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A Multi-faceted Study of Coimbatore

Malavika Karlekar

Edited by Brenda E.F. Beck
Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi, 1979, pp. 211, Rs. 65.00

VOLUME IV NUMBER 4 January-February 1980

The present volume, of which Brenda Beck is the editor as well as main contri­butor, is an interesting collection of seven essays on social anthropology, physical geography, demography and urban deve­lopment. All these aim at a multifaceted study of the Coimbatore area in Tamil­nadu. Consequently, one is exposed to new approaches to the study of ethnogra­phic and census data. The main thrust of the book is to identify different ways of perceiving the growth of a region. Well documented, with extensive maps, charts and maps, Perspectives on a Regional Culture is a good example of how inter­disciplinary approaches can and do work. The first essay by Brian J. Murton, a geographer from the University of Hawaii, is a historiographical account of the growth of the Kongu region which en­compasses Coimbatore district. Using primary data as varied as copper inscrip­tions, place names and revenue records, the author comes to the conclusion that while the villages of the area were perhaps never self-sufficient, trade and market centers developed early in order to aid integration and unity. If, then, an area is rarely complete in itself, what are the kinds of influences it encounters? Elkins and Beck raise the interesting point of the relationship of a region to its imme­diate environment. Coimbatore district borders on the States of Kerala and Kar­nataka; while it is firmly rooted in Tamil­nadu, the more easily accessible Kerala exercises substantial ‘pull’ on the State. A primary indication of this is a higher than average voting rate, more symptoma­tic of Kerala than of Tamilnadu or Karnataka. As indicated earlier, Brenda Beck is the major contributor; her anthropological biases come through in her studies on the concept of dominant caste and definitions of a subcaste. Based on data collected from 30 micro areas in Coimbatore and neighbouring locales, Beck concludes that the dominant caste phenomenon is being reinforced with time. Not only were at­tempts at infiltration resisted but also the very existence of a dominant caste, in this case the Kavuntars, led to varied settle­ment patterns: In certain areas, parti­cularly those which marked the boundaries of the caste, other castes attempted to establish some sort of a hold; in other instances, rivals had been chased off onto isolated hill-tops. Beck’s commitment to detail and tireless field-work are amply revealed in her essays on the boundaries of ...

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