/Biography

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

The Mahatma’s Words


The Telegraph

One of the most remarkable individuals I have known was K. Swaminathan, a professor of literature from Madras who went on to become Chief Editor of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. Swaminathan was born in the town of Pudukkotai on 3rd December 1896. When his centenary was observed in 1996, I wrote a biographical profile [...]

For a Free Press: The Legacy of B G Horniman


The Telegraph

When, in 1995, Bombay was renamed Mumbai, it led to a spurt of such renamings of buildings, streets, parks, and railway stations in the city. However, a few dead foreigners were spared the fate of being consigned to the dustbin of history. Among them were Annie Besant, after whom a major thoroughfare in central Mumbai is [...]

The Sardar of the Kisans


The Telegraph

In 1931, the annual meeting of the Indian National Congress was held in the port city of Karachi. Vallabhbhai Patel was elected President. Early in his address, Patel remarked: ‘You have called a simple farmer to the highest office to which any Indian can aspire. I am conscious that your choice of me as first servant [...]

The Exemplary Indian


The Telegraph

Perhaps because my own life has largely been devoted to the pursuit of personal success, I have always felt a guilty veneration for those who live for others. The public servant I most admired died on Sunday the 5th of September, aged sixty-six. In these times this may seem too early to go (particularly as he [...]

The Greatest Gandhian


The Telegraph

Like all other Indians, I grew up thinking of 15th August as the day when, back in 1947, the first Government of independent India was sworn into office. However, in recent years the day has acquired for me another meaning, not unrelated to the first. In my consciousness, 15th August 1947 has been joined by 15th [...]

By |2021-10-31T21:06:02+05:30August 14th, 2021|Categories: History, Biography|Tags: , , , , |

The Bookseller of Bangalore


Scroll.in

Shortly before T. S. Shanbhag shuttered his Premier Bookshop in 2009, Asha Ghosh and Kathleen Dargis made a short film about him (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLxYuoWKhA0). The film was dedicated to the photographer Raghav Shreyas, who died tragically young, and was a habitué of the store. It features, among other things, a lovely cameo of the owner of Premier [...]

Where the Hard Right Meets the Hard Left


The Telegraph

I have been reading the memoirs of Dora Russell, a pioneering British feminist and educationist. These were published in three volumes, of which I have just finished the first. This covers her upbringing in Edwardian England, her education at Cambridge, the development of her views on gender equality, an experimental school she established, and the years [...]

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 [...]