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

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A Life of Commitment and Inquiry

An old friend and intellectual companion writes on the many “sides” of Javeed Alam’s (1943–2016) character and academic work and the questions he explored over a lifetime, especially the philosophical issues around Marxism which were closest to his heart.

Javeed Alam died on 5 December. His death will be widely lamented. He was an activist of strong will and organisational skill. He was a political scientist of philosophical temperament and humane instinct. He was honourably and unwaveringly committed to communist politics in India, while increasingly of open mind, an undismissive interlocutor even with those who disagreed with him. As a result, his own work became more varied and subtle over the years. He was the sweetest of men. It is reported that someone in Samuel Johnson’s circle of acquaintances said that he had “wanted to be a philosopher, like the good Doctor himself, but cheerfulness kept breaking in.” Somehow, Javeed never let the fact that he was a philosopher “break in” and undermine his cheerfulness. He was a person of directness and, so far as I could see, without any hostility. There was never a hint of class or intellectual condescension. He had a contagiously warm gift for lively engagement with both people and ideas that fetched him, throughout his life, the companionship of many loving friends. I feel privileged to have been among them.

He was the son of distinguished Hyderabadi parents, an activist mother and a father who was a prominent philosopher. He grew up in the company of siblings who, like him and his parents, were admirably formed from an early age towards political conviction in the service of the common good. Ever since I met him and them, I have envied him this upbringing.

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