Hot Best Seller

The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity

Availability: Ready to download

In sixteen linked essays, Nobel Prize--winning economist Amartya Sen discusses India's intellectual and political heritage and how its argumentative tradition is vital for the success of its democracy and secular politics. The Argumentative Indian is "a bracing sweep through aspects of Indian history and culture, and a tempered analysis of the highly charged disputes surro In sixteen linked essays, Nobel Prize--winning economist Amartya Sen discusses India's intellectual and political heritage and how its argumentative tradition is vital for the success of its democracy and secular politics. The Argumentative Indian is "a bracing sweep through aspects of Indian history and culture, and a tempered analysis of the highly charged disputes surrounding these subjects--the nature of Hindu traditions, Indian identity, the country's huge social and economic disparities, and its current place in the world" (Sunil Khilnani, Financial Times, U.K.).


Compare

In sixteen linked essays, Nobel Prize--winning economist Amartya Sen discusses India's intellectual and political heritage and how its argumentative tradition is vital for the success of its democracy and secular politics. The Argumentative Indian is "a bracing sweep through aspects of Indian history and culture, and a tempered analysis of the highly charged disputes surro In sixteen linked essays, Nobel Prize--winning economist Amartya Sen discusses India's intellectual and political heritage and how its argumentative tradition is vital for the success of its democracy and secular politics. The Argumentative Indian is "a bracing sweep through aspects of Indian history and culture, and a tempered analysis of the highly charged disputes surrounding these subjects--the nature of Hindu traditions, Indian identity, the country's huge social and economic disparities, and its current place in the world" (Sunil Khilnani, Financial Times, U.K.).

30 review for The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity

  1. 4 out of 5

    David Sasaki

    After all my dramatic agony and breathless complaining, I am glad I endured. The Argumentative Indian is neither easy nor fun to read. The first three pages of every chapter and sub-chapter are essentially wordy justifications of why the topic is deserving of discussion in the first place. Throughout the book I was constantly thinking, Amartya, homeboy, stop talking about what you're going to talk about and just get to it. Sen himself is quite the argumentative Indian and sometimes the book reads After all my dramatic agony and breathless complaining, I am glad I endured. The Argumentative Indian is neither easy nor fun to read. The first three pages of every chapter and sub-chapter are essentially wordy justifications of why the topic is deserving of discussion in the first place. Throughout the book I was constantly thinking, Amartya, homeboy, stop talking about what you're going to talk about and just get to it. Sen himself is quite the argumentative Indian and sometimes the book reads as if you walked in on a one man debate competition in which Sen, the convincing devil's advocate, faces off with Sen, the impassioned and patient defender of peace and tolerance. Whichever literary framework you prefer, it must be said that Professor Sen is not an effortless writer. Cautious yes (footnotes, endnotes, and asterisks are abundant), but often at the expense of clarity. Despite all of this, The Argumentative Indian is a book I recommend to everyone with an interest not just in India, but also the slippery relationship between cultural uniqueness and so-called universal values. The book is a collection of wide-ranging essays - most of which were previously published elsewhere - that are difficult to encapsulate in a single thesis, but maybe it would be something along these lines: Just how Western are so-called Western values? Democracy, individual liberty, multi-cultural tolerance, secularism, reasoned debate. Are these values unique to Western culture or have they been excluded from shallow historical readings of other civilizations. Like India, for example. Sen is critical of two interpretations of modern India - internal separatism and global isolation. India is often portrayed as a mishmash of separate religions, languages, ethnicities, and castes which are only loosely held together by the legacy of European colonialism. He rejects that claim completely and spends much of the book reviewing the history of two major Indian leaders - Ashoka and Akbar - as examples of India's pre-colonial embrace of pluralism and multiculturalism. Sen is equally critical of those who try to promote a sense of Indian national identity by rejecting any economic, social, or intellectual engagement with the West. In fact, he keenly observes that most anti-Western thought in India is, in fact, rooted in European intellectual circles. It was the first essay - responsible for the name of the book - that I found most interesting. Why has India become such a strong democracy (the one blemish to India's post-colonial democracy was Indira Ghandi's "Emergency" which was strongly rejected by Indian voters) compared to most other British colonies-turned-nation-states? Sen seemingly argues that India was democractic before it was ever a democracy. That is, India despite it's endless history of being invaded by foreign powers, has always embraced skepticism, reasoned public debate, and multicultural tolerance - all of which are key ingredients of modern democracy. It is his idea of "democracy as public reasoning" that intrigued me the most because that is one of my main arguments for why I go around passionately promoting participatory media. I'm a sucker for the idea that the more we discuss and debate - and especially the more we listen - the more tolerant and empathetic we become. Sometimes I worry that in aggressively promoting discussion, I am promoting a particularly Western way of interacting with the world around us. Amartya Sen doesn't seem to think so. Discussion, he argues, is as universal as love.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Partha

    Amartya Sen is a renowned Economist and a Noble Laureate, he is not much of a historian and this book stands testimony to that. The comments on the back of the book claim a lot about this being the best account of Indian history that must be read by every Indian. I beg to disagree. I strongly feel that Dr.Sen should focus on Economics and leave history to historians. The book is supposed to be a collection of essays on Indian culture, History and Identity. However there is a lot of repetition in a Amartya Sen is a renowned Economist and a Noble Laureate, he is not much of a historian and this book stands testimony to that. The comments on the back of the book claim a lot about this being the best account of Indian history that must be read by every Indian. I beg to disagree. I strongly feel that Dr.Sen should focus on Economics and leave history to historians. The book is supposed to be a collection of essays on Indian culture, History and Identity. However there is a lot of repetition in all the essays and what stands stark clear is Dr.Sen’s limited knowledge of Indian History. All the essays revolve around one or all of the below points though the titles are different: The Bhagavad Gita as an argument between Krishna and Arjuna in the Mahabharatha Javali’s argument with Rama quoted in Ramayana Akbar’s forming Din Illahi as a combination of religions Dr.Sen’s strong views against the BJP There is a lot more to Indian History than just this. It so happens that I have read Jawaharlal Nehru’s “The Discovery of India” which is also a book on Indian culture, History and Identity. My view is that Nehru’s knowledge of Indian history was much more broader and his thoughts and views on India and the passion he had for his motherland are brought out much better in his book. I am not sure if you have read it but “The Discovery of India” is definitely the best account of Indian History from one of her greatest citizens. As one reads the book , one can picturise Nehru sitting in Ahmednagar fort thinking about India, with pride while narrating her glorious past, with pity while narrating her then state (prior to Independence) and with determination and hope about her future. One can empathise with a great leader who was far ahead of his generation, whose thoughts are pertinent today. Nehru takes you through Indian history like a friend. If you have not read Nehru’s book it is high time you read it. Coming back to “The Argumentative Indian”, the book gives you limited views of Indian History and its argumentative tradition from an Economist who studied in Oxford. Let me leave you by telling two good things about the book. The first thing is the book gives you some insight into Rabindranath Tagore’s life and how his thoughts differed from those of Mahatma Gandhi, thanks to Dr.Sen’s days in “The Shatiniketan” early on in his life. I haven’t read much about Tagore so far and I found the essay on Tagore to be good. The other thing I liked in Sen’s book was a reference to this interesting quote from Ram Mohun Roy which I had never come across before. “Just consider how terrible the day of your death will be. Others will go on speaking, and you will not be able to argue back.” Anyone out there, who has read one or both of these books, what do you think? I will be more than happy to take the argument further :-)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Saadia B. || CritiConscience

    The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen is a book which talks about public reasoning and how it is closely linked to the roots of democracy. The book comprises of 16 essays written on various themes over a period of time and then compiled together as this book. India, the largest democracy in the world, is being criticised for the on-going Hindutva movement which threatens the acceptance of non-Hindus, particularly Muslims. The BJP’s powerful role in the mainstream Indian politics have further s The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen is a book which talks about public reasoning and how it is closely linked to the roots of democracy. The book comprises of 16 essays written on various themes over a period of time and then compiled together as this book. India, the largest democracy in the world, is being criticised for the on-going Hindutva movement which threatens the acceptance of non-Hindus, particularly Muslims. The BJP’s powerful role in the mainstream Indian politics have further strengthened the movement, leading to Gujarat Riots and other incidents where Muslims were solely targeted for their practices and faith. Living in harmony since centuries the current upheaval challenges the acceptance of other communities in India. Further giving West a chance to discriminate against the developing countries on the basis of their dominant religion. Whereas the developed countries are not known by their religion but through their work, culture and ethics. This dire change in perception leads to deception as the majority religion is given much more priority than the minorities, which in recent times seem to become the reality of today's India especially after the CAA/NRC legislation. Though the essays are not linked with one another, but overall help in understanding the division between religion and universal values, which are viewed differently and are categorized as per the notion of being a Western or a Non-Western country. Blog | YouTube | Instagram | Facebook | LinkedIn

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nandakishore Mridula

    I started this book with great hopes. Dr. Amartya Sen was about to say something about our tradition, and what he wanted to say seemed to concur exactly with what I have understood, namely: Indian culture is a varied one, and cannot be limited to the single dimension that the right wingers are currently trying to limit it to. We have an argumentative tradition, where all facets of an issue are given equal importance, and arguments (both for and against) are given commensurate weightage. Fine! Al I started this book with great hopes. Dr. Amartya Sen was about to say something about our tradition, and what he wanted to say seemed to concur exactly with what I have understood, namely: Indian culture is a varied one, and cannot be limited to the single dimension that the right wingers are currently trying to limit it to. We have an argumentative tradition, where all facets of an issue are given equal importance, and arguments (both for and against) are given commensurate weightage. Fine! All agreed! Let's forge ahead. Well, it was interesting initially, where Arjuna's dialogue with Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita and the sage Javali's criticism of Rama's actions in the epic Ramayana are presented as proof of the essential questioning nature of our culture. Also, the author explains well how ancient India was not all spirituality and there was a lot of reasoning and science - and atheist thought was at least as important as the theist stream. Akbar and his polyglot religion of 'Din Elahi'; Tagore's humanism as opposed to Gandhi's nationalism; and the difficulty to extract an 'indigenous' Indian culture from the curious mixture that we currently have - these are all proof of what an assimilatory society we were: and trying to prune us down to one dimension will definitely diminish us. I agree wholeheartedly with you, Dr. Sen. But... Couldn't you have stopped here? Because the essays in the second part of the book have very little to do with argumentation. Agreed, they are all about valid issues India is facing - but when I reached here, I suddenly had the impression of watching a movie whose second half had no connection with the first. Mind you, as standalone efforts, the essays are good. The only thing is that they don't feed into the main premise. Also, most of the essays were rather repetitive and rambling. I guess it's a problem with all collections unless there has been a rigorous effort at editing, which does not seem to have happened here. I must say with regret that I didn't finish it - left it at three-quarters of the way through. I might pick it up at a later date, but at present, I have had my fill. In my opinion, this book should have been named "The Rambling Indian".

  5. 4 out of 5

    Aydin Mohseni

    I read this book in preparation for a coming trip to India, along with "English August", and English translations of the "Bhagavad Gita" and "Ramayana". It was, simply put, an articulate promotion for the value of the history of acceptance of heterogeny in India as part of the author's larger ideological framework and as a pointed criticism of the contemporary Hindutva movement, with beautiful threads of Indian history and culture woven in throughout. The book got me wanting both to learn more ab I read this book in preparation for a coming trip to India, along with "English August", and English translations of the "Bhagavad Gita" and "Ramayana". It was, simply put, an articulate promotion for the value of the history of acceptance of heterogeny in India as part of the author's larger ideological framework and as a pointed criticism of the contemporary Hindutva movement, with beautiful threads of Indian history and culture woven in throughout. The book got me wanting both to learn more about the traditions of atheist and agnostic thought in Sanskrit literature and to get my hands of some good texts on Rabindranath Tagore, Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, and the Indian emperor Ashoka who seemed like three possibly very interesting people.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Himanshu Mishra

    There is an old adage that a specialist is someone who knows more and more about less and less, until finally, he knows everything about nothing. I found this statement to apply to Mr. Amartya Sen perfectly. Let me confess that this is the only book by Mr. Sen I have had the opportunity of reading. And I have to say - the experience was disappointing. What I had hoped to be an informative, well-researched account of Indian philosophies and schools of thought turned out to be an amateur interpret There is an old adage that a specialist is someone who knows more and more about less and less, until finally, he knows everything about nothing. I found this statement to apply to Mr. Amartya Sen perfectly. Let me confess that this is the only book by Mr. Sen I have had the opportunity of reading. And I have to say - the experience was disappointing. What I had hoped to be an informative, well-researched account of Indian philosophies and schools of thought turned out to be an amateur interpretation of the Indian culture as perceived by the author. Mr. Sen needs to be reminded that India is much more than Javali, Ashoka, Akbar, Tagore, Gandhi, and the BJP. Over the course of reading this book, sometimes I couldn't help but feel suffocated by his views (which were rather one dimensional in more than one instance). Also, his extreme anti-right stand was much too obvious. Ever heard of 'show, don't tell' Mr. Sen ... To be fair, some parts of the book were really interesting (e.g. the sections dealing with the ideological standpoints of Gandhi and Tagore). But alas, the book is long, repetitive and well ... narrow in its scope. Mr. Sen might be an outstanding economist but he is a mediocre historian at best.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Anshul Thakur

    My ending note should be written first. If you like reading such books, not for the sake of reading it, but for trying to develop a view, for understanding, don’t read this book without the company of a pen and a notebook to take notes. I made that mistake and realized that I should have done this when I started... It seems, we not only fight with each other, but think of foreigners with disdain. This was closely observed by Alberuni, the great Iranian scholar back in his days “depreciation of fo My ending note should be written first. If you like reading such books, not for the sake of reading it, but for trying to develop a view, for understanding, don’t read this book without the company of a pen and a notebook to take notes. I made that mistake and realized that I should have done this when I started... It seems, we not only fight with each other, but think of foreigners with disdain. This was closely observed by Alberuni, the great Iranian scholar back in his days “depreciation of foreigners not only prevails among us and the Indians, but is common to all nations towards each other.” There is little solace that we are not alone (as James Mill depreciated Indian civilization has ‘deserving to be ruled over by higher men’, Englishmen, without visiting India or reading a single text from India) but how sad it is that things haven’t changed much since the time of Alberuni... Sen takes a rather negative viewpoint on the Indian Nuclear Programme. While, he makes many valid arguments, like one of the reasons for the Pokhran-II was to deter Pakistan from cross border terrorism by providing an ample threat, others being an opportunity to have permanent membership in the UN Security Council etc. While this clearly back fired because Pakistan did manage to develop Nuclear Weapons and at the same time refused to accept the ‘No-First Use’ doctrine thereby becoming a bigger threat to Indian borders. Chances are that the effects of this armament culminated in Kargil where Indian forces suffered huge losses because they had to climb the mountains from the front. They could (a possibility) have crossed the LOC and surrounded the militants if there were no nuclear threat from Pakistan. He is also of the opinion that a large proportion of the Indian community wasn’t happy with this nuclear demonstration. It is a tough choice to make here, because a race to armament is a treacherous path that isn’t easy to justify. But if we rewind a little and ask why did America make one in the first place to set off this race? They did it because Germany was allegedly building one (as I heard Richard Feynman saying that it was the reason given to him by others who asked him to join that programme). It was developed by scientists with a conviction that it will be used as a bug bear and will never be used in actual. But it was used. Feynman later admitted that it shouldn’t have been built in the first place. Second, why should the countries with Nuclear weapons champion the cause of nuclear disarmament of others countries while doing nothing about their own nuclear stockpile? (I think this counter argument was mentioned but not given much weightage by Sen) Read the entire review at Aesthetic Blasphemy And do let me know what you think :)

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jerry Jose

    “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This often debated and allegedly misattributed quote says a great deal about modern schools of free speech and tolerance. In this collection of essays, Nobel winning Economist Amartya Sen celebrates the long history of argumentative tradition in Indian subcontinent, and its contemporary relevance in often neglected modern cultural discussions. And of all the things one could worry about or contemplate on, in this “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This often debated and allegedly misattributed quote says a great deal about modern schools of free speech and tolerance. In this collection of essays, Nobel winning Economist Amartya Sen celebrates the long history of argumentative tradition in Indian subcontinent, and its contemporary relevance in often neglected modern cultural discussions. And of all the things one could worry about or contemplate on, in this book, I found myself disturbed over a single simple recurring detail- American spelling of the word ‘arguement’. Paraphrasing Sen himself, a defeated argument that refuses to be obliterated can remain very alive; and opening of the book is a research into the mentation of univocal messages of century old epics and history, by broader argumentative wisdom. Independent India became the first country in the non-Western world to choose a resolutely democratic constitution, though drawing heavily on what it had learned from institutional experiences in Europe and America, a great deal was drawn from its own tradition of public arguments and intellectual heterodoxy. This according to Sen has kept democracy and coexistence of different political ideologies in check, unlike many other countries where democracy has intermittently made cameo appearances. The essay narrative is not trying to impart some sort of uniqueness in Indian history or to side-line democracy as a Western gift, but argues that the it becomes easier to impart and preserve democratic principles where traditions of public discussions exists, West and East alike. Sen then looks back into this tradition in ancient India, from, ‘Buddhist councils’ of Asoka in 3rd century BCE to Akbar’s 14th century ‘pursuit of reason’ and other royal sponsorships for practice of public reasoning. This historical analysis then goes into an unavoidable cliché that every book on India tends to overdo, celebration of subcontinent’s secularism- like how it has been home for Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Zorastrians, Bahas etc, inter cultural art, literature and music, traditions of Bhakti and Sufi, yada yada yada (no disrespect intended, just casual irritation out of repetition). The epistemological departure from orthodoxy via cosmopolitan nature of societies, provided a catholicity of approach in cultivation of observational science, allowing an interactive openness to Indian work involving both give and take, Sen argues. Though Indian texts majorly involve elaborate religious expositions, there are protracted defences in agnostic or atheistic writings as well. I absolutely adored and enjoyed author’s take on works by Aryabhatta and others in Astronomy and Mathematics, through writings of Iranian astronomer Alberuni and outsiders of the like, thus acknowledging global interactions as opposed to the extreme nationalistic view of indigenous sufficiency. The statistical argument of seeing India as a preeminent Hindu country (colonial narrative), according to author is a conceptual confusion, for our religion is not our only identity, nor necessarily the identity to which we attach the greatest importance. History of India, like every other part of world, does contain nightmarish elements, but it also involves people of dissimilar convictions coexisting peacefully in creative activities of literature, music, painting, jurisprudence etc. Sen argues, with much conviction, that India’s past is important for an adequate understanding of the capacious idea of India. Amartya Sen illustrates the argumentative tradition in modern day using Gandhi and Tagore, who had a relationship of great respect for each other while sharing completely contradicting viewpoints towards nationalism, education, economy and many more. Author greatly discusses Tagore and ‘sovereignty of reasoning’ in a very delightful manner, and further compliments the same with later discussions on India’s aggregation of heterogeneity, using something this reader least expected- films of Satyajit Ray. In lines with Said’s ‘Orientalism’, Sen classifies Occident approaches for understanding the Orient, especially India, into three distinct categories - exoticist(not exorcist), magisterial and curatorial. Greater chunk is the romantic narrative of first category, whose major focus is on the wondrous and strange aspects of the country. The ‘magisterial’ approach assimilates a sense of superiority and guardian-hood to its narrative, and wants to view the country as ‘a great scene of British action’. The third category, Sen argues to be relatively free of preconceptions, as it doesn’t rely on the exhibit value (exoticist) nor is weighted down by ruler’s priorities. And immediate response to ‘exotic’ admiration is the tendency of Indian writers to exaggerate the non-material and arcane aspects (spiritual), often disregarding the more rationalistic and analytic elements (material), thus selectively alienating India from a very substantial part of its past. What follows then is a survey on Indian economics in retrospection with Nehru’s ‘tryst with destiny’ as he criticizes the common eagerness to credit the coercive and brutal measures of China over democratic human development. The essay that follows (India and the Bomb) discusses geopolitics of India and its relationship between China and Pakistan in relation with existing Nuclear Policy. Though it stands alone, the essay makes much sense if read along with Gosh’s Countdown or Roy’s The End of Imagination, as the lack of background might make it a little difficult to follow. Much of Sen’s discussions on reasoning as a strong source of hope and confidence went over my head like an early morning lecture, thanks to the high philosophies by intellectuals whose name I am bound to mispronounce. Common notion is to attribute the origin of values like ‘liberty’ and ‘autonomy’ with West and that of ‘discipline’ and ‘order’ with East. There is often a dialectic of conferring identity by contrast, which though ideally should not, may sometime have a dampening effect on assimilation of values elsewhere than its area of confinement. Sen tries to break this culture specific aspect using historic examples from Asia and Africa. The final essays are more of an effort to understand the unique nature of ‘Secularism’ in India, with the arguments that are against it. The concluding remarks in this book celebrates the basic idea of plurality in modern India, and ends with the complex subject of one’s identity, which often calls for ‘homogenization to hegemonize’. Identity is quintessentially a plural concept in India, If I may quote Sen himself, ‘While we cannot live without history, we need not live within it either’. Unlike contemporary books on India, which takes the matter casually, Sen’s writing is a bit high on the scholarly side with passing references and detailed footnotes. And I believe, this research is the fundamental difference between his optimistic take and Naipaul’s pessimistic vision of India, former looking the past for enlightenment and learning, while latter seeing it as a source and excuse for present to blame on. Also the essays in this compilation seem to have been formed over different time, occasions and narrative intentions, thus making some core substances slightly repetitive. I would like to enhance the opening quote of this review with another stolen one as an end note, one undisputed this time, by 19th century Bengali reformist Ram Mohan Roy. “just consider how terrible the day of your death will be. Others will go on speaking, and you will not be able to argue back.”

  9. 4 out of 5

    Siddharth Nishar

    This book sets out to defend the secular, plural and liberal imperative against sectarian (mostly Hindutva) arguments based in history and specious reasoning. This is also the perfect example of the kind of book to not write. One, the content is limited to a very few arguments arrived at from various considerations but not examined from various perspectives. Examples of Ashoka and Akhbar contributing to the secular tradition, Buddhism spreading far and wide, global import and export of ideas, the This book sets out to defend the secular, plural and liberal imperative against sectarian (mostly Hindutva) arguments based in history and specious reasoning. This is also the perfect example of the kind of book to not write. One, the content is limited to a very few arguments arrived at from various considerations but not examined from various perspectives. Examples of Ashoka and Akhbar contributing to the secular tradition, Buddhism spreading far and wide, global import and export of ideas, the diversity in calendars affiliated with religions, a pre-colonial Indian identity and differences in religion for personal life versus politics comprise about 80% of this book. Two, there are close to no statistics supporting most arguments except the essay on the two sexes (I suspect those were easier to procure). This makes the book more or less a highly subjective take on what is already a very subjective topic. The book reads like a polemical defense from well-known positions rather than a treatise that confirms those positions. Three, the treatment of the topic is superficial. Even when it comes to subjective analyses, issues aren't delved into and obvious positions are stated with no original inductions or deductions. A few examples are repeated frequently. People have been quoted repeatedly for stating the same position, as if endorsements from historical figures confirm anything. Given that the average reader supports secularism and plurality, the book preaches to the choir without offering a finer understanding that can help in any incremental way. Four, the book is perpetually in a state of preparation. Painful amounts of paper describe the biography, environment and reception of the arguments discussed rather than the actual meat of the arguments. It is as if the book works on a higher level of abstraction by mistake. Five, the book almost restarts with every essay. A collection of essays can work but this one just didn't. There is a desperate need to condense the overlapping essays into unique chapters. I suspect that the book could be 70 pages in length without sacrificing on a single idea. Finally, the repetition, run-on sentences and roundabout descriptive tours are obscene if not excruciating. The book commits most of the Orwellian sins. To be fair, I did enjoy the essay on the two sexes (which is perhaps less noteworthy due to the sheer amount of literature on it anyway) as well as the exposition on Tagore that highlighted uncommonly-known opinions. Also, the cover is beautiful! Do not waste you precious reading time on this book. Read any random article on the need for secular tolerance instead.

  10. 4 out of 5

    David Dinaburg

    Time spent browsing message boards, gobbling tweets, combing through comment sections, and parsing truth from exaggerated facebook posts adds up quickly—the simple volume of text probably adds a dozen or more book-lengths to most people’s yearly reading list. That the text is proffered in nugget-sized chunklets is not the only siren song of social networking systems—there is an ever-present promise of interactivity. You can comment, even if you don’t comment. It deftly skirts the dead-text probl Time spent browsing message boards, gobbling tweets, combing through comment sections, and parsing truth from exaggerated facebook posts adds up quickly—the simple volume of text probably adds a dozen or more book-lengths to most people’s yearly reading list. That the text is proffered in nugget-sized chunklets is not the only siren song of social networking systems—there is an ever-present promise of interactivity. You can comment, even if you don’t comment. It deftly skirts the dead-text problem—with which decades of academic textbook assignments conspired to taint the word "non-fiction"—of the incessant droning from a distant, monolithic, voice of tedium that makes sure the reader has just enough information about the subject not to question the shallowness of the information conveyed. It’s not like the articles that populate the internet are story-based fiction; they are editorials, memoires, peer reviews. In other words, all y’all are reading non-fiction already. It is just shallow (and I don’t mean that as a pejorative) like a textbook (it is admittedly hard not to interpret “like a textbook” as insulting). It’s a jumping-off point, one hundred and forty characters that lead to Wikipedia, to a Netflix documentary, to a series of online articles. Eventually you find yourself reading The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity. At least, I think that’s how it’s supposed to work. Otherwise, the internet is simply one big exercise in dilettantism—a lot about a little, but not enough even for ipse se nihil scire id unum sciat. And it is precisely this non-deprecatory superficiality that is the power of the internet; the ability to flutter from one topic to another and link seemingly disparate concepts into a—forgive the anachronism—web of tangled and tenebrous thoughts is the quintessentially human organizational schema: patterns in the stars; meaning from chaos; signals in the noise. Sometimes the links just happen, even in curated-narrative nonfiction. It is in the depths of these thick tomes that you truly feel the divine hand of serendipity as opposed to the tepid coincidence of two articles citing the same source. It makes you learn something; more than that, it makes you remember long past closing the final page. When discussing the cultural drift of Buddhism, The Argumentative Indian referenced something that tripped my kismet alarm: One of the positive contributions Buddhist connections produced in China is the general sense that even the Chinese must, to some extent, look outwards. Indeed, not only did Buddhism suggest that there were sources of wisdom well outside China, but it also led to the tendency of many Chinese intellectuals to go abroad, in particular to India, in search of enlightenment and understanding. Furthermore, since these visitors to India came back with tales of wonderful things they had seen in India, it was difficult to take an entirely Sino-centric view of world civilization. There were also other admirable sites and achievements they could see on the way to India. For example, Xuanzang in the seventh century marvelled at the gigantic Bamiyan statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan, which he saw as he approached India from the West (on the circuitous route he had taken via Khotan). Gigantic Bamiyan statues that were marvelous enough to make the cut for a millennia-old travelogue? Surely those would be worth visiting. And yet, the hunt for lapis lazuli in Color: A Natural History of the Palette—a mere two books prior in my library queue—brought me face-to-face with cruel truth of the Bamiyan Buddhas: And I wondered then, as I sat on the head of the great Buddha of Bamiyan, whether it was in that valley far below us that somebody once, fourteen centuries ago, had sat experimenting with blue powder and brown glue, and had discovered—by adding wood ash perhaps—how to make lapis lazuli into paint. Those Buddhas and frescos were destroyed eleven months later. The Taliban used rockets for two days of bombardment, and allowed their photography rule to be broken, sending out images of bare arches where once there had been two guardians of a forgotten faith. In their week of fame and destruction the statues were seen and discussed by people all round the world: people who had never heard of the Buddhas of Bamiyan were shocked that now they would be unable to see them for themselves. On most levels it was a terrible cultural tragedy. But on one level it was not. Buddhism is a faith that understands impermanence. When else in their long history could these two vast and armless trunks of stone standing in the desert have reminded so many people in so many countries that nothing lasts forever. I didn’t excerpt that during my review of Color because it didn’t factor in overly much in my general interpretation. But the post facto knowledge of their seventh century citation by Chinese tourist Xuanzang—not the mention the coincidence of two references from wildly divergent books—made the whole sequence a bit surreal. I feel as though I now lay some sort of personal claim on the Bamiyan statues. Jumping from link to link and page to page on the internet inures one somewhat to the majesty of the cross-referential existence of a connected universe; convergence in details buried deep within 300-page books is the type of thing that might goad a reader into seeking out their next book based on a desire to learn more about those star-crossed statues. The actual way I landed on The Argumentative Indian was visiting an exhibit about Krishna at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It prompted the revelation that I knew almost nothing about India. Among the facts that I did not know was that I shouldn’t elide India and Hinduism, as I so clearly did at the Met’s Krishna exhibit:A secular democracy which gives equal room to every citizen irrespective of religious background cannot be fairly defined in terms of the majority religion of the country. There is a difference between a constitutionally secular nation with a majority Hindu population and a theocratic Hindu state that might see Hinduism as its official religion (Nepal comes closer to the latter description than does India). It is facts like these that poke giant holes in the elementary worldview pressed upon students from general, wide-angle lectures and the dreaded uniform curriculum textbook. It seems inevitable that, once the membrane is pierced, the foundational basis of shorthand existence can’t restrain you:Is India really the Hindu counterpart of Pakistan? When British India was partitioned, Pakistan chose to be an Islamic Republic, whereas India chose a secular constitution. Is that distinction significant? It is true that, in standard Western journalism, little significance is attached to the contrast, and those in India who would like the country to abandon its secularism often cite this ‘forced parity’ in Western vision as proof enough that there is something rather hopeless in India’s attempt at secularism when the new masters of global politics cannot even tell what on earth is being attempted in India. Conversations about Indian democracy, if taught at all, are "attribute[d] to British influence despite the fact that such an influence should have worked similarly for a hundred other countries that emerged from an empire on which the sun used not to set.” It’s not just a Western bias, it’s a shallowness bias—it is much easier to pigeonhole and stereotype, and shorthand works well enough to keep us going. We ignore the tiny and the massive within Newtonian physics and round the hell out of most remainders in casual math; it should be no surprise that general-policy History and Politics are occasionally lackadaisical with the facts that aren’t directly in your face at the moment: Some cultural theorists, allegedly ‘highly sympathetic’, are particularly keen on showing the strength of the faith-based and unreasoning culture of India and the East, in contrast with the ‘shallow rationalism’ and scientific priorities of the West. This line of argument may well be inspired by sympathy, but it can end up suppressing large parts of India’s intellectual heritage. In this pre-selected ‘East-West’ contrast, meetings are organized, as it were, between Aristotle and Euclid on the one hand, and the wise and contented Indian peasants on the other. This is not, of course, an uninteresting exercise, but it is not pre-eminently a better way of understanding the ‘East-West’ cultural contrast than by arranging meetings between, say, Aryabhata (the mathematician) and Kautilya (the political economist) on the one hand, and happily determined Visigoths on the other. It in these deeper dives that really draw me into narrative nonfiction—there is always something new right around the corner. And even if you only come away with one piece of information that stands on its own—the relentless juxtaposition of India and Pakistan that fits a convenient shorthand narrative but isn’t very true—there might be something that will linger and float in the background until the next wholly unrelated nonfiction book approaches it from a new angle and you learn it: the equivalent to the initial interaction with the Bamiyan statues in Color. And this is my major concern with The Argumentative Indian; it is a compilation novel of the author’s articles over the past decade. You see the same things, referenced again and again; compilation books are not only repetitive—how much text is wasted skimming the surface of the Gujurat Massacre ten separate times, rather than hitting it once with depth and vigor—but the tone is so disparate there is next to no authorial voice to guide you through the narrative. Any sense of uniqueness or cohesion on the part of an author is pressed flat by the need to match the format in which the text originally appeared; New York Review of Books; New Republic; Financial Times; et al. Each chapter is stand-alone; you will undoubtedly pull the fantastic knowledge from the trove, but the cost is high: The movement east of Indian trigonometry to China was part of a global exchange of ideas that also went west around that time. Indeed, this was also about the time when Indian trigonometry was having a major impact on the Arab world, which would later influence European mathematics as well, through the Arabs. Some verbal signposts to the global movement of ideas can be readily traced. A good example is the transformation of Aryabhata’s Sanskrit term jya for what we now call sine: jya was translated, through proximity of sound, into Arabic jiba (a meaningless word in Arabic) and later transformed into jaib (a bay of a cove in Arabic), and ultimately into the Latin word sinus (meaning a bay or a cove), from which the modern term ‘sine’ is derived. Aryabhata’s jya was translated in Chinese as ming and was used in such tables as yue jianliang ming, literally ‘sine of intervals’. It requires from the reader a dedication to break through the same thematic openings and approach the same revelatory summits each time; it is sitting down with an album of remixes—you have to be really into the song to even recognize, let alone appreciate, the subtle differences. The connections are there, but they don’t feel organic—you’re not discovering, you’re being marched through the same worn paths that the author has tread a thousand times with a thousand other tour groups. There is no kismet when the same sources, examples, and events are used the same way by the same author in a dozen unconnected essays. There is no Bamiyan moment to be found within these pages:Tagore’s criticism of patriotism is a persistent theme in his writings. As early as 1908, put his position succinctly in a letter replying to the criticism of Abala Bose, the wife of a great Indian scientist, Jagadish Chandra Bose: ‘Patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds, and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live.’ But then, perhaps the strength of The Argumentative Indian is unknowable until the next nonfiction book cites Tagore and your kismet alarm begins to ring.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ashok Krishna

    No other author that I have ever known could stay true to his/her words and convictions throughout the course of the book as Mr.Amartya Sen can. He begins the book with the following words: ‘Prolixity is not alien to us in India.’ And, he goes on to prove his point with page after page of words that come back at you like the ocean waves – repetitive and superfluous. Prolixity may not be alien to us in India, but brevity definitely seems to be an alien concept to Mr.Sen. To begin with, the title: No other author that I have ever known could stay true to his/her words and convictions throughout the course of the book as Mr.Amartya Sen can. He begins the book with the following words: ‘Prolixity is not alien to us in India.’ And, he goes on to prove his point with page after page of words that come back at you like the ocean waves – repetitive and superfluous. Prolixity may not be alien to us in India, but brevity definitely seems to be an alien concept to Mr.Sen. To begin with, the title: When I first heard the name ‘The Argumentative Indian’, I was thinking that this book will deal with the Indian history, not just about the positives of it but also about the not-so-positive ones that defied any reason as well. But this book is not a coherent one, if you are keen on learning the history of India, its culture and identity, as the subtitle misleads you to be. The title of this book should have been ‘Demystifying Indian History : Writings against the Hindu Fundamentalists and Hindu Nationalists’ for that is all this book ever tries to do, from the beginning to the end. All that the author ever tries to do is to prove that India is not as great as it is thought to be (by Hindu Nationalists) and it is not as worse as it was portrayed to be (by Western racists – like James Mill and Winston Churchill). Then, words: The author is blessed with quite a vocabulary that could fill an entire library and an amazing literary skill, having been a student of Tagore’s ‘Shanti Niketan’. But he lacks the skill of brevity. Wish he had known that an idea expressed in more words than necessary seldom manages to hold the attention of the reader. Lengthy sentences that monotonously repeat what was already told elsewhere fail to impress or even convey clearly what they are intended to. 10 lines into the book and your attention already flies off elsewhere. Third will be repetition: 100 pages or so into the book, you find it quite tedious to progress any further. He seems to repeat the same things throughout the book – the secularism of Akbar and Ashoka, the atheist schools of Lokayata and Carvaka, Rama’s mortality and Javali’s advice to him, the differences between Gandhi and Tagore, the insensibilities of the ‘Hindu’ nationalists and how India wasn’t as great in the past as it was made out to be. The criss-cross referencing that ruins the flow of the work is a curse too. A book that carries endnotes and footnotes that consume more than 10% of its total size is definitely not going to help make the reading flow smooth, I am sure. Every other line or so, you have a footnote or an endnote shoved down your throat. His constant reminder of how he discussed – or is going to discuss - the current topic elsewhere in the same book – or, elsewhere in the world - is not helping matters either. Good that he gives a caveat about such repetition in the beginning of the book, bad that I didn’t take it seriously. Fourth, his so-called secular attitude: one of the follies of the present day ‘seculars’ and ‘intellectuals’ of this country is to pounce upon every opportunity to prove how wrong the Hindu fundamentalists are with their stances and views, all the while expressing easy or even no opinions about the radical behaviors of such fundamentalists from other religions. Mr.Sen is guilty of this too. He even comes close to suggesting that the conflict of Kargil was a provocation more on the part of India, while mentioning that the part of Pakistan’s army regulars in that conflict may or may not be true. Really, Mr.Sen?! Attempting to sound neutral, Mr.Sen ends up sounding so annoying and without sense in many places, especially when he uses the negative word of ‘chauvinism’ to refer to the basic human inclination to praise one’s own country! Overall, Mr.Sen has woven a web of words, akin to that of a spider’s. Sticky, repetitive, muddling and uni-dimensional, written more with the purpose of proving a point or two against the Hindu radicals of this country. Except for a few brilliant pages, rest of all is drab! Disappointed, to say the least!

  12. 4 out of 5

    kapil

    Pity those who never got to know about sensible right wing. Our nobel laureate goes on with his center-left position throughout the book, word 'hindutva' occurs at numerous places. Lets start with secularism, his holiness enumerates many of Hindutva's problems with secularism, all fine but he completely misses the points discuss on what secularism should function like. Leave alone discussing about govt control of hindu temples, HE got a problem with Hindu right wing's patriarchal position w.r.t. Pity those who never got to know about sensible right wing. Our nobel laureate goes on with his center-left position throughout the book, word 'hindutva' occurs at numerous places. Lets start with secularism, his holiness enumerates many of Hindutva's problems with secularism, all fine but he completely misses the points discuss on what secularism should function like. Leave alone discussing about govt control of hindu temples, HE got a problem with Hindu right wing's patriarchal position w.r.t. Shah Bano but not with the Shah Bano case itself! About Nuclearization - Again HE got a problem with right wing's philia with the bomb and he argues that the risk has increased because both the countries have nuclearized but he doesn't realize that there has always been a risk when you got a psycho neighbor. HE discusses India's passion for nuclearization made Pakistan also pursue the same path but would he care to discuss the possibility of Pakistan pursuing the path and reaching the goal before India? About class - The same stupid arguments to reduce inequality without caring for equality of opportunity and shit loaded with intersectionality theme of social 'scientists'. How about shifting focus from inequality to poverty? As he is an 'economist' he could have delved into Economic reforms necessary to reduce poverty and SHOULD have tirated against leftist policies coming in a way to reduce poverty for decades. Oh well 'welfare economists' don't deal with this shit i guess? In short this book be titled "Arguments against Hindutva from center-left POV" and not "Argumentative 'Indian'"

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sheela Lal

    ** I didn't read the entire book because I just couldn't stomach the thought of finishing a poorly edited and research set of essays. My comments reflect the 1/3 I was able to get through** 1. The essays do not have a cohesive thread throughout. I understand that Sen put them all together in one book, but if he had edited them to reduce redundancy, that would have made it easier to read. 2. The history is basic. He doesn't delve into anything more than what Westerners already know about India - H ** I didn't read the entire book because I just couldn't stomach the thought of finishing a poorly edited and research set of essays. My comments reflect the 1/3 I was able to get through** 1. The essays do not have a cohesive thread throughout. I understand that Sen put them all together in one book, but if he had edited them to reduce redundancy, that would have made it easier to read. 2. The history is basic. He doesn't delve into anything more than what Westerners already know about India - Hinduism, Mughals and Independence. Using the same references to highlight the same points weakens the argument. 3. Regionalism. There is literally NO mention of Southern India in this book that is supposed to reflect the diversity of the country. Rookie mistake. I get that Sen is Bengali, and that Bengali culture obviously impacts the pan-Indian psyche, but it isn't the end all be all. When there are (at least) two chapters exclusively on Bengali figures, it shows how little effort Sen put towards presenting a diverse India I wasn't impressed and would not recommend this to anyone interested in Indian culture.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Savitha Rengabashyam

    The Argumentative Indian is one of my all time favourites. I picked up this book just because I wanted to read a Nobel Laureate and I was very impressed indeed. Though the book is a heavy read, after the first 50 pages or so you get the hang of the language and the author's thought process and it becomes highly compelling. This book was one which made me look at Indian culture (a phrase I think is quite loosely and wrongly used and more often than needed) and identity with fascination. It's one The Argumentative Indian is one of my all time favourites. I picked up this book just because I wanted to read a Nobel Laureate and I was very impressed indeed. Though the book is a heavy read, after the first 50 pages or so you get the hang of the language and the author's thought process and it becomes highly compelling. This book was one which made me look at Indian culture (a phrase I think is quite loosely and wrongly used and more often than needed) and identity with fascination. It's one those books which makes you understand the complexity about culture and know not trivialize it. It's a book I'm sure I'll read a few more times in my lifetime.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Varad Deshmukh

    The Argumentative Indian, by Amartya Sen, is a great experience through its essays divided into 4 parts. Part I The book stresses the importance of different cultures that have co-existed in Indian history. The thriving of these cultures has been often championed by active healthy debates and arguments to resolve issues and develop a tolerance and respect towards each other. Dr. Sen points out that such debates were often supported by monarchs like the Mughal Emperor Akbar and Emperor Ashoka. He The Argumentative Indian, by Amartya Sen, is a great experience through its essays divided into 4 parts. Part I The book stresses the importance of different cultures that have co-existed in Indian history. The thriving of these cultures has been often championed by active healthy debates and arguments to resolve issues and develop a tolerance and respect towards each other. Dr. Sen points out that such debates were often supported by monarchs like the Mughal Emperor Akbar and Emperor Ashoka. He refutes the misconception of India as a Hindu-dominated country on which the foreign invaders imposed their rule and destroyed barbarically its culture and values. On the contrary, he goes on to show how the beautiful result of a confluence of so different cultures. He also points out that some of the major contributions of India in the fields of language, mathematics, science, public health, etc. were influenced by foreigners who settled in this land south of Indus. Part II By no way does Dr. Sen underestimate the importance of India in spreading its own culture and scientific contributions to foreign lands in general and China in particular (discussed heavily in Chapter 8: China and India) through trade and religion. The exchange of ideas is made evident through records of various foreign scholars such as Alberuni (who accompanied Muhammad of Ghazni to India) and Chinese scholars like Yi Jing, who studied medicine at the Nalanda university. The fact that the modern ideas of democracy and tolerance for other cultures have originated in India during Ashoka's reign much before they were heavily adopted in the West shows that India has much to be proud for. It is wrong to view India as a chiefly a mystical and spiritually inclined culture which did not contribute much to modern ideas. The idea of alienating Western values and ideas as being the exact opposite of ancient Indian values and culture is fallacious. Part III Dr. Sen moves away from ancient history and discusses the divisions of caste,gender,class-based inequality as seen in the recent years. An attempt is made to show how these divisions are not mutually exclusive of each other, and how they can be tackled. Dr. Sen dedicates an entire chapter to discuss a statistical study of gender-based inequality throughout India on a geographical basis, and discusses what steps can be taken for an effective liberation of women. In the final chapter of this part, Dr. Sen analyses and questions the need for the Indian nuclear tests at Pokhran in 1998 and the tensions it has created in South-East Asia. Part IV Dr. Sen concludes with discussions on reasoning, secularism, the multi-calendrical systems in India, and most importantly, the Indian identity. I think the popular misconceptions of secularism and its need in a modern India are very well handled in this part. There is a good final discussion on how India needs to shape its social and economic policies in the new era of globalization. I went through a couple of the criticisms (on Goodreads and otherwise), and will try to provide counter-arguments for them : Criticism 1: The Argumentative Indian gives only a limited and often misleading view of the Indian history. Argument : It would be missing the point of the book, if it were to be read with an intention of getting a comprehensive view of Indian history. The book specifically targets the historical evidences which refute the naive understanding of Indian culture as consisting of mysticism, spiritualism, orthodoxy and religious intolerance. For example, the Charvaka school of thought of atheism and a materialistic approach to life is hardly emphasized in the popularized "mystical India". The book highlights this. Further, it is impossible for any history book to contain the entire history of any subject, together with its various interpretations, and it certainly cant be expected of Dr. Sen's book. One entire part of the book and some individual chapters are not directly historical at all, so to speak, and talk more in the current and future context. Criticism 2: Akbar and Ashoka are merely exceptions rather than the norm in the Indian history which exhibited modern values. Argument : Agreed, but I believe this book is intended to highlight the exceptions to provoke further research and analysis of Indian history for finding more such evidences. Another example is that of the Maratha Ruler, King Shivaji (which I am a bit disappointed that Dr. Sen doesnt take as a subject to prove his point) who enshrines the modern values of freedom, justice and religious tolerance. Inspite of the good structuring, there are some points that could put you off : 1. Too much BJP bashing, that could irk a neutral reader. 2. Too many repetitions of references to Akbar, Ashoka. 3. Hard to understand language and complex sentence constructions at some points in the book. Would be happy to hear your comments. :)

  16. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    If you laid all the economists in the world end to end, the old joke goes, you would never reach a conclusion. So it's all the more remarkable that it is as a practitioner of the "dismal science" that Amartya Sen won the Nobel Prize in 1998. Sen is a man of conclusions; he is also brilliant at marshalling, with both extensive research and empirical evidence, the arguments that justify his conclusions. The Argumentative Indian -- a collection of 16 essays, many reworked and expanded from lecture If you laid all the economists in the world end to end, the old joke goes, you would never reach a conclusion. So it's all the more remarkable that it is as a practitioner of the "dismal science" that Amartya Sen won the Nobel Prize in 1998. Sen is a man of conclusions; he is also brilliant at marshalling, with both extensive research and empirical evidence, the arguments that justify his conclusions. The Argumentative Indian -- a collection of 16 essays, many reworked and expanded from lectures and previously published articles -- is an intellectual tour de force from an economist who can lay equal claim to the designations of sociologist, historian, political analyst and moral philosopher. It is a magisterial work, except that the adjective is not one of which Sen would approve. The essays are not merely celebratory of Sen's "capacious idea of India." In hailing the Indian argumentative tradition, Sen does not overlook the need for discourse to be politically effective, and his chapter on Indian democracy is both reasoned and critical, calling for "broadening the force and range of political arguments and social demands." While hailing Indian democracy's success in preventing the famines that occurred with depressing regularity under British colonial rule, he stresses that this does not mean the problem of chronic and endemic hunger ("a much more complex task") has been solved. His demolition job on the Indian nuclear tests of 1998 is all the more effective for being couched in the language of reasoned discourse. Sen is a cosmopolitan and an Indian -- and he, of course, would see no contradiction in those terms. Educated at Rabindranath Tagore's experimental school, Shantiniketan (where the earlier Bengali Nobelist prophetically dubbed Sen "Amartya," or "immortal"), and at Cambridge University, the first non-English Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, the holder of two named professorships at Harvard, film buff, cricket fan and voracious reader, Sen embodies the yearning for heterodox learning. There is only one problem with his rich and instructive book: He constructs his essays with such meticulous reasoning and expresses his point of view in so courteous a tone that this Indian found it difficult to pick an argument with him. A future edition will need a less contentious title. Reviewed by Shashi Tharoor Copyright 2005, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alok

    This is a very engaging collection of essays and lectures that Prof. Sen delivered on various occasions. Assimilating a wide range of subjects including history, philosophy, religion and politics, I consistently experienced a certain level of coherence in Sen's thoughts. He unambiguously advocates for promotion and propagation of a liberal thought-process that focusses more on celebrating what we are and what we have, than lamenting on what we could've been or didn't. You can feel the presence of This is a very engaging collection of essays and lectures that Prof. Sen delivered on various occasions. Assimilating a wide range of subjects including history, philosophy, religion and politics, I consistently experienced a certain level of coherence in Sen's thoughts. He unambiguously advocates for promotion and propagation of a liberal thought-process that focusses more on celebrating what we are and what we have, than lamenting on what we could've been or didn't. You can feel the presence of Gandhi, Tagore, Ashok and Akbar, whom Sen conspicuously admires and looks up to, almost throughout all the essays - I wouldn't hesitate from calling them the primary protagonists of this book. He has argued(what else can one expect in a book with a title like that, right!!) eloquently against the rising trend of intolerance and deliberate attempts of revisionism of Indian history. One particular political outfit seems to draw his ire particularly. His recent dismissal/stepping-down and his subsequent criticism of the incumbent government(being led by the same people) surely makes you think if that was a payback!! Except for the chapter on Indian calendars, I sailed smoothly through the manuscript. It's not that I didn't try, but I couldn't. Probably I am not a 'calendar-person' after-all. sigh

  18. 4 out of 5

    Prashanthini Mande

    I particularly liked the essay about Rabindranath Tagore, the man who wrote our national anthem, who stood strongly against patriotism and nationalism. It was quite interesting to find out how glaringly opposite ideologies Gandhi and Tagore, the spearheads of our freedom, had. While Gandhi was all about nationalism, Tagore believed in freedom of thought. Read the full review on my blog! I particularly liked the essay about Rabindranath Tagore, the man who wrote our national anthem, who stood strongly against patriotism and nationalism. It was quite interesting to find out how glaringly opposite ideologies Gandhi and Tagore, the spearheads of our freedom, had. While Gandhi was all about nationalism, Tagore believed in freedom of thought. Read the full review on my blog!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Suranjana

    Me liking or disliking a book has more to do with personal emotions rather than true merits of a book or the ideas contained in it. I'm in no way capable of judging how good an economist Amartya Sen is. But as a fellow human, I understand that he is a wonderful human being. Me liking or disliking a book has more to do with personal emotions rather than true merits of a book or the ideas contained in it. I'm in no way capable of judging how good an economist Amartya Sen is. But as a fellow human, I understand that he is a wonderful human being.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Anand Rai

    It's a collection of essays written over time and then Sen decided to put all of them into one single book. Although he cautions us about the repetative nature of the book, it still becomes overwhelming. Amartya Sen's obsession with Ashoka and Akbar is very annoying. His over obsession with Hindutva too exposes his political bias but since Mr. Sen is a personality like James Moriarty of Arthur Conan Doyle's Fame Sherlock Holmes, no body has seen him, nobody knows much about him and nobody critic It's a collection of essays written over time and then Sen decided to put all of them into one single book. Although he cautions us about the repetative nature of the book, it still becomes overwhelming. Amartya Sen's obsession with Ashoka and Akbar is very annoying. His over obsession with Hindutva too exposes his political bias but since Mr. Sen is a personality like James Moriarty of Arthur Conan Doyle's Fame Sherlock Holmes, no body has seen him, nobody knows much about him and nobody criticizes him, he is like godly figure and away from us masses. It will take a lot of effort for us cattle class to just have a darshan of him. As we move further, the book becomes boring, shallow, devoid of scientific research and Archeologist evidences. He quotes Al-beruni where convenient but completely avoids him where it doesn't suit his agenda. He also warns the India's 20 million strong diaspora to not fall in trap of Hindutva movement. He is very reluctant to call India's past as Hindu past and in order to make Mughals look moderate, he ends up becoming an Aurangzeb apologist. In chapter 3, one will find his extreme obsession with Hindutva, almost hate spewed in the book but since it is scholarly, it's okay. The most important part of the book is the title and the word 'Argumentative' in it and another word 'heterodoxy'. Sen can't stop himself bringing this word to attention every ten line but he himself is very critical of Hindutva ideologues, hindutva thinking and intolerant to the opposing point of view and goes on to the extent of maligning it in all the way possible. A good quote I can remember from Nasim Nicholas Taleb, "Economists bullshit for a living". Sen proves this point in every chapter of the book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sumukh Shankar Pande

    An interesting read. Dr. Sen presents liberal ideas, backing them up with cogent arguments and a smatter of history. An incredibly exasperating aspect of this book is that it repeats itself far too often. I lost count of the number of times he mentioned Akbar and Ashoka's multiculturalism. I understand that this book is a collection of essays, but surely some editing would not be amiss. Dr. Sen warns of the dangers of the Hindu Nationalist movement, and talks at length about the 'Indian Identity An interesting read. Dr. Sen presents liberal ideas, backing them up with cogent arguments and a smatter of history. An incredibly exasperating aspect of this book is that it repeats itself far too often. I lost count of the number of times he mentioned Akbar and Ashoka's multiculturalism. I understand that this book is a collection of essays, but surely some editing would not be amiss. Dr. Sen warns of the dangers of the Hindu Nationalist movement, and talks at length about the 'Indian Identity'. Far too many Indians are lost in the glory and injustice of the past and refuse to look to the future, he says. I agree. The emergence of some Ramayana and Mahabharata-Thumpers into the political mainstream is worrying. The epics were conceived as parables full of moral lessons, not as fact. He also points out the abundance of atheist and agnostic texts in Sanskrit literature, which so many people seem to conveniently ignore to further their own motives and justify their beliefs. Interesting as this book and Dr. Sen's arguments may be, it falls short in its completeness and its range. Nehru's wonderful 'The Discovery of India', which clearly had an influence on Sen, does a much better job of talking about Indian History, Culture and Identity.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sam Marlowe

    Amartya Sen is the titular talkative Indian, who in his undying quest to unravel the tradition of reasoning in the Indian sub-continent comes up with a book elaborating on the said tradition or that is what the first chapter tells you. When you move on to subsequent chapters you are in for a confusion about what the book is really going to be about while it still leaves some room for speculation until page 356. In short, the book is a collection of a number of his essays which lack coherence as Amartya Sen is the titular talkative Indian, who in his undying quest to unravel the tradition of reasoning in the Indian sub-continent comes up with a book elaborating on the said tradition or that is what the first chapter tells you. When you move on to subsequent chapters you are in for a confusion about what the book is really going to be about while it still leaves some room for speculation until page 356. In short, the book is a collection of a number of his essays which lack coherence as a compendium. While I really enjoyed parts of the book, the book on the whole comes across as a repetitive material dripped in a somewhat repelling academic language.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rajat TWIT

    Hugely disappointed from the book. Redundancy of information, negligence of many important issues and over-emphasis on some particular issues ruined the whole expectation of having a great read. May be i was expecting a lot or may be because i am a TWIT, but this book gave me lot of "tch, tch" moments!! Hugely disappointed from the book. Redundancy of information, negligence of many important issues and over-emphasis on some particular issues ruined the whole expectation of having a great read. May be i was expecting a lot or may be because i am a TWIT, but this book gave me lot of "tch, tch" moments!!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Marcy

    I read this because it was recommended to me by so many people I respect. But I must say, I'm left rather unimpressed. The volume of essays is not at all cohesive. And most of the information conveyed is not particularly revelatory. I also take issue with Sen's tendency to pander to the British, downplaying even their role in engineering famines in Bengal. Deeply disappointing read. I read this because it was recommended to me by so many people I respect. But I must say, I'm left rather unimpressed. The volume of essays is not at all cohesive. And most of the information conveyed is not particularly revelatory. I also take issue with Sen's tendency to pander to the British, downplaying even their role in engineering famines in Bengal. Deeply disappointing read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kiran Jeenkeri

    "The Repetitively-Argumentative-With-Only-A-Few-Points-to-Prove-Economist" would be a more suitable title. The book neither reflects the 'great argumentative tradition' of India, add the author puts it, nor is it an authentic account of Indian history, as the reviews do. "The Repetitively-Argumentative-With-Only-A-Few-Points-to-Prove-Economist" would be a more suitable title. The book neither reflects the 'great argumentative tradition' of India, add the author puts it, nor is it an authentic account of Indian history, as the reviews do.

  26. 5 out of 5

    gauravaeron

    Not worth reading... biased arguments all throughout..

  27. 5 out of 5

    Neeraj Bali

    Sen establishes that India’s tradition for heterodoxy and argument is not restricted to male elites but cuts across gender, class and caste. The flow of his argument and richness of the sources convinces easily. Very early in the treatise, he also reveals his opposition to the Hindu right-wing thought. This is where things begin to come unstuck a bit. I do not differ from him on the Hindutava world view. I believe that respect for pluralism is essential for our well-being and there is room for al Sen establishes that India’s tradition for heterodoxy and argument is not restricted to male elites but cuts across gender, class and caste. The flow of his argument and richness of the sources convinces easily. Very early in the treatise, he also reveals his opposition to the Hindu right-wing thought. This is where things begin to come unstuck a bit. I do not differ from him on the Hindutava world view. I believe that respect for pluralism is essential for our well-being and there is room for all shades of opinion and beliefs. But I feel that his attempt to prove his hypothesis on our ‘argumentative’ nature and the undesirability of letting the Hindutava world-view prosper, gives parts of the theory on ‘inequality’ a contrived feel. “But how does the tradition of heterodoxy and arguing touch on this aspect of Indian social life?” he asks. “The inclusiveness of pluralist toleration in India has tended mainly to take the form of accepting different groups of persons as authentic members of the society, with the right to follow their own beliefs and customs.” He uses the Sanskrit term swikriti or acceptance to describe this phenomenon. “Swikriti is thus a momentous issue, in its own right. But....it does little to guarantee – or advance – the cause of social equality or distributive justice.” Now, am I missing something here? Can be his argument that the horrendous inequality that has been built into the fibre of our social life is to do with ‘acceptance’ of each other’s unique life-style and, therefore, an extension of our pluralistic argument-loving Indian-ness? Isn’t the foundation of all inequality a lack of acceptance of others’ way of life? And then Sen flogs the proponents of Hindutava who, he says, are threatening that very swikriti of non-Hindus, particularly the Muslims. He also argues that the dynamic of Hindutava also tends to bring the ‘lower castes’ of one religion in clash with another, thus hurting the cause of egalitarianism. Instead, I would argue that, at least in theory (and perhaps without intending), the Hindutava movement tends to promote egalitarianism at least among Hindus the worst offenders in the caste-based approach – by seeking to unite all Hindus across the fault-lines of caste. Sen argues that our pluralistic tradition faces grievous threat from those votaries of Hindutava who argue that due to its vintage and size, Hindus must be pre-eminent in India. He also presents succinct arguments to demonstrate that a mischievous and deeply-flawed attempt was made during BJP’s rule to rewrite history to suggest that the Vedic civilization preceded the Indus Valley civilization (indeed, if that version of taught history is to be believed, there has been an ancient civilization called the ‘Indus-Saraswati Civilization’) and the Vedas contain scientific and mathematical order of the most advanced variety. Both the claims are false and do not stand up to scrutiny. History was also more than tinkered with to show selective highlights of the Mughal Empire to propagate the ‘us’ and ‘them’ world-view. The attempt has been to project religion as ‘identity’ and not as ‘faith’. Sen devotes a chapter each to the world-view of Tagore and Satyajit Ray. He contrasts – and supports - Tagore’s bias for ‘reason’ with Mahatma Gandhi’s approach, towards patriotism for example. Sen speaks at length about the historical interactions between China and India. Much of this interplay rested on the platform of Buddhism. Over the centuries, the Chinese have been rather more successful in spreading education and healthcare benefits, two of the prerequisites for economic growth and spread of prosperity. I think that the Chinese also ‘enjoy’ a huge advantage due to the lack of democracy and the sheer political power that they can bring to bear on execution of their plans; not for them the long and tortuous path of political debate, likely agitations and litigation. The Indian ‘tryst with destiny’ remains largely unfulfilled. There is a misconception that for the growth of economy all that the nation has to do is to be successful at international trade. It must be realized that the success of China and other Asian nations has not been based only on their ability to succeed in world markets – there has been a great deal of emphasis on healthcare, land reforms, universal education and gender equity. There are various kinds of inequities that exist in our country. Sen points out that it is the inequity relating to ‘class’, however, that impacts on all other inequities the most. For example, among the people who suffer from caste inequality those who are the most dispossessed are likely to be affected the most. The same happens during communal disturbances – those who are the poorest tend to suffer the most. He also cites the current policy on food-grain procurement as an example of how the lower strata of society are most adversely affected by policies purportedly designed to help them. The government has created a large mound of food grain reserves (unnecessarily large, as per Sen) by purchasing at a support price to help out farmers. Storage of this lot costs huge money and finally, even when the government subsidizes it, the cost to the poor is un-affordable. So, while these reserves are an insurance against famines, the poor are still not helped. Sen speaks of inequality for women and argues that instead of focus on mere ‘welfare’ of the women but on their overall empowerment and emancipation. Statistics pertaining to mortality and ratio of women per 100 men are examined to study the attitude towards the gender. It appears that there is a clear bias against having a girl child in Indian states in the North and the West as compared to the states in the East and the South. It does not matter whether the state is affluent or poor, progressive or a laggard – Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar all appear to be ‘anti-girl child’. The phenomenon needs further examination by social scientists. Women tend to be treated as unequal in several ways. One of the factors that tends to affect this most is their lack of ownership rights. Women have little or no say in decision making because they do not have ownership of property except, of course, in some matrilineal societies (Nairs of Kerala being one example). The disproportionate of load of household work that they shoulder also goes unrecognized (Sen cites the work of some nutrition experts who classified household work as ‘sedentary’). Even when women begin to work outside, they are expected to do the household work too. There is a detailed discussion on secularism. Sen says that secularism can be ‘interpreted in at least two different ways. The first view argues that secularism demands that the state be equidistant from all religions – refusing to take sides and having a neutral attitude towards them. The second – more severe – view insists that the state must not have any relation at all with any religion. The equidistance must take the form, then, of being altogether removed from each. Sen appears to be arguing for the former, advocating a view that each religion should be shielded from injury from others on reasonably held criteria (this is discussed in terms of anti-blasphemy laws favouring one religion). There is a fascinating study of Indian calendars. The central point being made is again the influence of different cultures on each other. The question of one’s identity is discussed. We do not identify ourselves with just one identity; we are composed of many ‘identities’ that come to fore in different circumstances. I am an Indian, a Hindu, a Brahmin, a Mohyal, a soldier, a reader of books, a bit-writer, a non-vegetarian, a party animal and so on. It is also a mistake to assume that one’s identity is a matter of discovery (on birth and later) than choice. In the former case, identity comes before reasoning and choice. It must be stated, though, that the sometimes we do not have a choice in the matter and the identity is imposed on us e.g. being a Jew in Nazi Germany or a ‘low-caste’ confronted in some parts of India. The point that Sen make is that while the reality of an externally imposed identity does exist, one has a choice within that to decide what priority to accord to one’s many identities. I can be an Army officer first and then a Brahmin or Hindu or even an Indian or I may be my identity based on any other order. Identity is a plural concept and one must not run away from the matter of making choices and allocating priorities. The book is a strong argument in favour of reason rather than beliefs and identities discovered or acquired at birth or by association. It is an argument for respecting plurality, seeing India as a huge amalgam of cultures, religions and ethnicities with no community having priority rights, of focussing on education, of not fearing contact with rest of the word, of inclusiveness, of understanding India’s history, in the correct multi-cultural perspective and of becoming a global citizen.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ashish

    The book overall is a slightly difficult read courtesy Dr Sen's very academic writing style (copious amounts of footnotes, long paras establishing why the topics discussed are important, etc.). Although, takeaway for me are brilliant chapters on social and cultural issues in India's context which not only bust lots of myths but also bring out the deep subject matter expertise of Dr. Sen which is thoroughly enjoyable and insightful to read. The book overall is a slightly difficult read courtesy Dr Sen's very academic writing style (copious amounts of footnotes, long paras establishing why the topics discussed are important, etc.). Although, takeaway for me are brilliant chapters on social and cultural issues in India's context which not only bust lots of myths but also bring out the deep subject matter expertise of Dr. Sen which is thoroughly enjoyable and insightful to read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Reshal Suryawanshi

    The Argumentative Indian – Is a collection of 16 essays, many reworked and expanded from lectures incorporating Indian history, literature and sociology. Author Mr. Amartya Sen, Noble Prize Winning economist, had solemnly played role of historian too. The book is not an easy reading. Language is explicit and complex. It demands your patience! I will not suggest this book to neophyte reader. Book is a discussion of Indian heterodoxy, secularism and argumentative nature. In first section he discuss The Argumentative Indian – Is a collection of 16 essays, many reworked and expanded from lectures incorporating Indian history, literature and sociology. Author Mr. Amartya Sen, Noble Prize Winning economist, had solemnly played role of historian too. The book is not an easy reading. Language is explicit and complex. It demands your patience! I will not suggest this book to neophyte reader. Book is a discussion of Indian heterodoxy, secularism and argumentative nature. In first section he discusses about many things of which I found relevance of democracy and public reasoning interesting. Mr.Sen totally denies Democracy as a gift of western world to India.He argues that tradition of public reasoning is closely related to roots of democracy. Since India has been especially fortunate in having a long tradition of public arguments, with toleration of heterodoxy, it has been effective in India. He also digs in Secularism and inequality. Which somehow confused me! He states that tradition of heterodoxy and arguing ,the inclusiveness or acceptance what he calls "Swikruti" made easy for Christians,jews parsees and other immigrants to settle and follow their own beliefs and customs. In spite of India's nature of acceptance the inequalities related to cast,class or gender will continue vigorously. Whereas, ironically acceptance and equality goes hand in hand!! Another engrossing part is Tagore and His India. Tagore’s admiration for Gandhiji as a person and a political reader ,but highly skeptical of Gandhiji’s form of nationalism and his conservative instincts is sculpted radically by author. Tagore’s ideology regarding God, Science and Nationalism is worth reading. Opinionated, the book could have been brief. It is bit elongated and repeated sometimes. Mr. Sen also needs to be reminded that India is much more than Javali, Ashoka, Akbar, Tagore, Gandhi and the BJP. I won’t say this book is magnificent or rapturous but rather than hauling Mr Sen over the coals,I will be gratefull to him for collecting and supplementing such a wide range of knowledge to readers. As The argumentative Indian could not have hoped for a more persuasive Indian!! This book had to be read once. Happy Reading!!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jashan Singhal

    Premise of the book -Indians have been historically argumentative in nature, and the author explore how this attitude of heterodoxy has shaped the political, economic and cultural scenario of contemporary India. It is basically a collection of incisive and insightful essays that Nobel prize winner Amartya Sen had written over his career. What I liked about the book? 1. His balanced standpoint when it comes to Indian culture and western influence. He believes that we shouldn't see Indian cultur Premise of the book -Indians have been historically argumentative in nature, and the author explore how this attitude of heterodoxy has shaped the political, economic and cultural scenario of contemporary India. It is basically a collection of incisive and insightful essays that Nobel prize winner Amartya Sen had written over his career. What I liked about the book? 1. His balanced standpoint when it comes to Indian culture and western influence. He believes that we shouldn't see Indian culture is conservative terms i.e. insular from the world and getting "polluted from western ideas." On the other hand, he is also very proud of Indian culture, and says that there is nothing inherently superior about western science. 2. The wide range of unique and idiosyncratic topics that he covers like Tagore and his India to the different ways in which western world perceives India to India becoming a nuclear power. It gives the reader a wholesome experience about India. 3. The statistical evidences and logical reasoning he provides to support his claims are remarkable and would definitely convince the reader to make room for Sen's thoughts in their own brains. What I didn't like about the book? 1. The book is over-repetitive at times. The arguments seem contrived and forced at many places, and I have lost the count of how many times he uses the example of Emperor Ashoka and Akbar to prove his point in the book. It is true he says in the preface that this is a collection of different essays written at different points of time and there might be overlap, but the editors didn't do a deft job, and the book could have been reduced by at least 50 pages had the same thing been not repeated again and again. 2. The political flavor of the book is pestilential. At every opportunity the author gets, he doesn't fail to criticize "Hindutva", the BJP, RSS or the right wing movement in general. If the author had written things from a more neutral perspective, his work would have been much better. 3. At places, the language is a bit abstruse for my taste which causes difficulty in understanding and grasping the concepts, but I think we can expect that from an academic like Sen.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...