You are on page 1of 4

P. Balu, M. Krishnan , Madeline Slade and Sardar Tarlok Singh : Thank you Dr.

Ramchandra Guha for these amazing stories. By: Shailesh Deshpande It is always amazing to come across a scholar, a writer, a teacher who simply opens up a new world and new vision for us. Such individuals usually have a very strong mastery of their subject, are deeply familiar with all the theories and debates, heroes and villains, beauty and drama associated with their field. But what makes them truly special is their synthesized, considered point of view about the subject because such deep, prolonged immersion and reflection about the subject gives them an absolutely unique vantage point and perspective. It is natural that one may or may not agree with all their views but even their staunchest critics cannot deny the depth of their insights and scholarship. For me Dr. Ramchandra Guha exemplifies and surpasses the above description. Surpasses, because in his case, the mastery is not just on one subject but on a wide and disparate range of subjects that include Indian History, Ecology, Sociology and cricket. I consider myself to be a reasonably well read and informed person and I had heard about Dr. Guha many years ago ( the first time from Dr. Anil Gore , in the context of Dr. Guhas book on Verrier Elwin ). But I must acknowledge my ghastly ignorance and admit that I had not really engaged with his work till a few months ago. I distinctly remember the exact moment I got hooked on to Dr. Guha this was an interview on NDTV when his latest book Makers of Modern India was published. Few of things that he said really stayed with me for a long time one of them was his point about the idea of India. He said that the idea of India is unique and audacious because nowhere else in the world, such diverse people spread across this large a geography have aspired to create an unified but plural, multicultural, democratic country. When asked about Gandhi and Nehrus opposing views about the role that religion should play in modern India he said that we need both the views Gandhis at an individual level where we could be believers in our own religion and also at the same time be believers in the principle of communal harmony, (Acknowledging that we have different religions and at the same time relating well with and respecting each other example : Mohalla Committee ),and Nehrus, at the level of the State - the State must be clinically secular and in a manner almost blind to the fact that its citizens belong to different religions. You can see the video of the complete interview here:
1 Shailesh Deshpande ( )

What I am writing here is a very personal account of what I have gained from studying some of Dr. Guhas work. After getting interested in his work, I read a few of his books related to Indian History, ( An Anthropologist Among Marxist, Makers of Modern India and India After Gandhi ) searched the web for videos of his talks, and it was a very rewarding experience. At this point, I must explain where I am coming from: I am a 35 year old urban Indian professional, working with a private firm in Mumbai. The last time I formally studied history was in the 10th standard. At a broad level I certainly know the story of Indian freedom movement and am very proud of Indias rich and diverse culture. I definitely also believe in the axioms such as unity in diversity and real India lives in its villages. Like most urban well educated well meaning Indians, the stark gap between what we can be as a country and what we are continues to trouble me deeply (and like most of them I dont take any special efforts to correct the situation). I have been reasonably impressed by western societies for the kind of institutions, welfare systems and civil societies many of them have managed to create.(Abundance of books and movies telling amazing stories about the western societies certainly helps) I have often compared our situation with theirs, with lot of frustration and wondered which magic trick from their system needs to be copied to transform India. I have mentioned all this to provide context for the section below which describes what I have gained from Dr. Guhas work: Realization that I have no critical, adult understanding of the historical events, the people and the forces that have shaped our country and society. As I mentioned earlier, I had studied history only in school in its simplistic and almost hagiographical form. I had accepted the fact that Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and Ambedkar were great leaders because my school textbooks and the general discourse told me so. As a thinking adult, I had never studied the course of events and the commentaries to critically understand the lives and works of these leaders. Dr. Guhas work helped me do this and appreciate the human greatness of our leaders. A realization that the idea of India cannot be taken for granted While all of us certainly know that many things about India need to be improved we have also come to take some of the things that we have, for granted. Few examples would be - constitutional democracy, freedom of speech, secular state, and the very fact that so many cultures and diverse people call this country their own. But I learnt that at a level its miraculous and great credit to some of our leaders and institutions that we actually exist today as a democratic and unified country most political scholars and
2 Shailesh Deshpande ( )

international leaders had predicted, with good reason, that after British rule, India would disintegrate into chaos. Since India is a truly unique country, it will have to devise and implement its own unique solutions Once we accept the uniqueness of Indias situation it logically follows that ( while we can certainly draw from some of their learnings) many of the standard western models and tools cannot be blindly copied and made to work in Indian context. The true challenge and beauty of India is that it asks us to come up with solutions, institutions, systems that are rooted and workable in our context. Learning about some of the most dramatic and historically significant events in history It will be no exaggeration to say that the book India After Gandhi reads almost like a thrilling page turner given its dynamism, complexity and its leaders of all possible shapes and sizes, the story of post independent India is filled with events replete with great human drama. Its important to add here that while capturing the element of drama, the scholar historian in the author is always present being objective and respectful. Whether its the gigantic human displacement during the partition and its aftermath, the invasion of Kashmir by tribesmen from Pakistan, the first national elections and the process of drafting of Indian Constitution all these events make for an unparalleled reading experience. Learning about some of the most significant dilemmas we have faced and the choices that we have made as a country Dr. Guha likes to call India a work in progress given the significant dynamism, the pushes and pulls in different directions and contradictions within choosing direction has never been easy for India. His work helped me understand the debates and arguments around many significant issues such as our foreign policy, Center v/s State balance of power, creation of states on linguistic basis, choosing the official language for the government (Hindi or English), role of state in economic development and drafting of our Civil Code. I realized that many of the important issues facing us today at national level can never be fully understood without studying the historical evolution and underlying debates.

Shailesh Deshpande ( )

Inspiring stories of fascinating Indians I developed a new, deeper respect for the gigantic moral authority of Gandhi, the towering statesmanship of Patel and the enduring legacy of Nehru that gave us our secular democratic character and some of our best national institutions. I learnt about the significance of leaders such as Sheikh Abdulla and C. Rajagopalachari (before reading these books I knew nothing much about them except their names).But the most interesting takeaway was the stories of the lives and contributions of lesser known Indians such as the few names mentioned in the title of this article: P. Balu , M. Krishnan , Madeline Slade and Sardar Tarlok Singh. It is these stories, which throw light on sparkling episodes and important contributions from the lives of a wide range of (not necessarily very famous) Indians that make Dr. Guhas repertoire so special Another important realization for me was about the critical importance of stories I realized that anyone who wants to do any kind of work with other people must be able to identify and tell stories that bring out the key messages and inspire people. It will be really wonderful to have many more scholar storytellers such as Dr. Guha, who can make their fields extremely accessible and interesting for average readers. In conclusion, I am deeply grateful to Dr. Guha for making history personally significant, for reinforcing my beliefs about what is best about our country and for giving me a much deeper and richer understanding of what it truly means to be an Indian.


Shailesh Deshpande ( )