When a book review starts " Rajen Harshe is one of those rare individuals who through their lives have played many roles. He has been and will no doubt remain an activist, scholar, teacher and institution-builder. To get a better sense of what this book offers and why it has been written the way it has, knowing the background of the author matters. Harshe is Professor in the field of international relations at Hyderabad Central University and has always had a special interest in Africa. Noted scholar and author of many academic books and articles appearing in prestigious journals, he has also been a public intellectual unafraid to take positions on and participate in civil society actions on a range of progressive causes." one is tempted to read the book, and possibly more. 

Achin Vainaik was reviewing the book  REFLECTIONS ON NATION BUILDING: A Gypsy in the World of Ideas by Rajen Harshe. Published by Pentagon Press earlier this year, the book has been very well received. Soon to be available in paperback, the book is a collection of essays. As Sachi Mohanty says in his review,  "MEMOIRS of teachers seem to be curiously non-existent today. And yet, names such as S. Radhakrishnan, K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar, V.V. John and C.D. Narasimhaiah were widely known to the teaching community in post-independence India. Full of scintillating wit and humour, their accounts accomplished several goals at the same time: they mapped the contours of the teacher’s intellectual and spiritual evolution, captured the history of learning, especially with regard to the institutional and pedagogic aspects, recorded the changing attitude of society towards the university and finally, offered reflections that could serve as an effective road map for the future.
It is this humanistic self of Harshe that comes out again and again in the essays. With an experience that spans many places: Pune, Delhi, Paris, Hyderabad, New York and Allahabad, he has had a rich and eventful career as a teacher, administrator and institution builder. Calling himself a gypsy in the world of ideas, he writes insightfully on personalities like Gandhi, Marx, Nehru, Tilak and Mandela and introduces the ideas of J. Krishnamurti, Sarojini Naidu and Frantz Fanon. He examines issues such as the Naxalite movement, the university system, insurgency in the North East, alienation of youth, the Partition of India, the Berlin Wall and the globalized economy. Above all, there is the all powerful presence of history. He looks closely at history with its myriad meanings, examines the nature of the past and the problems inherent in the writing of this discipline.

The chapters themselves are fairly small, each written in the form of a column; many of these, we learn, were published in the form of a column called ‘V.C’s Diary’ in the Allahabad edition of Hindustan Times. As Harshe looks back, he asks a number of pointed questions: Was Nehru an enigma or tragedy? What are his lasting contributions? How did Tilak add an ideological or spiritual basis to India’s freedom struggle? What is the lasting legacy of the anti-colonial Fanon and the 13th century Marathi saint poet Gyaneshwar?


It is the chapter, ‘Golden Threshold’ that I liked the most in the book. It is at G.T., as the place is known locally, that Rajen reveals his innermost self. The memories often turn lyrical and poetic as he recollects the image of the birds seen through the windows of his office. These birds, he muses, ‘must have been writing poems on the sadness of the sky underneath the veins of green leaves with their beaks.’ They remind him of his students who were ‘perennial angels’ in his life. The music in him takes him inexorably into the many skies traversed by the birds that fly all over.

A Gypsy in the World of Ideas is a memorable account that would be of interest to a wide cross-section of society. The chapters are written at different times and therefore betray a degree of unevenness in style. Where he succeeds, Rajen is able to transfigure the academic experience into the personal, and finally in the form of lasting vignettes."

In our Essays and Nonfiction section, in hardcover, Rs 450, ISBN: 9788182744943