A gripping narrative on making of Irish nationalism
Irish Nationalists and the Making of the Irish Race, Bruce Nelson, Princeton University Press, Pp 333, $45
Bruce Nelson’s main focus is on the evolution of Irish nationalism and Irish racial identity in the context of powerful global phenomena, such as slavery and abolition, the British Empire and the class and national struggles of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He interrogates the stereo type of Ireland as a self-contained ‘Holy Land’ by focusing on elements of the nationalist movement that turned outwards to a global arena of suffering and struggle, affirming that “(our) sympathy and distress…extends itself to every corner of the earth.”
Chapters 1 and 2 trace the English (and British) contribution of the Irish race from the 12th century to the 20th – a process that is seen in the context of conquest, colonisation and Anglicisation. It is true that the Irish responded in diverse ways to the English presence in their country and that some Irishmen and women readily adopted to English mores and sought to build a better life for themselves and their families within the system that the newcomers imposed. It’s also true that there were periods of relative calm in the relations between Irish and English, tenant and landlord, native and stranger. But overall what stands out is not only the failure of British governance in Ireland but also the extent to which the English blamed the Irish for this failure and argued that something in the Irish nature made the people uncivilised, savage and dangerous to peace and order.
The rest of the book concentrates on how the Irish made themselves. Chapters 3 and 4 examine Irish nationalism in the context of the debate over slavery and abolition, especially in the 1830s and 1840s. They revolve around the larger-than-life figures, like Daniel O’Connell and Frederick Douglass. O’Connell was by reputation Ireland’s liberator, being the most authoritative voice of the emerging Irish Catholic nation of the early and mid-19th century. He was also an outspoken opponent of slavery and insisted on the Irish community in the US to stand with him and with Anglo-American abolitionists in opposing slavery. But his countrymen and women did not “come out of such a land.” Rather they continued to rush to the US, especially in view of the great famine that took themselves of a million people.
Chapters 5 and 6 examine Irish nationalism in the context of the British Empire and its rapid expansion in the second half of the 19th century. In a nation plagued by massive emigration, the empire offered employment to tens of thousands of Irish young men. But to most critics of British policy, the Empire symbolised Britain at its most rapacious and unjust. Irish nationalists developed a strong sense of affinity with the Boers of South Africa and the two Boer republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, which were menaced by British subterfuge and outright aggression at the end of the 19th century. These two chapters highlight the contributions of two industrialists – Michael Davitt and Erskime Childers who were participants in the South African war.
Chapters 7 and 8 focus on Ireland’s relationship to the revolutionary movements that developed in the context of World War I and its volatile aftermath. Chapter 7 focuses on the strong attestation that Ireland held for Afro-Caribbean and African-American intellectuals and activists. Chapter 7 focuses mainly on the ‘Black Atlantic’ and its relationship to Ireland, while Chapter 8 lies within the framework of the ‘Green Atlantic’ and its relationship to socialism and black nationalism.
New York City became a world capital of insurgent movements during and after the Great War. The Irish Progressive League was founded in 1917 and it put simply and directly that “the Irish are for freedom everywhere.”
This book offers a different angle on the Irish nationalist movement and the men and women who participated in it to affirm that “the cause of human freedom is as wide as the world.”
(Princeton University Press, 41 William Street, Princeton, New Jersey– 08540)
101 Hit Films of Indian Cinema, Renu Saran, Diamond Books, Pp 272, Rs 195.00
Here is a book for lovers of Indian cinema as it brings information on top 101 films in Hindi and the regional languages of the country.
The Indian film industry is the oldest and the largest in the world, producing over 1,000 movies, which are released annually. Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Hyderabad are the main film production centres that churn out such a large number of films every year to hugely appreciative audiences around the world.
The author traces the history of Indian cinema back to 1896, when the famous Lumiere Brothers of France showed six soundless films in Bombay. In 1899, Hemchandra Bhatvadekar made India’s first short film. It was by 1920 that a regular industry at the rate of 27 films per year came into being. As many as 207 films were screened in 1931. Today, India makes about 800-1,000 films every year.
The film Alama Ara marked the genesis of the talkie feature films. Its dialogue in Hindustani language and seven songs became a big hit, instigating other film-makers to raise the number of songs in their films, till it reached a whopping 71, as seen in Indrasabha. The year 1931 marked the beginning of the talkie era in Bengal and South India with the release of Jamai Shastri in Bengali, Bhakta Prahlad in Telugu and Kalidas in Tamil. Regional culture and craze to see and hear a film in one’s own language led to mushrooming of regional films, beginning with languages like Bengali, Tamil and Telugu before encompassing Marathi, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Oriya, Assamese and English films.
The 30s is accepted as the decade of social protests with three films like V Shantaram’s Duniya na Mane, Aadmi and Padosi, Franz Osten’s Achhut Kanya, Damle and Fatehlal’s Sant Tukaram, Mehboob Khan’s Watan, Ek hi Raasta and Aurat portraying injustice.
The year 1937 saw the first colour picture, Kisan Kanya, followed by the release of first talkie film in Marathi – Ayodhiyecha Raja, Narasinh Mehta in Gujarati, Dhruv Kiran in Kannada, Sita Bibaha in Oriya, etc.
The decade of the Second World War and India’s Independence saw memorable hits like V Shantaram’s Dr Kotnis ki Amar Kahani, Mehboob Khan’s Roti, Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar, Shohrab Modi’s Sikander, Pukar and Prithvi Vallabh. The First International Film Festival of India was held in early 1952 at Bombay and in 1955, Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zamin, Devdas and Madhumati, V Shantaram’s Do Aankhen Barah Haath and Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje, Mehboob Khan’s Mother India, Guru Dutt’s Pyasa and Kagaz ke Phool proved box-office hits.
After tracing the history of Indian cinema through the 70s and 80s, the book talks of the 20th century.
(Diamond Pocket Books, (P) Ltd, X-30, Okhla Industrial Area, Phase II, New Delhi–110 020; www.diamondbook.in)
A treasure of enduring tales
1/7 Bondel Road: An Endearing Collection of Stories, Gautam Benegal, Wisdom Tree, Pp 123 (PB), Rs 145.00
Written by a national-award-winning animation filmmaker, cartoonist and artist who grew up in Calcutta, the book explores and expresses his experiences through 10 vividly sketched endearing vignettes of adolescence in a quintessential lane, creating a universe filled with impressions that leave a lasting impact. He captures these compelling moments of life that decide the “course the rivers of our souls will take.”
In the story titled ‘The Baul’, young boys watch from a distance the students of Presidency and St. Xavier’s College considered the most intellectual and most knowledgeable centres, watch a baul singer perform. The boy called Tutul and his elder brother are also watching the baul dancer sing and dance on film songs. Tutul’s brother points out that the baul dancer was not genuine as firstly, the latter’s surname happened to be Sharma and not Das and secondly, a baul singer would die before singing a film song. Tutul plucks up the courage to ask the baul singer if he had always been a baul. The latter replies, “Being a baul is a state of mind, babu.”
Every year in winter, an evening of baul songs is organised and wandering singers from faraway places like Birbhum and Bankura arrive at the site. Children gather at the site. That evening the famous Gourhari Das is supposed to perform, but he fails to turn up. Sharma, the little baul singer, begins to sing and continues undeterred, despite being jeered thus – “Hey, dwarf, get off the stage!”, “Get a job in the circus”, etc. Sharma sings a song that no one has heard before. As it is his own composition, the song is on what all is happening in Calcutta, about the thousands losing their jobs, about young boys being killed by the police, etc. Eleven-year old Tutul watches in fascination to Sharma strumming away on his little ektara and whirling and pirouetting. Suddenly a clean-shaven handsome man in an orange robe stands up from the crowd and embraces the little baul singer who is not a baul. The handsome man is the famous Gourhari Das, who had come unseen and taken his place among the audience to see the performance of a fellow sadhak. “For what is a baul, if not the very personification of humility? And what is a true baul after all, but a state of mind?” asks the author of the story.
In the story titled ‘Bhultu’s Dad’, Tutul is highly impressed by his friend Bhultu’s dad who seems to be a storehouse of knowledge as he loves providing information on the books he has read, on how the Mahabharata refers to flying chariots and weapons of war and how he wanted to become a scientist but was to forced to drop out from St. Xavier’s College as he needed a job more than to study.
(Wisdom Tree, 4779/23, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110 002; [email protected])