Monday, October 09, 2006

The Argumentative Indian - Amartya Sen

I've finally finished reading a book which I started reading aeons ago. I'd originally picked up the book at the college library, only to return it after having struggled through the first chapter. Although I loved the content (and Sen's style), I just couldn't find the inclination to move ahead with the book at that point in time.

Come my summer internship in Mumbai and I went on a book buying spree, what with the absence of other modes of entertainment (television in general and the Internet in particular). That is when I chanced on this wonderful book again and this time, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands (literally, I remember).

This book is a must read, especially for those who aspire to know India in the modern context. The advantage of being Amartya Sen is that not only are you steeped in Indian culture but are also someone who has achieved tremendous success in the international arena which allows you to observe and dissect national issues with remarkable ease. As the back cover of the book reminds you, "If ever there was a global intellectual, it is Sen" (Sunil Khilnani, Financial Times). [Separate issue altogether that the comment reminded me of Nirad C. Chaudhari.]

Sen achieves the superlative in this book by being able to analyze Indian issues with a mix of the observer's interest and as a passionate lover of the country (he still holds his Indian visa after all these years abroad). He not only discusses the giants of Indian history such as Aryabhatta and Akbar, but also introduces us to modern masters such as Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi and Satyajit Ray. The fine amount of research done is evident by the number of asterisks that you keep meeting while browsing through the text. You only wish that the references to the other works of Sen himself and some of his other esteemed colleagues were included in the 'Notes' at the end of the book and only those post-scripts were added which furthered the narration and understanding of the reader.

For me the book stands out simply because it has re-generated my interest in Indian history. God knows, and my school marksheets are proof enough, that I was a bad student of history. This book not only makes one proud about our history but also arouses curiosity about who we are as a nation. Forces us to take a relook, and not emotionally or through saffron or green tinted glasses, but at the recorded history and as a proud citizen of a secular country.

There are also readings about India's political and cultural communications with countries such as Pakistan and China. There is even a comparative analysis done on the manner in which China and India have progressed socially over the years, especially since their move towards economic reforms (post-1970 for China and post-1990 for India). Makes for terrific reading.

All in all, I felt as if I must read Nehru's "Discovery of India". I stick my head out and will say that in a small way, this book has established itself as a classic must-read for the modern reader of India.

"Prolixity is not alien to us in India. We are able to talk at some length. Krishna Menon's record of the longest speech ever delivered at the United Nations (nine hours non-stop), established half a century ago (when Menon was leading the Indian delegation), has not been equalled by anyone from anywhere. Other peaks of loquaciousness have been scaled by other Indians. We do like to speak.

This is not a new habit. The ancient Sanskrit epics the Ramayana and the Mahahharata, which are frequently compared with the Iliad and the Odyssey, are colossally longer than the works that the modest Homer could manage. Indeed, the Mahabharata alone is about seven times as long as the Iliad and the Odyssey put together."

Read more of the extract here.


Arpana said...

The Great Indian Novel Did that to me .. but then Ive always been a history buff :p

Shekhar said...

arpana: Oh !!! Me to was that guy who always got confused between the various ud-din's who invaded India.