History Perspectives-1, M Rajivlochan (ed.), Unistar Books Pvt Ltd, Pp 246 (HB), Rs 395
This compilation of 16 research papers covers an eclectic range of themes on Punjab right from the earliest period in Indian history to the present.
Benudhar Patra presents an historical perspective on the environment in early India in order to deepen our understanding of how human beings were affected by the natural environment and with what results and consequences. He shows through his article how the ancient Indian revealed their respect for the environment when they worshipped different objects/manifestations of Nature with utmost devotion and sincerity. Living in close symbiosis with Nature and in obedience to rta (the natural law), they worshipped tulsi (the holy basil plant), neem, peepal or shvattha, bel, vat (banyan), sal trees and the banana plant as they considered them to have not only religious importance but also medicinal value. It is through veneration of trees that man attempted to propitiate the divinity under the perception that gods resided in plants and trees. He also talks of worship of other gifts of Nature like rivers (Ganga and Yamuna which are considered sacred), mountains, animals like cow and bull and birds as vahana of God. This practice was followed even by the Indus Valley civilisation and subsequently by the Jains who subscribed to the principle of ahimsa to show their respect for all living creatures.
Meeta and Rajivlochan expound on the Harappan civilisation which established land and sea routes so that the merchants who were hardy travellers could bring raw material and transport the finished products to other markets. Both the writers explain how the River Indus and its tributaries were used for transport of goods and how ports and mountain passes were developed to facilitate travel. They also describe the artifacts of the Harappan and Indus Valley civilisations and the latter’s subsequent decline and fall.
Ashvini Agrawal discusses the change in the social ethos with the advent of the Greeks in north-west India to settle down in Peshwar, Taxila and Sakala in western Punjab, that is, the territory between the Rivers Indus and Ravi to rule for over 200 years. Sakala became the capital of Menander and his successors. These invaders were looked down up as “low-born people” who would not know the “intricacies of Dharma”. It is specially mentioned in the Karnaparva 45 that they were considered outlandish (Mlechchhas) Yavanas (Greeks), who were “specifically brave and wise, yet they do not belong to the Vedic religion.”
Muhammad Idris and Roopam Jasmeet Kaur discuss the praiseworthy features of Alauddin Khalji’s rule – economic reforms primarily to maintain a large army to fight the attacks by Mongols.
Anju Suri discusses the evolution of British paramountcy in Jaipur and Bhawalpur, pointing out similarities as well as dissimilarities in the British policies towards the two states.
Suman Bharti talks of the stultification of the social structure stretching over a long period in Muslim society as a result of political commotion in the Punjab. Under the changing socio-political conditions the pressure to reconstruct the social changes on ideological current in the wet helped the reformers of colonial Punjab to develop remedies to rectify the evils of the society – general and the problems of women in particular.
Of current information and most pertinent today is the chapter on the role of Khap Panchayat in honour killings in Haryana and how the Panchayat system has to switch from the traditional restrictions to emerge and adopt a modern reformist agenda.
The book will be of special interest to historians and social science scholars.
(Unistar Books, S.C.O. 26-27, Sector 34-A, Chandigarh-160 022)
A General recalls
Reminiscences and Reflections, Lt. Gen SK Sinha, Gyan Publishing House, Pp 216 (HB), Rs 650
In this compilation of articles published every now and then in The Asian Age, the author, after serving for well over six decades in various capacities as an army man, as a diplomat and as Governor of Jammu & Kashmir for 11 years, lashes out at the separatists and human rights activists who have been advocating that India should pull out of Jammu & Kashmir.
In the first part of the book there is an article titled ‘When Bapu Died’, in which General Sinha describes how the funeral procession of Mahatma Gandhi slowly meandered its way through the streets of Delhi lined with thousands of mourning people and how he had to escort Governor General C Rajagopalachari through the crowds. On seeing Rajaji, the crowd began to shout, “Rajaji ki jai.” Rajagopalachari got angry and said that here the greatest man in the world had been killed and how absurd it was to raise slogans in Rajaji’s honour.
Praising Sardar Patel for his foresight in another article, General Sinha describes how he asked the armed forces to stand ready for any eventual attack on the Western front with Pakistan before launching military action in Hyderabad where there was the possibility of another communal flare up after 1947. Sinha says that in a letter, the dying Sardar wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru in 1950, he warned the latter about China but regrets that it went unheeded and India had to suffer humiliation in 1962. He points out that when Sardar Patel died, he left behind a bank balance of Rs 270 only in his name.
In the second part of the book there is an article tilted ‘Faultlines in Kashmir’, where General Sinha criticises the Central Government’s policy of appeasing the separatist Kashmiris, like Geelani, who suffered from cancer of the liver and got operated at Mumbai, but on returning to Kashmir started saying that India was in illegal occupation of Kashmir. He adds that the “crying need in Kashmir is to establish writ of the State in the Valley forthwith and prevent further communalisation. Without curbing freedom of the press, we should ensure that the media does not act as the mouthpiece of secessionists. The law on sedition must be enforced.”
In the third part, General Sinha talks of establishment of good relations between Governors and Chief Ministers of states from different parties. In a reference to the confrontation between Governor Bhardwaj, a known Congress loyalist and the BJP-led government of Yeddyurappa in Karnataka, General Sinha advises, “Harmonious relations between a Governor and a Chief Minister are in the interest of the State. The Governor should not show any political bias nor interfere with governance in the state. He should be friendly with the Chief Minister and be available for advice whenever necessary. At the same time, Governor should earn confidence of the Opposition. A public controversy between the Governor and the Chief Minister only undermines the dignity of both these high offices.”
(Gyan Publishing House, 23, Main Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110 002; www.gyanbooks.com)
A moving collection of short stories
Not Like Most Young Girls, Aastha Parivar (compiler), Jaico Books, Pp 198 (PB), Rs 250
In this moving collection of 18 short stories, written by young girls and boys from eminent educational institutions of Mumbai, the common theme running is the life of sex workers. The stories reflect not only the concerns of the participating writers but those of the initiators of the project, Aastha Parivar, which provides shelter to over 30,000 male, female and transgender sex workers, chiefly to raise awareness about HIV and safe sex.
The title story is about Abida, a girl dressed in a modest salwar-kameez, hair tied in a ponytail, no make-up and diffident by attitude. She tells her story of how at the age of eight she sees her father become a drunkard and spend all the family savings on alcohol. Her mother with her two younger sons takes them all to Bombay, the ‘land of dreams’. At the age of nine, Abida is married to a man 20 years older than her. He leaves her at the mercy of four men and then she becomes a sex worker.
On reading this book, one feels as though one is entering the dark world of secrecy, of sleaze, of faceless and nameless individuals dressed up in glittering clothes, flashing frozen smiles and willing to sell their bodies for one square meal, but carrying with them their ailing souls, damaged bodies and fractured minds.
(Jaico Books, A-2, Jash Chambers, 7-A, Sir Phirozshah Mehta Road, Fort, Mumbai-400001; www.jaicobooks.com)