BOOKS: Asking We Walk: The South As New Political Imaginary, edited by Corinne Kumar is a collection of essays that critique the Euro-centric Western civilization

Corinne Kumar’s hopes for a fundamental change in our worldview. This will strike many as naïve as we live in an epoch when it is very difficult to re-imagine the world in any other way. We all want zero corruption, sincere politicians and a harmonious world among other such generic desires, but it is rare to question notions of modernity and linear progress as defined by the cosmology of the Western world. Yet, when one listens to Kumar it is tempting to be lulled by her bounteous optimism as she fervently discusses her dream of a radically different world. Her cause is helped by her child-like enthusiasm coupled with passionate rhetoric that will soothe the heart of even the most bilious cynic.

Kumar is also the editor of a new impressive four-volume set of essays that brings together some of the world’s best known writers and thinkers, sharing their ideas of a new world order. This landmark collection was published earlier this year by Bangalore-based Streelekha Publications that is housed at the Centre for Informal Development Studies (CIEDS) Collective. Titled ‘Asking, We Walk: The South As New Political Imaginary’, the massive tomes (124 essays running to 2289 pages all together) are worth their weight in scholarly content as well.

“The books are a collective offering. I tried to put the essays around the theme of this new understanding of the south where the alternatives of epistemic disobedience come from. The supposed gifts of modernity like democracy, development and progress are critiqued and challenged in these books as they look at the darker side of the Euro-centric Western civilisation that has colonised the world,” says Kumar. Such statements from most people would appear grandiloquent, but a cursory glance at the list of contributors in ‘Asking, We Walk’ shows that Kumar knows what she is talking about. Added to this is her long innings in the non-governmental sector that gives this work a salience that cannot be ignored.

While Kumar is from Bangalore and founded CIEDS in the 1970s, she has recently returned after spending 19 years in Tunis where she headed an organisation called ‘El Taller International’. She has been influenced by the philosophy of the peasant-based Zapatista movement of Mexico in her work from whose vision she draws the title: ‘Asking, We walk.’ “It is what constitutes the core idea of the group. If you analyse these words, you will see how it challenges the master narrative of the world. It challenges the houses of reason, the houses of science, and the houses of patriarchy, of power, of politics and of privilege,” she says.

It is not easy to pin point her own philosophical world view apart from broadly categorising it as ‘humanist’. While CIEDS was founded as a discussion space for the wide spectrum of Leftists who hovered in the halo of the Emergency, it soon incorporated elements from the Gandhian and worldwide pacifist movements as well. Kumar’s intellectual journey can also be located in that trajectory and provoking debate on the ‘central mountain of Western discourse’ is evidently her main concern in the gargantuan work that she has undertaken.

Among the almost 100 contributors are some very notable ones like Eduardo Galeano, Fatima Meer, Chandra Muzaffar, John Berger, Noam Chomsky, Ashis Nandy, Desmond Tutu, Ziauddin Sardar, Paulo Coelho, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Anibal Quijano, Arturo Escobar, Gustavo Esteva and Samir Amin. The impressive list goes on and meeting all the contributors could easily be on the bucket list of any erudite scholar as almost all of them have written texts that are prescribed as primary reading material in the humanities and social sciences.

“The books are about searching for that other imaginary – looking for alternatives that are subjugated and silenced. It is looking for world views that are marginalised,” adds Kumar. The books have been published under a Copyleft license which means that any one can reproduce any part of the book without prior permission for educational or non-commercial use. Even copyright is part of the Western discourse of ‘knowledge control’ that Kumar is trying to argue against.

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