Journal of South Asia Women Studies

New Titles

Antica India. Dalle origini al XIII secolo D.C.

By Marilia Albanese

Vercelli, Italia: Edizioni White Star, 2001

Pp. 296. ISBN 88-8095-656-6. Price EU 77,47

Review by Enrica Garzilli, February 2, 2002

Antica India. Dalle Origini al XIII secolo D.C. [Ancient India. From its origins to the XIII century A.D.] is a book where large, wonderful pictures on Indian art are accompanied by precise and yet enjoyable explanations. The author, Professor Marilia Albanese has been gifted with the rare ability of being scholarly and easy to read. This work has been published at the same time in several languages, including English.

The aim of the book (p. 9) is to introduce the reader to some of the most important aspects of the vast and multifaceted Indian civilization throughout a long period of time, from the 3rd millennium BCE, when the Indus Valley Civilization was flourishing, to the 13th century CE, when the Muslims subdued large areas of the country. The work does not address specialized readers -- Indologists, Art Historians or Archaeologists -- even though many of these scholars will find this work useful and very enjoyable. The book addresses an educated reader who wants to learn and enjoy more about India.

The first part of the book offers an overview of the history of India in the period of time under consideration, dealing with the Indus Valley Civilization, the Arya, the Marya and Gupta Empires, and the regional kingdoms between 1st and 12th century CE. After a chronological table, the second part starts (pp. 56-125), dealing with sacred, everyday life and art (historical sources, the world of gods, the great epics, family and society, village and town, kings and their courts, dance and music, sculpure and architecture and so on). The third is perhaps the most interesting and unusual part of the book, dealing with archeological itineraries in Northern, Middle and Southern India, some of them well known, some of them almost unknown.

Near the photos the plan of temples and caves is offered, and the explanations deal with architecture, history, mythology, and everything that can make the reader understand the areas. One can make a trip all the way through India, from North to South, and my only doubt is whether, after seeing the magnificent pictures on glossy paper of this book, the reader can be disappointed by the dusty and sometimes decaying, or decayed, archaeological sites as they really are.

After a useful glossary of the indian words mentioned in the book (without diacritics, even though Albanese explains in the preface their pronunciation), there is an index and three rather short bibliographies on history and civilization, archaeological sites and arts, and religion, philosophy and literature. While the first two bibliographies are in Italian and English, the last one is exclusively in Italian, even in the few cases when the authors originally published their books in French or in English. I wonder why Albanese made such an incomplete bibliographic choice -- and, moreover, if German or US readers want to make further studies through this bibliography, should they look for Italian distributors?.

The clear and accurate, and in some part rather original contents, the beautiful pictures on glossy paper, the size of the book (cm. 26 x 36 = 10.24 x 14.18 inch), the accurate binding, the cloth box, all make worth the price (which, considering the price of books in Italy, is not high).

Libraries, and India and photography lovers cannot miss this work. Through its pages, college students can approach the country from its best side and can have an excellent portrait of Indian cultures.

This book is educational and intelligent (to read), and at the same time beautiful to look at.

The Partitions of Memory. The Afterlife of the Division of India

By Suvir Kaul (ed.)

London: C. Hurst & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., 2001

Pp. X+301. ISBN 1-85065-583-9

Review by Enrica Garzilli, February 2, 2002

Finally a book of scholars who deals with the five decade long problem of Partition of India and Pakistan under the historical, sociological and literary points of view.

The editor himself, Suvir Kaul is a Professor of English; he wrote the introduction in a very stimulating way and raised questions and doubts that should be considered by Indologists, Muslim scholars and Religions' Historians as well.

He put together the 8 essays knowing that "we still need, in years to come, a systematic, multi-faceted exploration of what we might call 'Partition Issues', for they define not only our past but, in crucial ways, our collective future" and that "so much that happened during Partition needs to be catalogued" (pp. 4-5).

The whole book provides readers not only with pieces of original information and debates on the topic (differently from the so many other volumes dealing with Partition, Gender and Women's Issues in India), but has been also "imaginatively written" and originated by unusual and stimulating premises and questions, which were already posed to the potential contributors in the original "call for papers" (see pp. 18-20).

"Partition and the North West Frontiers" is the first of the two essays dealing with culture and history of part of Pakistan, and Mukulika Banerjee speaks to survivors of the Kudhai Khidmatgars (the famous Pukhtun Red Shirts).

Joya Chatterji's "Right or Charity?" shows the differences between the relief and rehabilitation measures offered by the central state governments to Bengali refugees after Partition, and those demanded by refugees themselves.

In "Partition Politics and Achhut Identity" Ramnarayan Rawat talks about Dalits' claim to a political community and agenda that differentiated them from caste-Hindus, and describes the anti-begari agitation engaged by rural Dalit labourers.

In "Qutb and Modern Memory" Sunil Kumar tries to understand "the manner in which the Qutb complex is understood today" (p. 141).

"Performing Partition in Lahore" by the journalist Richard Murphy is one of the two essays on the legacies of Partition in Pakistan today.

In "An Archive with a Difference" Urvashi Butalia looks at archived material consisting in letters written by people directly affected by the problems and miseries of Partition.

In "Bodies Inflicting Pain" Priyamvada Gopal examines "Masculinity, Morality and Cultural Identity" on the work by Saadat Hasan Manto "Cold meat".

Nita Kumar's "Children and Partition" thinks on the gap between the pedagogic agenda of a school in Pakistan and that of a Muslim school in Banaras. She investigates on the history taught in these two schools and the life-experiences of young students.

I find this book refreshing, if compared with the present scholarship on the topic. It is particularly stimulating for college students and whoever thinks about India and Pakistan only in terms of sacred texts, classical myths, and millenary customs.

Faces of the Feminine in Ancient Medieval and Modern India

By Mandakranta Bose (ed.)

New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000

Pp. XXII+346. ISBN 0-19-512229-1. Price US$ 39.95

Review by Enrica Garzilli, February 2, 2002

This book includes 25 papers, chronologically arranged, written by women scholars, most of whom have lived in South Asia either for all their lives or for extended periods. It is a book written by women who have experienced India.

The reason for this choice is clear: "... to provide a path to many untapped primary sources of information about women's lives... The purpose here is twofold: to point researchers toward primary material and to analyze specific issues critically on the basis of such material" (p. VII).

The collection is divided into three parts. Part one is dedicated to the ancient period and defines women's status in Hinduism and Buddhism; part two is dedicated to medieval India and part three describes the colonial perception of Indian women and let Indian women speak about themselves through their art and their political action.

Books Received

  1. Black Candle. Poems about Women from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, rev. edition, Corvallis, Oregon: Calyx Books, 2000 (1st ed. 1991). Pp. ISBN 0-934971-74-9. Price cloth US$ 26.95; pbk. US$ 12.95
  2. Bitter Sweet Truth. An Authobiography, by Esther Mary Lyons, Hurstville, Australia: Parker Pattinson Publishing, 2000. Pp. 402. ISBN 1 876409 14 2.
  3. Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation. Community, Religion, and Cultural Nationalism, by Tanika Sarkar, London: C. Hurst & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., 2001. Pp. VIII+290. ISBN 1-85065-582-0.
  4. The Women on the Island. A Novel, by Ho Anh Thai, translated by Phan Thanh Hao, Celeste Bacchi, Wayne Karlin, Introduction by Wayne Karlin, Seattle, Washington: University of Washington Press, 2001. Pp. XVIII+158. ISBN 0-295-98086-9 cloth. Price pbk. US$ 16.95.