Saturday, May 06, 2006

‘Celeb’ gossip of yore. (A fly-on-the-ceiling 'insider' view.)

A few weeks back, I happened to retrieve a real treasure from my pile of ancient (in Marathi ‘prachin’ or ‘puratan’ in the ‘jurassic’ sense) books. I had bought it a long time ago at the People’s Publishing House bookshop, near Flora Fountain, read it at a canter and forgotten all about it promptly. It’s a collection of printed articles in Marathi, circa 1964, offering celebrity gossip of yore convincingly supported by historical sources and/or verbatim quotes from subaltern logs (aka ‘bakhars’). The author, Yeshwant Narasimha Kelkar, seems to have gone to a lot of trouble to trowel in a heap of choicest dirt concerning historical icons of Maharashtra. Stuff like a Who’s Who of unofficial wives and paramours, for instance. It makes for racy, fluffy reading. Apart from that, Kelkar’s confident citing from various bakhars made me curious about the genre that seems to be a Marathi specially. No, that’s not true. The Marathi bakhar’s Telugu, Tamil and Sanskrit avatar is Caritra and the Persian one is Tarikh. In Sumit Guha’s authoritative and perceptive Speaking Historically: The Changing Voices of Historical Narration in Western India, 1400–1900 at the History Cooperative website, I learned that the genre was probably an Indianised version of the Arabic khabr (news report) or, maybe, ‘obtained or received knowledge’ – exactly the same as in the South Asian usage of khabar. Had the bakhar writers been our contemporaries, they could well have been (you guessed it!) political or high-society bloggers. The History Cooperative website is at

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