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Web of Relationships

Mayank Kumar

By Nandita Prasad Sahai
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp. xxv 276, Rs. 595.00


The book under review is a comprehensive exploration of the lives of artisans in early modern Rajasthan and associated complexities. An intricate web of relationships among a highly heterogeneous community/class called ‘artisans’ in the ever-changing dynamics of early modern Period in Rajasthan has been successfully nuanced. The title itself situates the study of a diverse social category in the specific socio-political reality termed by the author as ‘Early Modern Rajasthan’. The work successfully brings out the significance of caste as an identity while negotiating with the socio-political elites as well as larger market forces. This feature assumes greater significance as artisans get located in terms of economic set-up as well as in a caste ridden kin-based polity. Sahai also questions the usually held assertion that ‘the political systems of medieval and early modern India reflect a “paradigm of the negligible contact and lack of communication between social groups (in general sic) and the state”’ (p. 2).   The difficult terrain of sociological examination of the distant past has been carefully negotiated by making a liberal interpretation of the existing literature. The importance of the monograph does not lie in the novelty of the sources but in the dexterous use of the archival sources which have been used largely to construct traditional history of a very important but often neglected social category. Similarly, extensive use of secondary literature to locate the study in the context of diverse historiography is also commendable. Though the author fails to elaborate the characteristics of ‘Early Modern’ in the case of Rajasthan yet one can decipher the larger argument where integration with the world trade system has been highlighted.   The selection of the themes for different chapters follows the traditional pattern but sub-themes clearly point out the efforts made by the author to explore the multidimensional reality as experienced by the artisan castes. The book is organized in six chapters and the first chapter situates the study in its historical settings. Incidentally, the chapter also includes the weakest section of the monograph. The author seems somewhat perplexed by the nature of the sources. In her zeal to use the authentic literature representing the ‘silent masses’, she suggests that the Sanad Parwana Bahis are ‘autobiographical in nature’ (p. 30), a portrayal which she corrects soon by saying, ‘having been transcribed by state notaries, these petitions to an extent constitute elite authored evidence, inextricable from the discourses of the state’ (...

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