Review: The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen

November 11, 2013

Author: Amartya Sen
Publisher: Penguin Books
Year: 2005
ISBN: 9780141012117
Rating: ★★★★☆
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The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen is a rethink for every Indian, on his present (sometimes mistaken) impressions of his history, culture and identity.

Arguments shape public reasoning. And public reasoning shapes a democracy. The Argumentative Indian is a set of essays divided into four different parts, dealing with different aspects of India; its voice, culture, politics and reason. Sen addresses certain hard hitting questions. Was India’s diversity always a dividing force or did it once unify us? Is atheism as old a concept as religion in Indian society? Is the current argument of India being a Hindu country true? This book provides some staggering answers.

Amartya Sen’s credentials are no secret. A Nobel Laureate in Economics, he is also a recipient of the Bharat Ratna in India and the National Humanities Medal in the USA. He has taught in various prestigious institutes like Oxford, Harvard, MIT and London School of Economics. Thus, it might be safe to say, the arguments about India in this book come from a highly intellectual and credible academician, someone whose opinions are worth paying attention to.

The book is a combination of intellect and humility. It doesn’t boast about the traditions and morals of India, but gives a scholarly, unbiased perspective on what India stood for in the past and what it stands for today. It also doesn’t see India in seclusion. It puts India in perspective with the world, referring to various foreign opinions on India, both good and bad.

Sen compliments his words with those of other worthies like Nehru, Gandhi, Tagore etc. He even quotes foreign scholars and Indian epics and the ancient Vedas. He refers to India’s past during the reign of emperors like Ashoka and Akbar. His essays are concise, well divided into various sub-categories and remain to the point. His language may be a little difficult to read sometimes, but the richness of words is perhaps important to state the heavy arguments that he presents.

The Argumentative Indian is a necessity in today’s times. Corruption, violence against women and children, communal violence, poverty etc. are a sad reality in modern day India and at such a time, a reminder of our rich and, if you go by Sen’s words, a “more tolerant” past, is a good thing. The modern Indian needs to find faith in India again. We need to be reminded of the vision of India that our leaders held 67 years ago. This book is a step in that direction. It is a must read for every Indian. I would like to end with a quote from the book, that I think sums up the book beautifully.

We can find the parable of a well frog, kupamanduka in old Sanskrit texts. Kapamanduka is a frog that lives its whole life within a well, knows nothing else and is suspicious of everything outside it. It talks to no one and argues with no one on anything. It merely harbours the deepest suspicion of the outside world. The scientific, cultural and economic history of the world would have been very limited indeed had we lived like well frogs.

Fatema Diwan

Fatema Diwan

Writer at IndiaBookStore
Books and Coffee are my favorite things in the world. I fit in my life between my last book and my next. Will live happily ever after in a library.
Favorite Book So Far- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Fatema Diwan

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