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Partho Datta

By Subhadra Sen Gupta
Puffin Books, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 146, 150.00

By Anu Kumar
Puffin Books, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 132, 150.00


Till very recently it was notoriously difficult to interest school children in history. Textbooks apart there was little interesting material to explore for India and it was not unusual for a bright student in an English medium school to enthuse about Henry VIII and draw a blank on a comparable Indian figure. But with the efflorescence of Indian writing in English, some of the excitement of narratives seems to have rubbed off on history writing too. Publishers sensing the potential of a growing education market and the added advantage of good distribution, proliferating demand and modern technology (which produces attractive books at reasonable prices) have taken the initiative to publish history books for children too. The revised SCERT and NCERT textbooks have also made a very decisive intervention in the way the past is imagined. Puffin India's handy new Lives, biographies of famous historical personalities, is a welcome addition and should encourage young readers to explore their rich past. A great deal of care has gone into the production of this series. The text has been kept under 150 pages. The price is reasonable too. Sections in smaller font are interspersed throughout the text. The icon of a bug on the top of the page is to remind young readers that it is well worth the infection. Although this section is called 'trivia'—the tidbit of information and anecdotal material (sometimes several pages long) are however far from trivial and adds an interesting dimension to the biographies. I read these sections independently and it certainly worked for me. Besides there is also a list of important dates, as well as a short bibliography of significant publications, including CDs and DVDs. A very thought-ful addition is a translation of Gandhiji's favourite bhajan 'Vaishnava Jana to tene' and Subhas Bose's marching song 'Kadam Kadam Badaye Ja'. Serious minded yet full of interesting information, both these biographies manage to convey the full drama, excitement and disappointments in the lives of Gandhi and Bose. Meticulous too is the attention to important events and there is no papering over of the more controversial aspects of these two great leaders. Gandhi's Dandi March gets a full chapter by itself. The section 'Dandi Diary' details beautifully Gandhi's engagement with the daily tension of sustaining a movement. There is a thrilling account of Subhas’s 'Great Escape'. Parallel histories of INA including its famous battles on India's North East ...

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