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Pathway to Knowledge

Meena Bhargava

Edited by Margrit Pernau
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp. x 340, Rs. 625.00


Margrit Pernau in her Preface hints that The Delhi College is a dedication volume for Dr. Yunus Jaffery, his vast knowledge, humility and hospitality, and I, would not hesitate to agree with her even for a moment. The sessions and interactions that I have had with Dr. Jaffery in the old Delhi College building at Ajmeri Gate were like being in the midst of history or more appropriately living history. This volume brings forth the history of Delhi College by reconstructing cogently the lives of the patrons, teachers and pupils of the college. Though written in a descriptive and narrative style, the facts in each of the chapters are absorbing and valuable and interesting historically. Not even for a moment do they distract the mind or deter the reader.   The book emphasizes the harmony between cultures, the colonial construction of knowledge and the interrelationship between knowledge and power. It suggests the medium of translation as a tool to understand and explore the ‘the in-between of cultures’ (p. 3). Translation, Pernau argues, marked the foci of the efforts of Delhi College. From the Principal to the students, all were actively involved in the Vernacular Translation Society and participated in the translation of textbooks. The attempt was to translate British culture and scholarship for the Indian audience. But these ‘translators’ were not mere tools in the hands of the British. They reinterpreted the British texts and imported them into Urdu language to fulfil their agenda for change, which they hoped to achieve through translation. However, while the book focuses on translation, it is not in the linguistic sense of the term. It studies ‘translators’ of two kinds: those who hoped to transform India and its relation with colonial power by understanding western culture and those who resisted any transformation and hoped to use the ambience provided by the British to achieve their own objectives. Notwithstanding these, the book also argues that much before English education and English literature cast its spell on India in the nineteenth century, oriental scholarship had already been firmly established and classical knowledge was reinterpreted and translated in meaningful ways. Thus most of the chapters in this volume study the leading personalities of Delhi College to understand the extent to which they implemented and abided by the British intentions or their reinterpretation, adaptation, resistance or simply ignoring those intentions. A few chapters also discuss the significance of ‘new ideas’ ...

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