Contemporary Indian Culture

My (Occasional) Column on India in The Newsletter


Rituparna has a long history with IIAS and its publication, The Newsletter. As a former IIAS fellow she has contributed various articles, but during my time as editor Rituparna has really proven herself to be a dependable and outstanding contributor, and at one point even a superb assistant editor. She expertly combines her skills as a fiction writer with her academic interests. Rituparna’s texts are highly informative, easy to read, entertaining, and always have a human interest value to them. She is a pleasure to work with as, in addition to her high quality writing, Rituparna is a conscientious communicator and brings positivity to every task.

Sonja Zweegers,
Editor-in-Chief, The Newsletter

Of Spices & Botany, Sanskrit & Bollywood: Four centuries of Indo-Dutch connection

“What other people has written its history in its art?” wrote the nineteenth century critic-politician Theophile Thore, about the Dutch. Quoting him, Simon Schama, in his Introduction to The Embarrassment of Riches, points out that “the quality of social document inherent in much of Dutch art does indeed make it an irresistible source for the cultural historian.” If one has to tap that source, then the best place to visit is the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It is a veritable treasure-trove, housing more than two thousand Dutch masterpieces from the 17th century, the Dutch Golden Age. Some are more celebrated than others, making it into the popular museum ‘Guidebook’, whilst there are several that are neither acclaimed nor popular, yet which remain arresting nevertheless. Hendrik van Schuylenburg’s 1665 painting ‘The Trading Post of the Dutch East India Company in Hooghly, Bengal’, is one such example.

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“Satyamev Jayate”: a quiet Indian revolution

On 15 August 2012, a special Independence Day episode of the reality show Satyameva Jayate (Truth Alone Prevails) was aired on Indian television. It was a rare event in the nation’s media history, as it showcased the immediate social impact that the show had had in India: a fast track court set up in Haryana to address long-pending cases regarding female foeticide in the state; generic medicine stores opened in Maharashtra; street plays performed to increase awareness about toxic food; a long overdue bill passed in Parliament to protect children from sexual abuse … the list was a long one.

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Rabindrasangit: uncovering a ‘Bengali secret’

On 14 November 1913, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for Gitanjali – a selection of his Bengali lyrics in English prose, translated by the poet himself, with an ecstatic introduction by W.B. Yeats. Rabindranath was the first Asian to win the prize, and was honoured that year by bypassing one of the English greats: novelist and poet Thomas Hardy.

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India’s Republic Day: language & the nation

On 26 January 2013, India will celebrate her 64th Republic Day, which commemorates not the birth of the nation (August 1947), but the coming into being of its Constitution (January 1950). The annual Republic Day parade held on Delhi’s Rajpath – a veritable delight to children and adults alike – follows a similar pattern but varied routine from year to year. It has two main recurring themes: India’s ‘unity in diversity’, and its national pride in the armed forces.

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Children’s Day in India

Children’s Day is one of the most eagerly awaited events in the Indian school calendar. Celebrated on 14th November, it commemorates the birthday of ‘Chacha Nehru’ (Uncle Nehru), as Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was affectionately called by the children he loved so well. Nehru was not just one of the foremost leaders of the Indian national movement, and independent India’s first Prime Minister – his seventeen uninterrupted years in office (from 1947 till his death in 1964) known as the ‘Nehruvian era’ – he was also incredibly fond of children. Many of the most popular images of the leader show him talking or listening attentively to children.

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ornamentOther IIAS Pieces

The Hungry Tide: Bengali Hindu refugees in the Subcontinent (Feature Article)

Partition is a recurring theme in Indian-English fiction. Much of the literature focuses on the experiences of Partition on the Punjab border. Amitav Ghosh stands out in his choice to write about the aftermath of Partition on the Bengal border, and his novels demonstrate a continuing engagement with the motif of migration and refugee resettlement in West Bengal. Rituparna Roy takes Ghosh’s 2004 novel The Hungry Tide and examines how it traces the trajectory of Bengali Hindu refugees in the subcontinent.

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In conversation with Kunal Basu (Interview)

Kunal Basu is the Indian author of three acclaimed novels – The Opium Clerk (2001), The Miniaturist, (2003) and Racists (2006). His most recent work, The Japanese Wife (2008), is a collection of short stories, the title story of which has been made into a film by a fellow Bengali and filmmaker, Aparna Sen. Ahead of his arrival in the Netherlands to attend the Amsterdam India Festival (12-30 November 2008), Rituparna Roy caught up with Basu in his native Kolkata.

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Enchanting tales of Jodha-Akbar (Review)

The Enchantress of Florence: A Novel. Rushdie, Salman. 2008. London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 978 0224 06163 6

Jodhaa Akbar. Ashutosh Gowarikar Productions. 2008. Mumbai: India. UTV Motion Pictures.

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