A brave new world

The major part of G P Deshpande's career was at Jawaharlal Nehru University where he was in the School of International Studies for 35 years.

Apart from academic writing on China and international politics, he ran a regular column in the Economic and Political Weekly for about three decades. In addition, he is a prolific writer in Marathi, having published ten plays, two volumes of social and literary criticism, and one collection of poems.

A recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi award, he has also received the Maharashtra State Government award for playwriting on three occasions.

The historiography of nineteenth-century India is beset by a problem which flows from an assumption that India is one history area. It is within the grand narrative of Indian history that debates in different regions and in various language discourses are viewed and interpreted. This leaves a large gap in our understanding of particular histories, especially the history of ideas. In Marathi writing, for instance, the figure of Savarkar evokes responses – from critics as much as from admirers – that are very different from those in English.

Deshpande’s new book, The World of Ideas in Modern Marathi: Phule, Vinoba, Savarkar shows us the riches we can hope to unearth if only we start listening to the vernacular. He discusses the ideas of three influential – and vastly different – thinkers in Marathi: the radical ideologue of shudratishudra emancipation, Jotirao Phule; the Hindutva ideologue V D Savarkar; and the ideologue of Vedanta supremacy, Vinoba Bhave. This unusual grouping itself helps us break out of conventional ways of looking at intellectual history, but the author goes further. By analysing the writings of these thinkers in conjunction with writings on them in Marathi, he underlines that the reception of their ideas in that language is as important as the ideas themselves. He thus points to a method of reading that will be useful to those interested in the history of ideas in any Indian language.

In making a series of rigorous arguments in an entertaining and polemical style, this book is an original and feisty addition to the historiography of modern India.

In our Essays and Nonfiction section, in paperback, 120 pages , Rs 240. ISBN: 9788189487607

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