Review of the book ‘ The Argumentative Indian’ by Dr Sen

What is this book about ?

This book is a compilation of Dr Sen’s essays during his academic career and as an economist. However this book is not about economics but about identity of Indians from Dr Sen’s perspective. He approaches this book from multiple lenses like language, demographics, beliefs, rituals, politics and secularity

I bought this book, thinking that the book would be of  insights filled about history and culture of India, how was India formed and where did it all start from etc.However, Dr Sen’s emphasis is more about multiculturalism, rich diversity and secularism in India. A economist, philosopher, thinker, sanskrit scholar and an activist , the tireless Sen, wears many hats. I can understand, he is not a historian right ?

Dr Sen has prefaced it saying this book is a collection of 16 essays. I expected some amount of simplicity in the compilation given his experience and knowledge. He says that these 16 essays were written over a period of 10 years. Therefore I found a lot of connectivity issues. I couldn’t connect with his arguments or reasoning.  I also observed his writing on history , culture and Identity were not a free flow. The sentences are complicated and not easy to comprehend..His language is so academic and his sentences are filled with paragraphs that made me to  struggle understanding his thoughts. There were repeated themes in terms of highlighting Ashoka and Akbar’s contribution in developing multi cultural beliefs and also improving secularity in erstwhile India.

He makes it very clear in this book that Dr Sen understand Rabindranath Tagore very well. Understandably so, considering Dr Sen’s bengali affiliations. Dr Sen argues that, one of the right method of democracy is to allow public reasoning and debates and he quotes the style of Ashoka and Akbar.
Interesting to note from his book  :
Sanskrit came to India from abroad in the 2nd millennium BCE, with the migration of Indo-Europeans greatest grammarian in Sanskrit, namely Panini, who systematized and transformed Sanskrit grammar and phonetics around the fourth century BCE, was of Afghan origin (he describes his village on the banks of river Kabul) philosophical depth found in India is unparalleled in the west. Akbar, being a Muslim ruler and educated in Islam, still makes sincere attempts to assimilate the diversity purely based on reasoning. No other Muslim ruler comes ever closer to that kind of tolerance for the divergence in the society “the identity of an individual is essentially a function of her choices, rather than the discovery of an immutable attribute”


India and the bomb : His opinion is that May 11 and 13 Pokhran 2 test is not our nation’s priority. Dr Sen says the Pokhran testing didn;t avert any military conflicts between us and Pakistan. He also estimates a financial angle of cost of the war almost $2.5 billion dollars. He argues that money could have been used for building primary education and literacy improvement. Another interesting point is the fact that nuclearization of India and Pakistan did not avert any non-nuclear threats and war




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