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Sarah Joseph

By Ashis Nandy
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 506, Rs. 595.00


Bonfire of Creeds is the third in the omnibus editions of Ashis Nandy‘s writings published by OUP, Delhi. It is indeed difficult to review the work of a writer who is as well known as Nandy and particularly when all the articles in the collection have been previously published in journals or books. But there may be a new generation of readers who are not familiar with these pieces and the particular collection of essays assembled in this volume by Gustavo Estava and Madhu Suri Prakash is an interesting one. Although I had read most of the essays before I found that they stood up to re-reading within the perspective which the collection embodies. The editors have also contributed a long introduction. Esteva is a long time friend and admirer of Nandy and reading the introduction reminded me of Nandy‘s near iconic status among global social activists as a critic of modernity, modern science, development and other universalizing ideologies. Both Esteva and Nandy are supporters of ‘post-development’ and are concerned about the fate of marginalized peoples and cultures in the contemporary world. This perspective is reflected in the selection. In the main, it is Nandy the cultural critic who is represented here, not Nandy the sometimes controversial commentator on contemporary Indian politics. For instance, Nandy’s polemics about the Deorala sati incident are not included though there is an essay on sati. This essay is about nineteenth century Bengal, the reform movement led by Rammohun Roy and the way in which the ritual became, as Nandy puts it, “a battleground between the old and the new, the indigenous and the imported, and the Brahminic and the folk”.   Nandy has made the long essay his chosen medium and shows considerable skill in weaving together diverse themes while maintaining a firm grip on his main argument. A number of the essays included in the volume explore the interactions between tradition and modernity in India as reflected in the lives and work of individuals like Rammohun Roy, Tagore, Kapil Bhattacharjee the critic of big dams, the psychoanalyst Girindrasekhar Bose, and Satyajit Ray. The only non-Bengalis included are Gandhi and Godse. Nandy links the personal and private selves of these individuals with their public stances and social interventions to trace what he feels is the often uneasy interaction of the modern and the traditional in them. One may disagree with some of ...

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