The Argumentative Indian in its sixteen linked essays, Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen discusses India’s intellectual and political heritage and how its argumentative tradition is vital for the success of its democracy and secular politics. The Argumentative Indian is precisely a concise version of how India evolved from its past, its not a historic narration, for it traces the roots of today’s India, in India of ancient and medieval times but is never near to mere chronological representation of events.
He conveys the need to understand the argumentative tradition of India which is rooted in its long and diverse history, culture and tradition to understand contemporary Indian. He used past events, arguments and references to emphasize the contribution of India in the field of science, medicine, mathematics, literature and ideas to the world. The author tries to deviate the reader from his western way of looking at India and rather prescribes an indigenous way to look at the Indian identity with its historical tradition of relying on reason, research, heterodoxy, deliberation,dialectic, debate and pluralism. In the realm of science, Sen debunks the India of the popular Western imagination as a land of mysticism and religion. He cautions the reader against the current narrowed view of Indian society based on class divisions, communalism and regionalism, intolerant towards others ideas and practices which goes against the very idea of India that existed in the past. His writing is class apart with his way of complementing his opinion with references.
In different essays author captures the arguments between Tagore and Gandhi (its pleasing to hear some arguments between two enlightened souls), he captures and analyses the reasons for the prevailing skewed ratios of men over women, inequality of men and women and prescribes practical solutions. Sen quotes James Buchanan’s definition of democracy: ‘as “government by discussion” implies that individual values can and do change in the process of decision- making’. He underlines that the expression of values in a democracy also determines the values themselves, as illustrated by the championing of pluralism by none other than the Mughal emperor Akbar who organized debates and public dialogues between the followers of different religious faiths of his time (Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsees, Jains, Jews and even atheists).
This was the most difficult books for me to read, foremost because of the difficult choice of words for a novice reader like me and then complementing it with his high valued ideas which require perfection over language to understand (which I am no way near to!), but understanding his difficult ideas along with his difficult use of words sometimes makes reading painful and difficult to grasp. But it is to be added that the ideas that author conveys requires astronomical precision to convey the correct meaning which necessitates and justifies the parlance used by him. Its just that it needs a little patience to read, my little mind wasn’t able to grasp all his ideas in one read and will go through the book once more, it’s not boring, its just that I have little command over the language and this book requires perfection in it! He is at his finest when slicing an idea, displaying a sleight of hand in posing the same question differently! The book is a must read and for me a re-read and re-review it!