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Moral Imperatives of the Development Paradigm


R. Venkat Ramanujam Ramani

CROOKED STALKS: CULTIVATING VIRTUE IN SOUTH INDIA
By Anand Pandian
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 325, Rs. 750.00

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 12 December 2010

Crooked Stalks is a powerful reminder, especially to those who believe otherwisedespite mounting evidence to the contrary, that development is not a codewritten computer programme. In this wellresearched study of the Piramalai Kallar community of southern Tamil Nadu, Anand Pandian blends precolonial past and colonial history to arrive at an understanding of the moral and material impetus that at once hinders and drives the modernday denizens of this warrior community. Crucially, Pandian uses his ethnographic account to argue that development is not merely a question of material advancement but also of moral progress and that, in fact, it is often the moral imperative that crafts the very material architecture of development. The book explores how different actors, from precolonial peasants and itinerant poets to colonial era officials and zealous missionaries have visualized the possibilities of development, and how these ideas, drawn from two different strands of time and philosophy, continue to fashion the selfperceptions of Piramalai Kallars today. The moral injunctions of the precolonial past not only emphasize ethical conduct but also link the cultivation of the agrarian landscape with civilizationa concomitant cultivation of the individual self itself. This notion of agrarian civility can be found in the pithy didacticism of the Tirukkural and compositions of Auvaiyar as well as texts of canonical Tamil literature such as the Silappadhikaaram. It continues to inform the patois of the Cumbum Valley, where the Piramalai Kallars are now either settled agriculturists or have found numerous other routes, some of them dubious, to reasonable prosperity. These moral injunctions intersect with the Victorian underpinnings of colonial attempts to subdue and reform the Kallars, which took the shape of severe restrictions under the Criminal Tribes Act, and was followed by the establishment of a statefunded agricultural settlement through the American Madura Mission in order to reclaim the unruly Kallars by encouraging them to take to a life of agricultural toil. The moral reasoning of the colonial legacy inspired by the European Enlightenment too lives on. Pandian argues that both legacies have left deep imprints in the region as a whole. They influence not only how other castes see the Kallars but also how they see themselves as a community. And going one step further, Pandian asserts that they also shape how Kallars view themselves as individuals, moulding their actions and very thoughtprocesses. The author argues that in a way the Kallars have been doubly colonized and ...


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