To compress the history of India, or even its modern segment, into a readable and academically acceptable textbook requires a miracle of synthesis. India produced an amazing succession of interesting cultures across five millennia and Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund's A History of India covers that in eight serious, balanced and readable chapters, with an introduction on general methodological issues. It analyses the rise of early civilisation in the Indus valley, the different ancient empires, the regional kingdoms rising after their collapse, the Delhi sultanate and the formation of medieval religious communities, through to the imperial Mughals.
Subsequent chapters look at colonial rule, rising nationalism and the tragic conclusion in partition of India, ending with a brief history of the Indian republic. Kulke and Rothermund skilfully avoid being either excessively intellectual or obstinately material in their analysis. While looking at the political economy of empires, kingdoms and communities, they never neglect the significant intellectual movements that shaped social life.
Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal's purpose in Modern South Asia is to synthesise the illuminating but partial disciplinary accounts about South Asia's complex modernity into one intelligible narrative. They have largely succeeded. Relying on recent research, they analyse the complexities of the introduction of modern state processes, of modern capitalist economies and the subtler but no less decisive alterations in mentalities and cultures that make South Asia what it is.
Despite the fact the book synthesises a large body of material, it manages to offer a distinctive comparative interpretation of the story. It succeeds in following the separate political destinies of Pakistan and Bangladesh as these emerge from the common history of British colonialism. The volumes will be valuable to both students and lay readers.
Sudipta Kaviraj is reader in politics, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
A History of India. Third Edition
Author - Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund
ISBN - 0 415 15482 0
Publisher - Routledge
Price - £16.99
Pages - 395