Friday, October 21, 2005

Argumentative Indian vs argumentative Indian!

Here is a pretty argumentative review of "The argumentative Indian" in EPW by Ram Guha; link via Indian Writing. Not having read the book myself, I am not able to make any comments on the review, though, as Guha himself says,
One might choose to take Amartya Sen's side in all these debates - I would, at any rate.
However, at least on one issue, I am with Guha and not with Prof. Sen; it pertains to Prof. Sen's reading of skepticism expressed in Indian epics like Ramayana, and what it means to the Indian argumentative tradition (As mentioned above, I am yet to read the book and this comment of mine is based on a cursory reading of the preface that I got from PTDR sometimeme back). I certainly am not comfortable with Prof. Sen's reading of the discussions of Rama with Jabali, for example. Probably, the point behind adding such sections in Ramayana is to show Jabali as a negative example; within the traditional reading, Jabali goes back on his arguments, and, if I remember correct, Vashishta pacifies an angry Rama by saying that Jabali said all that he said without meaning any of it. So, it is pretty tricky to pull that argument. It is much better to take the Gandhian attitude (mentioned in Ram Guha's review). Scripture or no-scripture, precedence or no-precedence, continuity or no-continuity, we make decisions about things like secularism, argumentation, equality, multi-culturalism, peaceful co-existence, etc, based solely on what we perceive to be their merit; which means, even if these are alien to us, we would still go with them. May be that is what Dostoevsky implies when he says "If any one could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not with the truth".


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