Chinmoy Guha has worked long and diligently to collect the near forgotten letters of two Nobel Laureates.


For the past week I have been agonising over what I should write in this column. Politics. No. Why? Because political talk hurts sensitive ears. How I envy the politically deaf. With Lok Sabha elections only three months away, political tempers are getting out of control. Verbal restraint is in short supply.

Why not do a piece on travel? In my long life I have gone round the globe more than once. I spent two weeks in the jungles of Papua-New Guinea in 1964. My escort made me shake hands with a man who was a head hunter. Parts of the country resembled the Stone Age. Having visited over a hundred countries, I have had my fill. Besides, a man nearing the tenth decade of his life would be foolhardy to go globetrotting. Whatever I may or not be, I am not a fool. Of course, I have learnt to tolerate fools. These are always in a majority.

How about sports? Not a bad idea. In my youth I was a fairly good sportsman. I played good tennis till my 70s. I was Delhi state junior tennis champion in 1949.

I am an incurable cricket buff. I watch as many test matches, one dayers and T-20s as I can. It is so relaxing. One needs neither insight nor foresight. One does not strain one’s brain. I admire Virat Kohli, but not his antics. At one time Lala Amarnath was my favourite cricketer. I knew him well.

I watch Wimbledon tennis on many occasions—even been invited to sit in the Royal Box. I have watched Rod Laver at Centre Court at Wimbledon. Seen 33-year-old Jaroslav Drobny beat 21-year-old Ken Rosewall at Wimbledon in 1954, yes 1954. That’s how far back I go.

My favourite tennis star is Roger Federer. How I wish he would retire. I feel distressed to see Sir Andy Murray suffer and unable to compete. Novak Djokovic is a machine. His prize money and endorsement revenue add up to $100 million.

India dominated world hockey from 1928 to 1952. I saw the legendary Dhyan Chand play. He was a hockey magician. Also his young brother, Roop Singh, who never missed a corner goal.

Why not write about books? Yes. Why not?

I have read five books in the last two weeks. His Excellency George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis. Why I am a Liberal by Sagarika Ghose. The Marigold Story by Kumkum Chadha. The Country of First Boys by Amartya Sen. Bridging East and West: Rabindranath Tagore and Romain Rolland, Correspondence Between 1919-1940.

George Washington was born in 1832 and died in 1899. He is a real hero of the American Revolution and creator of the United States of America. He ended the British Empire in America. He was a great general. His character and personality made him stand out on the battlefield and the politics of New York, Boston and Philadelphia. He would accept the Presidentship if he was elected unopposed. He was. His Cabinet included men of the highest calibre, scholarship and character—Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton. The first two became Presidents. Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence. Franklin was a man of all season.

The only blemish was a very serious one. Washington kept slaves.

Amartya Sen’s book is edited by Antara Dev Sen and Pratik Kanjilal. It carries 13 essays by Sen. The ones on Rabindranath Tagore and the Nalanda University are gripping and sensitive. Amartya Sen was the first Chancellor of the recreated and reconstructed Nalanda University. He resigned after the Narendra Modi government took over.

Chinmoy Guha has worked long and diligently to collect the near forgotten letters of two Nobel Laureates. Romain Rolland met Tagore several times, as he did Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. He wrote the first biography of Gandhi in 1924—it made Gandhi better known in Europe. From time to time Tagore and Rolland differed but their friendship and affection for each other never suffered.

Sagarika Ghose has written a gutsy and courageous book. She stoutly, and in good prose, takes to task the present anti-liberal establishment. Required reading.

Kumkum Chadha’s book came as a pleasant surprise. She is the senior most correspondent of the Hindustan Times. I had no idea she knew Indira Gandhi so intimately. She knew Sanjay Gandhi well, but is a critical admirer.

The chapter on the irrepressible Lalu Prasad Yadav is not only fascinating, it is, to use an overworked cliché, unputdownable. Read this enjoyable and astute book. I strongly recommend it.

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