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Holding the Mirror

Jaithirth Rao

By Ramin Jahanbegloo
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 280, Rs. 550.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 12 December 2008

Ramin Jahanbegloo is unusual in more ways than one. He is an Indologist in the best sense of the word. But he is not a scholar in the pay of sinister imperialists. He is an Iranian intellectual who studies India, writes about India and unabashedly loves India. Exiled by the present totalitarian dispensation from his home country (he was also imprisoned in Tehran earlier) he now makes his home in Canada. He has lived in India as a visiting scholar. He has travelled extensively in India and met a wide variety of people. He is not a scholar of the distant past but of our immediate past and present predicaments. His interest in contemporary India is deep and passionate. He writes with informed sensitivity, transparent integrity and above all with great affection.   Of the two books under review, India Revisited is a compilation of twenty-seven interviews covering politics, art, culture, psychology, film, religion economics and sport … in short most facets of the country. It is an extraordinary book simply for the range of topics and issues that he covers and the ability he demonstrates to get people to articulate multiple points of view.   The book is definitely weak on economics. Amit Bhaduri with his love for Stalinist planning is hardly the best choice of a person to be interviewed on this subject. Someone like Yoginder Alagh with his balanced understanding of the Indian economy would have been a better choice. In that process, Jahanbegloo could have captured not just the shortcomings with present economic policies (of which undoubtedly there are many), but of the enormous tragedy of the permit-licence Raj whose enduring legacy is India’s poverty and the creation of a rentier culture. Vandana Shiva’s shrill voice is characteristic of a particular school that has romanticized anti-globalization and could have been avoided or at least balanced with calmer voices in India who view globalization both as a challenge and an opportunity.   On sociology, on Gandhi, on art and culture, Jahanbegloo’s conversations are outstanding. For my money, the best interview in the book is with D.L. Sheth on Caste in Modern India. In such a short space to have elicited so much substance with such clarity is a tribute to both. The interview with Ashish Nandy on Gandhi and Sudhir Kakar on the Indian psyche are both stellar. Jahanbegloo is interested in India’s social mosaic. He ...

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