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Scholar-Diplomat


M. Chalapathi Rau

K.N. PANIKKAR: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Translated by K. Krishnamurthy
Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1977, 70.00

VOLUME II NUMBER 4 July-August 1977

Panikkar was one of the most colour­ful personalities, quzzical, combative, suggesting the cardinal statesmen of France, and equal to Machiavelli in his knowledge of diplomacy. He was a controversial figure and loved contro­versy. He started his schooling in afflu­ent circumstances but he made pro­gress at a snail's pace, tasting failure and at one time thinking of suicide. But after some hardening in Madras he joined Christ Church, Oxford, and secu­red a First in History. By then, he was an author, then an examiner for the civil service. Panikkar was basically a historian throughout his life treating history neither as Clio the muse nor as a mistress but as a set of clues to contemporary politics. He was an editor, a professor, a Vice-­Chancellor, a Foreign Minister and Prime Minister in princely states, an outstanding ambassador, a skilful nego­tiator. He played many parts, each part with distinction, enjoying it as a player, which made his critics treat him as a cynic, which he was not. He had his convictions, not merely opinions, and he was consistent. It was a life of vitality, of vivacity, of unflagging energy, and he was proud, not boastful of the many books in many literary forms which he wrote in Mala­yalam, which it is for Malayali critics to judge, and of the series of unceasing historical studies, almost all of which were successful, because they were topi­cal. His sense of timing baffled both admirers and critics. He loved argu­ment; he encouraged dissent. He seemed a swank at first sight but nobody could become such enjoyable, educative company the next moment. He was an encyclopaedist who would have liked to be a contemporary of Diderot, not so much a Malayalee; not at any rate a Travancorean. He had his critics in his homeland but he survi­ved denigration and it was difficult to keep pace with him. In his references to contemporary personalities, he is generous, friendly, with not a trace of malice. He was a close friend of Vallathol. As an old-time journalist, he took interest in journalists of the younger generations. It was my review of his A Survey of Indian History, which he valued much, that attracted his interest in me. A skit on him in Shankar's Weekly did not ruffle him. Then I met him in Peking as a member of the Government's ...


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