The Argumentative Indian; Amartya Sen


It’s a good book. Let’s start by saying only that much.

Especially the first two parts: “Voice and Heterodoxy” and “Culture and Communication”. These two sections take a very unusual take on India’s history – far away from the usual format of a history book – whether written by an Indian or an outsider. And it is because Dr. Sen chooses a very narrow scheme to explore the concept of India. The language is impeccable, precise and often complex – but never confusing. For me, a paragraph like the one below, required serious slowing down:

“The absence of a conceptual congruence between different types of deprivation does not preclude their empirical proximity along a big dividing line, which is a central feature of classical class analysis.”

I do realise that out-of-context it is even more vague – but even within context it took me a while to understand this concluding sentence. Perhaps it is just me.

The book, essentially, is a collection of previously written essays, some of which have been modified for the book. What this means is that there is significant repetition of certain examples and concepts and that can usually get you a but irritated. But books that are collections of essays have to be read in a different way – fairly independent of each other.

Somewhere in Part 3, I found a complete lack of the theme of argumentativeness – and that caused some reading pain. I say this, only as fair warning – not to criticise Part 3 as such. The content itself lacks nowhere; it has been researched well – and presented without emotion or unfounded passion. In the social and cultural crises that India finds itself, it may well worth be a book for most Indians to read – especially the bigots leaning on tradition and past culture. There’s an interesting lesson in history for them. To the others, it is a wonderful exposition on India itself – and very interesting manner of looking at the country. For those of you who are not Indians, again, it is a fresh perspective – different from the dogma that has circulated so hard, it has created a permanent persuasion of what this country is.

And, yes, when you do read, remember that it is not a book in its true sense – but a collection of essays strung together on a theme. There is not much you would lose if you let go of a Part Three, but if “The Argumentative Indian” intrigues, definitely read Parts One and Two.


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