- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Random House India (18 December 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 818400737X
- ISBN-13: 978-8184007374
- Package Dimensions: 18.8 x 12.7 x 2 cm
- Average Customer Review: 20 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #31,931 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Lost Generation: Chronicling India’s Dying Professions Paperback – 18 Dec 2015
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About the Author
A young journalist based out of Calcutta, Nidhi Dugar Kundalia is an MA from City University, London. She has written extensively on society, subcultures and cultural oddities in newspapers and magazines like the Hindu, the Times of India and Kindle and Open magazine. This is her first book.
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Top customer reviews
Certain generalizations can be made about these professions. They are caste based communities. They were a happy lot and took pride in what they .Tragically their professions are dying due to so called modernity.
Here are the professions covered in the book. I placed my own favorites at the top of the list.
Rudalis of Rajasthan
Thakurs are feudal lords in the Malwar and Jaisalmer regions of Rajasthan. They are surrounded by sidekicks called darogas. These darogas are the illegitimate offspring of female servants of Thakurs. Apart from serving as concubines these female servants double as Rudalis. Female members of Thakurs do not come in the open and mourn whenever there is death in the family. Rudalis take their place and have the incredible talent to cry spontaneously as if their own family member is deceased. Rudalis are paid a small amount in cash or kind for this service.
Rudalis in other words are professional mourners. “Rudali” a Hindi feature film starring Dimple Kapadia is based on the lives of Rudalis.
Letter Writers of Bombay
The British introduced modern postal system in 1854. They soon realized that a vast majority of illiterates cannot benefit from the postal system. To make it beneficial to such people they allowed job seekers to setup shop on the verandah of Bombay GPO as letter writers. These guys do this service and earn money.
By its very nature, this profession has a side effect. Letter writers become privy to private and intimate exchange of letters between lovers and young couples. In the book the author narrates the story of a sex worker who misleads her family members living in the village into believing that she is honorably employed earning a decent salary.
Shyam Benegal’s Welcome to Sajjanpur is based on the life of a letter writer.
Ittar Wallahs of Hyderabad
There was once a time when a generation of Muslim families was engaged in making Ittar. Their establishment as well as their shops were located in the by lanes near Charminar area. Remember Ittar is made. Not manufactured. They collect fragrant flowers and aromatic plants and extract the fragrance through an elaborate distillation process. These precious little fluids were mixed in a sandal oil medium and marketed in colorful cut glass bottles. Ittar was patronized in olden days by Nawabs and rich business men.
With mass production of synthetic perfumes in alcohol medium, traditional Ittar had become extinct.
Storytellers of Andhra
They are called Burrakatha artistes. Festivals in Andhra once upon a time invariably will have these artistes in an all night session of storytelling with poetry and music. The performance is given by a team of three artistes. Kathakudu with a tanpura on his shoulders occupies center stage. He is the chief narrator. On his right side will be a rajakiya with a dimki (a kind of drum made of goat skin stretched on an earthen pot). Rajakiya brings coherence to the narrative and intersperses with contemporary political and social issues. To the left is a guy called Hasya ( a joker) who regales the audience with jokes of all genres.
Burrakatha is an oral tradition. A typical story if written on paper will run into one lakh lines.
Genealogists of Hardwar
People especially from parts of North India come to Hardwar to perform obsequies. Priests called pandas assist in the ritual. They also double up as genealogists. They are in-charge of their client’s family register, updating the family tree with details of births; marriages and deaths. Relatives who visit Hardwar give them updated information.
A number of Pandas are engaged in the profession. One has to tell the name of the village he hails from and his Gotra. One will be directed to the concerned Panda.
Records maintained by pandas are considered authentic, so much so, they are asked to testify in courts to settle property disputes.
In the present era of social networking, records maintained manually by generations of Hardwar pandas may look ridiculous to present generation.
Street Dentists of Baroda
Dentistry in olden days was considered a plumbing job performed on humans. Chinese migrants imparted this skill to Indians. The author tells the story of one such street dentist who setup shop on the footpath right in front of a hospital in Baroda. This guy attends to common dental problems like tooth extraction, filling cavities and making partial or full dentures. His clients are mostly poor rural folk who cannot afford a qualified dentist with modern tools. Our street dentist uses rudimentary tools and is not too fussy about hygiene.
The book also narrates lives of a few more. I shall mention them only briefly to make this review less lengthy.
Tattoo artists in the tribal belt of Jharkhand called Mahars.
Kabooterbaz of Old Delhi who passionately keep hundreds of homing pigeons and conduct competitions.
Urdu scribes of Delhi. These people are blessed with beautiful hand writing and make their living as calligraphers.
Boat makers of Balagarh in west Bengal.
Bhisti wallahs of Calcutta. They make huge bags out of goat skin that can be used as a water container. They door deliver water using these Bhistis.
Kundalia picked up 11 dying professions in her book. I can recollect several more. Pottery, Puppetry, Professional eaters called Bhoktas in Andhra to name a few. It will be a good idea if the author comes out with a sequel.
I strongly recommend the book especially the younger generation.
The book introduces professions which most of us might not have hear, even though living almost all my life, I haven't heard them before. One thing about a profession is that it is well suited to those practitioners who have faith in their professions. This what Nidhi, a young journalist based in Kolkata, explores traveling all around the nation.
Her writing is a depth insight on professions such rudaalis, the women who are hired to cry when some rich person dies, the street dentist, the ittar wallah(ittar- a natural perfume oil derived from botanical sources), and the letter writer, the bookkeeper of family ancestors and a few more.
These professionals know the change is confronting and many of them are the last of their generations. One common theme observed in all of these essays is that the practitioners in ability to access aid as some of them are belong to backward castes and have no permanent residences and spend their lives in migratory nature.
I liked the way every profession is presented to a reader, the author certainly has taken pains in forming her chronicles in presentable manner with immerse research and has kept as short as she can to introduce a newbie. The astonishing part is how deep and vast at the same time Indian culture is. One can clearly observe that after reading this book. Her writing is fluent, a glossary is provided at the back of the book for regional words used in the conversation as well as a bibliography to explore more.
3 out of 5!
From the ittar wallahs of Hyderabad to the fast disappearing street dentist to the hauntingly beautiful Rudaalis, I was fascinated by the details of their age old professions, how it used to be and how, sadly, it is fast fading.
Read this book to be amazed at how things once were in India that now, amidst malls and high rises, seems unimaginable.
What " the lost generation has ensured is that the generations to come can actually know regarding these rare and unique professions which existed in India.
Through the book I became lost in some of the stories which I would hear from my grandfather regarding the bhistiwalas who used to be present in Railway Stations in post independence India. As he was a railway officer, he used to travel a lot and the book made me nostalgic.
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Most recent customer reviews
The paper is third rate quality.
The packaging was awful... The book cover's corner was crumpled up by the time it reached me.