textbooks Posts

“Questioning Paradigms, Constructing Histories: A Festchrift for Romila Thapar”

During the course of a long and distinguished career, historian and public intellectual, Romila Thapar has produced a unique body of work. Her original and path-breaking commentaries and essays on ancient Indian history, along with her incisive writings on culture, society, archaeology, philosophy, classical literature and education have inspired a growing number of historians, scholars, public intellectuals and ordinary people alike. In this Festschrift, Romila Thapar’s students and colleagues from across the world celebrate her contributions by applying her methods and insights to a range of historical, philosophical, sociological and cultural questions. Questioning Paradigms, Constructing Histories aims to bring Romila Thapar and her pioneering work to the attention of a wider audience.
According to Romila Thapar: ‘…an enquiry should begin with a question… The question may be something quite simple, the answer to which will further qualify what you are saying. Or it may be a question that gives you the possibility of looking at the event or the person in history from different points of view. And that one question then leads to other questions that reflect these different points of view. So I would say that the fundamental approach to any piece of research or what one is working on grows out of a question.’
The book is divided into five parts—‘Political Processes’, ‘The Symbolic and the Social’, ‘Historical Consciousness and Reconstructions’, ‘Looking Beyond India’, ‘The Past and the Present: Dialogues and Debates’. Each part focuses on a theme that Romila Thapar has worked on and topics that she has returned to time and again. Together, they showcase her exceptional achievements as one among the best historians of our time.

There is plenty in this book to mull over. It is impossible to do justice to this magnificent volume of essays. Here is an extract from Prof. Thapar’s response to the essays included in the book. This particular section is her comment on creating history textbooks for school students. In this essay from which the extract is taken Prof. Thapar reiterates that it does not matter how good the textbook is, it still requires the teachers to convey to the school student that the textbook is saying. It is imperative that the teacher be trained to think about the subject and brought up-to-date in their thinking otherwise they will not recognize the changes in disciplines — the paradigm shift. The teachers cannot expect their student to parrot the book to get the requisite grades. “That is not education”.

The extract from Questioning Paradigms, Constructing Histories edited by Kumkum Roy and Naina Dayal is reprinted by permission of Aleph Book Company

…I would like to say something about the textbooks that we wrote. These have been part of a controversy over textbooks during the last half-century, and it still continues. I think the point that was made in the discussion about the context in which a textbook is written is extremely pertinent. Why did I write these textbooks in 1963 and 1964? May I take five minutes and be a little autobiographical?

When I returned to Delhi from the School of Oriental and African Studies in 1961, UNESCO asked me to survey a representative sample of the major history textbooks that were being used in schools, in the territory of Delhi. I was sent a pile of about two dozen textbooks, which I went through, making careful notes on what they stated. They were absolutely appalling by any standards. I sent back my report saying that these books should be scrapped and shouldn’t be used in schools because their content was of such poor quality and in some cases quite erroneous. Unknown to me, UNESCO sent that report to the Ministry of Education. In those days, we could claim that we had that rare person, an enlightened education minister, Mr M. C. Chagla. He argued that school textbooks are absolutely fundamental and their quality has to be vetted by professionals.

So the Ministry decided that new and reliable textbooks were needed. It did the usual thing and set up a committee, which consisted of R. C. Majumdar, Bisheshwar Prasad, etc., all the doyens of Indian history of that time. I received a letter from Professor Majumdar inviting me to write the textbook on Ancient India for Class VI, i.e. for twelve-year-olds and later on Medieval India for Class VII. He would hardly have known me as my book on Ashoka had only just been published, but he probably wrote to me because I had done the report. This was followed by an official letter from the Ministry of Education. My first reaction was not to accept the invitation, arguing that I had been trained to do research, not to write textbooks for children. Then I thought about it and discussed it with friends who urged me to do it for what was then referred to as ‘a national cause’. So when I was convinced, I agreed to write them. My problem was precisely that I didn’t know how to write for children. I realized that the toughest thing in my life was going to be writing these textbooks. Why? Because you have to be on the top of the subject, you cannot talk down to children, and you cannot take any shortcuts by using jargon. You have to be absolutely clear. I was fully aware by now of the role of history in creating identities and I was concerned that the identities my textbooks would help create, should not be the narrow single-minded identities of religious, caste and linguistic nationalisms, but that there would at least be an exposure to more all-inclusive identities of nationalism in the context of secularism and democracy. This I suppose was how I interpreted what was termed ‘a national cause’. I was seeing the future of India as a continuation of the identity of the Indian as an inclusive identity that had been created in the anti-colonial movement. Its goal of independence implied the creation of a new secular society with an inclusive culture that characterized the Indian citizen.

I spent a couple of years in writing these textbooks, and trying them out on some of the children of the right age that I knew. What was it that led to this, and how was it a national cause? The intention was to explain to children that history is no longer treated as just a narrative about kings, queens, battles of the past, but it is a way of explaining that important events of the past had to be understood in terms of how and why they occurred; and also in showing that history is not fiction. History was now an attempt to understand what happened in the past—how, why and when—and explain it. Further that history was not limited to royalty or to the past of any one community, but that it concerned events in the life of the larger society, of the many communities that constituted the Indian people. The 1960s were the beginnings of social science in India, so everything that is stated to have happened had to have some modicum of explanation as to why it happened. And of course, sometimes the explanations worked and sometimes they just did not. Some children did say that it was so good not to have to memorize the dates of kings, queens and battles. But there were other reactions from the young. A few years down the line, the then youngest member of my family asked me in exasperation one day why I had written such a boring textbook.

Anyway, writing those textbooks was an attempt to reach out as mentioned in the discussion and to provide a more appropriate history. The main thing was that one was treating children as thinking beings and trying to encourage them asking questions. They have to be told that this is the way I think about it and this is what I am conveying to you. This is not something that you just learn by heart, you parrot, and you leave it at that. It must provoke you to ask questions. The syllabus was given to us—the authors of the six textbooks to be written for middle and high school—and we had problems with it, and some of us were critical of the syllabus. We were given a certain amount of leeway in this, but it became problematic when we stated that we would write history in the way we thought appropriate. This was not something that the representatives of the state were happy about. We had serious arguments with some of the individual states who wanted to add chapters on local big men to glorify them. This would have destroyed the balance of each book. I took the stand that the states were welcome to add what they wanted, since ours were said to be model textbooks, but only on condition that if any changes were made, then my name would be removed as the author of the book.

(Eds.) Kumkum Roy and Naina Dayal Questioning Paradigms Constructing Histories: A Festchrift for Romila Thapar  Aleph Book Company, New Delhi, 2019. Hb. Pp. 540. Rs. 999

8 March 2019

Amazon for Authors, KDP in Delhi, 30 November 2017

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing Author Academy is hosting an event over lunch at Hotel Le Meredien, New Delhi . It is to introduce and discuss their self-publishing programme– Kindle Direct Publishing or KDP.  The panel will include Sanjeev Jha, Director for Kindle Content, India, Amazon. I will moderate the conversation.

Anyone who is interested in selfpublishing their book online is welcome to attend. It could be a book or a manual ranging from fiction, non-fiction, self-help, parenting, career advice, spirituality, horoscopes, philosophy, first aid manuals, medicine, science, gardening, cooking, collection of recipes, automobiles, sports, finance, memoir, biographies, histories, children’s literature, textbooks, science articles, on Nature, poetry, translations, drama, interviews, essays, travel, religion, hospitality, narrative non-fiction, reportage, short stories, education, teaching, yoga etc. Any form of text that is to be made available as an ebook using Amazon’s Kindle programme.

In December 2016 Amazon announced that Kindle books would be available in five regional languages in India — Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati and Malayalam. This is a game changing move as it enables writers in other languages apart from English to have access to a worldwide platform such as the Kindle. Best-selling author Ashwin Sanghi called it an “outstanding initiative by Amazon India. It’s about time that vernacular writing moved out from the confines of paperback. It will also enable out-of-print books to be made available now.” Another best-selling author, Amish Tripathi, said this will address the inadequate distribution and marketing of Indian language books, for the much larger market is the one in Indian languages. “I am personally committed to this and am very happy that of the 3.5 million copies that have been sold of my books, a good 500,000 of them are in Indian languages.” Others remarked upon the best global practices it would bring to local publishing.

Sanjeev Jha
Director for Kindle Content, India, Amazon

cordially invites you for a session on

Amazon for Authors:

Navigating the Road to Self-Publishing Success

Hear how Indian authors have used Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to build and reach audiences across a variety of genres

Date: Thursday, 30 November 2017

Time: 12 -1pm (followed by lunch)

Venue: Hotel Le Meredien, Delhi

This event is free. Registration is mandatory. Please email to confirm participation: [email protected] .


Jaya Bhattacharji Rose
International publishing consultant


World Book Fair, Delhi, Jan 2017

The world book fair was held in Delhi between 7-15 January 2017. It was another magnificent show put together by National Book Trust. I wrote about it for Scroll. The article was published on 29 Jan 2017. ) 

Three discoveries (and some footnotes) about readers and publishers from the World Book Fair

The death of reading has been greatly exaggerated. Yet again.

At first sight, the World Book Fair in Delhi looked like the scene of family holidays, with up to three generations milling around, some pulling suitcases on wheels filled with books. Actually, with the gradual disappearance of bookshops, the WBF has become an annual pilgrimage of sorts for book-buyers. Here are the three trends we discovered in the 2017 edition:

Children are reading, and reading, and reading…

The findings of Scholastic India ‘s Kids & Family Reading Report (KFRR) confirm that parents most frequently turn to book fairs or book clubs to find books for their child, followed by bookshops and libraries. Eight out of ten children cite one of their parents as the person from whom they get ideas about which books to read for fun.

Curiously enough, what parents want in books for their children is often just what the children want too. Despite this being the digital age, six out of ten parents prefer that their children read printed books. This is particularly true for parents of children aged between six and eight. Perhaps surprisingly, a majority of children, 80%, agree: they will always want to read printed books despite the easy availability of ebooks.

The findings of the report were confirmed independently by observing the phenomenal crowds in Hall 14 of the World Book Fair in Delhi in January, where the children’s literature publishers had been placed. These were astounding even on weekday mornings! Over the weekend queues to enter the hall snaked their way round Pragati Maidan to the food court and beyond. Remarkably, everyone was standing patiently.

The pavilions were overflowing with interested customers of all ages. Children scurried around like excited little pixies, flipping through books, making piles, some throwing tantrums with their parents demanding more than the budgets allowed, and many just plonking themselves on the carpets, absorbed in reading, oblivious to the crowds swirling around them.

Their interest was evident even during the packed storytelling sessions with writers like Ruskin Bond, Paro Anand and Prashant Pinge. This is corroborated by Neeraj Jain, Managing Director, Scholastic India, who said, “Using the findings of KFRR we created our stall as a reading zone. The combination of books, events, interactions and dedicated reading zone made it a pleasurable experience.”

Even adults were discovering new titles for their children. For instance, huddled around a shelf displaying Scholastic Teen Voice titles were a bunch of parents and teachers flipping through the books, exclaiming on their perceived difficulty of finding reading material for adolescents. The series in question contains page-turners built around crucial issues that matter to teens – bullying, drinking, technology, nutrition, fitness, goal-setting, depression, dealing with divorce, and responding to prejudice. Added Aparna Sharma, Managing Director, Dorling Kindersley Books: “We found that representatives from school libraries and other education institutions use this event to search out good books and order in bulk.”

And it wasn’t just the children’s publishers. Academic publishers like Oxford University Press had primary school children dragging their parents to browse through the titles, being familiar with the brand from their school textbooks. This held true even for DK books who, for the first time since they began participating in the fair, had a large table laden with books and generous shelf space in the Penguin Random House stall.

Global publishers are more interested in publishing books from India than selling in India

The hall for international participants was thinly populated. Most of the participants seemed to have come for trade discussions. Many of these conversations were taking place on the sidelines or at other events outside the fair ground, since foreign participants, in particular, were daunted by the vast crowds. The launch of the Google Indic Languages cell at FICCI was announced at the CEOs’ breakfast meeting. Another significant announcement came from Jacks Thomas, Director, London Book Fair, where there will be a “Spotlight on India” at the Fair to mark the UK-India Year of Culture in March 2017.

Yet, as an overseas publisher said, “The World Book Fair is exclusively a business-to-consumer fair, quite unlike any they have in Europe”. This marked a significant shift of sorts. In the past the World Book Fair had been known for a range of international publishers, representing diverse cultures, languages and literature, selling their books directly to readers. Even India’s neighbouring countries used to participate in huge numbers, bringing across fine multiple literatures. This was not the case this time. As a result, long-time visitors to the fair were heard lamenting that its soul was missing – it felt as if an era had ended.

But people bought books, a lot of them

Despite the worry about demonetisation impacting sales, brisk business was done, with sales being 25% higher than in 2016, according to back-of-the-envelope estimates.

According to Kumar Samresh, Deputy Director, Publicity, National Book Trust, there were record footfalls at the 2017 edition of the fair, with 4 lakh complimentary multiple entry passes being supplemented 1.9 lakh individual entries based on ticket sales. There was also free entry schoolchildren, senior citizens, and, as usual, VIPs. Rajdeep Mukherjee, VP, Pan Macmillan India confirmed “a 30℅ rise in footfall, mainly led by young adult readers, but it was the Man Booker award winning title like The Sellout which has been a sellout literally!”

The other changes we observed

  • The rising sale of textbooks and educational aids.
  • The increasing popularity of books from franchises like Disney, Barbie, and Lego, or from brands like Marvel Comics and Geronimo Stilton.
  • Older people cautioning youngsters to buy only “relevant” books.
  • The overwhelming presence of religious publications.
  • The preponderance of digital technology vendors, primarily in the area of educational publishing.
  • Print-on-demand books (goodbye, inventories).

( All the images used in the article were taken by me during the fair.)

29 January 2017 

Amazon for Authors, KDP in Delhi, 16 Feb 2014

Amazon for Authors, KDP in Delhi, 16 Feb 2014

I am assisting Amazon to put together a 2-hour event in Delhi. It is to introduce and discuss their self-publishing programme– Kindle Direct Publishing or KDP. Jon P. Fine, Director of Author & Publishing Relations, Amazon.com will be present. Anyone who is interested in selfpublishing their book online is welcome to attend. It could be a book or a manual ranging from fiction, non-fiction, self-help, first aid manuals, medicine, science, gardening, cooking, collection of recipes, gardening, automobiles, finance, memoir, children’s literature, textbooks, science articles, on nature, poetry, translations, drama, interviews, essays, travel, religion, hospitality, etc. Any form of text that is to be made available as an ebook using Amazon’s Kindle programme.

This event is free, but registration before 13 Feb 2014 is a must. Please email me to confirm participation:  [email protected] . Details of the event are given below.


Jon P. Fine

Director of Author & Publishing Relations, Amazon.com

 cordially invites you for a session on

 Amazon for Authors:

Navigating the Road to Self-Publishing Success

Hear how Indian authors have used Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to build and reach audiences across a variety of genres

Guest Speakers:

  • Ajay Jain, KDP author and founder of Kunzum Travel café
  • Rasana Atreya, KDP author of Tell A Thousand Lies
  • Sri Vishwanath, KDP author of books like Give Up Your Excess Baggage and The Secret of Getting Things Done

Event details:

  • Date: Sunday, February 16, 2014
  • Time: High Tea,  4:00 PM – 6:00 PM,
  • Venue: Diwan-i-Khas, Taj Mansingh


Jaya Bhattacharji Rose

International Publishing Consultant

[email protected]

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