HT Picks: The Most Interesting Books of the Week
This week’s reading list includes a history of modern south India, a biography of an enduring star, and a biography of a cityUpdated: Dec 14, 2018 22:02 IST
MODERN SOUTH INDIA: A HISTORY FROM THE 17TH CENTURY TO OUR TIMES BY RAJMOHAN GANDHI
The sounds and flavours of the land south of the Vindhyas — temple bells, coffee and jasmine, coconut and tamarind, delicious dosais and appams — are familiar to many, but its history is relatively unknown. In this monumental study, the first in over fifty years, historian and biographer Rajmohan Gandhi brings us the South Indian story in modern times. At heart, the story he tells is one of four powerful cultures — Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu, as well as the cultures —Kodava, Konkani, Marathi, Oriya, Tulu and indigenous—that have influenced them.
When the narrative begins at the end of the sixteenth century, the Deccan sultanates of Bijapur, Ahmadnagar, Golconda and Bidar have combined to defeat the kingdom of Vijayanagara, one of the last great medieval empires of the South. After the fall of Vijayanagara, less powerful nayakas or sultans ruled the region. Competition raged between these rulers and the many European trading companies. By the seventeenth century, only the French and British remained to fight it out, in association with Indian rulers and princely states.
The eighteenth century saw the growth of the kingdom of Mysore, first under Haidar Ali, a military leader who had briefly served the Nawab of Arcot, and then under his son Tipu Sultan, who annexed parts of present-day Tamil Nadu and Kerala. By now the European presence was growing strong and assertive. And with the fall of Tipu in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War at the end of the eighteenth century, the British East India Company (now the sole European power in South India) consolidated its holdings in the South.
In the nineteenth century, power changed hands from the private East India Company to the British monarchy — Queen Victoria became the ‘Empress of India’ — and Britain continued consolidating its territory. Despite the tumultuous environment, this century also saw a creative outpouring.
The twentieth century saw a change in the relationship between the foreign ruler and the Indian citizenry. No longer content with isolated military campaigns led by rajas or nawabs, Indians expressed their urge for freedom through democratic outlets. National parties such as the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League and regional ones like the Justice Party, Andhra Mahajana Sabha, Dravida Kazhagam and others emerged. Prominent South Indian leaders such as Annie Besant, C Rajagopalachari, EV Ramasami Naicker, Varadarajulu Naidu, K Kamaraj, Annadurai, Kamaladevi, EMS Namboodiripad, Potti Sriramulu and others took the fight to the British while, at the same time, carrying on campaigns to ensure the dignity of all citizens.
After Independence, new states were carved out from the former presidencies and princely states along linguistic lines — Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra. The book ends in the present, with a look at the new generation of political leaders who have taken over from dominant personalities like M Karunanidhi, NT Rama Rao, MG Ramachandran, J Jayalalithaa, K Karunakaran and Ramakrishna Hegde. It also covers some of the most significant figures from other fields such as Narayana Guru, MS Subbulakshmi, UR Ananthamurthy, Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy and others.
A masterpiece in every sense of the word, Modern South India is a rich, authoritative and magnificent work of history about the South that will be read, debated and reflected upon for years to come.*
DHARMENDRA; NOT JUST A HE-MAN BY RAJIV VIJAYAKAR
A teacher’s son from the hinterlands of Punjab who dreamt of doing what Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor did on screen, and expecting to own ‘a flat and a Fiat’ consequently, has emerged as one of the most loved icons of Hindi cinema.
This ever-humble Jat attributes his hard-earned superstardom and global following to parental blessings, the Power Above, and the love of the people. It’s been over fifty-five years of blockbusters like Phool Aur Patthar, Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Sholay, Yaadon Ki Baaraat, Pratiggya, Chupke Chupke and Dharam-veer; with fabulous performances in many of these and notable productions including Satyakam, Betaab and Ghayal.
What’s more, this Padma Bhushan awardee has also dabbled sincerely albeit fruitlessly in politics, and writes poetry that comes straight from his heart. There may be a million stars, but there can be only one Dharmendra.*
AYODHYA; CITY OF FAITH, CITY OF DISCORD BY VALAY SINGH
Ayodhya: City of Faith, City of Discord is the first comprehensive biography of a sleepy city in northern India, which has been a place of reverence for many faiths for millennia, but has also been a place of violence, bloodshed and ill-will.
Ayodhya lodged itself permanently in the national consciousness with the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. The destruction of the mosque was the climax of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement that has been at the heart of Indian politics for a quarter century since the BJP first campaigned on the promise of building a Ram temple at the site of the mosque. The demolition was followed by large-scale riots that killed thousands of people and permanently communalized the polity of the country.
In the first section of the book, the author tells the complex story of a city holy to many faiths — Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Jainism. Through a comparative analysis of the various versions of the Ramayana in which it features, Valay Singh goes back almost 3,300 years in time to when Ayodhya is first mentioned. He then traces its history showing its transformation from being an insignificant outpost to a place sought out by kings, fakirs, renouncers and reformers. He looks at the propagation of an aggressive Hindu cultural and religious consciousness in the city that was exacerbated during the period in which the East India Company became a military power in north India in the eighteenth century.
The second section seeks to bring together the disparate events and developments after India’s Independence in 1947 that were responsible for launching Ayodhya to centre stage in Indian politics and the political imagination. This section goes deep into the violent years leading up to the demolition and its aftermath through which the right wing gained decisive ground in electoral politics.
Drawing on archives, current scholarship, numerous interviews with key players from various castes, communities and religions in the city and the surrounding region, Ayodhya: City of Faith, City of Discord is a balanced chronicle of faith, fanaticism and the war between secularism and religious fundamentalism in a key battleground in modern India.*
*All text from book flap
First Published: Dec 14, 2018 22:02 IST