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A Dialogue of Ideas

Radhika Chopra

By Patricia Uberoi
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 309, Rs. 695.00


Reading a collection of essays written as discrete pieces over a long period of time is a curious exercise in freedom. I’d imagine it would enable the author to break free of ‘writing time’—from the chronology of her own labour process- and engage with her own work as a dialogue of ideas that may not have surfaced all at once. The reader—and the reviewer as reader—enjoys another kind of freedom with a collection of essays. She/he can delve into the book at different points unfettered by chapter schemas, Introduction to Conclusion trajectories, and the structuring of a monograph, escaping into the pleasures of random reading. Truth be told many a monograph are often read in the same eclectic way though perhaps not many readers would admit to this form of reading. The point is that a book of essays as well as an edited volume allows and enables this creative dialogue between author and reader bringing together the varied interests of both.   Patricia Uberoi’s collection of essays is loosely bound by her interest in popular cultural forms that range from romance stories, calendar art, Bollywood film and the signage in buses and inscriptions behind three wheeler auto rikshas. Despite the range of subjects and forms, and the different times at which the essays were written, there is a strong focus in the book and it centres on the Indian family as it is projected and imagined through and in popular art. While the imagined articulation of familial duty, obligation and family value seem to be at the core of these art forms in fact as Uberoi shows us, it is the idea of love that resonates most intensely within the art form.   Love has an uncertain presence in Guru Dutt’s 1962 film Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam (directed by Guru Dutt’s close friend Abrar Alvi but nevertheless always attributed to Dutt – fn.1, p. 131). A film which has become a classic within its art form of popular cinema is a fascinating subject for the exploration of the dualism between family love and individual desire and I unblushingly admit to having wholly enjoyed this chapter and secretly wishing that I could devote my entire review to Uberoi’s marvellous treatment of the film and its interpretation. For those who are familiar with the triangulations of ‘Master, Mistress and Servant’ (mercifully neither translated in poster art nor ...

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