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Nominated | Book Awards 2021 | English Non-fiction


In this no-holds-barred memoir, renowned feminist economist and academician Devaki Jain recounts her own story and also that of an entire generation and a nation coming into its own.

Full Title: The Brass Notebook - A Memoir

Author: Devaki Jain
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing

Award Category: English Non-fiction
About the Book: 

In this no-holds-barred memoir, renowned feminist economist and academician Devaki Jain recounts her own story and also that of an entire generation and a nation coming into its own.

She begins with her childhood in south India, a life of comfort and ease with a father who served as dewan in the Princely States of Mysore and Gwalior. But there were restrictions too, that come with growing up in an orthodox Tamil Brahmin family, as well as the rarely spoken about dangers of predatory male relatives. Ruskin College, Oxford, gave her her first taste of freedom in 1955, at the age of 22. Oxford brought her a degree in philosophy and economics—as well as hardship, as she washed dishes in a cafe to pay her fees. It was here, too, that she had her early encounters with the sensual life. With rare candour, she writes of her romantic liaisons in Oxford and Harvard, and falling in love with her ‘unsuitable boy’—her husband, Lakshmi Jain, whom she married against her beloved father’s wishes.

Devaki’s professional life saw her becoming deeply involved with the cause of ‘poor’ women—workers in the informal economy, for whom she strove to get a better deal. In the international arena, she joined cause with the concerns of the colonized nations of the south, as they fought to make their voices heard against the rich and powerful nations of the former colonizers. Her work brought her into contact with world leaders and thinkers, amongst them, Vinoba Bhave, Nelson Mandela, Henry Kissinger, and Iris Murdoch, her tutor at St Anne’s College, Oxford, who became a lifelong friend.

About the Author: 

Devaki Jain graduated in economics and philosophy from St Anne’s College, Oxford. She is now an Honorary Fellow of the college. From 1963-69, she was a lecturer in economics at Miranda House, Delhi University. She moved on from teaching to fulltime research and publication as the director of the Institute of Social Studies Trust.
Over the course of her career, Devaki Jain founded a wide range of institutions such as the Development Alternatives for Women for a New Era (DAWN), a Third World network of women social scientists, and the Institute of Social Studies Trust (ISST), a research centre in Delhi.
She is a recipient of the Padma Bhushan (2006) and an honorary doctorate from the University of Westville, Durban, South Africa.


Chapter Five: The Era that Shaped my Life

I like to call myself and those of us who were young adults in India in the 1950s, the before midnight’s children. Unlike Salman Rushdie’s protagonists who were born at the very midnight hour of August 15, 1947, the moment that India was declared free from British rule, I was born in 1933 and was a teenager at the time of Independence,and a young adult as we threw ourselves into the work of a new and free India. I would say that we experienced an India which we still fantasize about, and which also shaped our politics profoundly. I would go further and suggest that we got deeply attached to some ideas, ideologies and aspirations that were born of that experience that we are not able to shed, even today, in our eighties.

I was fourteen years old when India declared independence on the fifteenth of August, 1947. I was living in the city of Gwalior in North India, where my father was the Dewan of the Gwalior state—the chief minister, in today’s parlance. We, his family, were somewhat screened from the turmoil, the agonies as well as celebrations that were going on, especially in New Delhi. But like a new arrow, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi pierced through our household.

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