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In Defence of the Liberal Vision

Amar Farooqui

By Ramchandra Guha
Allen Lane an Imprint of Penguin Books, 2013, pp. xvi 334, Rs. 699.00


>p>This volume is a collection of fifteen essays on a bewildering array of themes, which range from a gossipy piece on factional feuds at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library to a profound reflection on the state of universities in India. Perhaps the most absorbing among them is the charming vignette of a precious Bangalore institution, the Premier Bookshop, which sadly is no more. Established in 1970 by T.S. Shanbag, nephew of the late T.N. Shanbag (Strand Book Stall, Mumbai), it folded up a few years back. The untidy orderliness of its display was reminiscent of Rama Krishna and Sons (originally of Lahore) whose shop in Connaught Place in Delhi was on the verge of closure just around the time that Premier’s was coming into its own. At a time when booksellers of the knowledgeable and cultured kind that T.S. Shanbag represented have virtually disappeared, his decision to retire is indeed a matter of regret. Nevertheless, as Guha observes, it was a retirement that was well-earned and Shanbag was fully entitled to it having ‘carried out his calling with pride and dignity for four decades’. In a similar nostalgic vein is the tribute to Krishna Raj, a man of great charm, grace and erudition. Between 1969, when he assumed charge of Economic and Political Weekly, and his demise in 2004 Krishna Raj worked tirelessly to maintain the high intellectual standards that gave to the journal its unique position as a forum that ‘shaped intellectual discussion in India’. He also gave to the journal its ideological orientation—a commitment to the Left in all its diversity, with some space for Left-of-centre views. Soft spoken, but firm, the most endearing quality of Krishna Raj was his humility. He was not given to advertising his far from modest achievements. The culture of austerity and hard work that he bequeathed has ensured the continuation of the academic and journalistic traditions upheld by him.   Then there is an ode to Ravi Dayal and his contribution to building the Oxford University Press (OUP) publishing empire in India. Here Guha gets somewhat carried away. Describing the endeavours of Ravi Dayal to attract learned manuscripts he states that by the end of the 1970s OUP ‘was the stamp that scholars working on the subcontinent most craved’ and these scholars were soon ‘lining up outside the OUP’s offices in New Delhi’. This might have been true ...

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