Curiously, in India, one man’s past can be another man’s present, thereby making documentation a thoroughly fascinating engagement, especially for those who wish to delve into the nature of life through the prism of social anthropology. Delhi-based writer, critic, scholar and artist Manju Kak’s latest book In The Shadow of The Devi: Kumaon — Of a Land, a People, a Craft may distract the reader as a coffee-table purchase but it is far from being one. On the contrary, it is an intensely well-researched manuscript that encompasses historical, social, political, mystical, economic, cultural, environmental and artistic skeins of the Kumaon region.
What sets apart this encyclopaedic book is the holistic treatment given by the author to the spectrum of concerns addressed in the book and the visual imagery that compliments the detailed narrative. Anup Sah, an award-winning Kumaoni photographer, whose work is inextricably connected to Uttrakhand, along with a host of others, including environmentalist lensman Vaibhav Kaul, showcase breathtaking frames of the mountain people, their crafts and the alluring landscape of the Himalayas, making the book a must have. In addition, chapters on the famous woodcarving traditions, legendary shilpkaar Gangu Ram, the beautiful Kumaoni women, their songs and gods, the rich and variegated flora and fauna of the region and emergence of India’s 27th state — Uttarakhand, highlight Kak’s decades-long impassioned exploration of the pahars and the paharis.
Widely recognised for her interpretations ‘through word, image, research or curatorial theme’, Kak, who has a doctorate in History of Art from the National Museum, New Delhi, is a winner of Charles Wallace award and a Hawthornden Fellow.
Interestingly, the inspiration for writing this book lies in repairs of her 150-year-old ancestral house called Knock Fierna owned by her in-laws. “Each trip I made to oversee repairs, I also researched some facet of the hills. Of course, I had grown up in them, having spent 11 years in a boarding school in Nainital,” affirms the author in the Preface to the book. That she loves mountains also comes across in a documentary, They Who Walked Mountains, directed by her.
With eloquently woven little-known historical facts, In The Shadow of The Devi digs deep into the culture, ethnicity and aesthetics of Kumaon in a refreshing manner. “The documented history of the state of Uttrakhand goes back a few millennia. This ancient land has been alluded to in both mythology and literature. The great antiquity of human habitation in the region is established by the discoveries of pre-historic dwellings, such as the rock shelters in Lakhudiyar in eastern Kumaon where pictographs and petroglyphs depict the cultural life of the early inhabitants, and in the various Stone Age implements found in Kumaon’s Almora and Nainital districts in eastern Uttrakhand,” writes Kak in the introduction to the book.
As a scholar whose understanding of Kumaon transcends from the fact that ‘India is old in experience, but young in modernity, mature yet naïve,’ Kak’s new book provides a refreshing perspective by “asking questions about the nature of belief in the pahad because for culture to survive, it must be relevant to the society we live in.
Originally appeared on-http://www.tribuneindia.com