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Tuesday, Oct 26, 2021
Outlook.com

Reason, The Real Reason Why India Lives

Sen sees the vitality of our civilisation in 'tarkvaad' but can it cure our social imbalances?

Reason, The Real Reason Why India Lives
T. Narayan
Reason, The Real Reason Why India Lives
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

E.P. Thompson once wrote that since "all the convergent influences of the world"—Hindu, Muslim, Christian, secular, Stalinist, liberal, Maoist, democratic socialist, Gandhian—run through India, "there is not a thought that is being thought in the West or East that is not active in some Indian mind". This sounds true, and indeed there have been Indians, such as Nirad C. Chaudhuri, who appeared to hold in their minds almost all of the important thoughts thought in the West or East. But holding them is, perhaps, not enough, or is only a tiresome form of pedantry, as Chaudhuri himself often proved. It is certainly rare to see them as elegantly synthesised as they are in the cosmopolitan mind of Amartya Sen.

Long celebrated as an economist with a compassionate face, Sen has in recent years published several articles and books exploring such philosophical and political concepts as democracy, development, freedom, and reason. He develops these themes further with his usual clarity and wisdom in his new book. There are interrelated essays and lectures here on the Bengali poet and essayist Rabindranath Tagore, the links between India and China, gender inequality, class and caste relations, calendars, secularism and identity, India and the nuclear bomb, the Indian diaspora, and western views of India.

Unlike V.S. Naipaul, another influential interpreter of India for western audiences, Sen largely absents himself and his Bengali bhadralok background from his pages; his rare venture into autobiography is hemmed in by apologies to the reader. His prose is benignly professorial, always measured, and occasionally rising to dry irony, such as when he writes about James Mill, who in his History of British India managed to describe the deceitful and perfidious character of Hindus without knowing any Indian language or having visited India. "He evidently did...

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