‘Mystic River’

‘Mystic River’, a review by Tariq Ali of Amartya Sen’s The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity for The Nation, November 17, 2005

The sage of Bengal has pronounced. Pluralism, we are informed, has an ancient pedigree in Indian history. It is embedded in the oldest known texts of Hinduism and, like a river, has flowed through Indian history (including the Mughal period, when the country was under Muslim rule) till the arrival of the British in the eighteenth century. It is this cultural heritage, ignored and misinterpreted by colonialists and religious fanatics alike, that shapes Indian culture and goes a long way toward explaining the attachment of all social classes to modern democracy. The argumentative tradition “has helped to make heterodoxy the natural state of affairs in India,” exerting a profound influence on the country’s politics, democracy and “the emergence of its secular priorities.” This view informs most of the thought-provoking essays in Amartya Sen’s new book, a set of reflections on India written in a very different register from his other books on moral philosophy and poverty. It is designed not so much for the academy but as a public intervention in the country of his birth, to which he remains firmly attached despite the Nobel Prize and his latest posting at Harvard as a Boston Brahman. read more

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