Monday, June 24, 2013

Review of 'Joothan- A Dalit's Life' in Written Opinion

Joothan literally means: food left on an eater's plate. This left over food meant more than this. This Joothan was a lifeline to author's family and community during rainy season and sweet for savouring during happy moments.
Omprakash Valmiki's life woven in these words and sentences, speaks truth and nothing more than this. The words pierce forcefully in heart and mind of readers, jolts readers conscience and asks does humanity exist? What equality means? Author's account of his Dalit community through his life is heart-rending and put our heads under shame and demands self-introspection from us.

Review of 'Joothan- A Dalit's Life' at Shunya

It’s possible that I first reflected on the idea of untouchability only in college, through art house cinema. Even so, upper caste Indian liberals made these films and it was their viewpoint I saw. It is hardly a stretch to say that the way even the most sensitive white liberals in the US knew and described the black experience of America is partly why one had to read Frederick Douglass, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and other black authors. A similar parallel holds for Native Americans, immigrants, and women, as well as the ‘untouchables,’ now called Dalits (‘the oppressed’), numbering one out of six Indians. In recent years, they have begun to tell their own stories, bearing witness to their slice of life in India. Theirs is not only a powerful new currentof Indian literature, it is also a major site of resistance and revolt. Joothan by Omprakash Valmiki is one such work of Dalit literature, first published in Hindi in 1997 and translated into English by Arun Prabha Mukherjee in 2003. It is a memoir of growing up ‘untouchable’ starting in the 1950s outside a typical village in Uttar Pradesh. Told as a series of piercing vignettes, Joothan is also a remarkable record of a rare Indian journey, one that took a boy from extremely wretched socioeconomic conditions to prominence as an author and social critic.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Another Review: Sketches by Hootum the Owl

Review in The Hindu

A new translation of the iconic piece of Bengali literature by Kaliprasanna Sinha is as much a revelation as the original. Nidhi Dugar Kundalia.

Move back the clock to the time when Calcutta was a city like no other. On its fringes were miles and miles of hamlets and rivulets. A massive vitalised city of endless possibilities. Brimming with people, offering new scopes and opportunities; where risks could be taken and not be mistaken for brazenness.Those were the times that seemed on most occasions, a chaotic merger of too many eras; old and new, ever-changing, yet custom bound. Calcutta, in those times, cradled a world of its own and it needed to be understood.The decadent babu -like characters, the moral infection that plagued the society and the Indigo revolt of 1860 mentioned in the book find an eerie resonance in today’s times. In the Government buildings being painted white and blue, in freedom of speech being abused, and in the common man becoming an easy stepping stone for vote bank politics. Just that it was Calcutta then. It is Kolkata now.

Review: Sketches by Hootum the Owl

Review by Souvik Mukherjee in Biblio

Chitralekha Basu’s translation of Hootum Pecha’r Naksha brings a classic of Bengali satire to international audiences. The original written in 1860 by Kaliprasanna Sinha in the persona of Hootum is a series of sketches (Bengali: naksha) about Calcutta’s festivals and fairs; its people; random rumours and significant events in Indian history. Sinha spares no one and British colonial masters and Bengali peers are treated alike. The prodigal Bengali babu, typifying the rising educated middle classes and their degenerate tastes is seen as the epitome of the forces of cultural decline. Bathing the Goddess Durga in hot water instead of the holy water from the Ganges, indulging in frequent bouts of drinking, spending exorbitant amounts on trinkets and an insincere but fashionable association with the Young Bengal movement or the Brahmo Samaj seemed to be the chief traits of the Calcutta babudom. Similarly, Hootum attacks the colonial British indigo planters and their racist corruption. In the course of this commentary, the reader is taken to different parts of 19th-century Calcutta, jostling the festival crowd on foot and steering clear of the litter or racing through the streets in elegant broughams and britzkas.

Review: Untouchable God


Kancha Ilaiah

“Two very powerful motifs run through the different sets of narratives here. One is that the oppressed section of humanity has been given a voice. Prof. Ilaiah identifies the categories of persons who are the social constructs resulting from community practices, and closely examines those who touch “others” in intra communal/caste and inter-communal/caste relationship. He uses event and dialogue as representational platforms. What makes this fictionalised theory very effective is its sardonic tone and use of irony that is thoroughly sophisticated.
Prof. Ilaiah’s novel shall remain in my heart for long for its harsh truthfulness and also for the humane possibility it holds out. Problems are to be recognised; a single novel cannot provide solutions. This novel is true to both the above truisms. But it helps the reader to walk away, not with hatred, but hope in her/his heart.”

                                                Amina Kishore: The Asian Age, January 30 2013

Monday, June 10, 2013

NEW REVIEW: My Life as a Psychiatrist: Memoirs and Essays.

Ajita Chakraborty, My Life as a Psychiatrist: Memoirs and Essays.

Reviewed by Anindya Das, Government Medical College, Haldwani, India.

Dr. Ajita Chakraborty is a noted authority in transcultural psychiatry. While trained in traditional Western psychiatry, she has campaigned for a culturally sensitive form of mental health practice better suited to patients in India.
As mentioned in the Preface of the book, one of the author’s aims in writing a memoir was to expose some of the barriers she faced while establishing herself in the field of academic psychiatry, primarily due to her gender. Chakraborty uses three different perspectives in her self analysis: a personality disposition view, a social angle, and finally a psycho-dynamic perspective to analyze the role of gender. The collection of essays provides the theoretical and practical outlines of Chakraborty’s approach to general and transcultural psychiatry. In her critique of modern psychiatry, she rightly identifies its ideological biases. She invokes Foucauldian insights to show how psychiatry is influenced by Western notions of liberal humanism which are either alien to or have been slow to develop in Eastern societies.
The central argument in most of the essays revolves around the importance of culture in the expression of self, identity, and psychopathology. Chakraborty redefines psychotherapy as “care of the mind”, drawing from Erna Hoch’s “care of the soul.” She urges us to understand the variations in power differentials in a psychotherapeutic setting, and the differences between Western and Indian contexts in the importance of the family and social interaction for psychotherapy.
Chakraborty argues that the perception of identity and definition of self is guided by the socially constructed nature of Indian-ness, modernity and tradition.
Dr. Chakraborty has chosen a simple and direct style of writing, shunning any pretence and revealing her socially engaged self rather than the “technical psychiatric” self. The accessible language of the book makes it very readable. Those with an interest in social science, particularly gender issues in professional experience and mental health will get much material for reflection.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Reconstructing the Bengal Partition: The psyche under a different violence

Reconstructing the Bengal Partition: The psyche under a different violence
By: Jayanti Basu

Jayanti Basu’s book is a product of the dialogue between two minds’––the interviewee and herself. Basu says, ‘My focus is on the ‘subjective history’––I wanted top peep into the inner world that they possessed. It was difficult and risky. And it was fascinating . . . [but] I sailed into their subjective space with my own subjectivity. Indeed, the target persons of her study were those who did not undergo the bloody brutalities of the partition violence, but were forced by the circumstances of partition to migrate to India.
Compared to the partition of Punjab, the violence had been less . . . did it mean that the pain was less? During the interviews, it has occurred to me that this is a different kind of trauma––I called it ‘soft violence’. A large portion of this book would be devoted to unfurling the psychological processes involved in soft violence.

ISBN Code: 978-81 906760-9-0, pb, 249 pp

Enquiries: 16 Southern Ave, Calcutta 700026  tel:033 2466 0812/ 033 6519 5737
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