Thirty-fifth book reviewed as part of the 130 Challenge.
Amartya Sen is the benevolent, wise and knowledgeable grandpa that I never had. He talks of some of the stickiest issues and suggests solutions that sound beguilingly simple, mainly because he explains them in that tone of a wise old man.
He talks of secularism, poverty, hunger, gender inequality, the nuclear arms race, the identity of India and the idea of Indian culture. These are quite drab topics to write about, and indeed, to read about. But the optimistic tone and the genuine concern with which Sen tackles these topics, makes it so much more relatable. His optimism is especially infectious and he achieves this while being absolutely honest about where we are and where we need to be as a nation.
He starts off by establishing that the culture of India has always been one of skepticism and inquiry and then he uses that as a tool to unravel the history of India, politics of the sub-continent, bi-lateral relations with China etc.
He explains the problem of gender equality in layman terms, but leaves out no detail. He comprehensively tackles the question of nuclear armament and argues strongly against the 1998 Pokhran tests. And throughout the book, he takes the problem of sectarianism head on and provides an excellent refutation of the case for an India that is culturally homogeneous.
The chapters in this book are actually essays on different topics or the text of various lectures that he has delivered. And in all of them, there are interesting anecdotes and a subtle undercurrent of intellectual humor that adds color to the text.
Sen’s arguments and observations are not overbearing. Nor do they come out of intellectual arrogance. On the contrary, they are constantly examined by him in the light of new evidence and copiously supported by related academic papers that have been listed as notes.
Sen doesn’t put India on a pedestal, but he also doesn’t belittle the achievements of India. He exercises caution when he uses praise for India, constantly warning about the pitfalls if getting swayed by patriotic pride and losing sight of our goals. But at the same time, he is quite gentle when he admonishes India for its blunders and shows a lot of optimism for the future.
There is much to be learnt from the experiences and observations shared in this book. However, be prepared to find not a single table or figure in this book, supporting the text, as it consists mainly of lectures and essays that have been simplified for the consumption of the masses.
But despite that, this is a great book to read to understand the intricacies of regional and national identity and to grasp the magnitude of the problems that plague India, but with the reassuring advice of a loving patriarch, who has seen it all.
I have collected some passages from the book that I liked, you can read them too.