28 February, 2021

The Way They Were

Childhood is an increasingly foreign patch of territory. This selection revisits a few with freshness and candour.

Jitender Gupta
The Way They Were

It is a measure of the affection as well as admiration that Andre Beteille evokes that he has not one, but two volumes honouring him. The first—Institutions and Inequalities, edited by Ramachandra Guha and Jonathan Parry in 1999—addressed the themes that preoccupied Beteille as a sociologist. The second, Remembered Childhood, is a more personal tribute, inspired by Beteille’s reminiscences about his grandmothers—one French, the other Bengali—in an account first published in the journal Civil Lines.

Autobiographical writing can often be indulgently nostalgic, uninterested in delineating people and places on their own terms. Yet Beteille brought his ethnographic skills to bear on the subject of growing up in the French colony of Chandannagar and Calcutta. His account of the two disparate cultures spanned by his upbringing is a model of how life-stories can also illuminate entire social worlds. The two women described in My Two Grandmothers emerge as warmly human in their...

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