ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Close Encounters

An Anthropologist among the Marxist and Other Essays; by Ramachandra Guha, Permanent Black, Delhi, 2001; Rs 450, pp 267.

Conventional wisdom has it that Indians make bad biographers/autobiographers. Of course, each of us has our list of exceptions, with Gandhi and Nehru claiming top place in most countings. Guha himself, at the launch of this book of essays in Delhi, singled out S Gopal’s biography of his father, not the three volume work on Nehru – a judgment that civil servant C S Venkatachar, whose comments on India’s first premier Guha cites with approval, concurs with. He was, of course, uncharacteristically modest in not mentioning his own work on Verrier Elwin.

Arguments about favourites apart (and this reviewer has his own in Vishnu Prabhakar’s biography of Sharat Chandra in Hindi – Aawara Messiah), I suspect there would not be many takers for Ram Guha’s hypothesis: ‘Does this, I wonder, have something to do with our dominant religion? The historian David Cannadine has written that biography is “the only certain form of life after death”. Perhaps in Britain; but hardly so in a land where minutes after the heart stops beating the soul transmigrates to another life form. Why pay tributes to a dead man if he has already been reborn?

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