ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Jadunath Sarkar and Archival Anxiety in the Empire

The Calling of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth New Delhi: Permanent Black (in association with Ashoka University), 2015; pp 320, ₹795.

Dipesh Chakrabarty’s latest work, The Calling of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth (2015), is a significant departure from his earlier works—most famously, Provincializing Europe (2000). It is difficult to cast this book in a straightforward disciplinary taxonomy. It is definitely an intellectual history of historical tradition told through the personality of Sir Jadunath Sarkar (1870–19 May 1958) and his peer G S Sardesai. It could also be seen as a work of literary criticism. Given my own disciplinary leaning, I am driven to believe that it is an ethnographic account of intellectual endeavour. Chakrabarty’s site, in this account is as much Sarkar’s life, as it is the moving, elusive target—the archive.

Chakrabarty is primarily interested in Jadunath Sarkar, the historian and the intellectual—one who wrote masterful historical treatises on the Mughal Empire and the Marathas in the early mid-20th century. Through Jadunath Sarkar, Chakrabarty tells a story of a group of historians between 1900 and 1950, each making the journey of pulling and disciplining history into a domain of academic inquiry. Chakrabarty displays the effect of colonial intellectual encounter on a certain intellectual class of India, the story of which is told through Sarkar’s intellectual life and also his intellectual relationship with his peers, especially G S Sardesai. “Sarkar was a child of the empire...,” says Chakrabarty (p 12). The tussle between the two forms of history-writing, the prerogative of academic history and other popular forms which have been long present in India, forms the backdrop of Sarkar’s intellectual life.

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