assumed characteristics of fellow historians.

The second argument that Stoddart finds "opportunistic and not deeply based" (I must say I don't quite understand these somewhat moral-sounding charges) was also speculative in nature. I suggested that the contemporary popularity of sports history among young South Asianists has something probably to do with the connection that has developed between sports, nationalism, and the televisual media over the last couple of decades or so. This is a fairly convincing point that I thought Boria Majumdar's well-researched book, Twenty-two Yards to Freedom (Penguin-Viking, 2004) makes for cricket: that the immense flow of advertising money into the game in India has followed its popularization through the television. My second point, in this connection, raised the question of how profoundly the modern media have altered our experience of the game itself (many of the innovations of one-day cricket, for example, had to do with enhancing the audio-visual aspects of the game, impossible in the days before television). From there I went on to conclude that the history of sports will perhaps increasingly have to engage with the role and function of the mass media in our societies. The future historians will perhaps read as much E. P. Thompson and Clifford Geertz as John Hartley and John Fisk (or Arvind Rajagopal and Purnima Mankekar in our context) and other more contemporary gurus of television studies. This, I finally suggested, may very well take the field away from the seventies (British) social-history orientation that Stoddart's generation once gave it. Again, much of this was speculative and was not meant to deny the continuing importance of social and political institutions other than the media. Stoddart's opinion that the "way ahead is through more social history and less 'mediatization'" creates an unproductive sense of rivalry between the two fields of 'social history" and "media studies". More importantly, it fails to come to grips with my point that as (and if) sports historians read into the area of media studies, the nature of the "social history" they do may very well change.

Yours sincerely,
Dipesh Chakrabarty
Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor of History and South Asian Studies
The University of Chicago, USA


A Response To Dipesh Chakrabarty by Brian Stoddart

Dipesh Chakrabarty and I share too many views in common and have known each other over too long a period for this to escalate into a Lawrence Stone/H.R. Trevor-Roper "Crisis of the Aristocracy" conflagration, so I welcome his very helpful notes clarifying some of the points that were not quite so transparent as they might have been in his original piece. So, for that reason, I pass over some of the language (I am unclear as to why my comments could be termed as "polemics"); accept his explanations about his real meaning in relationship to failed or failing endeavours; and leave the central reasons for History Departments eschewing sports history to another day (there are far deeper professional and sociological reasons for that than those displayed by the tea room behaviour at Melbourne University, even if that pattern has been observed by earlier scholars).

That said, there are two points where my colleague sets up some absolutes that need to be probed a little because, paradoxically, they are intertwined in a fashion of which he may be unaware. Chakrabarty sees in a so-called 1970s-1980s social history, or history from below, a set of limitations whereby certain classes of social actions more than others were accorded greater significance by historians – he mentions strikes and other forms of class action or class resistance. That is, of course, true in some senses and helps explain the gradual emergence from that generalized social history of newer investigative avenues such as gender/sexual, ethnic, religious and other dimensions. In that sense, sports history might be seen as no different because, just as sports historians might lament the under-representation of their work in the wider writings so, too, do historians of some of those other dimensions. Meanwhile, historians in areas such as art and music, to take two obvious examples, are frequently even further away from the mainstream, often by choice.(itals3)

The useful point in all of this is that sports history, currently, is somewhat preoccupied by this general question as demonstrated in recent issues of Sports History Review, for example, and that reprises a late 1990s debate conducted in Sporting Traditions. The debate, though, goes back almost to the modern evolution of sports history. At one level it can be seen as the earnest attempts of a new sub-discipline to attract credibility. At a deeper, more important one, though, it is actually a genuine search for increased meaning. From the start, much of the better sports history was explicitly cross-disciplinary in focus, drawing upon anthropology and sociology in particular (therein lying at least one of the strands to be followed in the "why did not History departments take on sports history" discussion). Many of the standard approaches did not adequately explain social stories and behaviours associated with sport, most spectacularly so in the "football hooliganism" story of the 70s and 80s. It was a similar search for a deeper meaning, of course, that (fruitfully) propelled many scholars such as Dipesh Chakrabarty towards the subaltern project, and Dipesh would probably agree that there was no one single line of analysis and no great new discovery that produced the more satisfying analysis.

Which brings us to the second point. Chakrabarty suggests media studies to be something like a magic bullet in the evolution of sports history. One immediate issue is, of course, that sports history/studies has been intertwined with media studies for at least the last twenty years and probably even longer: the work of John Goldlust, Garry Whannel, Michael Real, Ben Rader, Rick Gruneau, David Rowe and innumerable others have traversed the field revealingly since the later 1970s, and in more advanced form than Hartley and Fisk. And, after all, it was no accident that my 1986 book, Saturday Afternoon Fever: Sport in the Australian Culture, contained a chapter on the media that predicted an increasing commercialization of sport of the very kind and for the very reasons Dipesh Chakrabarty now points out to us. It was, in many respects, no great accident that the very first Sporting Traditions conference in Australia coincided precisely with the evolution of World Series Cricket through which the modern form of the commercialized game appeared.

There is another continuity here – as scholars like Wray Vamplew and others revealed many years ago, there was a media/commercial complex to sport from the outset of its later nineteenth century growth: horse racing, football, cricket, golf, tennis and all the rest were very quickly into a symbiotic relationship with a sustaining media that moved from print to radio, to television and now to the "new" media whereby I get the English football league results on my mobile phone, follow the fate of the Los Angeles Dodgers via their website, and track West Indies via All of this is in a direct line, clearly, quite in contrast to the Chakrabarty suggestion that I have set up an unproductive dichotomy between media studies and social history. (Modern American football, after all, was virtually reinvented in the 1960s as a television sport just as, much earlier, radio broadcasting had an impact upon sports so diverse as baseball and sumo).

Now I do agree strongly with Dipesh Chakrabarty that different sites produce different patterns – indeed, that has been a recurring message in my work, stemming from my cross-disciplinary as well as my South Asian history training – so that the media studies analysis might well be a powerful tool in decoding matters South Asian. However, there is a caution here: an over-reliance and/or an over-emphasis upon the media driven nature of modern sport might mask some of the more important discoveries to be made more at the grass roots level, another point I think I was trying to make in the original review. There is a lot more sport played, observed, lived, consumed and debated out "there" than is ever portrayed on television, and its emotional drive and meaning provide the sustenance for the television form. For example, pre-game Australian football radio shows regularly feature aficionados who know every player who ever appeared for their club, and one recent caller knew the school attended by every major player in the current league. Similar passions are to be found throughout the world, especially in South Asia. Television sport will disappear if that driving passion disappears, so we need to track that as much, perhaps even more so than the televised forms with which we are now so familiar, and over which sports historians have been arguing for more than twenty years.

All that completed, I must emphasise just how much I appreciate Dipesh Chakrabarty taking an interest in this work, because that symbolizes what we both believe in: the role of sport in history and society will never be decoded by one dimensional analyses, and the more different viewpoints we can bring to bear the better.


Dear Editor,

I enjoyed reading Prem Chaudhry's penetrating analysis of Lagaan in Biblio, July-August, 2001 (Breaking the Stereotype). What I continually looked for-and missed-was reference to perhaps the most appealing book (and film) on the creation of a newly-arrived Englishwoman (a griffin) in India, sincerely trying to reach out for a forbidden,relationship and understanding with a colonised Indian male, and who eventually returned to England to a lonely spinsterhood. I am referring of course, to Adela Quested and Dr. Aziz in E.M. Forster's masterpiece novel, A Passage to India (1924).


Dear Editor,

Your journal does not aspire to be funny. Everything about it is sombre and thoughtful. And yet, two of your contributor's managed to tickle my funny bone, though unwittingly of course. Sharada Prasad in his review of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit's The Scope of Happiness complains that "it fails to make a deep impression is painted with too much autumn colouring". What is wrong with autumn colours? The gold of autumn is no less fascinating than the green of spring. And you are writing this after two centuries of Keats! Prasad continues: "Mood and memory, and nostalgia for what was and might have been push political judgemnets to the background." He turns the virtue of the book into a shortcoming. For political insights one can turn to other books which are replete with personal prejudices masquerading as judgemnets. An autobiography is a peep through the prism of an individual temperament refracting the colours of past. And what's wrong with indulging oneself with nostalgia, mood and memory as a pastime in one's declining years and when one is done with loving and living, when one grows old and grey and sits nodding by the fire? What amused me no end was his diktat to autobiographers: "Those who wish to write autobiographies must decide on it well ahead and put by material for it right through and not do so as pastime of their declining years." Did the want of space prevent him from prescribing how far ahead one should plan? Let us say if you hope to write your memoirs at seventy, should you start planning it at fifty or forty or...? He implies that an autobiography can not/ should not be an unpremeditated art. Perhaps one ought to not only plan but to live out one's life with a view how it would look on paper later on. In another review of a biography, Sucheta Mahajan writes: "Wolpert in his wisdom has titled his biography Gandhi's Passion and defined passion as suffering and suffering of pain, thus making it quite unrecognizable from the real thing." Had she paused to look up a dictionary; any dictionary, she would have discovered that Passion is an umbrella term used for the death of J esus, thus reducing her assertion of "quite unrecognizable from the real thing" quite kindergartenish. Without getting into the merits and demerits of the book, I maintain that the title is very apt. It was fun all the same.



Sanjay Kak's review of Ramachandra Guha's book is not just an unfair hatchet job, it is a travesty of a book review and certainly does not deserve space in your journal in the "reviews" category. It is at best an op-ed column. Reviews must go beyond the personal extreme views of reviewers. Because Kak does not approve of the Republic of India at all, anyone who takes a balanced "phiphty-phiphty" view of the Republic is subject to a merciless personal attack. Kak is proud that he has been going around "fishing" in India's "troubled margins" making films and he is welcome to do so. But if some of us are interested in the constitutional developments and the broad movements of the Indian polity, then we are somehow bad or stupid people. Guha is concerned about the broad mainstream and this is a valid perspective and needs to be written about. That is where Guha does an admirably competent job. Other reviewers, even when highlighting some imperfections from their different positions have on balance hailed Guha's book. Since Kak's review is not so much about the book at all, but his views about what "should have been addressed" and by implication addressed with the political slant that Kak subscribes to, one is left with the task of not so much discussing the book, but dealing with these "missed-out" issues.

Kak is very upset with failures of the state in free India. He talks about five issues that bother him; incidentally there is no evidence that these issues don't bother Guha or Guha's satisfied readers. The five issues are Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland, Naxalism and Dalit rights. As an Indian born in 1952, many other issues have bothered me. The disputes over Hindi as the "official" language and the very real possibility of secession by one or more southern states, the childish and dangerous plans at imitating Soviet central planning by attempting to introduce collective farming, the violent Khalistan movement, the reactionary resistance to progressive changes in Hindu family law, the JP movement's attempt to subvert the Indian constitution followed by Indira Gandhi's almost successful move to convert India into a fascist state, the many wars with Pakistan and the role and performance of the Indian military—all these issues bothered me and have been addressed with impressive success.

Linguistic states and a reasonable approach to retaining English have ensured that the southern states have no incentive to secede. Contrast this with approaches in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Thanks to the superb resistance put up by Rajagopalachari and Masani from outside the Congress Party and by Charan Singh from within the Congress, India avoided the horrors of collective farming. Twenty million dead and major famines represent a fraction of the price paid by Soviet and Chinese citizens. India's fifty-fifty democracy managed to prevent that calamity. The Khalistan movement came and went. It is fast becoming a tragic page in our history, but a page whose wounds luckily do not seem to be permanent. Kak accuses Guha of taking positions that are of an "inherently establishment nature" when he refers to Khalistani terrorists and not to militants—the latter being Kak's preferred word. One of my friends lost her husband in the Kanishka crash, another her husband and two children. They were ordinary people unconnected and for the most part uninterested in Khalistan in any way whatsoever. Attacking and killing such unarmed civilians constitutes plain and simple terrorism—no more, no less. Let me assure Kak that I for one am perfectly happy with the word "terrorist". If he wishes to refer to them as "militants", he is welcome to.

Free India has certainly done many things wrong. But the legal emancipation and empowerment of Hindu women has to be a truly shining accomplishment. Guha's description of the complex process that India's struggling democracy used to put this through is fascinating. One important minister (Ambedkar) resigned protesting the delays. There was a first class constitutional crisis in the President vs. Prime Minister confrontation. But it did happen. No one argues that passing a law automatically solves all problems on the ground. But it is a first, necessary and vital step. While we may have miles to go, at least the journey has begun.

Kak is unable to take a balanced view of the JP movement. It is to Guha's credit that he makes the point that the saintly JP's outlandish theory of a "right to recall" legislators between elections makes government, let alone democracy, unworkable. Kak has contempt for elections. Au contraire, many of us subscribe to the view that however pressing one's concerns, there is no substitute for debates, discussions and elections to resolve contentious matters in a civilised state. Gun-toting terrorism (sorry militancy?) or mindless anarchist actions may appear seductive. But our founding fathers rejected these alternatives in 1950. And most of us still reject them. While the JP movement did have an element of irrational anarchy about it, Guha is emphatic that Indira Gandhi's sinister response was far more dangerous. But once again, our much-maligned parliamentary politicians or our luck (or should we call it our desi horoscope?) did not let us down. Out of the debris of the Emergency came the celebrated Keshavanand Bharati judgment. We have ensured that no political leader can convert India into an undemocratic monarchy and claim that this conversion took place "constitutionally". As Palkhivala argued (and as the court agreed), we have fought back the possibility of a Weimar situation where the Nazis subverted the constitution by "constitutional" means. The Indian Military and Indian Intelligence suffered from politicisation during the Krishna Menon-Kaul years. The 1962 debacle was partly a consequence of this. To its credit, our military reverted to its earlier apolitical traditions (best represented by General Thimayya, who could have imitated Ayub Khan, but chose not to) and has emerged as a respected professional institution. This is not a simple achievement as England learned when Cromwell overstepped himself, as France learned when a republican consul turned into an emperor and as many of our neighbours know only too well. This too is a feather in the cap of the fifty-fifty successful Indian Republic. The successful outcomes in Bangladesh and Kargil are military successes that have shown that on occasions the soft Indian state can perform creditably. A reasonable, apolitical and competent military is a sine qua non for a credible government and on this score we can give ourselves two cheers if not three.

Even on the five issues that bother Kak as being unresolved to his satisfaction, one could argue that the Indian state's "fifty-fifty" response has been infinitely superior to other possibilities. Kashmir has not been inundated with Hindus, while Han Chinese migration is fundamentally altering the demographics of Tibet and Bangladeshi Muslim migration is altering the "ground situation" in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. If anything, the ethnic cleansing in Kashmir has involved the driving out of the ancient Hindu Pandit community from its homes. Kak seems to imply that this has never happened dismissing it as an "a priori" assertion. As far as I can make out, a priori or otherwise, it is an event that has happened.

Admittedly, Nagaland (despite being separated from Assam and made into a separate state) remains in turmoil. It is to Guha's credit that he focuses his attention a great deal on Kashmir and Nagaland. If he were simply a starry-eyed defender of Shining India, he would certainly not have done this. Guha has a superb pen-portrait of the unfortunate Phizo as he pursues one of the more intractable lost causes of history and geography. While Manipur does not get as much attention as its current tragic situation warrants, Guha's general approach is informed by sensitivity to the particular—if he were an English historian he would plump for the little England of Priestley and Brooke's Grantchester, not the big bully Britain of Lord North or Cecil Rhodes.

Even in its approach to the Naxalites, there is a case to be made that the "fifty-fifty" story is not entirely inappropriate. The Andhra Pradesh government's approach of interspersing negotiations with police action seems schizophrenic. But it does have the merit of avoiding an outright civil war while keeping at bay the horrifying prospect (at least to most of us) of complete Maoist ascendancy.

The oppression of Dalits is an age-old repetitive problem in our country. No government in our history has done as much to provide legal and symbolic redress as the government of free India. That the efforts have been insufficient in the practical realm is conceded by everyone including Guha. To term the emergence of Mayawati, let alone Narayanan and Balakrishnan as an unmitigated failure is unfair and untrue to say the least. At the end of 60 years of its existence, the United States still had legal slavery in half the country. The journey from Jeffersonian principles to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation needed a bloody civil war. We have at least avoided civil conflict on that scale although anti-Dalit violence remains a running sore. And let us not forget that it took another hundred years between Lincoln's Proclamation and the Civil Rights Act. India has a long way to—but while writing history, the progress of Dalits has to be measured from where they were also, not only from where they should be.

Kak is very upset that Guha uses sources that are contemporaneous with the events. He would like Guha to judgmentally condemn the events of the past (e.g. the construction of the Bhakra dam using current knowledge about the environmental impact of large dams). This is not the job of a serious historian. This would result in sanctimoniously condemning Pericles for not ending slavery in ancient Athens or deriding Bentinck for not being sensitive to multiculturalism when he banned Sati by a stroke of the pen. A historian must draw our attention to the body of knowledge and the state of the art prevailing at times in the remote or recent past and then let readers judge for themselves how the inter-relationship between ideas and events have moved from then till now. Hamlet advises the Players on their way to Elsinore to "hold a mirror up to nature". The historian holds a mirror up to past events without inflicting on the mirror cracks and fissures that have evolved subsequently. This does not mean that he or she does not judge—it only means that the judgments are made with humility, not with the visceral certainties of contemporary extremist politics, which is Kak's preferred option. In fact Guha makes the point that even in Nehru's time there were critics of his economic policies which can be accused of gigantic statism, neglect of primary education and so on. But he also points out that Nehru, by and large, went with the ideas that prevailed in his time; to criticize Nehru given our ex-poste knowledge may make us feel good, but does not add to our understanding of the prevailing zeitgeist, the historical context or the attendant rhythms. Incidentally, even if the Republic of India were to collapse in 2010, Guha's point that it has been a wondrous experiment that survived and succeeded (albeit on a "fifty-fifty" basis) for six decades and is worthy of a measure of historical admiration cannot be lightly dismissed.

Net-net, Kak's is an attack not on Guha's book, but on constitutional democracy, elections (which Guha writes panegyrics about and Kak has contempt for), parliamentary traditions in politics and civil discourse in a civil society. For Kak it is a self-evident fact that the Indian republic has failed. Therefore any balanced and common-sense based approach to the history of free India needs to be trashed as must the historian. Guha is not a Gibbon (his subject matter is certainly not similar to Gibbon's). One could argue that he does to modern India's political history what Trevelyan did to English social history—a not inconsiderable achievement.

This is a response to Ramachandra Guha's contention in India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy (Picador India, 2007) that India is a moderately successful democracy. The main plank of his argument is based on the fact that governments are constituted both in the centre and in the states by holding general elections. However, the extolling of adult franchise for pronouncing on democracy is flawed for at least two reasons: at a general level it fails to take into account whether the elected governments are accountable to the people at large; even more significantly, it fails to bring under scrutiny how such governments respond to the aspirations and demands of people who are at the margins, be they lower castes, unorganised members of the working class, ethnic groups in Kashmir and the Northeast, and women. The most eloquent testimony of the lack of accountability of elected governments in general to the welfare of the common people is the presence even today (60 years after independence) of "large swathes of poverty in several parts of the country," to quote Dileep Padgaonkar in his editorial to the special edition of Biblio (Vol.XII, nos.7&8). This is appalling enough, but even more so is the use of brute, military means to crush the marginalised. What is striking about Sanjay Kak's review of Guha's book in the same special edition cited above is that it reflects a profound sensitivity to the substantive dimensions of democracy by asking how five critical issues have been handled by the state. They include Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland, Naxalism, and Dalit rights. We might add a sixth, women's rights— which gets only cursory attention from Guha. Indeed, Guha's own article on the dismal state of the tribal population in India in Chhattisgarh, published recently (Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLII, No. 32, August 11, 2007) is a powerful indictment of the Indian state. With special reference to Chhattisgarh he shows that the imagination of the state does not go beyond the use of military means to deal with critical developmental issues raised by the Maoists; instead, by outsourcing law and order to the Salwa Judum, a virtual civil war in now raging in Dantewara district. We may add that the arrest of the civil rights activist Binayak Sen in Chhattisgarh under the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act shows the contempt that the Indian state itself has for 'parliamentary democracy'— as it acts with impunity by giving itself special powers, and turns parliamentary democracy into a hollow shell.

It is refreshing to find that someone has had the impulse to break out of the boy's club mode of engaging with serious issues that reviews have fallen prey to amongst intellectuals in recent years.

I would like to congratulate Biblio and its team for carrying a refreshingly critical review of Ramachandra Guha's India After Independence. So far, I had read only fawning reviews; be it from politicians like Jairam Ramesh in Outlook, or by academics like K.N. Panikkar in The Hindu or Partha Chatterjee in The Book Review. I had wondered how someone who writes—"My own view—speaking as a historian rather than citizen—is that as long as Pakistan exists there will be Hindu fundamentalists in India"—has been getting such high praise from his peers and friends. Perhaps, fellow-academicians have too much at stake when it comes to a fair assessment of this book. What India needs is not such feel-good history but the equivalent of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States: 1492—Present. And note that Zinn's is 'A' people's history and not 'The' history as Guha would have it for India.


Authors welcome critical reviews that engage with the intellectual substance of their books. Unfortunately, Sharmistha Gooptu's review of my book, Melodrama and the Nation: Sexual Economies of Bombay Cinema, 1970 – 2000, titled 'A Lack of Direction' (Biblio, Vol. XV, Nos. 1 &2, January – February 2010, p. 17), is not in this category. The central argument of the book, which is covered by any book review, has not even been presented. Worse, it seems that Gooptu hasn't even read the book entirely.

Briefly, the book argues the relationship between melodrama, nation, cinema and the sexual economy. Since each of these terms constitutes a domain, they have been addressed individually and in conjunction with each other. Gooptu fails to understand the theoretical matrix thus generated, and says as much.

Though the book examines melodrama in some detail— positing it as an 'interrupted' mode which is employed across genres and narratives —it is not mentioned. In fact the reviewer completely ignores everything that pertains to melodrama and the nation, despite the book comprehensively arguing the relation between the two. Although several detailed film analyses illustrate the arguments (e.g. Agnisakshi, Bombay, Border, Damini, Hey! Ram, Prahaar, Zakhm) Gooptu misleadingly says that the book doesn't do much film analysis.

Furthermore, the book locates Bombay cinema's deep-rooted preoccupation with the nation, and its deployment of the melodramatic within the dynamics of political economy. It treats cinema as money intensive, market-driven, team-based, technoindustrial cultural work. Gooptu's peevishness with these extra-textual industrial-economic considerations and their impact on cinema's engagement with gender-sexuality, is shocking and indicates the threadbare condition of her theoretical canvas. To consider context a "distraction" in a postcolonial world is particularly embarrassing.

Even the carefully elaborated notion of the sexual economy is badly misrepresented. The book argues that the analytic of the sexual economy establishes how the organisation of gender and sexuality is intersectoral (linking 'unrelated' sectors: economy, culture) and intersectional (bringing discrete phenomena into dialogue: nation, ethnicity, sexuality). In cinema, the sexual economy is the complex of transactions between the representational economy and the larger, gendered and sexualised political economy in which it is embedded. Familiar formal and stylistic cinematic aspects evolve out of these complex transactions, and are best understood in the relays between the representational and the 'real'. Gooptu repeatedly states her inability to comprehend these arguments, or even the straightforward but elaborated connections between "Phoolan Devi, state regulation of women's sexuality, the Censor Board and lavani troupes".

She alleges that I have ignored queerness (which she conflates with homosexuality). Besides actually discussing films like Fire, the book adopts a queer approach. It shows the hegemony of homosociality and of patriarchal heteronormative heterosexuality. It actively considers the 'imaginative and discursive implications of discourses of nation and motherhood if this body [Mother India] is marked explicitly as either non- Hindu, or lower-caste; of an 'unacceptable' or 'un-Indian' ethnic community; or as sexually active or sexually 'perverse'' (p. 344). A "hackneyed" understanding of how the female body is deployed? I don't think so. This understanding disrupts a strictly guarded, fundamentally Hindu, upper caste, upper-middle class, heteronormative 'national' imagination. The attention to Hindutva is not a "detour"; its pervasive impact on the imagination of the nation-state and cinematic representations can be ignored only from a position of privilege within that discourse.

The reviewer's insistence that the presence of a Bimal Roy or H. Mukherjee in Bombay make it idiomatically, formally and structurally continuous with Calcutta is truly baffling. Quite apart from its blindness to the booming and separate industries in the South, it illustrates the intellectual carelessness and prejudice that lead her to allege that bad proofreading transforms 'J.P. Dutta' to 'O.P. Dutta'. In fact, O.P. Dutta is J.P. Dutta's father, and as well known in the film industry.

Gooptu mischievously asserts (again without any substantiation) that data about the financial base of the industry, the underworld, multiplexes etc., that I have put together after years of research and field work, are available in existing studies. Much of the information in this book will not be found in any prior study.

Lastly, the book has been edited by Ritu Menon, among the most experienced, discerning and meticulous people in the business, and the last person to bring out "a bundle of unedited notes between two covers". Not author nor editor or proof-reader is responsible for the limitations of the reviewer.

Gooptu ought to have returned the book if she found it too strenuous. It is incumbent on the reviewer to honour her responsibility towards reader and author and accept the ethical and professional commitment of intellectual honesty. There can be no police for the police, in these matters— precisely why Gooptu thought she could get away with such a prejudiced and dishonest piece of writing.
— Karen Gabriel
(Associate Professor, Department of
English, St Stephen's College,
Delhi University)


Debjani Sengupta is, evidently, a serious scholar of Tagore and Rabindrasangeet and, hence, her views deserve all respect (Biblio, Vol. XV, Nos. 1 &2, Jan – Feb 2010, p. 10). As a very common specimen of someone brought up in a Bengali cultural milieu, I have to point out that Reba Som's book was revelatory and a source of joy in conveying an understanding of much of Tagore's music whose essence had remained confined to words and tunes. I remain grateful to Som for enabling me to understand Rabindranath Tagore and his music somewhat better.

A display of one's personal scholarship need not necesssarily convey either the essence or the worth of the material reviewed. And when the critical balance is disturbed, as possibly in the present case, there can be a suggestion of avoidable carping at nonessentials, which can be misleading for your readers.
— Deb Mukharji, New Delhi


Ahmed Sohaib has recently reviewed (Biblio, Nov-Dec 2011, p 29 ) my Critical Edition of BR Ambedkar's The Buddha and His Dhamma (OUP, 2011), which gives me great satisfaction at least insofar as one of the central purposes in bringing out the Critical Edition was to widen the readership of this great work to Buddhologists and other advanced scholars, who have – as argued in the Editors' Introduction – largely ignored the book up to today. As we had indicated in the Introduction, from which I quote:

Scholars of Buddhism, especially those in India, seem to believe that B.R. Ambedkar's The Buddha and His Dhamma (BHD) is irrelevant to serious academic Buddhist studies. The book is often dismissed as being merely a political treatise in theological garb, or a wholly unorthodox text inconsequential to quality scholarship on 'true' Buddhism, or even worse, as hardly more than the liberation theology of a parvenu Untouchable…. But whatever seems to be the operative reasons, Ambedkar's text appears to fall into a 'void' in academic Buddhist discourse in India. To reapply Cabezon's analysis, Ambedkar falls into 'the void of a triangle formed by the positivism of the discipline of Buddhist Studies at one corner, the often anachronistic, expository mode of traditionalist scholarship at another, and the commodified discourse of much of the popularist literature at the third. (ix-x)

The irony, however, is that Sohaib somehow managed to both review and ignore the BHD simultaneously. That is, he offered a 'classicist's review of BHD concentrating on the four "denials" or rejections of Ambedkar'. In so doing, he addressed no more than the front matter of this tome of over 300 pages. Specifically, Sohaib unleashed his profound learning upon Ambedkar's threepage Introduction, which appears just on xxix to xxxi in the Critical Edition. Regrettably, the reviewer did not condescend to advance to the numbered pages.

This is not to suggest that Ambedkar's problematisation of the 'four Aryan Truths', as he calls them, is in any way easy for a classicist to digest; far from it. But on the other hand, it is equally difficult to take seriously said classicist's charge against Ambedkar of "willful and premeditated acts of selective omission" when he himself has so selectively read the work that he nevertheless condemns as incredibly methodologically flawed.
— Aakash Singh Rathore


I have seen a review by Mr Andrew Whitehead for Biblio of my book “Where Borders Bleed”. I would not like to comment on his prejudice or bias, because that judgment should best be left to the readers of the book. However in the interests of accuracy, I feel compelled to point out that Mr. Whitehead has falsely ascribed many statements/words to me.

For instance he writes,
"…His daughter showed grit in pursuing and winning the 1971 war, then threw it all away by her naive and ill-considered conduct at the Simla summit the following year. And since then, according to Dogra, it's been downhill all the way. Vajpayee made a fool of himself by taking the bus to Lahore when Pakistan's incursion towards Kargil was already underway. The Operation Parakram army mobilisation after the attack on the Indian Parliament was 'bizarre' as well as ineffective. As for Manmohan Singh, India's response to the 26/11 attack on Mumbai is described as 'grotesque'."

I have never used the words "naïve and ill-considered conduct” for Mrs. Gandhi. Nor have I said anywhere in the book that "…it's been downhill all the way." I find it shocking that Mr. Whitehead should then attribute to me the following, "Vajpayee made a fool of himself….” He then goes on to claim falsely that I have described "India's response to the 26/11 attack on Mumbai as ‘grotesque’."

Mr. Whitehead also writes,
'Whatever can be said of this engagingly dyspeptic account of India-Pakistan relations, it's certainly not even-handed.'

Now if I am dyspeptic, Mr. Whitehead, how can I be even-handed?

There are many other aspects of this review that can be commented upon for their inaccuracy, however let me cite just one more example. Mr. Whitehead writes,

“It's rulers have been almost without exception sly, devious and immoral: Ayub Khan was - we're told - linked in the press to Christine Keeler, the young femme fatale in the Profumo affair, Britain's foremost sixties political scandal; Yahya Khan 'was known to be an alcoholic and a womanizer';”

Once again Mr. Whitehead chooses to sacrifice accuracy. I have not used the terms ‘sly, devious and immoral’ to describe the rulers of Pakistan. These are Mr. Whitehead’s words. Wherever I have described a leader I have taken care to give in each case the source of the quote either in the text itself or in the footnotes below. In the interests of fairness and accuracy Mr. Whitehead should have mentioned that all these quotes/assessments were made either by the British High Commissioner of the time in Pakistan or by the President of US/ Prime Minister of UK.

I have described in some detail in ‘Where Borders Bleed,’ the role played by England before and after the partition. Yet Mr. Whitehead does not comment on this. Was Mr. Whitehead’s omission deliberate because that role was almost entirely hurtful to India?