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An Interesting Smorgasbord

Radhika Chadha

Edited by Ishrat Alam and Syed Ejaz Hussain
Primus Books, Delhi, 2011, pp. 307, Rs. 795.00


This is a somewhat motley, though interesting, collection of articles. There is little to string them together, in terms of a theme. Yet this is precisely what constitutes a smorgasbord of historical work and musings, from which almost everyone would find an interesting tid-bit or two to sample.   The underlying connection is, as the title indicates, the historian Aniruddha Ray. The contributors are all, presumably, contemporaries, associates and students of Ray. The volume constitutes their research or current interests, and inevitably reflects various levels of scholarship.   Unusual in an edited volume is the absence of an introduction by the editors. It leaves the reader to negotiate a vast range of themes and time periods in a somewhat rudderless manner. These vary from, to give a sample, Darwin and interpretations of history to spiritual dimensions of Islam and Sufism in Bengal to the ledgers and account books of a Tamil merchant in Pondicherry! The time spans from the 12th to the 19th centuries. While several articles are situated in Bengal, others are located in Gujarat or in Tamil Nadu or even at the Mughal court at Agra/Fatehpur Sikri. The wide variety on offer makes it difficult to really get a handle on the book.   By way of an introduction is Ranjit Sen’s contribution on the historian Professor Aniruddha Ray. He painstakingly surveys Professor Ray’s remarkable academic career, research and publications in great detail and successfully introduces the master historian to the lay reader. While analysing his work on various aspects of urban history, the Marathas, the eighteenth century in India and indigineous resistance to the implant of colonialism, Sen situates these themes in the historical debates current in Ray’s day. In doing so he extracts the rich flavours of Ray’s scholarship, his dialogue with other historians like Ashin Das Gupta and Barun De, and pays tribute to his contribution in advancing historical thinking around these aspects of Indian history. Yet, full justice is done to the epithet ‘historian of change’ given to him by Sen by several of the articles that follow, written in his honour.   Most of the contributions to the volume are unusual in some manner. Some of the research is based on unusual sources while others flesh out extraordinary themes from well trodden sources. In his article, Iqtidar Alam Khan laments the neglect of archaeology in reconstructing the history of early medieval India ...

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