The Flavours of Nationalism

June 1, 2018

In this memoir by an unashamed Indian, Haksar writes about how food shaped her awareness of politics, patriarchy, nationalism and socialism, from her childhood during the Nehruvian era onwards. She takes us on a thoughtful journey through India, from her Kashmiri Pandit family settled in Old Delhi and Lucknow, to human-rights activism on behalf of Nagas in Manipur; from grappling with feminist ideals, to considering the impact of a globalized food industry in Goa.

On a wider scale, she explains how our tastes and attitudes to food are shaped by caste, race, gender and class, exposing latent prejudices and bigotry. Haksar explores questions posed by food anthropologists and ecologists, and revisits debates between Babasaheb Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi on inter-dining. She also addresses the present controversies over beef-eating, vegetarianism and ideas of Hindu vs. Muslim food, in a milieu where debate is silenced.

With wry accounts of sharing meals with Burmese and Iraqi refugees, and arguing about bourgeois vs. proletarian tea in the Naxalite movement, the book also contains memorable recipes from the many people she has eaten with. At heart is her question that if Indians cannot imagine sitting with each other and sharing food with a sense of equality and respect, how then can a national unity be built?

The Exodus Is Not Over

December 1, 2016

‘These [migrant] men and women are, like the Naga warriors before them, above all survivors. And this book is an ode to them.’

Economic deprivation, insurgencies and deadly ethnic clashes have driven thousands of impoverished men and women from the Northeastern region of India to seek a better life in the towns and cities of mainland India and further abroad. Some find themselves working amidst the unimaginable opulence of five-star hotels, casinos and cruises. However, for many, their jobs in Delhi, Bengaluru, Goa and other metropoles make them targets of racism, sexual harassment and class exploitation.

In response, communities of migrants discover ways of reproducing their cultures in alien soil, to act as oases in a hostile environment. And in doing so, they build bridges between communities—Nagas, Kukis, Meitei—which have been at war with each other back in the Northeast.

The Exodus Is Not Over features first-generation migrant workers from Northeast India, especially Manipur—a young schoolgirl who comes to Delhi and works long hours in a series of restaurants; her brother, whose ambitions to be a professional singer remain unfulfilled while he tries to earn his livelihood; an ambitious waiter now proudly in charge of his own restaurant in Goa, and many more. They tell their own stories of resilience in the face of exploitation and discrimination for the first time in such intimate and harrowing detail.

Nandita Haksar’s detailed understanding of the histories of the Northeast and deep respect for the people she writes about lends these narratives an added depth. Written with passion and a committed engagement, The Exodus Is Not Over provides a revealing and necessary look at the lived experiences of migrant workers today. A significant addition to migrant studies, it is a pioneering effort to document the conditions of migrant workers both in their homelands and during their quest to find work elsewhere. It is equally a story about a changing India, where globalization and development have led to a rapidly increasing gap between the rich and the poor.

The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism: From the Cold War to the Present Day

September 2, 2015

Nandita Haksar’s magnum opus traces the tortured history of Kashmiri nationalism through the lives of two men: Sampat Prakash, a Kashmiri Pandit and Communist trade union leader who became active in politics during the Cold War years, and Mohammad Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri Muslim who became active in the early days of the Kashmir insurgency. The ideas and deeds of many other individuals and groups are woven into this twin account which tries to examine how Kashmiri nationalists are caught in the web of international intrigue, as they negotiate the rivalries between the old and new superpowers and also the competing nationalisms of India and Pakistan, which invariably translate into Hindu-Muslim antagonism.

Both Prakash and Guru refused to give up the idea of a more inclusive Kashmir, with space in it for all faiths and nationalities. Their paths crossed at a juncture of history when both believed that their vision of Kashmir was possible. But their dream has been all but destroyed by the forces of history, leaving Prakash and his comrades alone and isolated, and leading to the hounding and execution of Guru.

This nuanced, multi-layered book combines personal and public narratives, political analysis and the rare insights of an activist who led the campaign to save Mohammad Afzal Guru from the gallows. Singular in scope and focus, and spanning a period of over eight decades, from the 1930s until 2015, this is an unprecedented examination of the history of modern Kashmir.

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