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Past Perfect

Aasim Khan

By B.G. Verghese
Tranquebar, Chennai,, 2014, pp. 372, Rs. 1295.00


At the time when India was on the cusp of Independence, it could be said with a fair degree of confidence that the expecta-tions of its people did not exceed their collective hope. The role of its political leader-ship then was to organize this economy of hope in the state’s favour. Thus conceived, the dream-like nationalist vision has since been narrativized so often that it is easy to tell its core elements: the rainbow like diversity of the nation, its multicultural and plural heritage, the syncretism in its arts and culture, and above all a force of ‘destiny’ shaping its progress. Today, each of these elements is under scrutiny. And not just in the history departments but in the public arena. From literary fiction to evening talk shows on television, the economy of hope is in steep decline. Instead an unrelenting cycle of expectations is emerging. Idealism is out, at least for the moment. Post Haste is then an unusually timed book, offering a general overview of 5000 years of India’s history, at a time when one can make a killing elaborating on a single moment of the contemporary era. But there is a twist in the tale, at least in its telling. B.G. Verghese narrates the story of ‘India—that is Bharat’ using postal stamps, giving a visual dimension to each of the constitutive elements of the dream narrative. Even less colourful subjects such as the debates delivering its constitution or the emergence of its economic development and policy paradigms in modern India are provided with postal stamp citations. I haven’t seen any other book like this anywhere else in the world. The novelty factor alone should bring wide attention to the book.   It is also a real labour of love, an extraordinary effort coming from a man who has been writing about India for over five decades and has recently penned a weighty autobiography—a reflection of an uncommon work ethic. Each of the ten chapters that make this book contain dozens of stamps which are accurately reproduced page after page. One is reminded of the history text-books which have garish pictorial references to go with the text. Hopefully this innovative effort, which is essentially an exercise in pedagogy, would not go unnoticed.   The author introduces the book with a chapter devoted to the precolonial origins and evolution of the institution of post, or dak ...

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