What We Talk About When We Talk About India
Ananya Vajpeyi’s first book, she tells SHOUGAT DASGUPTA, is about the intellectual tumult from which a nation emerged
“of the search for the self. I became interested in swaraj because I started teaching modern Indian and South Asian history in a history department for the first time, and one of the texts that I taught was Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj. The more I read it, the more I was convinced of its importance and curious about the context of ideas from which it emerged and in which it had a role to play.”
What emerges from Righteous Republic is a sense of the intellectual ferment in India from the turn of the 20th century up to Independence; the sense of men, not just the five in the book, thinking up and imagining a country, rather than just being handed one by the British. The book is as much literary and art criticism as it is history, requiring of Vajpeyi some agile reading. She makes connections her five principals themselves may not have made, particularly in her excellent chapter on Abanindranath Tagore, making us consider afresh men and ideas to which we seem to have become inured.
Vajpeyi tells me she moved back to Delhi to be “part of a conversation”. It is conversation, an immersion in ideas that vivifies Righteous Republic and forces readers to acknowledge the moral impulses that spurred the creation of India. Vajpeyi won’t be drawn into a comparison with the present day, insisting that “alternative ideas continue to thrive in small, ignored pockets”. The reader, despairing at venality and cynicism, must hope she’s right.
• Examining the ingrained Ananya Vajpeyi