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. 


In this book, written and published first in 1928, Durant takes up the case of the Indian people with “unaccustomed passion”,as he himself admits. A passion manifested out of his genuine love for the cherished value of freedom, as much as his empathy for the Indian people’s quest for freedom from colonial bondage. He minces no words, in calling the colonial administration in India both “a calamity and a crime” that had left the Indian people impoverished. He gives a point by point rebuttal to the British claim to rule India, showing how the British bureaucracy, the army and the traders in India, all owed their existence to the excesses on the common people of India. He questions the many wars that the British fought with Indians as its soldiers and paid for by the Indian people through the taxes, often excessive enough to lead to artificial famines. 

But his questioning of British Colonialism was not based just on the lapses or excesses of the Administration but on his genuine belief in the idea of freedom. His critique of British rule was as much a critique of Colonialism itself. And unlike many in his ilk, who believed that it was the ‘White Man’s Burden” to uplift Indian people through Colonialism, he considered India an ancient civilization that had contributed greatly to the world. He famously wrote in his ‘Story of Civilization’ (also quoted in the above book)  

“India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe's languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all.”

He considered that India’s plunder at the hands of barbaric foreign invaders, a tragedy and a lesson for all civilizations. Talking of India’s fall to Moguls, he wrote “The bitter lesson that may be drawn from this tragedy is that eternal vigilance is the price of civilization. A nation must love peace, but keep its powder dry.” 

Will Durant used his pen to give voice to the Indian people which was hard pressed for survival during the Colonial times. He, in many ways articulated what Indians could have spoken for themselves had they been free. He was indeed a true friend of the Indian people.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review,it had been a long time since you wrote about a book since last year.

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