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Dialogue with History

Aloka Parasher-Sen

Edited by Kumkum Roy
Primus Books, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 191, Rs 795.00

VOLUME XXXVII NUMBER 2-3 February/March 2013

The essays in Insights and Interventions is a fitting tribute to Uma Chakravarti’s rather unconventional but, firmly committed, career as an academic and activist. It is precisely because it is difficult to put Uma into a mould that makes her contributions to the discipline of history specifically and the social sciences in general, all the more special. This collection therefore aptly captures, in a very sensitive but academicly profound manner, the multifaceted dimensions of the scholarly work that Uma Chakravarti has been engaged in. The book begins with a crisp introduction by the editor, Kumkum Roy which highlights the trajectory of Uma’s evolution as a scholar and what her research work signified for the discipline of history and ancient Indian history in particular. The book is divided into three parts. It opens in Part I with ‘Debates’ and has three essays by V. Geetha, Sharmila Rege and Rashmi Paliwal followed by an interesting Part II on Three ‘Narratives’ by Bharati Jagannathan and finally, we have Part III which is aptly titled ‘Texts and Tradition’ with essays by Naina Dayal, Meera Visvanathan and Kumkum Roy. This division befittingly explains that the book is indeed meant to be read by those interested in writing and reading history in terms of an ongoing dialogue brought in by scholarly interventions from time to time and more importantly, that history must necessarily engage with different types of narratives. Further, one tends to erroneously assume that engagements with contemporary movements and insights gained from such collaborative conversations that enable a crossing of disciplinary boundaries are to be compartmentalized in a separate domain. This collection suggests otherwise. It is this interesting interplay of ancient text, contemporary debates and conversations and story as narrative drawing on deep sensibilities rooted in us that define the character of the book. When one looks at ‘debates’ in forging different approaches to history writing, one usually has in mind the theoretical perspectives that each school of history writing tries to use to overcome the other’s point of view. Rather than doing this, the three essays in Part I in fact are self-reflective. In Geetha’s piece we find how this is entwined with Uma’s growth as a historian which, in turn then becomes a mode for us to reflect on how in becoming a historian during the heyday of Independent India, one was either necessarily entwined in the ...

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