Amartya Sen jogs down memory lane to recreate his 'Home in the world'
The Nobel Laureate's memoir, to be published next month, is as much a book of ideas as it is of people and places. Sen brilliantly recreates the atmosphere in each of these places he called home
Where is ‘home’? For Amartya Sen (87), home has been Dhaka in present day Bangladesh where he grew up, Santiniketan where he was raised by his grandparents as much as by his parents, Calcutta (now Kolkata) where he first studied economics and was active in student movements, and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he entered at the age of 19.
In his memoir, 'Home in the World', to be published by Penguin next month, Sen, who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1998, brilliantly recreates the atmosphere in each of these places he called home.
Memories of the intellectually liberating school in Santiniketan founded by Rabindranath Tagore (who gave him his name) and enticing conversations in the famous Coffee House on College Street in Calcutta are stimulating. This is however a book of ideas -- especially Marx, Keynes and Arrow -- as much as of people and places.
In one memorable chapter, Sen evokes “the rivers of Bengal” along which he travelled with his parents between Dhaka and their ancestral villages. The historic culture of Bengal is explored, as is the Hindu-Muslim hostility and the resistance to communal violence. In 1943, Sen witnessed the Bengal famine and its disastrous fallouts.
Some of Sen’s family were imprisoned for their opposition to British rule: The relationship between Britain and India is another major theme of the book. Forty-five years after he first arrived at Trinity, one of Britain’s greatest intellectual foundations, Sen became its Master.
While his differences with the current Indian Prime Minister and the Government are well known, his admirers are keenly waiting to see if the outspoken public intellectual has offered comments on contemporary politics in India.
He has a substantial fan club. “The world’s poor and dispossessed could have no more articulate or insightful a champion,” reflected former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.”With his masterly prose, ease of erudition and ironic humour, Sen is one of the few great world intellectuals on whom we may rely to make sense out of our existential confusion,” said late South African writer, political activist and recipient of the 1991 Nobel Prize for Literature, Nadine Gordimer.
“... if ever there was a global intellectual, it is Sen,” says Sunil Khilnani, professor of politics and history at Ashoka University, previously a professor of politics and Director of the King’s College India Institute and the author of “The Idea of India” (1997).
“Amartya Sen is one of the most distinguished minds of our time (who) enjoyably mixes moments of profundity with flashes of mischievous provocation,” said Scottish historian and writer, art historian and curator William Dalrymple.
Prof Sen has authored several books including Development as Freedom (1999), The Argumentative Indian (2005), Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (2007), and The Idea of Justice (2010). His works have been translated into more than 40 languages.