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Vignettes From Different Perspectives

Meenakshi Thapan

Edited by Malavika Karlekar and Rudrangshu Mukherjee
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 219, Rs. 595.00


Andre Beteille is one of India’s foremost sociologists, well known for his work on social inequality and institutions, and for his qualities as a teacher, always meticulous and eloquent, enthusiastic, supportive and generous with students, and ever ready for a good discussion and argument. In his engaging style, he is willing to spar on any contemporary issue, social or intellectual problem. He is a serious and deeply respected presence in academia and more so, a popular figure among younger and even middle-aged scholars who clamour for his attention whenever he visits the Delhi School of Economics where he spent over forty years of his active academic life. The volume under review is a remarkable collection of essays on a theme close to Professor Beteille’s heart, working as he has been in recent times on his autobiography: childhood and its dreams, his two grandmothers, memories and reflections of his later life. In a delightful vignette of his first few days in a boarding school in Patna, Andre Beteille (2005) records the anguish and anxiety he experienced as a new boy. More than his actual arrival at the school, Beteille’s experience of being prepared for the experience is far more revealing in terms of the gradual building up of the anxiety it provokes in a child for an unknown experience for which he is fated. There was a curiosity tempered by a nervousness about the future, an excitement about entering the somewhat privileged world to which his brothers had access muted by the dismay that separation from home would inevitably cause. It is only fitting that a volume that seeks to congratulate Andre Beteille for his life’s work on his seventy-fifth birthday focus on this aspect of the life cycle that is not often under scrutiny as childhoods are best forgotten for the dark secrets they may contain, the fears and anxieties of joint family existence, of sexual misdemeanours, of family quarrels and jealousies. Childhoods are locked up in our minds and put away, cast out of our everyday lives, sometimes only because we have no time to remember, but also because we choose not to remember. The editors invited the authors, all of whom have been associated with Beteille in one way or another, to venture into the past and reconstruct their childhoods as they remembered them. The result is a compilation of essays from not just very ...

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