The Brass Notebook: A Memoir

The Brass Notebook: A Memoir

Devaki Jain


Memoir, Non-fiction


Hardback with jacket



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( Hardback | ISBN 9789389958676 | 232pp | 2020)


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, Desmond Tutu, Henry Kissinger, Amartya Sen, Doris Lessing and Iris Murdoch, her tutor at St Anne’s College, Oxford, who became a lifelong friend.

In all these encounters and anecdotes, what shines through is Devaki Jain’s honesty in telling it like it was—with a message for women across generations, that one can experience the good, the bad and the ugly, and remain standing to tell the story.


‘Your heart and world will be opened by reading The Brass Notebook, the intimate and political life of Devaki Jain, a young woman who dares to become independent even as her country of India does. Because she is also my oldest friend, I can tell you there is no one like her, yet only here in her writing have I learned the depth, breadth and universality of her adventures.’—Gloria Steinem

‘A riveting account of the lifestory of a courageous woman who has all her life challenged what convention expects of her.’—Desmond Tutu

‘Devaki Jain was among those who initiated Indian women into recognizing their rights in society, and in asserting a visible presence, discarding their earlier imposed invisibility. When such a woman writes, inter-leaving her personal and public life…then what she has to say is not just a memoir, it is an event.’—Romila Thapar

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About the author

Devaki Jain

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 […]

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