Telling Lives in India - Biography, Autobiography, and Life History

Telling Lives in India - Biography, Autobiography, and Life History

Product ID: 13574

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Author: David Arnold
Stuart Blackburn/
Editor(s): David Arnold & Stuart Blackburn
Publisher: Permanent Black
Year: 2004
Language: English
Pages: 323
ISBN/UPC (if available): 8178240920


This collection of essays challenges the paradigm of collectivity that has historically dominated most research on India. This paradigm has assumed that life in the subcontinent revolves around caste, community, and kinship, and that individual agency and selfhood have been marginal to thought and behaviour: in brief, society is valorized and the individual is not. Although this view has now been heavily critiqued and to some extent discarded, its legacy lingers in academic as well as popular writing.

The primary purpose of this volume is thus to examine life histories, in their diverse forms, in order to open up new ways of thinking and writing about India, and to bring material from this region to the level of international research on life histories.

The essays in this volume demonstrate that life histories are a historically persistent and socially pervasive form of expression in Indian culture. The contributors consider biography, autobiography, dairies, and oral stories in Hindi, Bengali, Pahari, Urdu, Tamil, Bihari, Sanskrit, and English; their subjects range from literary authors to housewives, from politicians to folk heroes.

They examine the conventions of these genres and the possible social conditions for their emergence, as well as questions such as what constitutes a life, what lives are worth telling, and who is authorized to tell them. Life histories, this book argues, are a special kind of narrative because they are perceived to be both true an personal. It does not, however, treat life histories uncritically, as self-evidently true-biography in fact is shown as anything but innocent. But this volume does reveal that these stories of individuals have remarkable staying power in a supposedly collective society.

Telling Lives not only adds a new perspective to research on India but also enhances the understanding of life histories across the world. It will interest all historians, sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists and students of culture as well as literary theory.



Notes on Contributors

Introduction: Life Histories in India


The Self and the Cell: Indian Prison Narratives as Life Histories

The Reticent Autobiographer: Mahadevi Varma's Writings

The Invention of private Life: A Reading of Sibnath Sastri's Autobiography


The Past in the Present: Instruction, Pleasure and Blessing in Maulana Muhammad Zakariyya's

Hamara Daur-I Hayat: An Indian Muslim Woman Writes Her Life

Cowherd or King? The Sanskrit Biography of Ananda Ranga Pillai

Life Histories as Narrative Strategy: Prophecy, Song and Truth-Telling in Tamil Tales and Legends


Honor is Honor, After All: Silence and Speech in the Life Stories of Women in Kangra, North-West India

Beyond Silence: A Dalit Life History in South India

The Marital History of A Thumb-Impression Man