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Ideas And Praxis: A Creative Dialogue

Amiya P. Sen

Edited by Gita Dharampal-Frick , Monika Kirloskar-Steinbach, Rachel Dwyer, Jahnavi Phalkey
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 277 Bibliography Notes on Editors, Rs. 1195.00


The present volume calls to mind A Dictionary of Modern Indian History: 1707–1947 by Parshotam Mehra, also published by the Oxford University Press in 1985 (revised edition in 1987), a book that some of us would have profitably consulted as students. But such association between the two works is purely spontaneous and the resemblance only superficial. The work under review has many more features to commend itself to the interested reader. For one, it carries updated information and new findings that have come our way in the last three decades or so. Again, quite purposively, it includes the postcolonial, albeit only selectively. But above all, the approach adopted in this work is far more interesting and enterprising. In terms of its organization and content, it goes beyond a dictionary and stops short of an encyclopedia which, I suppose, it never aspired to be. A good number of essays included in this volume are acutely analytical and intensive: they highlight crucial heuristic transformations and subtle conceptual changes within a wide repertoire of terminologies. The discerning reader will also be able to glean in them the creative dialogue between ideas and praxis. One may thereby gain greater understanding of how concepts may bring about subtle but significant changes in social practice and conversely, of the process by which social practice internally fashions conceptual nuances. An added feature of this book is the willingness to substitute (though again selectively) Anglophone terms and concepts with those rooted in indigenous knowledge-systems. Hence we have Khandaan (for family), Itihasa (for history) or Hijra (for trans-gender). This strategy has proved to be both useful and innovative. But even more generally speaking, the choice of terms and concepts are in some cases quite unique. It was both courageous and insightful to include ‘Goonda’, ‘Biradari’, ‘Bollywood’, ‘NRI’ or ‘Seven Sisters’; perhaps the only criticism that one may justly make in this case is that some of these terms are current only in North India. Between them, these essays cover an extensive thematic ground. Numbering over a 100, they are drawn from fields as wide-ranging as geography, science, politics, philosophy, religion, environment, culture and society. The quality of the essays included are on the whole consistently good though as the editors rightly observe, a degree of unevenness was bound to result from both the nature of the given discipline itself and the approach/methodology used by the author in question (Introduction, p. xi). In ...

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