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Democrats and Dissenters

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Ramachandra Guha, historian-author:

A major new collection of essays by Ramachandra Guha, Democrats and Dissenters is a work of rigorous scholarship on topics of compelling contemporary interest, written with elegance and wit. The book covers a wide range of themes: from the varying national projects of India’s neighbours to political debates within India itself, from the responsibilities of writers to the complex relationship between democracy and violence. It has essays critically assessing the work of Amartya Sen and Eric Hobsbawm, essays on the tragic predicament of tribals in India—who are, as Guha demonstrates, far worse off than Dalits or Muslims, yet get a fraction of the attention—and on the peculiar absence of a tradition of conservative intellectuals in India.  

We spoke to the modest author-historian who thinks his own personal history is irrelevant—we think otherwise. Excerpts from the interview:


Tell us about your journey from boyhood to becoming Ramachandra Guha, the authority. 
INITIAL YEARS:
I was born in the city of Dehradun. My father was a scientist at The Forest Research Institute and my mother was a high school teacher. Dehradun then was unspoiled. It was wonderfully rich, had diverse flora, litchi orchards, and fresh flowing streams from the mountains, it was 2,000 acres of woodlands, an absolute idyllic setting… There was not a better place to grow up. Multiple things, multiple influences have made me, but having a happy childhood in a beautiful place is something that will stay with me all my life. My father was a scientist with a doctorate himself, so learning was important. It was important for us that you read widely and did well in studies, but my boyhood passion was always cricket. 
CRICKET: From very early on I wanted to play cricket for India. I joined University of Delhi [St Stephen’s College] essentially to play cricket. I played for my college team that produced two future cricketers such as Arun Lal and Kirti Azad. My encounter with the sport was partly a product of my own love for cricket which continues, and partly also because I had an uncle, my mother’s brother who had one deformed arm and played as a Ranji Trophy reserve. He is now 75. He has no children, so I was very close to him. And when I was a little boy, he saw some talent in me and decided he would make me a test cricketer. I became an object of his unfulfilled ambition. So cricket was what motivated me for very long, from 11 to 21 years of age. In retrospect, sometimes I wonder, did I waste all those years. But at the same time I think any passion is good, whether its art, photography or classical music, as long as you thoroughly engage with it. Cricket teaches you the discipline of hard work, and writing works of history is bloody hard work. You have to sit for hours in archives in Ahmedabad, spend four days there, looking at all the files you can… Also, a sport teaches you the strength to take defeat, because you often lose. Life is all about ups and downs. I am grateful for those years. 

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