In the Time of Trees and Sorrows

Nature, Power, and Memory in Rajasthan

In the Time of Trees and Sorrows

Book Pages: 432 Illustrations: 32 b&w photos, 2 figures Published: March 2002

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > South Asia

In the Time of Trees and Sorrows showcases peasants’ memories of everyday life in North India under royal rule and their musings on the contrast between the old days and the unprecedented shifts that a half century of Indian Independence has wrought. It is an oral history of the former Kingdom of Sawar in the modern state of Rajasthan as it was from the 1930s to the 1950s.
Based on testimonies from the 1990s, this book stands as a polyvocal account of the radical political and environmental changes the region and its people have faced in the twentieth century. Not just the story of modernity from the perspective of a rural village, these interviews and author commentaries narrate this small rural community’s relatively sudden transformation from subjection to a local despot and to a remote colonial power to citizenship in a modern postcolonial democracy. Unlike other recent studies of Rajasthan, the current study gives voice exclusively to former subjects who endured the double oppression of colonial and regional rulers. Gold and Gujar thus place subjective subaltern experiences of daily routines, manifestations of power relations, and sweeping changes to the environment (after the fall of kings) that turned lush forests into a barren landscape on equal footing with historical “fact” and archival sources. Ambiguous, complex, and culturally laden as it is in Western thought, the concept of nature is queried in this ethnographic text. For persons in Sawar the environment is not only a means of sustenance, its deterioration is linked to human morality and to power, both royal and divine. The framing questions of this South Asian history revealed through memories are: what was it like in the time of kings and what happened to the trees?


“Overall, this is an excellent ethnography, suitable for upper-level courses on history, environmentalism and anthropological topics in South Asia.” — Pankaj Jain, Studies in Religion

“What I treasure from this anthropological listening and telling is its illumination of what is not captured in accounts of the region’s history that are based on settlement reports.” — Rita Brara, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"[A] rich oral history. . . . This is a valuable addition to the literatures of postcolonial studies and environmental history. The material’s complex rootedness in time and place make it wonderfully evocative and intellectually stimulating."
— John E. Cort , Religious Studies Review

"[A]n acutely observed and painstakingly analyzed ethnographic exploration. . . . This book makes a major contribution to the fields of memory studies and political anthropology." — James L. A. Webb Jr. , Environmental History

"[Gold’s] research is prodigious and deep. . . . This combination of oral interviews, historical interpretation, and personal insights culminates in a work that is both poignant and instructive. . . . This is a wonderful book, from its title to its final paragraph. With a marvelous clarity and refreshing lack of rhetoric, Gold and Gujar have provided a history that cannot be pigeonholed. Part ethnography, part environmental and social history, the book underlines the importance of perception to historical causation. As noted in the concluding sentence, ‘these forests of memory branch into the future.’" — Christopher V. Hill , Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"[T]he authors compile a rich history of change. . . . Where the voices of Sawar residents are integrated with insightful analysis, both the ethnographic materials and the theoretical analyses are riveting. . . . [T]he detailed stories and incisive analysis offered in this book provide rich evidence of the strengths of ethnographic research." — Stephanie Rupp, American Ethnologist

"Equally excellent accounts of modern and postmodern experience in India are available, but none is as detailed and rigorous yet as rich and engaging. . . . [T]he book is a testimony to how team fieldwork, between a foreign anthropologist and a local householder and teacher, can make the work of both greater than the sum of the two. . . . Filled with immediate and visceral detail, this book could easily be taught in classes at a variety of levels or recommended to friends and relatives who are not academics at all. Gold and Gujar have provided us with something extraordinary. "
— Paul Robbins , Geographical Review

"The advantages of a marriage between anthropology and history are clearly brought out in this book that presents a history of common people, weaving together narratives on issues that dominate their memories. . . . The chapters are rich in small details, and exhibit both the attention to the minute and sometimes the blurring of the massive details that are characteristic of memory and recall. . . . In the Time of Trees and Sorrows is as much about the politics of narration as it is about nature, power, and memory in Rajasthan. It bravely raises thorny questions on anthropological writing and research, while answering many on the cultural history and society of Sawar." — Sudha Vasan, Human Ecology

"This book brilliantly extends subaltern reflections on suffering, memory, and meaning within complex societies in this case Sawar (or Sarwar) state, a petty principality in preindependence India. . . . . The authors richly document a significant moment in Sawar's history. Those whose works are concerned with the subaltern condition will find much to think about in this book." — Carol Henderson , American Anthropologist

“A unique, densely textured historical and ethnographic account. Engaging scholarship on memory, environmental history, oral history, South Asian studies, and ethnographic experimentation, this book works on multiple registers. The authors’ observations about the sweat, dust, tears, and delights of fieldwork are also remarkable in their evocative force.” — Kirin Narayan, author of Mondays on the Dark Night of the Moon: Himalayan Foothill Folktales

“This is an extraordinary history of postcolonial India as told through the lives of peasants and pastoralists, artisans and housewives. Drawing on many years of research, Gold and Gujar explore changing relations between state and subject, changing structures of production and consumption and, most innovatively, changes in the natural world in rural Rajasthan. Their research is rich, their analyses subtle and empathetic, their writing uncommonly evocative. This landmark study is at once a major contribution to environmental history, political anthropology, and folklore.” — Ramachandra Guha, author of Environmentalism: A Global History


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Ann Grodzins Gold is Professor of Religion and Anthropology at Syracuse University. She is the author of several books, including Fruitful Journeys: The Ways of Rajasthani Pilgrims.

Bhoju Ram Gujar is Headmaster at Government Middle School in Maganpura village, Rajasthan, India, and lives in Ghatiyali, in the former kingdom of Sawar.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Note on Language ix

Preface: "There Are No Princes Now" xi

Acknowledgments xxi

1. The Past of Nature and the Nature of the Past 1

2. Voice 30

3. Place 53

4. Memory 78

5. Shoes 105

6. Court 126

7. Homes 162

8. Fields 211

9. Jungle 241

10. Imports 277

Appendix: Selected Trees and Plants Mentioned in Interviews 325

Notes 327

Glossary 369

References 373

Index 397
Sales/Territorial Rights: World exc South Asia

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Winner, 2004 Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy Book Prize, South Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2820-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2808-7
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