The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity

Amartya Sen

Language: English

Pages: 409

ISBN: 031242602X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In sixteen linked essays, Nobel Prize--winning economist Amartya Sen discusses India's intellectual and political heritage and how its argumentative tradition is vital for the success of its democracy and secular politics. The Argumentative Indian is "a bracing sweep through aspects of Indian history and culture, and a tempered analysis of the highly charged disputes surrounding these subjects--the nature of Hindu traditions, Indian identity, the country's huge social and economic disparities, and its current place in the world" (Sunil Khilnani, Financial Times, U.K.).

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cant parts of the Upani�ads, the ancient Hindu scriptures, and com­ pared them - not unfavourably - with the Koran. It is this translation, which Dara did with the assistance of Hindu pundits, that gave many people in West Asia and Europe their first glimpse of Hindu philoso­ phy.:j: To take Aurangzeb as the 'typical' Moghal monarch, or as the quintessential Muslim ruler of India, would be an extremely strange historical j udgement, aside from the fact that the proposal for match­ ing the

through placing one's tongue on the upper palate) . Retroflex consonants i n the so-called 't group' have been shown with a dot below, such as t, th, c;l, c;lh and 1}, in contrast with dental t, th, d, dh and n, which are unencumbered. That distinction, which is not captured well in English but is quite critical in Sanskrit, can be illustrated with the difference between the retroflex t in tiny and the Italian-inspired dental t in pasta. The unaspirated ch as in China in English is shown, in line

Byron's poetry and above all . . . the large­ hearted liberalism of nineteenth-century English politics' . The tragedy, as Tagore sawit, came from the fact that what 'was truly best in their own civilization, the upholding of dignity of human relation­ ships, has no place in the British administration of this country. ' 'If in its place they have established, baton in hand, a reign of " law and order" , or in other words a policeman's rule, such a mockery of civilization can claim no respect from

(this has been so from Apollonius of Tyana down to the Hare Krishna activists of today) . The result of the two taken together is to wrest the understanding of Indian culture forcefully away from its rationalist aspects. Indian traditions in math­ ematics, logic, science, medicine, linguistics or epistemology may be well known to the Western specialist, but they play little part in the general Western understanding of India.32 Mysticism and exoticism, in contrast, have a more hallowed position in

factor that influences this interpretational bias. There is an odd dichotomy in the way in which Western and non­ Western ideas and scholarship are currently comprehended, with a tendency to attribute a predominant role to religiosity in interpreting the works of non-Western intellectuals who had secular interests along with strong religious beliefs. It is, for example, not assumed that, say, Isaac Newton's scientific work must be understood in primarily Christian terms (even though he did have

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