Reviews of the latest books from and on Southasia

Women for Afghan Women
edited by Sunita Mehta
Palgrave MacMillan, New York, 2002
pp xiii+236, USD 13.95
ISBN 1 4039 6017 8

Edited by NRI feminist Sunita Mehta, Women for Afghan Women is a collection of 25 prose and poetry pieces, including 10 essays by Afghan women, exploring gender issues in Afghanistan and in the Afghan diaspora. With contributions on religion and history, as well as on issues such as health care and military intervention, the volume seeks to provide a study of various themes with women as the focal point. Most of the volume's contributions are by writers who attended the inaugural conference of Women for Afghan Women, an NGO co-founded by Mehta, in New York City in November 2001.

Travel Writing and the Empire
edited by Sachidananda Mohanty
Katha, New Delhi, 2003
pp xxi+185, INR 250
ISBN 81 87649 36 4

Travel writing during the British colonial era, writes Sachidananda Mohanty, "even when carried out under the guise of a more honorific study and research, often concealed a set of aims, objectives and agenda ulterior in motive". Such writing, as well as travel writing in the postcolonial world, has frequently been a "self-assuring" exercise for visiting writers and one of internalising subjugation for native residents. In this collection, 10 essayists approach travel writing in the context of imperialism, from foreign writers who "went native" to constructions of foreign travel in India's vernacular languages and the "colonial rhetoric" of present-day travel promotion.

India and South Asia: A Short History
by David Ludden
Oneworld, Oxford, 2003
pp xii+306, USD 20.95
ISBN 1 85168 237 6

While chronologically organised along a political-event timeline, this social history of the Subcontinent is primarily concerned with the formation of collective identity, examined here principally through a 'constructivist' approach. Noting that most contemporary historians no longer view South Asia as possessing a singular narrative of its past, but rather "many histories, with indefinite, contested origins and with countless separate trajectories", Ludden describes and analyses the region's history with frequent reference to the region's varied geography, climate, cultural influences and human activities. Written for the lay reader as part of the Oneworld 'Short History' series, the work includes country profiles of the seven modern nation-states of South Asia as well as a bibliography of more detailed historical reference works.

Crossing the Rubicon: The Shaping of India's New Foreign Policy
By C Raja Mohan
Viking, New Delhi, 2003
pp xxii+321, INR 450
ISBN 0 67 004963 8

This book is an attempt at defining India's position in the post-cold war world, describing the country's principal foreign policy concerns, and analysing its current approaches to and future opportunities for international engagement. C Raja Mohan, The Hindu's strategic affairs editor, argues that India has been slowing breaking with its Nehruvian foreign policy tradition since the mid-1980s, a process mostly completed in the strategic outlook of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which has taken an aggressive stand on nuclear weapons development and pursued close military ties with the US. In chapters dealing with India's foreign policy after non-alignment, its relations with Russia and the West, its regional concerns vis-à-vis China and Pakistan, and "diplomacy for the Second Republic", Mohan argues that India has newfound confidence in its approach to global affairs, having transitioned from a foreign policy based on idealism to one grounded in pragmatism.

Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power
by Niall Ferguson
Basic Books, New York, 2002
pp xxix+392, USD 35
ISBN 0 465 02328 2

Setting out not to write a conventional history of the British empire, but instead a history of "Anglobalization", Niall Ferguson examines the 400-year Anglo-American project of spreading capitalism, colonising and settling foreign territories, internationalising the English language, propagating Protestantism, and developing and exporting parliamentary structures. While admitting some of British imperialism's faults, Ferguson takes a relatively positive view of its role as a historical agent bringing change in the world, and argues that the US "empire in denial" should seek to emulate the "achievements" of its British predecessor.

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