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Pankaj Sekhsaria

Edited by Mahesh Rangarajan  and K. Sivaramakrishnan
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 308, £27.99


History always offers rich pickings and an edited volume of rigorous his­torical research seldom disappoints. Shifting Ground: People, Animals and Mobil­ity in India’s Environmental History is an ex­cellent example and one thing can certainly be said about it—that even though a little unevenly, it shifts ground very effectively. And if I may add, it also shifts boundaries, categories, even time in our understanding of the environment and the changes that con­tinue to take place here. If informing us about the past is the key aim of historical writing, Shifting Ground does a commendable job. It does more, in fact, and is a significant contri­bution for that reason—it persuades, even con­vinces us to re-imagine the past and by im­plication the present and future as well. The canvas it explores is wide (a little too wide sometimes for one volume), the topics rich and diverse, the details meticulous, and the writing generally has a good flow. The eleven essays that make up the vol­ume could be divided into three broad cat­egories, though the book itself does not iden­tify or categorize them in the way I am do­ing. There are two essays in the beginning that ‘lay the ground’ for those that follow. Four essays, including the concluding one, are focused on specific a wild animal species while the remaining five explore a wide can­vas of issues ranging from domestic animal breeding in 19th century Punjab to defores­tation in the Narmada valley in the 20th century. The essays are broadly placed along a linear timeline—from the pre-historic in the case of Shibani Bose’s account of the fate of the Great Indian Rhino, to the status of and engagement with wild boars in the princely Indian state of Mewar by Julie Hughes; issues of environmental management in late colo­nial India by Daniel Klingensmith; through to the first decade of the 21st century with one essay on animal sacrifice in the State of Uttarakhand by Radhika Govindarajan and the other on the crisis of tiger conservation and local extinction as in the case of the Sariska Tiger Reserve in the State of Rajasthan by Ghazala Shaabuddin. The introductory essay by the editors, Mahesh Rangarajan and K. Sivarama­krishnan, lays out what in my opinion is the leitmotif of the volume—the sharp distinc­tions that past ...

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