Other Than This and/or That

Communalism and the Intelligentsia in Bihar, 1870-1930: Shaping Caste, Community and Nationhood by Hitendra Patel (New Delhi: Orient Blackswan), 2011; pp x+253, Rs 645.

This book has been with me for more than a year. Obligation to the commissioning journal and to the book’s author and publisher usually gets me to do a timely review. This time, though, I have needed a reminder to be finally, and rather reluctantly, induced to do the job. The reluctance may seem unjustified once I have explained its reasons. Should that happen, the review would not be a wasted effort.

When I was asked if I would like to review this book, its title was enough to make me agree. Having sought, over the years, to understand the kind of consciousness that began to emerge in colonial India and subsumed within it a complex phenomenon that we – possessing the dubious advantage of hindsight – tend to untangle in terms of binary categories like nationalism and communalism, my instinct was to see how the phenomenon had been seen within a specific regional context. But once the book was with me, and I had eagerly read it, I was faced with a dilemma. Should I write a review that will require me to focus on the larger issues of understanding and writing, instead of concentrating on the book itself? Whatever the value of that exercise, it might mean injustice to a well-meaning and hard-working scholar who is entitled to expect a more direct engagement with his maiden research monograph. The editor’s reminder decided it for me.

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