Is India apart from the world, separated by mountains and oceans, or can India, especially premodern India, be seen as a part of the Asian ecumene, where soldiers and sailors wedded the subcontinent to neighbors both near and distant? That query is matched by related queries of those who inhabit India: Is a seventeenth-century Hindi speaker able to master a “foreign” language, one imported from beyond its mountains or oceans, and even claim “native” proficiency in that tongue? Moreover, can one who embraces Hindu ritual and belief be fluent in another religious idiom, one not only “foreign” but Abrahamic, for instance, Islam?

The answer to all three questions is a resounding yes in Rajeev Kinra's deeply textual and broadly revisionist monograph. Writing Self, Writing Empire would seem to belong to that popular genre of work known as tazkiras, that is, biographical collections that provide summary depictions of major—and also...

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