Sunday, October 31, 2010

Maharashtra’s contribution has been equal or even greater than that of Bengal

Economic Times - Home » Opinion » Interviews 31 OCT, 2010 ramachandra guha makers of modern india book 
Historian & sociologist Ramachandra Guha recently visited New Delhi for Penguin India lecture based on his book Makers of Modern India, which presents the writings and profiles of 19 men and women who nurtured the Indian political tradition. …
Is it a coincidence that a majority of those who have made it to your list, either for their place of birth or working, come from West India? 
(Laughs) I think it happened by accident. Maharashtra was the crucible of political activism and social reforms from the late 19th century till the 1950s. That tradition of reform has been ignored. One of the reasons is that their writings have been in Marathi. Another reason is that writings in Indian history have been dominated by Bengali intellectuals who know Bengali and write well in English. So they have been able to communicate with a national or global audience. Objectively, I would say Maharashtra’s contribution (to social reforms and political thinking) has been equal or even greater than that of Bengal. The more I read and researched, I was sure Maharashtra had contributed to social and political reforms much more than any other part of the country. Book: Makers of Modern India Indian Express 'Sectarianism is something I want to challenge with this book' Financial Express

So the point is that the society looked at Marathi people with a lot of hope, and when Sri Aurobindostarted sharing his opinion in Baroda, Madhya bharat and Bengal, it had a telling effect on the youth of that time and much of that lot ...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tremendous growth in intellectual interest in religion

Round table discussion on religion and politics on Friday, 19 November, 2010 at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Religion and Politics: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue

There is no doubt that religion is emerging as one of the most influential social forces in our times. Many old religious practices are being revived, new religious sects are coming into existence, the so-called secular political parties are reconsidering their strategies, a huge number of people are attracted towards religious discourses, religious identities have started playing an important role in political processes, violence in the name of religion is on the rise, and above all, there is a tremendous growth in intellectual interest in religion which is reflected by the proliferation of books published in this field. This is true not only in advanced capitalist countries and developing countries, but also in communist and ex-communist countries.

Scholars from different societies and disciplines are trying to grapple with the ferment which has been generated because of the renewed vibrancy of religion, which until recently was being written off as a declining, and diminishing force or just relegated to personal realm or belief. While some scholars have explained the phenomenon as a 'return of religion' (Derrida) and a kind of revenge or defensive mechanism against the offence unleashed by modernity, others have suggested that religion had always been a vibrant presence and it was the problem of perspective that blinded us to it. One can take the example of Rawlsian theory of justice in this context, which ignores religion as a social phenomenon.
One can also see this in Lacan's excommunication from the psychoanalytic community on the ground that he was giving importance to religion in his understanding of the individual's psyche; or the fear of Jung of being excommunicated because of his writings on Indian theories of consciousness which was considered as part of Hindu religious philosophy. Therefore, it is the change of the perspective that allows us to take religion seriously. Some scholars are suggesting that instead of a 'return of religion' what we are witnessing is entering in the era of 'clash of civilizations' (Huntington) or clash between 'high religion' and 'low religion' (Ernest Gellner). Of late, many scholars have started exploring the inner core of religion by engaging with it either in an abstract form (Derrida) or by exploring different religious communities (Foucault).

However, social sciences due to a variety of reasons, its epistemic bias, its historical roots in modern western science and in Enlightenment rationality, have arrived very late in the field, except sociology, where religion was studied with modern philosophical perspectives of Marx, Durkheim and Weber.
However, even in Sociology, till recently the starting point of most of the research was the 'secularisation thesis', which claimed that every society passed through various phases of secularization, ultimately, reaching a stage where there would be complete elimination of religion. It is interesting to note that it is only recently that the American Association of Political Science has decided to initiate a Journal of Religion and Politics. Despite the acknowledgment that religion has been an important source of knowledge for social sciences (Gulbenkian Commission Report 'Opening Social Sciences'), there has been hardly any serious engagement with religion.

There are two important issues that one can identify after even a cursory survey of the contemporary engagement of social scientists with religion. One, a phenomenon like religion throws a serious challenge to the way in which knowledge production has been organised in modern universities, by unsettling the premises on which knowledge systems have been raised. There is, therefore, a need to initiate an interdisciplinary dialogue to capture the multidimensionality of religion and its relation with the layers of reality (humans, nature and society), which social sciences claim to comprehend. The second, different societies have experienced religion differently and we need to take cognizance of this fact as it has ramifications for the perspectives social sciences have generated to understand. We know that most of the major religions have emerged in Asian societies and have spread from Asia to the rest of the world.
This provides us an opportunity to understand religion better and examine some of the established assumptions and larger philosophical questions in social sciences. Some scholars have started suggesting that such an exercise might render a fresh perspective for exploring reality as the epistemological challenge that this project throws, might alter some fundamental assumptions like 'Cartesian duality' (Zizek) which have served as the philosophical basis for contemporary disciplines falling under the broader category of social sciences.

We already have responses from Indian scholars who have reflected on these issues. Some of the Indian scholars are still following the Enlightenment framework to make sense of religious resurgence (Meera Nanda), but many of them have started questioning it. The latter have realised the specificities of experiences of Asian societies and have transcended the boundaries set by the modernist framework (Ashish Nandy, Sudhir Kakar, JPS Oberoi). For quite sometime, the debate on secularism in India avoided direct engagement with the issue of religion. Of late, however, it seems that scholars involved in theorizing secularism have started taking cognizance of the complexities religious experiences throw for this debate (Rajeev Bhargava). Similarly, the debates on development have now started taking cognigence of its interface with religion and religious communities (Gurpreet Mahajan, S S Jodhka) The Marxists scholars were generally guided by the 'opium thesis' ( D N Jha, Romila Thapar) but many of them have started arguing for fresh theorising on religion (Manoranjan Mohanty, Randhir Singh, Sudipta Kaviraj).
This shows that there is no uncontested perspective any more in this field and a churning is going on among the Indian scholars, as over the years the religious phenomenon has unfolded itself in the global context. One would agree that it is not difficult to locate similar trends among scholars from other Asian societies.

This round table has three inter-related purposes. One, it aims at bringing together scholars from different disciplines to share their perspectives, engagements and ideas on religion and politics. Such a sharing will help us in articulating the issues for future research. Two, it will try to bring scholars of two generations together to share their ideas. Interaction among scholars who have a sustained engagement with this issue and scholars, who have started engaging with them now, will help in shaping future scholarship in this field. Three, it has a long term aim of creating a community of scholars having interest in Asian religions to explore the potential of this engagement in terms of making serious intervention at the levels of theory and practice of religion and of social sciences. This is something we would like to do in a series of dialogues which we intend to organise in future among scholars from Asian Universities.

The round table will be organised around following sets of questions:

Session I: Religion and Politics in Contemporary Times: Mapping the Intellectual Concerns
Q1. How would you like to articulate your overall perspective of understanding reality?
Q2. Where do you locate religion in your perspective?
Q3. Where does religion figure in your current research concerns?
Q4. What are the ways in which knowledge production has been organized in modern universities? Are they adequate?

Session II: Resurgence of Religion: Golbalization, Identity and Politics
Q4. How do you see the current state of religion? Do you think it can be seen as 'return of religion' or resurgence of religion or is it just change in the perspective due to postmodernist challenge?
Q5. What has been the impact of globalization (or modernity) on religion?
Q6. Why is religion readily available ( or why is religion amenable to manipulation / subservient to political use ) for identity politics?

Session III: New Religious Movement: Philosophy, Politics and Social Change
Q7. How should New Religious Movements be studied?
Q8. Does Religious Movement throw any significant epistemological challenge to the social sciences?
Q9. Why are New Religious Movements attracting large number of people?
Q10. Does it offer any important philosophical challenge to the modernity?
Q11. Does New Religious Movement have the potential to play any role in the transformative politics?

Session IV Recapitulating the Interdisciplinary Dialogue

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Being vegetarian often forced Gandhi into marginal associations

We delight in showing how everything can be traced back to some previous thinker. 
Because the individuals entering into an assemblage are autonomous, assemblages constantly face the risk of falling apart or dissipating into thin air like so much mist. Anyone who’s formed groups and organizations is aware of just how precarious and fleeting these assemblages can be; or how much work these assemblages require to be maintained. 

As anyone who has ever done administrative work, organized a conference, or who has worked with others who share roughly analogous theoretical commitments in the work of movement building knows, collectives are hard work. The joke that’s been floated about for the last year is that forming collectives is like herding cats.
Collectives are assemblages of diverse actors, all milling about in different directions. These assemblages don’t simply consist of humans. No, they involve resources, materials, material infrastructures like power lines, buildings, staplers, paper, roads, etc. In this connection, a conversation during lunch yesterday made my jaw drop. Within the context of a heated debate about Levi-Strauss’s focus on the semiotic, on the domain of sense (and no, pointing out that he refers to nonsense is irrelevant to this point as nonsense is still a signifying determination in this structuralist model, i.e., a point about how language functions and generates sense), I remarked that when you look at live-time maps of internet traffic in the United States you notice that internet traffic comes almost entirely from the major cities and the coasts. In short, these maps also show us the distribution of internet infrastructure throughout the country. To this one of my dear friends remarked sarcastically “yeah, that’s the problem”. Well yes, I’m afraid, in part it is the problem. This exploded view map of internet infrastructure also maps on to political distributions in the United States.
In The German Ideology Marx and Engels note that one of the key contradictions in the capitalism of their time is the opposition between the city and the countryside, industry and agriculture. This exploded view schematic teaches us much the same thing, showing us how particular forms of politics map on to particular forms of infrastructure. The absence of readily available internet technologies creates a structure in which the people of rural regions only encounter those who share their own views. The only access is to people in church, at school, in the workplace such as it is, the local bar, etc.
Am I suggesting that making wi-fii freely available to all and that providing the infrastructure where this freely available wi-fii is a reality and not just an abstraction suddenly solves all our political problems? No. These technologies are only a component in a complex assemblage. However, just as having a child completely transforms your previous patterns of life, generating all sorts of deterritorializations, the introduction of such infrastructure surely introduces all sorts of new deterritorializations in such a context. The point is that these actors in a collective are not a matter of ideology, the signifier, norms, etc., and that so long as we focus almostexclusively on these things, these other actors become invisible to us. Are they imbricated with norms, signifiers, ideologies, and so on? Yes. The garlic in your pasta is imbricated with tomatoes, oregano, wine, etc., etc., etc. But these other actors introduce their own specific differences that deserve their own mode of analysis.
The advantage of thinking in terms of collectives and composition is that we focus on the work involved in producing solidarity and alliances… Solidarities and alliances that aren’t just solidarities and alliances between human beings, but where we also have to think about very concrete and basic things like how persons struggling for similar things despite the fact of being separated by hundreds of miles can communicate, interact, and coordinate despite this distance so that something of a collective entity can iterate itself or reproduce itself through time. All of this becomes invisible with baboon talk about events, truth-procedures, acts, and subjects.

As Leela Gandhi relates in her wonderful book Affective Communities, Mahatma Gandhi came to England without any strong anti-colonial desires. He was a vegetarian not out of personal ethical or religious reasons, but out of a promise he made to his mother. However, being vegetarian often forced him into marginal associations, groups that were more at the fringes of British society. Particularly, he fell in with Henry Salt and the Vegetarian Society by eating at their restaurants. It was while he was with them that he became radicalized. He embraced vegetarianism, anti-colonialism, and anti-capitalism. Gandhi's promise to his mother first isolated him, and then gave him a community. It fundamentally changed the way he would have experienced British culture and society, it fundamentally changed his life.
In this sense, ethics is not about isolation, but it can often cause that. Ethics is about changing and shifting where we find our community, where we find our energy and joy and connections. Vegetarianism has not been a deprivation for me, it has only opened up new vistas for experience and experimentation that I could not have found while my desires were rooted in the eating of flesh.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

We must become truly multi-disciplinary

I have great respect for Satprem but I prefer not to get caught up in this exhilarating rhetoric of impending dooms and the need for magnificent revolutions of consciousness.   Satprem, like many social thinkers, conveys his anguish with such burning passion that it can cause great agitation and frustration within the heart regarding the state of the world.   In the spiritual path, one has to detach oneself a little from the pressures of the world; one has first learn to remain silent, go within and wait for some inspiration to decide which cause to take up.
I have reached a state where I have become a little indifferent to the dire problems of the world.  It's a passing phase, and there are many such phases, and if at some point things change and I sense the need to do something, then I shall certainly do so.

The Word from ANTIDOTE by Sauvik
I am currently halfway through William Dalrymple's fascinating travels through the territories of ancient ByzantiumFrom the Holy Mountain. About the capital city, which is now Instanbul, Dalrymple notes that 72 languages were spoken in its bazaars in ancient times. Today, thanks to "national socialism," every minority has been chucked out, millions massacred and widespread tyranny rules. Dalrymple notes that this is where Christianity was born - and then taken to the West. He visits communities where Aramaic, the language of Jesus, is still spoken, where worship is still conducted as in those early days, where the most ancient hymns are still sung.
He further writes about shrines where the common folk of today, both Muslim as well as Christian, continue to worship together. Yet, he also portrays a civilization that might just disappear - to be replaced by the uniformity of "community" imposed by the guns of "nationalists." This is what happened to India during the Partition. This is precisely the direction in which the "cultural nationalists" of the Hindutva type are leading our nation today. In the meantime, the USSA is spurring Islamophobia. War and civilization cannot go together. For the furtherance of civilization, cities, and markets, I do believe the word "catallaxy" is best.

I believe the refrigerator played an important role in generating new racial relations in the United States. Why? Prior to the refrigerator people faced the problem of the perishability of food. This necessitated living close to local markets so that you could go daily to get food. Unless you were a largely self-sufficient farmer, you therefore, by necessity, had to live in the cities if you were an office worker or industrial worker. With the advent of the refrigerator it became possible to buy perishable food for a week or more, thereby allowing for the birth of the suburbs. No doubt, racist ideologies played an important role in white flight, but notice that racism also begins to take on new forms and content as a result of these new geographical distributions.
I am not, of course, suggesting that this analysis is exhaustive or that the refrigerator is the cause of racism. The point of this example is to draw attention to the sort of complex interplays flat ontology wants to talk about and analyze. OOO wants to be capable of simultaneously engage in the sorts of analyses that theorists while Bhabha, Spivak, and Zizek engage in while also talking about technologies, resources, weather, biology, etc. OOO theorists think like cooks. Just as it would be absurd to say that the garlic causes the pasta sauce, it is absurd to suggest that it is the ideology or signifier causes racism. Garlic is a component in a composition that also includes the cook, temperatures, herbs, tomatoes, the stirring of the sauce, etc, all interacting with one another. Racism is a composition that involves signifiers, geographical distributions, infrastructure and how it restricts and enables access, technologies, persons, institutions, etc. We need a theory rich enough to think heterogeneous compositions in action that doesn’t produce counter-productive myopia arising from privileging one component of a composition to the detriment of a variety of other components. This means that we must become truly multi-disciplinary, learning about economics, geography, semiotics, history, technology, linguistics, etc. This is, to be sure, a lot of work, but it’s payoff is that it allows us to discern those key nodes and actors in networks where the introduction of new actants can have a profound impact on the composition as a whole. Critique and decoding is not enough. Sometimes simply building a road or making wi-fii universally available for free can initiate sequences of becoming that profoundly transform social relations.

The future is in cities like Kochi or Aurangabad or Barmer: in less than a decade Barmer will rival Jaipur, and within the foreseeable future become the second or third heart of Rajasthan.
It is this India which is crashing through the glass ceilings of our social and economic history. It has turned Marxism on its head; instead of seizing from the rich in order to give to the poor, it is churning out its own cream. It is driven by a passion to improve the individual self, but knows that this is impossible without changing the collective well-being. It is not socialist, and indeed might be suffering from generosity-deficit when it comes to those at the lowest levels of our tragically tiered social order. But it is social-democratic, in an European rather than American fashion, willing to tolerate positive discrimination even if it grumbles relentlessly while doing so. The grumble is human; but tolerance comes from the fact that it has itself benefited from reservation policies.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Boulding wondered if the flawless precision of mathematical economics would prove impotent

Free market economists work in the world of cleanonomics --- a frictionless world where the decentralized decisions of agents are coordinated seemlessly through the price mechanism.  The interventionist economists, and more realistic economists, on the other hand, deals with the messiness of the real world, the frictions in the world, which demonstrate how the price system cannot do its magic perfectly.  Thus, government can in fact improve upon the failures in the market.
The Diamond model on labor search and the matching problem in markets of course fits neatly into this caricature of economic thinking.  But where would Klein place Alchian's work prior to Diamond's on labor search?  Alchian's work fully embraces the frictions that exist in the real world, and attempts to show how market forces work to adjust behavior and evolve practices which ameliorate the messiness and lead to the coordination of plans.  The price system is important precisely because we are not perfect actors, and the world we live in is not perfect either.  Hayek, Buchanan, Coase, North, V. Smith, and L. Ostrom all practice their economics in the messy world of frictions and imperfections.  Yet they all demonstrated how behavior guided by property, prices and profit/loss would adjust and cope with our imperfections.
I often use a 2 x 2 matrix to communicate to students the different schools of thought in economics.  The rows reflect the problem situation we are find ourselves in (simple or complex), the columns reflect the outcome of our interactions (order or disorder).  
  • Neoclassical economics is found in the simple/order cell;
  • Keynesian and market failure theory is found in the complex/disorder cell;
  • Marxism and critics of economics are found in the simple/disorder cell.
  • What does that leave?  The complex/order cell and that is the intellectual home of the Classical economists such as Smith-Say, the Austrian school from Menger to Mises to Kirzner, and the New Institutional school of Alchian, Buchanan, Coase, Demsetz, North, Olson, Ostrom, Smith, Tullock and Williamson, etc.
The Austrians occupy a central place in this cell because they emphasize not only the cognitive limitations of man, but also the complications of uncertainty, time, and I think importantly modifications to our core understanding of money and capital.  Money is non-neutral, and the capital structure in an economy consists of combination of heterogeneous capital goods that multiple-specific uses.  Once these propositions are included in the analysis, along with other messy aspects of the real world, our understanding of market theory and the price system shifts drastically.  Nothing can be treated as given.  Everything must fall out of the analysis of exchange and production.  Economic analysis is about economic forces at work, not the analysis of situations after those forces have done their job.
The traditional perfect market versus market failure debate is stale --- the perfect market folks don't tell us how the story of the market unfolds, and the imperfect market folks stop the story short right when it is getting interesting.  Journalist can understand this simple characterization of economic ideas, but economists should know better.  Back in the late 1940s, Kenneth Boulding (John Bates Clark Medal winner in 1949) actually raised this issue in his review of Samuelson's Foundations in the JPE.  Boulding wondered if the flawless precision of mathematical economics would prove impotent in terms of dealing with the real world in comparison with the literary vagueness of classical economics and economic sociology.  Not many listened to Boulding, and instead of doing messynomics in the sense of complex/order cell, we got a stale debate between simple/order and complex/disorder. And it still is going on today.
This is not just an esoteric debate in economic method and methodology, it is a widely practical debate about the way markets actually work and the institutional environment that is either conducive to economic progress or inhibits economics progress.  One of the key issues is in the analysis of the cost of inflation.  If money is neutral, then the cost of inflation on society are widely different than if we understand the non-neutral aspect of money.  There are reasons to be concerned with inflation if money is merely a veil, but not to be acutely concerned.  But if money is non-neutral, inflation is extremely damaging to the economy through the distortions in the pattern of resource use it engenders.  And if the structure of production in the economy consists of heterogenous capital goods, each of which have multiple-specific uses, then the distortions to the pattern of resource use result in errors that are very costly to the economic system.  See Steve Horwitz's new paper on "Why Inflation Matters."
You don't need to call this "Austrian" economics, though Mises and Hayek did more than any other economists to get us to think about the messy implications of the world and how the market system and relative price adjustments guides us in copying with the imperfections of man and the world.  But I do think you have to say that "good economics" deals with the imperfections of man and the world in which men find themselves having to deal with one another.  It is the higgling and bargaining of the market as Smith said that is the stuff of our discipline.  Good economics occupies the complex/order cell, because good economics is about explicating the economic forces at work in society to match the most willing supplies and the most willing demanders so that they realize the gains from mutual exchange.  This matching is not simple even for the most basic of product --- you must always remember the I, Pencil story.  The matching within the market coordinates the diverse and often divergent plans of a multitude of individuals, the vast majority of whom are strangers to one another and never will be more than strangers, and who live and work in distant lands, speak different languages, worship differently, and yet somehow through the incentives of property, the information of prices, and the feedback of profit/loss accounting adjust their behavior to coordinate their activities with others through time so that goods and services consumers want are produced at the most cost effective way and delivered to the market.  Good economics should not just tell the final chapter of the story of economic life, and it should never cut the story short before it has had the chance to develop.  No, good economics is to be found in the unfolding story of economic life --- in those economic forces at work, in a world full of imperfections, in how the dynamic adjustments made by men result in a variety of coping mechanism for our ignorance and for the complexity of the world within which we find ourselves interacting with one another.  It is the messynomics of real world that is best explained by those occupying the intellectual space of complex/order.  Time we focused more on that, then the simplistic dichotomization between perfect markets and market failure.

Lori Z has left a new comment on your post "Neat People vs. Sloppy People": 
We need sloppy people in this world to make it a better place. It’s not so bad to be a sloppy person after all. Posted by Lori Z to Evergreen Essays at 7:44 AM, October 14, 2010

Without a doubt one of the biggest moves in animal studies these days is to talk about intersectionality. There are basically two ways this gets talked about: One is a discussion of the fact that the vegan/animal rights movement tends to be predominately white (my brother pointed this usage out to me when I was talking about this with him earlier). But the other way is to discuss the methods by which speciesism intersects with other oppressions. The classical example (perhaps the first example) would be Carol Adams' The Sexual Politics of Meat, which deals with the intersection of sexism and speciesism. And while interlocking oppressions (or, oppressions that are enmeshed but still discrete and semi-autonomous) are certainly important, intersectionality has traditionally carried with it a level of subjectivity that seems to be missing in these discussions. To clarify, when Crenshaw first developed the term (and the way it has been updated by Collins), intersectionality referred to a way that interlocking oppressions produced/shaped a subjectivity that exceeded the sum of those oppressions. So, the experience of a black could not be reduced to either the experiences of a white woman or a black man, or even those experiences combined. And while the term has developed a level of plasticity in the last two decades of its existence, in all the work deploying the term I am aware of, intersectionality continues to have a level of subjectivity to it. However, when most animal scholars are using the term, they are not saying that, for example, female animals have a unique intersection of oppression that is different from male animals or female humans (though this might be an interesting topic). What animal scholars are usually saying is that racism, sexism, classism, etc are bound up with speciesism. Now, I think that intersectionality is perhaps a confusing term to be using in these contexts, maybe even a misleading term. Maybe we need a different term, or if animal scholars are going to insist on using the term, at least they need to address the changes the term is undergoing in their work.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Golconde, Puducherry, India

The architect as critic Sify Himanshu Burte 2010-10-02 
Charles Correa is widely acknowledged as one of the masters of contemporary architecture. This collection confirms that he is also a lucid writer who illuminates issues related to architecture and urban planning in important and interesting ways. It pulls together a number of his essays and lectures published or presented in scattered fora. Surprisingly, this mosaic holds together well. It is perhaps the closest we have got to a testament of the full range of his intellectual concerns about the built environment.
Correa comes across as a thinker-practitioner concerned as much with the small lives and spaces of the city as with the big architectural or urban gesture. We also realise how closely the critical faculty is tied to creativity. There is an astonishingly lucid critique of Le Corbusier’s Assembly building in Chandigarh (published in 1964, while the French master was still alive). Here, a lyrical description of the context and concept of the building (and complex) is matched by a devastatingly matter-of-fact record of the master’s design failure.
In essays that follow Correa is equally at ease telling the West where it has lost some of the plot in architecture. His diagnosis is no diatribe (his criticism of Indian failures is no less trenchant), and is convincing on its own terms. Doubtless, it is this willingness and capacity to take a position outside existing pieties that gives Correa’s architecture and planning work its special force.
Poetry in concrete
Golconde’ is a residential building built between 1936 and 1942 to house inmates of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry with support from the Nizam of Hyderabad. What makes it extraordinary is that it is a fully RCC building, and perhaps the earliest ‘exposed concrete’ building in India undertaken almost 20 years before Chandigarh was begun. And how well its concrete has withstood the harsh Indian climate!
But perhaps this elegant, and much needed monograph would not have been published hadn’t Golconde been an astonishingly elegant, and profound, creation. It has all that you would expect out of modern architecture in India: excellent orientation (the sun never enters any room directly) and detailing for interior comfort, simple materials, spectacular craftsmanship, and technological innovation in hard times.
The relatively modest project involved an unlikely international cast. The building was designed by Antonin Raymond, a renowned architect practising in Japan who had trained with Frank Lloyd Wright. His representative on site was George Nakashima who would go on to become an internationally-renowned furniture designer. The ultimate client was The Mother (a French citizen), the spiritual guide of the Aurobindo Ashram, and the project was managed by Udar Pinto.
But the truly astonishing thing is how high the odds were against the building getting built. There was no money and no precedent for its technology in India, so the relevant skills had to be created through training and quality control. Cement and steel were scarce resources. And the design was highly customised, down to the hardware even.
The book outlines this story through accounts and quotes from some of the people involved in the project. We get a good sense of the different facets of the story, though this is not a proper history of the project.
Some of the original drawings are reproduced along with archival photographs of the building and its surroundings, but these are often too small in size to be readable. Despite these shortcomings, this excellently produced book is a valuable addition to the slowly growing library of books on contemporary Indian architecture.

The American gold rush encouraged the continent's cultural and ethnic diversity, it has been observed. Matt and Betty Bailey, residents of Dutch Flat, told the Colfax Record that California's mining boom welcomed people from all over the world to the golden state.
"A lot of the Europeans immigrating to America were told to go west. The opportunity to homestead a plot of land was almost too good to be true. So they came - by boat, wagon and then later, by train," said Mr Bailey.
According to the resident, many people fail to realise that the gold rush took place relatively recently - he noted that his mother remembers watching teams of oxen and wagons trailing through Santa Cruz. The report maintained that while many people flocked to California to make a fortune in gold, even those who failed to strike it rich felt their journey was worthwhile.
Immigrants seeking treasures found "a new home, a new beginning and an opportunity for a new life", states the publication. The California gold rush began when the metal was first discovered in state in 1848.