To tell the history of India through 50 personalities, first a radio project for the BBC and now a handsomely produced book, Incarnations, has perhaps been one of Sunil Khilnani’s more ambitious and demanding projects, not least because of its non-academic format. The author—historian and director of the India Institute at London’s King’s College—travelled thousands of miles through the country to research for it and the outcome is a living, throbbing, riveting glimpse into these great minds who shaped India. “It is not up to the state to define nationalism on everyone’s behalf,” Khilnani tells Satish Padmanabhan in an interview. Excerpts:
To select 50 lives to tell the story of a nation, as you have admitted, is an exercise designed to provoke. It will certainly get people talking, but which are the few names that you had to grapple with the most before leaving out?