In praise of : Ashis Nandy

English: Ashis Nandy, receiving the Fukuoka As...To one of his admirers, no less than a Ramachandra Guha, Ashis Nandy is ‘an unclassifiable social scientist’. He mixes psychology and philosophy with sociology to a magical effect, some would say to a corrupting effect. I can not imagine anyone who would read him without being deeply influenced. His masterpiece ‘The intimate enemy‘  have decolonized some minds. His work continues to have a deep impact on South Asian intellectual culture. He is surely one of the finest public intellectuals of our time.

I can’t comment much on the merit of his work but I can comment something on his intellectual temperament. I prefer people who has the intellectual temperament of a naturalist : someone who is interested in finding things out for himself above everything else. He is definitely more than that. To be sure, he is deeply interested in ‘interpreting the world’ , but he also interested in changing it for he do judgment of values and distinguish things between right and wrong. Moreover he loves to surprise and edify his readers. Perhaps this is why his email id starts with ‘reasonbuster’. Exuberant intellectuals often stretch the point and they mislead their readers, sometimes knowingly.

His writings are very ambitious in scope. He establishes connections among seemingly unconnected things and he moves from one conclusion to another at a great speed. He questions and attacks, perhaps religiously, well-established wisdom. The little magazine has called him the best known voice of dissent.

I am a great admirer of Prof. Andre Beteille. I am perhaps the youngest engineer alive in this world to do so. I learnt it from him that an intellectual pursuit is, above everything else,  to scratch the surface of confusion caused by observation and experience. It is a hard process, ‘a slow boring of hard boards’ as Max Weber called it once. I have always gotten carried away by Nandy till I read what he wrote in the preface of  collection of his well-known essays, ‘I shall not grudge it if some enterprising reviewer finds unconvincing history in the following pages, as long as he finds in them convincing myths.’  and somewhere else in an essay ‘.. the way to fight the myth : by building or resurrecting more convincing myths.’ Reading such statements makes one’s stomach churn a little.  He is not the first one to do so; Georges Sorel understood the significance of myths and symbols for attracting the masses towards various kind or religious and political movements very well; and he wanted to engage people emotions rather than their reason. By doing so, he hoped to channelize their energy for constructive causes; and for that purpose he created his “myths”. He was an odd type of intellectual who thought poorly of “theory” yet spent his life creating one. It would do us well to remember that his “myths” were put to uses that were totally different from the ones for which he had tried to create them. Historians or sociologists do not create myths; they produce enough raw material from which other produces them. And they oughtn’t create myths even when they are not expected to take any responsibility for their creation.

[1] Nandy in EPW

[2] Woman vs womanliness in India.

Dilawar

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About Dilawar Singh

Graduate student at EE, IIT Bombay.
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