Author: David Arnold
Editor(s): David Arnold & Stuart Blackburn
Publisher: Permanent Black
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
PART I: CONFRONTING MODERNITY
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
PART II: TRANSLATING TRADITION
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
PART III: SPOKEN LIVES
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