Reviews of the latest books from and on Southasia

The Value of Money
by Prabhat Patnaik
Tulika, 2008

Prabhat Patnaik's new work comes at a good time. 'Financialisation' is on the run, as the world financial crisis paralyses economic activity across the globe. Patnaik's vast oeuvre is here built upon as he undertakes a rigorous critique of monetarism, and offers a critical discussion of the tradition of 'propertyism' (in accordance with Marx and Keynes). He also adds Luxemburg's superb insights, building up a theory of imperialism. This is not easy reading, and not one for the nightstand. Rather, it is designed to be read with a sharp pencil, and an even sharper set of eyes. (Vijay Prashad)

Imagining India: Ideas for the new century
by Nandan Nilekani
Allen Lane, 2008

At first glance, it seems that Nandan Nilekani, the co-chairman of Bangalore-based Infosys Technologies, was under moral pressure to write this new work in order to establish his credentials as a highbrow entrepreneur. Fortunately, the end result is high on anecdotes and low on sermons. Despite the moralising tone of the title, the content is a leisurely read with quaint glimpses of middle-class life in the 1970s. Given the profile of the author, he had several opportunities to interact with some of the most influential politicians and bureaucrats in government, and the brightest minds of academia, and he offers the gist of his conversations to prove that India is about to glow – if it is not already shining.

Unfortunately for Nilekani, the economic meltdown began just when his book was to be launched. When even unrepentant free-market fundamentalists such as Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar of the Economic Times have begun advocating for the 'temporary' nationalisation of commercial banks, recommendations for faster 'reforms' from a software exporter appear rather lame. The earth is not flat, and what goes round has to come around. It seems more innovative ideas are needed to face the challenges of an uncertain future than the socialist or capitalist dogmas of the last century. (C K Lal)

Human Rights in Bangladesh, 2008
edited by Sara Hossain
Ain o Salish Kendra, 2009

This is a competent compilation of human-rights abuse during a turbulent year in Bangladesh, one that saw the end of the two-year long state of emergency, in addition to the holding of local and national elections. An overview of human-rights violations in the arena of political rights, economic and social rights, as well as those pertaining to vulnerable communities such as women, children, religious, minorities, prisoners and the disabled is provided, along with recommendations on how to improve the situation. Violations of the rights of traditionally overlooked sections, such as linguistic and sexual minorities, have also been meticulously recorded. For those serious about establishing a democratic political culture in which impunity is not tolerated, this work provides invaluable snapshots of the human-rights condition in the country today. And at 200 taka, unlike a plethora of hardbound books on the subject, this one is certainly affordable. (Laxmi Murthy)

Never Again: Testimonies from the Nepal conflict, 1996-2006
compiled by Kunda Dixit
Nepa-laya, 2009

2006 saw the publishing of A People War, which visually chronicled Nepal's decade-long civil conflict up to its denouement in 2006. Following that book's release, the photographs were taken on a three-month travelling exhibition across the country, from Ilam in the east all the way to Mahendranagar in the west. This new work is a collection of the reactions of the almost 350,000 people who lined up to see those installations. While some visitors point to the dangers of revisiting scenes of bloodshed without elaborating on the social, historical and ideological context from which such violence arose, such reservations – of uprooting the story from its source – are allayed upon a reading of the printed testimonials. Rather than reignite doused flames of rage, the images rouse repulsion towards violence in general. For some, the images even allow a therapeutic release of personal pain in the collective suffering. Regardless of who is considered responsible for the atrocities that have taken place in Nepal, the overall message that pervades the recorded statements is a uniform desire to move away from the shared history of grief, and towards one of peace. And once again, Never Again is currently being toured around the country. (Smriti Mallapaty)

The End of the World
by Sushma Joshi
FinePrint Books, 2008

This compilation of short stories, Sushma Joshi's first book, is firmly rooted in the Nepali experience, especially of the past decade. Themes of loss, distrust, the state's betrayal of its people, and out-migration in search of opportunity – all are realties in the country's recent past, and these colour most of the narratives.

Yearning – whether a grown man's lifelong craving for cheese; a young police cadet's hunger for the neighbour's vegetable patch (and daughter); or a dejected villager's longing for the ancestral land with which he was forced to part – is also central to these stories. Joshi does well in giving voice to these desires, drawing the reader in with poignant and humorous portrayals of the characters' quests for fulfilment. One weakness, though, is that, with most of the narratives somehow tied in with the political turmoil in Nepal, parts of the anthology read more like news clippings than works of fiction. (Surabhi Pudasaini)

Loading content, please wait...
Himal Southasian