The month-long 2014 Indian Elections allow ample time for background reading

Posted 4 April 2014 by Brian Steel
Categories: India

Tags: , , , ,

An estimated 800 million voters (including approximately 100 million new voters) are eligible to vote in the Indian General Elections for the 543 seats in India’s 16th Lok Sabha (The Lower House). They begin on 7 April 2014, in geographical segments, and will end on 12 May, with the (electronic) results from 930,000 polling booths to be announced on May 16.

The Indian media has been in full cry for many months, and the final weeks are bound to be hectic and even more raucous, but a cornucopia of recent books containing vital background information (especially for outsiders) is available for calmer perusal. Here are some of the principle publications.


Ramachandra Guha, India after Gandhi. The History of the World’s Largest Democracy.Picador India.

Edward Luce, In Spite of the Gods. The Strange Rise of Modern India. London, Abacus.(In the later US edition, ‘Strange’ is omitted.)


Christophe Jaffrelot, Religion, Caste and Politics in India, New Delhi. Primus Books. 2010. (See also this well-known French scholar’s India‘s Silent Revolution. The Rise of the Lower Castes in North India. Columbia University Press, New York 2003 – and other works.)


Ramachandra Guha, Patriots and Partisans. Penguin India.

Arvind Kejrival, Swaraj. [Self-Rule] HarperCollins. (This manifesto is also available in Hindi)

Aseem Shrivastava and Ashish Kothari, Churning the Earth. The Making of Global India, Delhi, Penguin India.

A critique of the serious environmental and human costs of India’s progress so far. (With a 100-page Part 2: ‘DAWN: There is an alternative’)


Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, Narendra Modi. The Man, The Times. Chennai. Tranquebar Press. (The more or less authorised biography, which apparently ended up with Mukhopadhyay denied further access to Mr. Modi.)

M.V. Kamath and Kalindi Randeri, The Man of the Moment. Narendra Modi. Wide Canvas. Noida. Vikas.

(Note: Only on the publication data page (and on p. xi of their Preface) do the co-authors state that this is an ‘Enriched and Enlarged’ version of their book, first published by Rupa in 2009 as Narendra Modi. The Architect of a Modern State.)        

N.K.Singh and Nicholas Stern (eds.), The New Bihar. Rekindling Governance and Development. New Delhi, HarperCollins India.


Simon Denyer, Rogue Elephant. Harnessing the Power of India’s Unruly Democracy. London. Bloomsbury. 2014. ISBN 978 1 4088 5705 2 [440 pp. hardback. Rs 600 in India] (See my previous detailed blog on this important study.)

John Elliott, Implosion. India’s Tryst with Reality. Noida. HarperCollins India. 2014.

This is an important contribution by an “old India hand” (since 1983) with expertise in business and economic affairs. It is based on his 2007- blog,

Elliott currently writes for Asia Sentinel and blogs on the UK Independent. (Contrasting his approach with Edward Luce’s much earlier work, he favours the idea of ‘Because of the Gods”, “in the broader sense of culture, customs, and habits” (p. viii), rather than Luce’s “In spite of the Gods” approach.

Andy Marino, Narendra Modi: A Political Biography. HarperCollins India.

Amit Sachdeva, The Rise of Arvind Kejrival. The Uprise of a Common Man against all the odds, Gurgaon, Liveweek Business.

Hasan Suroon, India’s Muslim Spring. Why is Nobody Talking about it? New Delhi, Rupa.

Suroon describes the current push by Muslim youth in India to establish a more secular and forward-looking Muslim identity. His aim is to fill the void of (non-academic) reporting on what he sees as a profound change in local Muslim thinking. He also warns that the Indian State must make a better attempt to recognise and encourage such change.

Sankarshan Thakur, Single Man. The Life and Times of Nitish Kumar of Bihar. New Delhi. HarperCollins.

Sudesh K. Verma, Narendra Modi: The Gamechanger. New Delhi. Vitasta.


On the sociological side, the following two works are of ancillary interest.


Wendy Doniger, On Hinduism, New Delhi, Aleph


Ira Trivedi, India in Love. Marriage and Sexuality in the 21st Century. New Delhi. Aleph. (This analysis is intended to track important changes in Indian society.)




A Useful Briefing on India as it Faces the 2014 General Election – by Simon Denyer

Posted 2 April 2014 by Brian Steel
Categories: India

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The doyen of foreign correspondents in India was, and still is, (Sir) Mark Tully, of the BBC (and, subsequently, author of many independent books on India). Then came Trevor Fishlock of the London Times. More recently, we have been especially enlightened by Edward Luce (In Spite of the Gods (The Strange Rise of Modern India), 2007), William Dalrymple (on many aspects of India and Indian civilisation), and Patrick French (India. A Portrait, 2010).

Now, as a lengthy commentary on his two reporting stints in India during the past 10 years, comes a timely and thorough analysis of contemporary India by Simon Denyer, a Reuters and Washington Post correspondent and Bureau Chief. As well as a general background to contemporary India, Denyer offers very close coverage of the past three controversy-packed years of Indian politics and public debate.

Simon Denyer, Rogue Elephant. Harnessing the Power of India’s Unruly Democracy. London. Bloomsbury. 2014. ISBN 978 1 4088 5705 2 [440 pp. hardback. Rs 600 in India]

All of these serious India Watchers are of British origin. In their prolonged scrutiny of India and her people, they have dug much deeper than most other foreign writers and journalists in a search for the realities of this ancient and enigmatic country. A further advantage they appear to share is a practical knowledge of Hindi and the ability to engage with Indians in different walks of life (and often in out of the way places) which has given their reports more authenticity and value, especially for non-Indians. This is surely further proof that although English is the lingua franca of India, Hindi remains the language of power and politics.

For those foreigners wishing to be up to date on the situation in India and to know what is at stake on the eve of the crucial April-May 2014 general elections, which begin in a few days’ time, Denyer’s latest analyses of current issues and problems could prove to be a very useful guide. All the major headlined personalities of the hectic past three or four years in India are covered under Denyer’s wide umbrella:

Bedi, Kiran; Gandhi, Rahul; Gandhi, Sonia; Goswamy, Arnab; Hazare, Anna; Kejrival, Arvind; Kumar, Nitish; Modi, Narendra; Raja, Andimuthu; Ramdev, Swami; Singh, Manmohan; Vadra, Robert; Yadav, Lalu.

The publisher’s comments on the inside front cover are a fair and concise presentation of the book’s contents and an expansion of its eye-catching title. I quote it in toto:

“At the beginning of the twenty-first century, India seemed to stand on the brink of an exciting new era. Second only to China as the fastest growing major economy in the world, gleaming shopping malls were being built around the country to service a rapidly expanding middle class, and mobile phones were reaching even the remotest villages.

“The installation of Manmohan Singh as prime minister in 2004 seemed to promise more good times ahead. Singh had unleashed ‘shining’ India’s potential more than a decade before as finance minister, introducing the liberalising economic reforms that had set the country on a new course towards prosperity.

“Yet a decade later, the dream has crumbled. A series of corruption scandals has badly tarnished the nations image and undermined its self-confidence, while the economy has slowed and violence against women has dominated the headlines. The country is no longer ‘shining’ and Indians are left wondering where the magic has gone.

“Reporting from across India, meeting activists, farmers, bureaucrats, office workers and media figures, and interviewing influential political leaders including Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal, Denyer exposes the battles taking place between powerful vested interests and those trying to foster change.

“By delving into many of the country’s most troublesome issues, from gender relations to education, from corruption to populist politics, Denyer analyses the Indian malaise and, equally important, discovers signs of new and vigorous life and a deep desire for change. If the world’s largest democracy can control the greed, corruption and bad governance that bedevil it, its future may indeed be dazzling.”

(As the balanced presentation of these 440 pages indicates, this appears to be a big IF.)

The chapters offered by Simon Denyer are listed below. The more explicit sub-headings (usually followed by a quotation) may be especially helpful for potential purchasers. (These sub-headings then become the page headers of the chapters.)

 Asking for It

Gang-rape provokes unprecedented outcry

2. Man out of Time

The silent fall of Manmohan Singh

(The author’s Washington Post article on this topic created quite a stir in India:

‘Indian Leader’s Legacy is Fading, 5 September 2012. See pages 41-45 of this chapter.)

3. Money (That’s what I want)

The battle to rid Indian democracy of criminality and corruption

4. It’s a family affair

How dynastic politics is stifling Indian democracy

5. Is there Something I should Know?

The Right to information returns power to Indian citizens

6. Headline Hustler

The twenty-four hour news television helps awaken a nation

7. This Land is your Land

Farmers stand up for their rights, and politicians look for answers

8. Get up, Stand up

India against Corruption galvanizes the middle class

9. How can you mend a broken heart?

The heart of India’s democracy, Parliament, is barely beating

10. Fight the Power

Arvind Kejriwal launches his political career in uncompromising fashion

11. Hard Times for an honest man

Whistleblowers under attack in India’s bureaucracy

12. Isolation

One woman’s lonely struggle to rein in the powers of the army in India’s remote northeast

13. I want to break free

India’s youthful aspirations threatened by a lack of skills and jobs

14. The Age of Information

Technology empowers India’s people to fight corruption, elect better leaders

15. I’m the Man

Narendra Modi offers himself as India’s saviour

Denyer offers a comprehensive and nuanced 29-page chapter on the man of the moment and the favourite to win the Prime Ministership. In spite of all that detail, the author adds two final personal comments on Modi’s candidacy:

“While Modi promises to cut through much of the tangled mess of governance and unshackle entrepreneurs, he threatens many of the things I love about India. I find Gujarat under Modi to be stifling, a state where cinema owners dare not show films about the riots for fear of violence, where criticism of Modi is interpreted as disloyalty to the state, where some of the oxygen of democracy has been shut off. ” (p. 360).


“Say what you like about Narendra Modi, but he doesn’t lack confidence in his own ability. But in his assault on secularism and the rights of minorities, in his autocratic style, does Narendra Modi threaten the very essence of what makes India great?” (p.365)

16. Hell is for Children

Efforts to protect India’s women and children intensify after the Delhi gang-rape




Denyer’s Notes contain many vital recent bibliographical references, especially to relevant articles by himself and his Washington Post colleague, Rama Lakshmi, and to the work of historian Ramachandra Guha.



On Professor Wendy Doniger’s Professional Reputation as a Scholar of Hinduism

Posted 14 February 2014 by Brian Steel
Categories: India

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

14 February 2014

As the world’s publishers gather in New Delhi for the beginning of the 41st International Book Fair tomorrow (and until 23 February) at the Pragati Maidaan, many will already be discussing this week’s publishing bombshell news that, under an arcane Indian criminal law, Penguin India has finally acceded to the demands of a powerful group of right-wing Hindu activists in an agreement to recall and pulp all Indian copies of Professor Wendy Doniger’s highly acclaimed 2009 academic work: The Hindus: An Alternative History. (Also published in paperback by Oxford University Press, 2010.)

Media and individual comment is flowing in fast. One useful early comment noted is by G. Vishnu: ‘Pulped, Though Not Fiction’ (Tehelka, 22 February 2014).

At the Book Fair, many fellow publishers from India and overseas will doubtless express their sympathy with Penguin India, who, having lost or given up this long battle, have now expressed their grave concern for the health and continued progress of Indian publishing in the face of such restrictive laws.

With a general Indian election already in virtual full swing, it is to be hoped that this publishing issue, and the principles of freedom of expression, will gain renewed attention during the political debates and that, when the new government coalition is chosen, especially if, as is generally expected, it contains a strong right-wing component or majority, such issues will be fairly considered along with the many other initiatives which need to be put in place to provide India with more efficient and equitable governance and administration.

As a background contribution for new followers of these issues, and for those who may be perplexed in view of the serious charges laid against the author in India, I offer a list of opinions of Professor Wendy Doniger’s work by a distinguished group of reviewers. In my opinion, these amply demonstrate the quality and originality of her edifying (and engagingly written) 700 pages of research, which some have dismissed so lightly – along with her two doctorates, in Sanskrit and Indian Studies, from Harvard and Oxford, and her distinguished academic career dedicated to Hinduism and Indian studies.)


On the back cover of the paperback (2010) (Copyright Oxford University Press)

‘Courageous and scholarly … Doniger exudes an infectious enthusiasm for her subject and ranges with confidence well beyond the Sanskrit corpus at the core of her analysis … The Hindus is a celebration not just of a personal way of seeing Hinduism, but of the boldness and vitality of a textual tradition.’

David Arnold, Times Literary Supplement

‘This is history as great entertainment! Unlike the usual, arid accounts of dynasties. Wendy Doniger’s double vision of Hinduism is about women, merchants, lower castes, animals, spirits and, of course, Dead Male Brahmins. This lively, earthy account explains why ancient India is the world’s richest storytelling culture.’

Gurcharan Das, author of India Unbound

‘Wendy Doniger’s enthralling and encyclopaedic book reveals her vision of a Hindu culture that is plural, varied, generous, and inclusive. Hinduism, in her view, is an intricate weave of the diverse localities and communities of Indian culture. This is a rich text that will encourage dialogue and conversation among a wide range of scholars.’

Homi K. Bhabha, Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University

‘With her vast erudition, insight, and graceful writing laced with gentle wit, there is no one better than Wendy Doniger to convey the richness, depth and diversity of Hindu texts and traditions to international audiences. The Hindus is destined to become a classic that will be discussed and debated for many years to come.’

Sudhir Kakar, author of Indian Identity

‘She is the most eminent scholar in the field… I have read her and found her writing an invaluable source.’  Salman Rushdie, India Today


The above are, on their own, quite overwhelming evidence of a very special scholarly (and easily readable) work, but in view of the extraordinary treatment meted out to Doniger’s  chef d’oeuvre in India this week, I feel obliged to add most of the brief comments printed inside the front cover of the 2010 OUP edition of the work, mainly in the hope that some who have misjudged – or may misjudge – her without reading any of her work, will pay a little closer attention to the topic.


Staggeringly comprehensive book.

Pankaj Mishra in New York Times

This tremendously spirited, agile and learned book should be the standard history of Hinduism for many years to come.

Chandrahas Chowdury in Mint

Without doubt a monumental work that is awe-inspiring and humbling in its scale.

Devdutt Pattanaik in Mid-Day

[An] erudite ‘alternative history’… don’t miss this equivalent of a brilliant graduate course from a feisty and exhilarating teacher.

Michael Dirda in Washintgon Post

Wendy Doniger … serves us a feast of tasty historical events and interpretative myths.

Kittye Delle Robbins-Herring in Feminist Review

Doniger is an unstoppable teller of tales and a briloant interprewter of them.

Sunil Khilnani in Outlook  [and author of The Idea of India]

Doniger’s is an amazingly breathtaking book in its sweep. Indeed, before this, one would have thought such a book could never be written.

Bibek Debroy in Indian Express

The narrative sweep is epic… Wendy Doniger, with exceptional brio, tells us how the story of Hinduism continues to multiply.

S. Prasannarajan in India Today

At last, there is a witty, elegant and academically rigorous volume presenting this multi-everything faith in an accessible form.

Salil Tripathi in Tehelka

There is no book like Doniger’s which so meticulously and faithfully interprets the Hindu spirit, which clearly distinguishes itself for its catholicity and comprehensiveness of approach.

A.K Bhattacharya in Business Standard

Doniger’s delightful style makes light work of a substantial subject and weighty ideas.


Doniger’s work, vast in scope, wide in its range, so captures the mind that it is difficult to put it down once one starts reading it.

M. V. Kamath in Sentinel

Masterful study of the evolution of Hinduism

Time Out

Anyone seriously concerned with Hinduism in the contemporary world will be well advised to read, enjoy, engage, and even argue with the book.

A.R Venkatachalapathy in Hindu


Translation 46. Link to a Comprehensive Learners’ Guide to Hindi Postpositions

Posted 29 December 2013 by Brian Steel
Categories: Hindi Language

Tags: , , , , , ,

Just published on the India page of is a lengthy lexical presentation of Hindi postpositions, which, for English speakers at least, are a small but important part of the difficulty of learning Hindi.

In my own study of the language over the past 5 years, I have collected about 120 simple and compound specimens. Because most bilingual dictionaries are not very generous in their treatment of postpositions, I have listed them alphabetically, with examples and translations, as a dictionary supplement. For further study and practice, there is a short Appendix of other examples of this fascinating linguistic phenomenon.

The title is:
‘108+ Hindi Postpositions. A Comprehensive List for HSL Students. Draft.’

It is available here.

Christmas Book Purchases: A Few Ideas from The Spectator

Posted 30 November 2013 by Brian Steel
Categories: Books

Tags: ,

This is a small idiosyncratic selection from the numerous pre-Christmas yearly recommendations by book reviewers of The Spectator, London‘s multi-faceted weekly magazine founded in 1828.

From the first of two instalments in The Spectator (16 November 2013):

Nobly immune to (but enraged by) the Kindle invasion, Roger Lewis highly recommends three physical books on books, including The Library: A World History by James W.P. Campbell as “another lavish and melancholy tome”.

Two reviewers select Charles Moore’s first volume of his Margaret Thatcher biography as outstanding.

One of journalist and writer Michela Wrong’s selections is Rory Campbell’s Comandante: The Life and Legacy of Hugo Chavez. “a bracing exploration of modern-day dictatorship which contains a merciless exposition of how a complacent middle class allowed a society and economy to be hijacked by a wily egomaniac”.

As well as two positive recommendations, Ian Thomson offers an interesting counterpoint to the standard rave reviews of Clive James’s translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy, which he judges to be “egregiously overrated”, mainly for “its fusty-sounding language”.

In the following issue of The Spectator (23 November 2013), the following three items caught my eye.

Philip Henscher is very enthusiastic about “an instant classic of autobiography”, the Bengali Tapan Raychauduri’s The World in Our Time (published in India by HarperCollins).

James Walton takes up the cudgels for Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life, which he feels has not sold as well as expected by previous reviewers.

Matthew Parris introduces readers to the potential delights of Rob Hutton’s amusing exposé of English journalese: Romps, Tots and Boffins. The Strange Language of News, which is the one I think I will buy myself for Xmas.

Translation 45. French and Spanish Pronunciation. Tips for Journalists

Posted 6 November 2013 by Brian Steel
Categories: 1

Tags: , ,

On Saturday, 2 November 2013, a sports commentator was filling in for the weekday celebrity newsreader duo on the government-subsidised Australian multicultural TV, SBS. (A one hour daily programme.)

Although it is a multi-lingual enterprise, SBS is not unknown for its occasional language aberrations. For many years now, the sports journalist referred to above has been one of the major onsite Australian commentators on the Tour de France, one of SBS’s most watched programmes for three weeks every July. He has occasionally had problems with the surnames of well-known Spanish cyclists. He tends to be more comfortable with the French names.

At one point on Saturday, in the international news, temporary anchorman X referred to a “ka-shay“ (cachet) of arms. Hence this reminder article for similarly language-challenged journalists or TV and radio stations. Also for any readers with an interest in the topic who have not visited my other website.

Years ago, in view of the inadequacies of the Australian media in such matters, I published the following two guides on French and Spanish on my professional website ( It would appear that they may be just as valid today.

French Words in English (‘The Brush up your French Holiday Game’)

Copyright © Brian Steel 2003 & 2005.

Hint for those who need it: Check ca-shay  and cash in my simplified pronunciation guide for fellow Anglophones.

Bon appétit!

Spanish Pronunciation Guidelines for the Media and Others

Copyright © 2007 Brian Steel   !Que le aproveche!





Erlendur Haraldsson’s Latest Book

Posted 6 October 2013 by Brian Steel
Categories: Sathya Sai Baba

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

A message for the minority of my readers who are still interested in reading about Sathya Sai Baba.

I have just published a 4,000 word commentary on Haraldsson’s latest update to his 25 year old Miracles book:
‘Erlendur Haraldsson Breaks his Silence on Sathya Sai Baba’s Final Decade’

Now, back to Hindi, which is infinitely more interesting and worthwhile.



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