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Showing posts from 2012


  Surendra J. Patel Six years back, an economist called Surendra J. Patel passed away. He seems to have been both prolific and respected in his day—the Hindu ’s obituary of him, from which a bit is reproduced below, suggests so. Perhaps his major works are still sometimes read by economists and historians in a library or two. At Permanent Black, however, there would have been no reason for his writing to be remembered had a section in one of his essays not struck an editor here as unusually felicitous—in fact, as prose much more expressive than any that editors in scholarly publishing, weather-beaten and teeth-gritten by academese, expect to see in an essay on the economics of agriculture. To be fair to the late Dr Patel, this compliment cannot be laid as a charge upon his entire essay, the bulk of it being what Dr Patel meant it to be, namely, sound agricultural economics. Orwell and Woolf don’t lurk between its lines. The whole isn’t remotely a stab in the direction of ec


SANJAY SUBRAHMANYAM Portrait of the historian as a young man who not that far back in recent history was feared as the enfant terrible of Indian history, has just won the Infosys Prize for History 2012. Subrahmanyam's achievement is based in part on his utterly unusual genius for mastering virtually every European and South Asian language that the Indian historian needs. This has enabled him to range temporally from medieval to modern South Asian history, spatially from the Mughal to the Ottoman to the empires of Europe, and 'generically' from biography to travel literature to political thought to economic and cultural history to the acerbic critical essay. It may even be accurate to say, in fact, that no single historian of South Asia has ever been able to authoritatively span as large a terrain as Subrahmanyam. And the fellow's only just crossed his forties -- leaving, we hear, a fair number of fellow historians foaming at the mouth, specially as Su


Blackbeard, Sanjay S. Whitebeard, Simon Digby IS SANJAY SUBRAHMANYAM FOR REAL?  He's won the Infosys Prize for History for 2012, so he probably is. Academics write mainly two kinds of books: monographs addressed to their peers, and textbooks for students. The scholar who can entirely switch modes and provide entertaining English for the serious lay reader is a rarity everywhere. In India, Ramachandra Guha, Nayanjot Lahiri, Sunil Khilnani, and Mukul Kesavan are some of the better-known exceptions—teachers and scholars who’re well regarded for their journalism and magazine essays. You would not think of Sanjay Subrahmanyam in connection with this bunch. A formidable economist who grew into a formidable historian and linguist—estimates of the languages in which he’s fluent remain inexact and it would take a supercomputer to tot up his publications—he’s usually associated with social science intellection at rarefied levels, including trade an

Romila Thapar remembers an old friend

A few weeks before he passed away, Eric Hobsbawm   and his wife invited Romila Thapar to the historian’s 95 th birthday party in London. John Williams played the guitar. The gathered companions drank to the great man’s health. He was convivial and had all his wits about him—as seems evident in the pictures below. A century seemed possible ... In her obituary below, Romila Thapar recounts what Hobsbawm’s work meant to her, and its intellectual legacy more broadly.        REMEMBERING ERIC HOBSBAWM             Romila Thapar Eric Hobsbawm was the kind of historian whose work, although largely on the last three centuries of European history, was relevant even to those of us who work on a different space and time. The process of historical investigation for him was not restricted to a narrow engagement with a specific subject, but with having to situate it in an extensive horizon involving many peoples and ideas. This vision and the logical interconnectio