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Book review: Water Security in India: Hope, Despair, and the Challenges of Human Development May 14, 2015

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Paula Hanasz

Review of Water Security in India: Hope, Despair, and the Challenges of Human Development, by Vandana Asthana and A. C. Shukla (Bloomsbury, 2014).

Hope and despair are the themes of Water Security in India according to the book’s subtitle. Despair is obvious; there are so many issues and instances of water insecurity, the wicked problem of addressing them all seems overwhelming. But there are flickers of hope in the water security story too. As this book shows, for every flood or drought there is growing environmental consciousness; for all the pollution and spread of water-borne disease there is rapid technological advancement; for every time water-dependent livelihoods are threatened there are improvements in the legislative and institutional governance of water resource, etc.

Water Security in India is a methodical compilation of all these issues and more. It begins by describing water security issues in agriculture and irrigation, then moves on to industrialisation/urbanisation; climate change; governance; privatisation; interstate disputes; and national security. It concludes with suggestions for improving water management practice and instances of progress occurring.9781441115119

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Book review: Taj Mahal Foxtrot, by Naresh Fernandes February 27, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Nate Rabe

Think of India and music and your mind conjures sublime ragas from Ravi Shankar and swirling musical whirlwinds from Bollywood. But what about swinging hot jazz, fancy dress balls and black American jazz expatriates playing in luxury hotels on the Arabian Sea? You are to be forgiven for never joining such things together but as the new book Taj Mahal Foxtrot: The Story of Bombay’s Jazz Age (Roli Books, 2012) by Mumbai-based writer Naresh Fernandes deliciously details, India once upon a time hosted a very ‘hot’ jazz culture.

In 1935, a black jazzman from Minnesota, Leon Abbey, brought an ‘all negro’ band to Bombay for the winter season at the grand Taj Mahal Hotel. Abbey’s ace band, members of which had backed Louis Armstrong and Coleman Hawkins back home, took the colonial city by storm. Abbey’s version of hot swing jazz garnered ecstatic reviews in the press. One local fan gushed: “The music went to my head that evening and when Leon started beating up a rumba I left my table and my partner to shake the maracas that were offered me. In those few moments I forgot my whole upbringing, forgot that I was back in the land of my fathers, through which the Ganges flowed, and that the Seine was far, far away.”

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Book Review: Alice Albinia’s ‘Empires of the Indus’ April 3, 2012

Posted by sandygordon in : Gordon, Sandy, Pakistan , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

Alice Albinia, Empires of the Indus: the story of a river (New York, London: Norton and Company, 2008)

Enter this book and you are within a magic circle of history, geography and personal account.  You are a traveler in time and space, borne along by Albinia’s quirky, fascinating story.  On one level it is a travel book, with all the rich panoply of characters, oddities, near-miss adventures, courage and determination of the best of this genre – think Chatwin, Thubron and Theroux.  Like the best of travel writers, Albinia’s journey is an account of innocent amateurism  – at least as it applies to her travel rather than her scholarship.  On another, it chases the great empires of the Indus, from the Indus Valley Civilization, through to the Gandharans and on to Alexander the Great, the Lodhis, Sikhs, Mughals and British.  It also provides some brilliant insights into contemporary Pakistan, particularly the people of the underclass such as low caste Hindus and the Sheedi community, which originated from the African slave trade, only terminated with the coming of the British in the nineteenth century.  Finally, it is a sad history of the river itself, a river that no longer even flows in the dry season into its own creation: the largest deltaic fan in the world.  It also tells us that the tension over the Indus waters is as severe, if not more so, between the riparians within Pakistan, especially between Sindh and Punjab, as it is across international borders .

 Alice Albinia

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Review of Doniger August 10, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Taylor, McComas , comments closed

McComas Taylor

Wendy Doniger. The Hindus:  An Alternative History. New York: Penguin Press, 2009. 779 pp.

True to form, Wendy Doniger has come up with another stimulating and controversial book.  The Hindus: An Alternative History, published this year by Penguin, will delight some readers and horrify others. Why an ‘alternative history’?  Doniger’s starting point is that our understanding of Hinduism has been dominated first by male, upper-caste, Sanskritic traditions, and later by male Western scholars. Her book is an attempt to correct this imbalance and to provide alternative lenses through which to view the tradition, namely those of women, dogs, horses and outcastes.  Fans of Doniger’s huge corpus will instantly recognise these as among her favourite topics. The book is organised chronologically. The timescale is little short of cosmic, from 50 million years ago to the present. At each phase she asks how each of her four classes of being is faring. For example, you will find sections on animals in the Rig Veda, women in the Brahmanas, horses in the Raj, and so on.

If the temporal arrangement is the woof (I’m sure Doniger would not mind the canine allusion), and her four themes are the warp, the whole text-ile (excuse me again) is shot through with typical golden threads that we know so well from Doniger’s writings – violence and non-violence, good and evil, sexuality and ambiguity, addiction and renunciation. One such recurrent thread is the view of the moon – do we see a man or a rabbit? Just as different cultures see different images in the moon, so do the various facets of Hinduism appear different, depending on one’s cultural background. This sounds facile, but it is refreshing to read a self-consciously reflective exploration of Hinduism at last. She is a great one for overturning the (ahem) sacred cows of Indology. For example, she does not deign to grace the various explanations for the appearance of Vedic culture in the Indus Valley with the word ‘theory’, instead she calls them Guess One, Guess Two and so on – wonderfully provocative.

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