The Argumentative Indian

Every time I visit Delhi, I take advantage of the ridiculous price of books and the wide variety available to stock up. This visit I picked up a few books that I’ll write about in series starting with the following book,

The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen – Nobel Prize winning Harvard economist who was the first non white Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, Sen has written a tome that I’ve been enjoying plowing through – honestly, it’s been more fun opening the essays – a total of 14 covering topics such as politics, gender inequality, culture, literature and the arts, all woven together with the central theme that India has a heritage of public discourse and debate going back 2500 years. Better reviews than mine are Shashi Tharoor‘s at the Washington Post and Soumya Bhattacharya’s at The Guardian. While launched in India and the UK, Canada etc back in July 2005, I believe it only reached the US in October 2005. In India, the hardcover just cost me Rs 650 (approx USD $14) compared to the UK list price of 25 pounds and US list price of $ 26. Whee 🙂 Here’s a link to Sen’s NPR interview. While the title of book, very naturally, caught my eye and touched my contentious little soul, here’s the snippet that best exemplifies his theme,

India’s skeptical tradition is as old as the Rigveda, composed
around 1500 B.C., when most Europeans were clad in animal skins. "Who
really knows?" it asks about creation. "Who will here proclaim it?
Whence was it produced?. . . perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it
did not — the one who looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only he
knows — or perhaps he does not know."

I love that final "or
perhaps he does not know." The reach of rationality in Indian thinking
goes far; Hinduism is the only major religion with an explicit
tradition of agnosticism within it. Equally important is the tradition
of secular tolerance practiced by such rulers as the Buddhist Emperor
Ashoka and the Muslim Emperor Akbar some 1,800 years apart.

I’ll follow up with more when I’ve finished reading the book. But I’ve read enough to say, BUY IT NOW! It’s on sale at Amazon. And leave you with these first few lines from The Guardian,

This needs saying at the
outset. In itself, it might seem like an unremarkable fact, but it
actually is not: Amartya Sen is a citizen of India. While most of his
countrymen who have been able to leave India for a long time try their
best to become citizens of the country they might have gone to
(Britain, America, Canada, Australia), Sen, a man whom Cambridge and
Harvard are said to have fought over for the privilege of offering an
appointment, resolutely retains his blue Indian passport after half a
century of towering intellectual achievement across the world.

*swoons* My hero. He joins such luminaries as Feynman and Kotler as my secret crushes 🙂 And since this post has become longer than I thought, I’ll continue in the next post about the rest of my new books.

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