Yes,all serious writings can be only autobiographical. Then,all autobiographies don’t attain the status of great literature. To reach such a status,the mind has to evolve to new dimensions of self-discovery. That has been my experience so far. Writing an autobiography or essaying into one’s own thinking and action has been the perennial human quest down the ages. It has always been a quest for self questioning, self-discovery and a more historically tested path of reason,science and constitutional governance of nations and international community. Our education,learning and the reading of the classics and the drawing of lessons are all part of finding our way in the world,the world of ideas and the world of action. This has been my way of doing things all through my life.
I have been writing my autobiographical pieces off and on. Edward Gibbon,the great historian of the “Decline and Fall of Roman Empire”,we learn, wrote some six autobiographies. He kept a journal from 1761 to 1763 and wrote on diverse titles and these give all we know about his great literary fame and immortality in the world of letters. There are others, historians, moralists and philosophers who from the ancient times to the present day and everyone of them,in my view, qualify themselves to great autobiographists.
One may start up as a thinker and might end up as path-breaking individual,every great writer had created something innovative and Plutarch’s Lives give us enough evidence what sorts of people who become great and who define the various characters and human achievements. In India itself we can see the same trend in our ancient writings, the great epics Mahabharata and Ramayana are classics with their own morals and ways of life. I just now had gone through a collection of brief essays on what constitutes the basic morals in Mahabharata.
As Montaigne’s” Essai”(1580) shows any literary form can take the character of an essay, autobiography or history and the basic test is whether it gives us something unique of any lasting value. Montaigne’s Essay does, since it evolved over the author’s life as a self enquiry, self discovery and an apology etc and Montaigne is the starter of scepticism, stoicism, epicureanism, humanism, pessimism, free thinker, pious Catholic etc. It is rightly said that Montagine’s Essay (or essays, for they are written over so many years and in varying sizes) is a self discovery for us also.
So,I often comfort myself that after having attempted one brave attempt in Tamil, I couldn’t bring myself to try the same in English once again. Though I realise that my English writing might not have the slightest closeness to what I have attempted in my native tongue.
Here I also run across the problem of being bilingual and as every educated Indian knows that we, Indians think in English most of the time, reading the English books being the main reason and also our thought processes are very patterned on the thoughts and philosophies as written in English language. So,it is rather easy to achive much precision and conciseness in English and in the Indian language it is much more difficult to achieve the same precision and sophistication and depth. So,I have always tried to write as little as much on my own inner thoughts but at the same time I had tried to come up with some problems when I want to establish my Indian identity and try to see things from an Indian point of view.
Writing one’s autobiography is never easy. That is my experience. Apart from the usual charges of writing autobiographies as expressions of one’s egos and guilt or whatever inner urges to have a go at one’s own illusions of greatness or inadequcies, there is the problem of literary creativeness, the art of writing, the writing style etc come up against just starting that actual writing. I have been a great admirer of writers of the European Enlightenment, Rousseau and Voltaire being my role models. It is not that I can ever aspire to reach any of their greatness, however we look at their lives and achievements. They are my role models in their being sources of inspiration for me. Rousseau wrote his “Confessions”, his autobiography as an account of his own inadequecies, his short-cmong and his many failures. Yes,in our times he would have been just dismissed as a patent failure. Just imagine for a minute how great and ever-lasting his impact had been! The very fabric of our modern living is shaped by Rousseau’s thoughts, be it politics or education or the very foundations of modern aesthetics, the birth of Romanticism as an art and literary stream.
Can we think of the modern day educational ideals without tracing our thoughts to Rousseau? So too Voltaire. In his own unique way Voltaire is the one who can claim sole authority for elevating reason and argument,logic and science to our current secular and scientific outlook.
While Rousseau wrote his “Confessions” Voltaire ranged far and wide and what he had left us with is just his various essays,his plays and his history.
The point I want to convey here is that any great mind can express itself,it seems, through whatever he writes, be it philosophy or other topics like history, the writing becomes the best sources for understanding the minds. Thus,we have Plato, Aristotle. As for Socrates, what we have got is just the dialogues,as reported by Plato and how it had just influenced mankind to this day!
So too the history of Peloponnesian war by Thucydides, which has been my perrennial source of reading and inspiration. The very art of writing of history started with him, though there have been others like Herodotus (The Persian Wars). Writing histories and treatises and even orations, not to mention the dramas and epics, have been the chief sources of our knowledge and wisdom from time immemorial. One can pick and choose depending on one’s own learning and tastes. As for myself, I have spent a good deal of my reading to the ancient classics (of course all in translations), though my reading is not systematic or deep but with all its imperfections, I have had a taste for classics and the way classical knowledge and wisdom interacts at every stage of the growth of man’s knowledge through the various stages of history.
Thus,we could find so much that is ancient wisdom, be it ethics or philosophy, and yet so much men are repeating themselves even in later times. Thus,we can define the politics of today as Aristotle defined the “polis”, the city state in his time. And so much and so on as to what we read and what we write by way of our own learning and and our own belief system.
That in brief is my own definition of an autobiography or any other form of writing.
Gandhi and Nehru
For Indians of this gneration,as for last generation,the autobiographies we often recall even now are the ones written by Gandhi and Nehru. Gandhi wrote his autobiography, in a series of articles in Gujarati and Nehru in English. In translation Gandhi’s autobiography reads too much like a confession, not like Rousseau, but a vindication of his own beliefs, his”experiment with truth”. With Nehru,his family’s history of 50 years just just some 16 pages, his 7 years, 24 pages, 350 pages for the national movement, from 1932 to 34 another 200 pages of an otherwise long book. Gandhi and Nehru for this generation might look like remote figures, so too the many names identified with India’s freedom struggle.
One shift in my own mental evolution has been that India had been a slave nation for 1,000 years. Indians looked upon Western education for 300 odd years as just a means to get jobs under the colonial regime,right? So, I see the Indian mind, the Indian mind-set as one of subservience to a more dominant Western,European culture,an alien mindset,right?
So, I seek to link, if possible or wherever possible my own education and learning and so too in so many of my projects in a diverse number of fields how to link or integrate the wisdom of India with the wisdom of the West, how we in India can benefit from the knowledge of the West, how India can benefit from the totality of the world’s best ideas and books. What I have in mind when I think of some other Indian autobiographies too (like the famous Nirad Choudhry’s “Autobiography of an Unknown Indian” and others) we in India didn’t go further than writing about the times we have lived through. Whether they would become literary classics, books of enduring value,it is difficult to say at this point of time.
Great books come out of great thinking and reflections. We go back to some books often than we do with others. In this sense most of the Indian writings of the modern India seem to me more of the secondary sources of ideas and philosophies. As Tagore said of Gandhi, he is a “lover of men,not ideas”, yes this observation seems apt. It is when we search for ideas, abstract ideas we reach the high points of our lives’ meanings and life’s own meanings. I am quite aware that I am living through a new India now and there is a discount on much that seems to be precious in seeking knowledge and meaning in life.
The New India,new strengths and new endeavours.
Now,in the new century of India emerging as a highly talented young India with the IT revolution making this generation, hopefully the next generation as well as a highly motivating wealth-creating millionaires and billionaires,a high earning ,highly educated middle class,the new Americanisation of the largely urban India, what we would look for as for inspirations for a more learned society and culture?
India seems to be going through a materialistic culture, culture phase and in this we are too much carried away by the superficialities of Western culture, the American culture. In the last generation, it was then British accent, this time it is the American accent! America certainly is not demonstrating much wisdom and light when it comes to solving or finding solutions to the many problems that agitate mankind today. I am not able to appreciate, alas, the many ideas and thoughts that come from the Ivy League campuses. The American thinking seems just not making the right positive notes. Neither the thoughts from English shores. Rather it seems there is some originality in the approach to world issues from France followed by Germany.
But we are all conditioned by much propaganda, the European penchant for narrow nationlist phobia,the memories of Napolean and later Hitler are still fresh in the minds of men and we of the present generation seem to be groping in the dark as to what is the great current of international-level thinking, be it great sciences or great social sciences in generating thoughts for a new century. I am always searching for new writings, autobiographies and biographies and histories and analysis and commentary on the world affairs.
The autobiography of Bill Clinton left me cold and a bit disappointed. He didnt even know the world enough to take into account the emerging world realities. He is so poor in assessing the international hot spots, he didn’t have much to say about India,over-stating the role of China. Yes,for Indians of this generation,it matters a lot how we understand China,more so in the Western over-emphasis on China vs India.
China is a member of the Security Council, so what? No one in India,inside or outside India, the NRI community or the many experts don’t stop to ask. All through my writings I am asking the China question (for I was a student of Chinese language and affairs at Cheena Bhavan at Santiniketan and I have so many distinguished Chiense friends and so my own special interest in what is going on in China). India seem to be begging, more distressing, the USA for a seat on the Security Council and George Bush,in typical American arrogant manner, doesn’t imagine that India should have a place on the Security Council for a more stable world order. Indians have a lot to do in doing much introspection. So too, the Indian attitudes towards America. There is a stronganti-American current running through out the Third World countries. Where does India come in such a context? Nowhere?Or we don’t show out ourselves as others do?
India can’t be counted unless India learns or dares to ask some hard questions! We have had histories and biographies from the earliest times. But autobiographies came only later when men searched for answers to many questions of their lives and the process of living.
So,I have been mulling over how I could write my own story of my life and my work and reflect upon my own belief systems. There can’t be any narrow nationalism in this day of globalisation and globalised lifestyles. Also,as I grow in years I can’t take ideas in any simplistic manner, be it the political beliefs or political alignments. So,too my intellectual beliefs have to be based in my learning and reflections.
In one line I see myself as a product of the entire Western learning traditions. I have to make choices in my intellectual beliefs, I choose reason vs faith, I choose secularism vs any particular religious belief system, though my dominant identity would be Indian, Hindu and dominant caste, dominant language and local geography. After all cultures, reduced to some core beliefs and practices drive us to come to our local cultures,local society,local politics and even some local feudal identity! We own property and wealth,earn and make wealth and this defines us in a particular social milieu.We are humans and so we are subject to so much of prides and prejudices,right? So, readers who follow my writings must learn to place myself both at the local and at the same time my intellectual and also international,cosmopolitan identities.
In another century Voltaire was to take the side of Montaigne. As for Pascal, he was seeking faith, man’s misery was Pascal’s concern and he sought faith from seeking piety.
We can only wonder whether we can find so much of reading culture as obtained in those times,even today! Most of the writings that one by one led to the rise of so much of modernity in the thoughts of men who wrote and contributed to momentous events like the French Revolution,so much of rational philosophy starting with Rene Descartes to Kant and Hegel to the later-day rise of Marxism and much else. The rise of the European Enlightenment needs a thorough reading and analysis by Indians of this generation for the important reason that only a total picture of how the modern world evolved would give us, Indians, an idea of how with our present preoccupations with developing India into a modern world power of some consequence, we can base our foundations on sound historic, philophical and scientific principles.
I started with Plutarch for the obvious reason that he was the first biographer, first essayist and first thinker of the nature of human character, how character makes and unmakes greatmen, nay every human being. He provided the first model for essay, biography, history and as such became a source for literary creations. His texts had been prescribed in all schools and colleges all over the civilized world for well over two centuries before the birth of the European Enlightenment. He is the most widely read author of antiquity, the first in the civilized world to study in depth what makes a man great,in studying the character of so many great men, who were distinguished as dictators, lawgivers, patriots, traitors, people’s advocate, conquerers etc. The first writer to give us what it is to be a citizen, to be a freeman and so much of new insights into the study of men and their achievements. Yes, all through his lives we see the desire for freedom of man,though he knew dictatorships,as in Sparta and also democracy as in Athens.
From the Greek and Roman classical times to the European Enlightenment,it is a long period in the evolution of human history and the human mind. And when we look further to our own times or look back further than the decline and fall of the Roman empire there are certain thoughts that seem to be the most defining moments in human history.
Here again I cant but go back to Gibbon. One cant get tired of reading and re-reading him. And that is why Gibbon is being published also in so many condensed editions, also in illustrated editions. There is much to write about Gibbon’s relevance to our own times. We get an idea of what makes nations and empires great and why the great empires also disintegrate. Only when one takes time off and stops to ponder over such great questions, the world we live in acquires new meaning and a new power. Most of us just existin the name of living. We don’t. We just pull on, move on and by the time we think we have lived our lives suddenly wisdom dawns we didn’t know why we lived and how we lived, whether our life had seen any purpose or meaning! It is at times like these humanities studies come to play their roles. Only humanities, history, philosophy and biographies and autobiographies, the many confessions of the great and good acquire a new power for our own “ordinary” lives!
Gibbon, what a life and achievement. Almost very much like that of Rousseau. Anyway we now just look at Gibbon at the very moment of his basic questioning and his own answer as to what constituted Roman Empire’s greatness.
Volume I of Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” first describes the geography, military organisation and the social structure and the legal constitution of the Roman Empire at the death of Marcus Aurelius (A.D.180). It is Gibbon’s view that the preceding 84 years had been the Empire’s peak in all respects. Here is the most celebrated passage. “If a man were called upon to fix the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and properous, he would,without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian (96) to the accession of Commodud (180). The vast empire was governed by virtue and wisdom, armies were restrained by firm and gentle hand of four successive emperors whose characters and authority commanded involuntary respect. Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian and Antonines, the image of liberty, they considered themselves as accountable ministers of law.The labour of these monarchs were over paid by honest pride of virtue, by general happiness of which they were the authors”.
Then of course the empire in that height of great virtue and wisdom didn’t last. The rest is hisotry. Darkness descended on the world’s then known great empire when the world saw so much of thought and monuments which were not exceeded since then. Of course we can have our own differing views and I certainly have my own. The clssical Athens, the great period of Pericles was unique, since the world for the first time learnt all the great ideas and ideals of democracy, individual liberty and much else when Athens was an’ education to the world’. The birth of modern philosophy, from Descartes to Kant to Hegel, Marx to the birth of the Vienna school of Logical Positivism to our own times is all very important to us for understanding the temper of our times. We seem to be living through a period of peace, outward peace it might be,after the most horrible century of the two world wars. The disappearnce of Communism is another historic landmark.
The reach of reason is all- pervasive, though there is the new resurgence of modern extremist terroirst violence and the death of innocent people everywhere. The rise of international terrorism is certainly a challenge to the reach of reason in all aspects of our lives. Abroad, there is this asymmetry of communities, the US a major power,a unipolar world and the rest of the world communities clearly in disarray. The very United Nations itself is in disarray. There doesn’t seem to be not many great minds around to do the thinking. But the problems and challenges, to world peace and towards a lesser turbulence are there and only we need some calm environment to ponder over the many issues of the day, so to say.
Great philosophies have arisen under times of great stress and challenges, Hegel wrotye his great philosophy,the anecdote had been told often before, he ran with his proffs to his printers through the streets of Jena when the German(Prussian) fugitives were lying prostrate when Napolean invaded Prussia! From that arose the most pervasive and most pernicious philosophy of absolutism, Hegelism led to Marxism, the rise of Hitler and the devastation it caused to mankind is still being rued! All philosophies needn’t be so pernicious. All through the ages, all through the darkness and lightness we see the growth of knowledge, man’s march towards a more freelife, the rise of democracy is a testimony to this reality.
Philosophy:effect or cause?
It is noted (Bertrand Russell writes in his “History of Western Philosophy”) thatgreat philosophies are born,as both effects as well as causes. Great philosophical thoughts come about as a consequence of certain developments in the outside world and also great philosophical quests also can cause certain developments in the outside world. It is just we are, as far as I can see,not able to figure out things, out of the present day rush, rather mad rush to find quick-fix solutions. But surely for a historian or a philosopher or a thinker, there will be enough challenges and an opportunity to think and ponder over the many implications of the current drift of the world, untrammelled by a restraining force, be it a UN or any other international body or assertive international public opinion.
So, let us wait for the opportune times before we see any light at the end of the proverbial tunnel! In the meantime,we can just say and stick to it, that in the ensuring confusion light can come only through vigorous thinking,pursuit of reason, not taking recourse to superficial faiths of one or other kinds and there is no alternative to hard thinking on the best courses man had always taken towards a more democratic, a more freedom enhancing international path for the mankind.
My intellectual evolution
My interests,concerns, tastes and temperaments!
I cant pretend to be other than what I am! What am I? Who am I?
Such a question or questions can be posed as a plain simple self-questioning at a more pedestrian life. Or,such a question can be taken more seriously at a more philosophical level.The two levels interest me! Yes,mere existence or to use a more heavy, philosopical-sounding “existential” questions, the way we live,the way we go about, the way we believe or do’ things’ the more material world of life and living interests me as much as the more sustained self-questioning that comes with a philosophical bent of mind.
The subject of what interests me might range over wider areas of one’s life, one’s interests and one’s learning and much more challengingly what one had gone through life, the battles fought and lost and won! Yes,such thoughts and such experiences in this bad world only shapes one’s outlook on life and world.
I dont see myself only in one dimension, there are many dimensions to my life and so many wider interests too! I am acutely sensitive to what I believe, deeply on a wide range of topics and subjects: life,the very meaning and existence of life and living concerns my thoughts more often, lately. Of course most of these thoughts are personal and often I keep them to myself, I dont discuss openly with others. May be such thoughts have to remain in the private domian. In this sense, you often realise how isolated you are, how lonely and how much you are separated from the mere existence of the ‘outer world’. It is the inner world of your own doubts and certainties, as they are, that keep most thinking individuals going! Anyway,I find debating and questioning within me the many meanings I seek about certain deeply-held beliefs,faiths and reasons.
Words and concepts that deeply interest me are too many and yet to give a shorter list here they are: truth, reason, God, Good, evil, right, wrong and such philosophical and ethical issues interest me. I consider the biggest question before me is what constitutes a good man, great man,a more endearing personality. I consider that a morally worthwhile life is one where the individual takes moral responsibility for one’s thoughts and actions.
Our thoughts and actions have consequences for others, for the world outside. So,what one has to think and believe and utter for the outside world must have this moral quality of assuming responsibility for one’s words and deeds. So too the search for truth, search for goodness and care for society, poltiics and family and friends and the larger public interest etc.
I am both a materialist as well as a spiritualist but in all my intellectual outlook, reason and truth-seeking are interlinked. I put so much priority on this human faculty for reasoning and truth seeking. Problem solving through reasoned argument interests me more than through any other means like emotion, instinct,imagination and faith.Though I dont under-rate the influence of these emotion and faith-based instinctive human activities.
But then I am a student of history and therefore I base my approach on a historic basis and a historic context. There is the long history of man’s cvilization, the evolution of secular culture and much of the material civilization, the Greek and Roman civilization have impacted much of my rather Western-oriented outlook. Thus,I am seeing Indian issues, Indian identity etc mostly in terms of the growth of modern, scientific knowledge through the Western historic processes. Thus,my tastes and temperaments are shaped by my Western education, my Oxford philosophy of Logical Positivism and I trace my philosophical thinking and beliefs from my Oxford tutorials in philosophy, the philosophers that were prescribed for me: Rene Descartes(1596-1650). His book, Discourse on the Method, was my first exposure to the philosophic text as such. Till then I was unaware of the importance of studying philosophy as a tool for sharpening of one’s own intellectual powers. Indian education till then was for me mere book-learning. Oxford taught me to think for myself, think sensibly and boldly and express one’s views also logically and more forcefully. Karl Poppar,Bertrand Russell, Lord Keynes ,the many writers and journalists influenced my way of thinking and outlook on life.
Then came A.J.Ayer’s “Language,Truth and Logic” (Ayer,1910-89). Ayer was very much a presence at New College in the late Fifties and early Sixties. Ayer and his friends were great influences on my thinking and evolution. H.H.Price(1899-1984), just then retired from the propfessorial chair in 1959 as I joined New College, was living at the College at my time, a”shy and reclusive figure” but I was in friendly terms as he lived in the College rooms just above my own basement floor and he was teacher of Ayer and his generation.
Freedoms in the Western tradition
Isiah Berlin(1909-1979) was another great influence. His view s made deep impact on Oxford philosophy at that time. I read all his books. He was very different, he didnt see human life in any straight line.”The crooked timber of humanity” was his favourite phrase. It was taken from Immanuel Kant,I think. So,there was no unified whole meaning to the ends of life. This was very different from the Indian philosophical and religious traditions. I believe in a significant way,it is beneficial to the believer and to mankind to learn to take such an outlook on life.
So, too the Berlin beliefs on poltiical freedoms. There are a range of negative freedoms, we have to oppose so many obstacles and obstructions. In India the conceptions of freedoms are yet to take deeper roots,in our philosophical and secular way of life. Our politics is so superficial, our ideological beliefs as good as none! The rise of the barbarians in democratic politics is one area I have to wage more battles!
So, I am an activist, politician and a fighter against so many oppressions and injustices.There are positive freedoms, what life has given us, what our polity, society and our own economic wealth prosperity has given us. In India,there are more negative freedoms than positive freedoms. Gilbert Ryle(1900-76),a philosphy professor (the author of “The Concept of Mind”) taught me and his insistence on meaning and clarity of each word and concept greatly affected my way of writing and expression. I have written more on A.J.Ayer elsewhere.
Karl Popper(1902-94),originally an Austrian philosopher but became prominent in British philosophy, though I haven’t met, had greatly influenced me by his book “The Open Society and its Enemies” which I read as my bible. His insistence on” falsification “of theories” as opposed to Ayer’s “verification” principle in deciding the truth or otherwise of any discourse greatly shaped my own rather sceptical way of looking at truth-seeking projects. In India,we talk so glibly and so easily about such matters like spiritualism, truth etc, more so by all sorts of people, more pretenders and such characters would be mercilessly exposed in the West. But not so in the East. That puts me straight in the Western league, in the Western philosophical tradition. I want to acknowledge this so openly.
Argumentative Indian? Not,not yet!
That, in my opinion, only would help any further progress in Indian thought. Amartya Sen talks of an “argumentative” Indian. But I find more the “submissive” Indian everywhere! Indian mind basically is a slavish mind, submissive and unquestioning. That might be one cause for the rise of more superficial spiritualists and gurus of many variations. Timidity is the dominant Indian mind-set! I confess I have my own views on many deeply important intellectual currents in India, have strong prides and prejudices! Indians’ inferiority complex, subservient mentality repels me! So,there is much work to do in India by way of energising people and society to stand up and fight for their rights and causes.
In my evolution,as an intellectual and a practical person, as a landowner, entrepreneur and much else I am guided by all the learning and experiences of my life so far lived. A whole range of words, concepts and values matter. To put it rather more bluntly, materialism matters, money, wealth and what comes with that high standards of life and living, culture, good breeding, moral integrity, standing up to certain principles and living with well-defined principles are very rare and it is not given to everyone. Class matters, class outlook conditions our level of moral integrity. Politics matters and so there is nothing called political and intellectual and philosophical beliefs standing apart. An individual’s worth I would judge rather in more stringent terms!
In my concerns and heroes, I have what is called an eclectic choice. There are more European,more continental progressively in my writers and role models. Though I have my wider empathies spread all geographies, among the thinkers, poets and writers, History and historians,literary men, poets and artists from the European continent interest me Edward Gibbon is my hero and A.J.P.Taylor, my time Oxford historian, my favourite. Greek,Roman,Renaissance and European Enlightenment thought have given my outlook the distinction.
Montaigne(1533-1592) again is an example of a writer of an unusual form, that of essay, which he wrote and wrote and expanded for years and when it was finally completed it ran, we learn some 9 editions and sold out in his own life time.Montaigne was called France’s own Plutarch! Great readers of Montaigne were also great in their own lives and thoughts and achievemnts, namely Descartes and Pascal. The first book for my tutorial at Oxford prescribed by my Oxford philosophy tutor was none other than Descartes’s” Discourse on Method”! Montaigne’s scepticism led Descartes, now I read, for asking questions as to what constitutes certainty. From that question was born modern European philosophy! Descartes starts with an autobiographical quest,”what I know for cetain?” “My method”became”the method”! (“I think, therefore I am” was Descartes famous starting point in philosophy)
What more one can dream about?
Philosopher’s lives are often not interesting, often most boring. The British philosophers,more so the modern ones,led either a very dry lifestyle, academic existence or some like Russell led hedonistic and controversial lives. On the Continent,in Germany and France, the philosophers were more”engaged” in the practical affairs. The French philosopher,Jean Paul Sartre propounded the philosophy of “Existentialism”, though it was started with Kirkegaard, as a reaction against abstract rationalism of Hegel. “Existing individual”mattered,the personal dimension of human life. Existentialism is a French coinage and it concerns about the context of our existence making sense. Thus, I take it as we have to decide our own existence and our own engagement with the actual world. Thus,existentialism as a philosophy might go down well with the Indian outlook.
Anyway, Sartre’s own career demonstrated how our beliefs, engagements, our hopes and despair, disappointments (as Sartre himself found out with the failure of Communism with which he associated himself all his life and hence existentialism ended and remains today as a means of our moral freedoms (the existential freedom) getting asserted. Fine,it makes enormous sense and we can all become existentialists, after all!
Just now I had browsed through,not read in any serious way yet ,Plutarch’s Lives. He lived in the first century in Greece. There is a two page entry on him in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica. His life itself makes very interesting reading, he had proper education in the Athens Academy, he was a priest in the Delhpi oracle temple and he travelled a lot in Rome and he enjoyed the confidence of the great Roman Emperor Hadrian, as the note on his life traces his friendship with Hadrian owing to the fact that the Delphi oracle’s fame was so widespread in those times and it is no wonder that his essays, Lives, cover “parallel lives”(as his collection of essays is called), had these parallels drawn between Greek and Roman great men.
The concept of essay originates from Plutarch whose book,as we find, remained the most influential reading for the civilized world for over two centuries. His works in the original Greek were printed in Venice and Florence during the Renaissance and later translated into French. It is from the French the English translations were made and there is no great writers of those centuries who haven’t made Plutarch their model,in writing style, that of the essay form as well as their treatment of human charatcer on which Plutarch’s contributions remain to this day. It is said that Shakespeare had lifted almost many passages from Plutarch when he wrote his Roman plays, the tragedies and other passages. What is universally agreed is that Plutarch was the first great biographer in history and his Lives is an enduring classic. We see so many later-day classics, Montaigne’s own Essays is modelled on Plutarch.
Social aspects Engligh etiquette and manners, French flair for artistic tastes and the American energy have impressed me. I had moved and worked with people and citizens from all these geographies and therefore I can’t but be grateful to those innumerable friends for what they gave me by way of friendship and hospitality. Nearer home,I have of course a vast range of interests and projects. I strongly feel I should do in the remaining years of my life for giving fellow Indians a stregnth to do much introspection to ponder over their historic failings, to emerge as a proud Indian and make an India that can stand up by undoing its historic failings. Given time and opportunities I like to exchange knowledge about what is happening in the Western philosophy at a place like Oxford. This I miss in India. In India there is no scope for such intellectual exchanges.
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