/Biography

Biography presents word-portraits of a range of fascinating or forgotten individuals in India and beyond.

A Man to Match His Mountains


from the Introduction to The Chipko Movement by Shekhar Pathak

I first came across Shekhar Pathak’s name in the files of the Uttar Pradesh State Archives in Lucknow. The year was 1983, and I was working on a dissertation on the social history of forests in the Uttarakhand Himalaya. In those days the U.P. State Archives were well run; the files one ordered came to one’s [...]

Making Indian Cities Habitable – The Legacy of Patrick Geddes


India Forum

‘India lives in her villages’, said Mahatma Gandhi, and that maxim of his has been resolutely followed by Indian environmentalists. From celebrated popular struggles like the Chipko Andolan and the Narmada Bachao Andolan to quieter, more low-key work in rehabilitating village tanks and pastures, the environmental movement in India has been substantially focused on the countryside. [...]

Lessons in Leadership from Satish Dhawan


The Telegraph

The late A. P. J. Abdul Kalam liked to tell stories with morals. A story he was particularly fond of related to the launch of a satellite by the Indian Space Research Organization in July 1979. Kalam was in charge of the project at ISRO; and when some members expressed reservations about its readiness he overruled [...]

Two Exemplary Twentieth Century Lives


The Telegraph

The 19th century Italian writer Emilio Salgari once remarked that ‘reading is travelling without the bother of baggage’. That is great advice, particularly in the time of COVID-19. Now that one is forcibly home-bound, works of literature and of scholarship can help transport one to different countries, different times. They can stimulate the mind, and uplift [...]

History Against Sectarianism


The Telegraph

In December 1947, the annual Indian History Congress was held in Bombay. The President-elect that year was Professor Mohammad Habib of the Aligarh Muslim University, a historian of early medieval India, known especially for his studies of the Delhi Sultanate. From the late 1930s, many students and faculty at AMU had been active supporters of M. [...]

The Cities That Shaped Gandhi


The Cities That Gandhi Shaped

Mahatma Gandhi famously claimed that ‘India lives in her villages’. The focus of his political and social work, and his philosophical writings, was that India was essentially an agrarian civilization, and that it must remain that way. In fact, India had always lived in her towns too. Our epics spoke of the fabled cities of Ayodhya [...]

Searching For Gandhi


Hindustan Times

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG) run to one hundred volumes. Many years before I read these volumes, one by one, their Chief Editor, Professor K. Swaminathan, had satirised scholars like myself in verse: ‘Hundred hefty haystacks Cluttering up the landscape Hold within their entrails hidden Half a dozen needles. Researchers of the future With [...]

A Jewel of Bengaluru And India


Hindustan Times

Once, when some of his fellow Hindus were glorifying the practice of sati, Mahatma Gandhi remarked that ‘self-immolation at the death of the husband is not a sign of enlightenment but of gross ignorance’. If she truly loved her deceased husband, said Gandhi, the wife would not commit sati but dedicate her life to the fulfilment [...]

By |2019-05-06T14:34:47+00:00July 29th, 2018|Categories: Biography, Culture|

Three Things Karl Marx Got Mostly Right


Hindustan Times

In the course of doing two degrees in economics I was taught to regard Karl Marx as, in the words of the Nobel Laureate Paul Samuelson, a ‘minor post-Ricardian’. His labour theory of value was rejected by my teachers; and his predictions about the immiserization of the proletariat and the imminent death of capitalism appeared [...]

The Struggles Of A Muslim Modernizer


The Telegraph

In different but complementary ways, the debate on triple talaq, and the debate on cow slaughter, both demonstrate the medievalist mindset of modern India. Why, when even the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has abolished the pernicious practice of triple talaq, has India not done so? Largely because the leadership of Indian Muslims is in the hands [...]