I was reading ‘Argumentative Indian’ by Noble Laureate Amartya Sen. It’s a good book and brings new perspectives to Indian history. I really like his theories and interpretations of our history- that we are tolerant, that we are able to imbibe democracy and promote diversity because we have this ‘argumentative’ streak in us.
I have only one problem though – that Amartya Sen is Bengali. In my experience, a Bengali looks at every thing from a ‘Bengali Prism’. To him/her everything gets distorted to give a Bengali twist. They believe that the God is Bengali.
In this book, he quotes and refers to Rabindranath Tagore profusely, almost every other page – to the point of causing nausea to the reader. Whom would you quote when talking about tolerance, working for gender equality, bringing lower caste into manifold, preaching peace, etc? One has many examples in the contemporary Indian history- notable being Mahatma Gandhi. But for Amartya Sen it’s only Rabindranath Tagore and no one else. We all agree that Tagore was a great poet and author of notable works, a strong proponent of peace, and visionary who conveyed it through his words. On the other hand, Mahatma Gandhi was an activist, the person who actually put in action many of the principles and ideals that Rabindranath Tagore preached. When Sen wanted to give examples on how
He might as well have named the book “Argumentative Bengali” because all the examples he quotes are Bengalis as if there is no other Indian who could set an example for him. Ghosh, and other Bengali authors feature incessantly in his book as if the whole Indian history was constructed, influenced and delivered by Bengalis. How about I compile an Indian history where the only characters and examples are that of a Tamil King and Tamil Author and no one else?
My annoyance peaked when I saw a quote from another Bengali writer to illustrate why the nuclear bomb is bad. While talking of ill-effects of atom bomb, I would expect one to describe Hiroshima/Nagasaki or Chernobyl or may be radiation effects on Bikini Islands, but definitely not Arundhati Roy’s poetic description where rivers dry up, and how sun dances on earth. I have one message to all Bengali writers- “Come on, get out of your self-delusional world!” Times have changed. Great men and women come from different parts of
Apart from being a delusional Bengali, Amartya Sen is also a very ‘academic’ writer, which makes it worse. He repeats himself throughout the book. The same examples are quoted in more than one place. It is full of references within the same book like – As I described in the Chapter 1, Section 4, this will be discussed in Chapter 7, Paragraph 2, etc, as if it were some IEEE transaction or an academic publication. He doesn’t have many facts to corroborate his story either. His conclusion that Sanskrit has influenced Chinese languages is supported with one and only one example which is repeated again and again- that the word 'Mandarin' in Chinese is actually ‘Mantri’ in Sanskrit. Quoting one example to construct a theory does not make sense. One has to talk about more examples involving influence of syntax, grammar, and semantics, to say that these two languages have a relationship.
In summary, he makes an excellent point in the first chapter and describes all the examples in there. Rest of the book contains the same message repeated in many roundabout ways without giving any new insights. According to me, one could read just the first chapter and get the whole story in entirety. You may not want to read further unless you are a Bengali. :)