Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Will Durant: A true friend of India

Today (November 5th) is the 128th birth anniversary of Will Durant, the renowned American philosopher and author, popularly known for his books ‘Story of Philosophy’ and ‘Story of Civilization’. He was awarded  the Pulitzer in 1968 and the Presidential Medal for Freedom in 1977. A facet of his though, that has long been forgotten, is his vociferous support to the Indian freedom movement.

In the year 1925, a few years after the First World War, the voices of freedom had started gaining momentum in India. But the “magisterial” voices in the American intelligentsia and academia very equally vocal in brazenly ideologizing the colonial rule in India. Katherine Mayo’s ‘Mother India’ insinuated against Indian culture, the character of Indian people and leaders to claim that Indians were not fit for freedom. It was rejected by Gandhi as a “report of a drain inspector”.  Along with many Indians, intellectual rebuttals to Mayo’s work also came from two fellow Americans, Jabez T Sunderland, in his work ‘India in Bondage’ and Will Durant’s then famous but now long forgotten book ‘The Case for India’. Incidentally this book had gone out of print for many decades, before a gentleman named T N Shanbhag picked it up and got it republished in 2007 through his Strand Book Stall. I had the fortune of reading it a few days ago. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Book Review: 'Mortality' by Christopher Hitchens

I had almost six hours of flight time to spend and the flip cover of the book struck me as much as its title. It was about a man who had refused to take refuge in religion even in the most challenging of his times - in his fight against cancer, a fight which he ultimately lost. But what he did not lose was his conviction in his “anti-theism” – the phrase he coined to distinguish himself from atheists who "wish that belief in God were correct".

 The book which Christopher Hitchens scribbled as notes through his last eighteen months, talks of his annoyance at being exhorted by religious conservatives both from the Catholic and Protestant side, to embrace belief in God. Many of them saw in his esophageal cancer, a divinely ordained punishment for his blasphemy against God and religion. It did bewilder him, but not as much as the idea of embracing religion itself, for when he wrote “As a terrified, half aware imbecile, I might even scream for a priest at the close of business, though I hereby state while I am still lucid that the entity thus humiliating itself would not in fact be “me.””