Leprosy and a Life in South India

Leprosy and a Life in South India : Journeys with a Tamil Brahmin

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Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork as well as many hours of interviews, Leprosy and a Life in South India: Journeys with a Tamil Brahmin documents the life story of Das, a South Indian Brahmin born in the newly postcolonial India of the early 1950s. After being diagnosed with leprosy, Das spent over a decade on the streets of Bombay and Madras learning to survive as an unofficial station porter, bellhop, and sometimes tourist guide. Das's story unfolds against a backdrop of everyday violence and hardship in South India. Re-investigated through the prism of an individual life, what are often presented as the rigid social categories of caste, religion, and kinship are revealed in fresh new ways. Through this life history account, James Staples offers a unique take on what it is to be an Indian in postcolonial India.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 204 pages
  • 152 x 230 x 14mm | 439.99g
  • Lexington Books
  • Lanham, MD, United States
  • English
  • 1 Maps
  • 0739187341
  • 9780739187340

Review quote

James Staples's book takes us through a most exciting narrative journey...[The book] dislodges any reductionist primacy ascribed to religion, caste, intimacy, or disease. Journal Of The Royal Anthropological Institute Staples's methodology ... provides an interesting framework for organizing the individual anecdotes within the broader story of Das's lived experience...Leprosy and a Life in South India is a recommended read for those interested in the life history genre, the ways in which cultural constructions of disease play out in real lives and depictions of the human condition in South Asia. American Ethnologist Leprosy and a Life (not leprosy and life) is a thrilling book, written almost like a novel, in the first person with a hero and several other characters and a number of plots and subplots. The book differs from a novel, or for that matter from any literary work, because Staples makes no attempt to create an illusory or a magical effect through fictions in the mind of the reader... These thickly described chapters form the core of the book, which is the painstaking result of anthropological fieldwork by the author over three decades in India. The method adopted by the author toward the construction of his self-reflective ethnography is life history, which in recent years has emerged as a potentially rich technique with immense future possibilities... Putting a research assistant in the foreground of a multisited ethnographic narrative and using his lens to view postcolonial India are definitely novel. Staples has opened new windows not only for anthropology but also for social science research in South Asia in general, wherein big themes like globalization, marginality, and the subaltern consciousness still predominate... I believe that this book will help bridge the proverbial gap between the self and the other, the observer and the observed, and the objective and the subjective in ethnographic representations of the changing nature of caste in India. American Anthropologist Leprosy and a Life in South India is a vividly told and skillfully presented anthropological life history, bringing poignant texture to the lived experience of disease, caste, poverty, migration, conversion, and more in contemporary South India. -- Kirin Narayan, Australian National University, author of "Alive in the Writing" This is a rich, thickly textured and deeply intimate meditation on the story of a remarkable man who seems to embody the triumphs and tragedies of life in the margins of modern India. The author has found that point of fine balance between deep empathy and critical understanding, just as Das himself seems to be able to articulate the story of his own life in terms that capture the inherent tension between intimacy and objective dispassion. Fundamentally, this is a beautifully written story about the precarity of human existence. -- Joseph S. Alter, University of Pittsburghshow more

About James Staples

James Staples is senior lecturer in anthropology at Brunel University, London.show more

Table of contents

Acknowledgments Prologue Chapter One: Beginnings Chapter Two: To the City Chapter Three: Bombay Chapter Four: Reunions Chapter Five: Anandapuram Chapter Six: Good Times Chapter Seven: The Rise Chapter Eight: The Fall Chapter Nine: Moving On Chapter Ten: The Wheel Keeps Turning Bibliographyshow more

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