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Where Lies India That Is Bharat?

Hilal Ahmed

Edited by Vasudha Dalmia & Rashmi Sadana
Cambridge University Press,Cambridge, 2012, pp. 301, Rs. 395.00


The edited volume under review makes a stimulating attempt to explore a seemingly elusive and intrinsically unsettling territory called modern Indian culture. The book, as a collective intellectual enterprise, remains conscious of the conceptual intricacies associated with the popular binaries of modernity/tradition, inclusion/exclusion and India/Bharat. Precisely for this reason, the identification of themes, contextualization of time and space, and multiplicity of perspectives, are carefully elucidated, especially in the introductory chapter of the volume. The fourteen essays remain independent in terms of thematic focus and trajectories of arguments; and at the same time, the great Indian debate on exclusion, which has also acquired a rejuvenated political overtone in contemporary India, continues to bring them together for an enduring search for an India-specific mapping of postcolonial modern experiences. Thus, though this scholarly pursuit for critical explanation of culture is technically linked to the historicity of modern Indian nation-state that came into existence in 1947, the essays transcend this imaginary timeline to accommodate various manifestations of what the editors call the idiom of modern India.   The book is divided into two broadly demarcated thematic parts: cultural contexts and cultural forms. The nature and pace of cultural changes are discussed in the first part; while the second part is about the multilayered expressions of cultural modernity in contemporary India. However, for the purpose of analysis, we can also identify three largely distinct, yet conceptually overlapping, issues in these essays. The changing frontiers of territoriality and their impact on cultural expressions could be described as one of the main concerns of at least two essays on village and urbanity. A set of three essays seems to invoke the making of established sociological categories of tribe, caste, and religion to trace the discursive formation of cultural identities. And finally, the production of images in the realms of food, literature, theater, art, films, music, and television is another thematic concern of nine essays.   Let me begin with the two essays which bring up the space-culture relationship more directly. Ann Grodzins Gold’s article takes us to a less explored area, rural modernity. This interesting exploration introduces us to the emerging cultural forms in which the dividing line between ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ is highly ambiguous. Gold’s ethnographic details tell us that a sense of ‘loss’ described by villagers cannot be understood simply as loss of tradition; rather ‘modernity in multiple manifestations is omnipresent in rural ...

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