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

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M S S Pandian and His Critical Pen

How does one speak about a figure who has in equal measure been lionised, vilified, celebrated, denigrated, by all those whom he wished to influence, convert, contest, teach or quite simply annoy? How, except by admitting that he succeeded in doing all of the above. He was an agent provocateur, the high priest of iconoclasm, a scholar who inconveniently turned up at quite a different place from where you expected him: now a Marxist, then a critic of Marxism; a diehard Tamil nationalist, but taking a principled stand against Indian nationalism; an avowed rationalist, yet an advocate of nuanced readings of religion.

There were few people – writing in particular on Tamil Nadu or on caste – who escaped his acerbic comment or his savage pen. It was far too rare a kind of intellection, a passionate attachment to certain political goals without lapsing into sloganeering. At a time when many are moving, as if mesmerised, towards the strong man who is offering us a solution to all our problems, and public intellectuals are increasingly revealing what Edward Said called a “fawning elasticity with regard to one’s own side”, M S S Pandian’s death has been an irreparable loss for the Indian academy in particular and public intellection more generally.

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