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A Multidimensional Overview

Gurpreet K. Maini

Edited by Reeta Grewal and Sheena Pall
Manohar Publications, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 497, Rs. 1095.00


History has morphed enormously from a mere reconstruction of battles and icons into a social science with multi-dimensional tropes, so historians are in the pursuit of a specific trope which eventually becomes their area of expertise. Indu Banga remains a doyen of Punjab history on a macro as well as micro level, though has she pioneered as well as mastered the genre of urban history of the state. This festschrift, assembled by her students Reeta Grewal and Sheena Pall imbues the spheres of society, economy and culture within the ambit of pre-colonial and colonial Punjab. As far as Punjab was concerned, its history has been obsessively focused on Sikhism, its colonial phase, its agrarian genesis and the gruesome aftermath of its partition. Other perspectives like culture, sociology, economy, literature, trade and urbanization were somehow jettisoned.   Punjab’s historical vicissitudes were volatile more because of its geographical stance, though its cultural moorings in early historiography have escaped attention. The book is demarcated into pre-colonial and colonial segments. The chapters on cultural change by B.D. Chattopadhyaya in the colonial section, the French cultural infusion into the Punjabi potpourri are interesting facets, the latter particularly for obvious reasons as the colonial dimension was crafted on a singular trope, a story of the victor and the vanquished. Lafonte’s piece is most interesting as he expounds the cultural fillip Ranjit Singh brought to Punjab’s landscape when peace prevailed after decades of turbulence. He concludes with the French infusion into the cultural syncretization of the period.   Chattopadhyaya has given an interesting dimension to the oft repeated clash of ‘Centre-periphery’: ‘Punjab’s regional history and the general processes of Indian history were not mutually exclusive, but both are better understood in terms of diversities as well as the dynamism of linkages, rather than through the oft-repeated notion of centre and periphery.’ Irfan Habib has a piece on the genesis of the Jats (the clan central to Punjab’s current political scenario) which delineates their presence in historical accounts of the sixth century as a pastoral people ultimately attracted to the egalitarian Sikh movement as they outmanoeuvred the leadership from the Khatris. Shireen Moosvi in an essay has dispelled some myths about Punjab’s economic development in the postcolonial period as it morphed from an archaic medieval economy into the most fertile region in South Asia. Her account is substantiated convincingly about the economic vibrancy ...

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