Tag Archives: caste

Book Review: The Hindus – An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger

Title: The Hindus: An Alternative History
Author: Wendy Doniger
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 9780143415343
Pages: 800
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

An extensive work on Hindus and Hindu Mythology isn’t something which I would’ve read a couple of years ago. Why? Because I would in all honesty find it boring and I am glad that was just a phase when I felt this way. I was introduced to Hindu Mythology and ancient culture by a friend, and I am glad that it gave me a different perspective and at the same time made me want to read more.

Wendy Doniger’s, “The Hindus: An Alternative History” is a big book about The Hindus. She has through extensive research almost dwelt on every topic in the book concerning religion and caste. However, the alternative history angle comes from the fact that the book is centred mainly on women and the lower caste.

The book isn’t about philosophy. It is more about a social history and of course that would involve various Gods and Goddesses. There are tribal tales as well, which are a totally different take on the regular epics – Ramayana and Mahabharata. I loved how Ms. Doniger brought these to the surface.

There is nothing new about the book per se. There are tales and facts and legends that most people are aware about. What is different is the way they have been documented. Wendy Doniger knows how to write and she does so without it being complex or difficult to read.

A beginner can read this book and understand The Hindu culture better. Each chapter has several textual examples – which are intended to communicate the beliefs and traditions in the form of myths and legends to the reader. This kind of writing always works with readers who may find the subject boring.

There is a lot of imagery in the book which probably could have been cut down on and yet that is one of the ways of better understanding while reading a book of this nature. At almost 800 pages though it does get tiresome to read. I for one had to put it down and pick it up several times before I could finish it completely.

Hinduism is an entire universe so to say. It isn’t easy to comprehend or chronicle and Wendy Doniger has done a reasonably good job in merging the old with the new. There will be times when an experienced reader will be tempted to argue with the writing, which is fair enough. At the same time, the book has a quite charm about it despite its flaws. I left taking in a stronger sense of how diverse a tradition Hinduism is and how it evolved over a period of time. There are many ways to represent Hinduism and how the world views it, and yet Doniger has given us another view – which is refreshing and conflicting at the same time.

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Book Review: No Alphabet in Sight: New Dalit Writing from South India Dossier 1: Tamil and Malayalam: Edited by K. Satyanarayana and Susie Tharu

Title: No Alphabet in Sight: New Dalit Writing from South India Dossier 1: Tamil and Malayalam
Author: Edited by K. Satyanarayana and Susie Tharu
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 9780143414261
PP: 656 pages
Genre: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry
Price: Rs. 599
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

What is the true nature of a democratic country? The real face of it. When does it appear and make itself visible or does it choose to remain hidden and elusive, considering the fact that the country isn’t really democratic, if one looks closely? The idea of the distinction in just about everything is so evident and appalling to a very large extent.

And this is when a book like “No Alphabet in Sight” is published. My personal belief is that if you can make people aware of what exists behind the shadows, then in all probability half of your work is already done. The book is a collection of New Dalit Writing and it is a first volume from South India, featuring Tamil and Malayalam Writers. Edited by K. Satyanarayana and Susie Tharu, two stalwarths in Cultural and Women Studies, this collection is a heady mix of fiction and non-fiction, basically points of view.

What got me started with this collection were the poems – dark, dense and touching that basic chord in human beings, these poems are nothing short of brilliance. The volume brings together close to 40 intellectuals’ works from Tamil Nadu and Kerala – all searching and questionning the same situation – The Dalit Situation and what will be its’ fate in Modern India? The book delves into bigger questions and issues, about what it means to be a Dalit and how despite modernization and technological advancement, we are and will always remain a backward nation.

People from every walk of life – teachers, clerks, students, officers, factory workers, journalists and activists, these writers bring to front their opinions, their views and what they think awareness classification should be and how will people understand the true, Dalit Movement. For me, the book was an eye-opener, making everything that was hidden being brought to the front. A must read if you have the time and the patience and the willingness to know more.

Makers of Modern India: Edited and Introduced by Ramachandra Guha

This is one book that everyone who has an interest in the evolvement of the idea of India must read. Ramachandra Guha, the writer of this book, is known worldwide for his impeccable style of writing. His writing only gets better when he deals with anything that has any interest in the modern India.


This is a book about those Indians who has changed the way India used to be perceived. Guha meticulously researched for this book and the result is a highly readable account of genuine heroes of modern India. The book is about thinking and writing of nineteen thinkers of modern India. 

I started reading this book around four days ago and it took a lot from me – in the sense, when it came to the ideas and thoughts of the nineteen thinkers – right from Rammohan Roy who speaks about Relations between Men and Women to Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s thoughts on elevating the depressed classes, it was an eye-opener. The topics that these leaders touch on are varied – from gender, class and to banishing English as a language to Kashmir, Tibet, and Nationalism – it is the variedness of these topics that sometimes lead to contradictory and quite opposing ideas. What I like is the selection of passages, speeches and thoughts that Guha has so skillfully compiled. It touches on almost every aspect and yet there were gaps that could have been filled.

The interpretation of their writings were done by Guha in the context of the then prevailing situations. Though, there is notable exclusion from the book. Not a single Indian Marxist has been covered by Guha. There is no doubt that Indian Marxists are great thinkers, but when it comes to the pragmatism of their high level of thinking, there is none. Definitely, there is not an iota of pragmatism in the thinking of Indian Marxists.

Then, the exclusion of Subhas Chandra Bose and Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel from the list of makers of modern India is highly contestable. These two definitely changed the perspective and thinking of innumerable people. And, of course, these two leaders were also responsible for making the largest democracy of the world. The reason mentioned by Guha for their inclusion is not sufficient.

Anyway, this is a book which will directly take you in the mind of thinkers who have been covered. Do read this to understand the ethos of India in a straight way and to the point. In a nutshell, this one is a highly readable book by Ramachandra Guha.

Makers of Modern India; Edited and Introduced by Ramachandra Guha; Penguin Viking; Rs. 799