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Scrutinizing Jigsaw Puzzles

G.J.V. Prasad

Edited by Stuart Blackburn and Vasudha Dalmia
Permanent Black, Delhi, 2004, pp. 515, Rs. 750.00


This is one of those books that you take small bites of, chew, relish, and return to. So get it for your library if you are in any way interested in the literary history of India, a way of looking at processes that have shaped our sensibilities as well as our literatures. For years now, it has been taken as an obvious fact that those who know only literature cannot know literary history, that you need training in historical methods and knowledge of historical facts of one kind or the other, in order to enter this field. Literature has once again become a rich vein to be mined by all. This is not bad for the academic field of literary studies or for literature itself; both are once again centred in the discourse of social sciences.   However, what this has meant is that literary works are approached as the refraction of the aspirations of certain classes, communities, groups of individuals, as the site within which the complicated contestations and constructions of society in flux work themselves out or can be read as such. This in turn has led to literary works being selected and selectively read to obtain the ends that this research seeks to investigate or establish. This can be mildly or majorly irritating depending on how much finesse the critic/reader displays. But the best of minds manage to bridge the gaps or faultlines of such an enterprise with a degree of success and manage to make the study of literature an exciting adventure in the unravelling of the past, both in terms of history and literature. The merging of good archival work with brilliant literary reading skills may be a bit too much to ask for most of the time, but this book manages to put together a host of essays that interest and inform even if they do not always give you new insights or provoke further thought.   The introduction by Blackburn and Dalmia poses the issues raised in the book, positioning it carefully in the emergent re-readings of India’s literary history (why the singular, when the essays argue for pluralism?) which try to show the strands of a literary past being woven into the fabric of a literary present that the encounter with the colonial has brought about. Blackburn and Dalmia show how the nineteenth century writers and publishers tried to evolve literary histories ...

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