Ramachandra Guha writes about Sir Patrick Geddes and his urban environmentalism in the Hindu. Here is the Wiki page on Geddes and here is a book of his called Civics: as Applied Sociology from Gutenberg.
However, two very significant contributions that Geddes made as an educator are missing from Ram Guha’s piece — which is natural since Ram Guha’s emphasis is on urban planning — but, in my opinion, they deserve at least a passing mention. So, here is some complementary information.
The first time I heard of Geddes was when I saw the Dedication page of The Web of Indian Life by Sister Nivedita, where she says:
… to Prof. Patrick Geddes, who, by teaching me to understand a little of Europe, indirectly gave me a method by which to read my Indian experiences.
The Web of Indian Life, is available online (and is a must-read, in case I forgot to mention) with an introduction by Rabindranath Tagore, who starts his introduction thus:
Indians, like all other peoples of the world, are naturally susceptible to flattery. But unfortunately they have been deprived of their share of it, even in wholesome measure, both by the Fates presiding at the making of their history as well as by the guests partaking of their salt.
and, goes on to say:
And this was the reason which made us deeply
grateful to Sister Nivedita, that great-hearted Western woman, when she gave utterance to her criticism of Indian life. She had won her access to the inmost heart of our society by her supreme gift of sympathy. She did not come to us with the impertinent curiosity of a visitor, nor did she elevate herself on a special high perch with the idea that a bird’s eye view is truer than the human view because of its superior aloofness. She lived our life and came to know us by becoming one of ourselves. She became so intimately familiar with our people that she had the rare opportunity of observing us unawares. As a race we have our special limitations and imperfections, and for a foreigner it does not require a high degree of keen-sightedness to detect them. We know for certain that these defects did not escape Nivedita’s observation, but she did not stop there to generalize, as most other foreigners do. And because she had a comprehensive mind and extraordinary insight of love she could see the creative ideals at work behind our social forms and discover our soul that has living connexion with its past and is marching towards its fulfilment.
The Web of Indian Life is an extraordinary document, and, if Geddes taught Nivedita the methodology for her (partly anthropological and sociological) studies, we should be eternally grateful to him.
With the aid of a Hyderabad government scholarship, he enrolled at Montpellier, to expand his knowledge of French language and literature; he was there at the instigation of Sir Patrick Geddes, the distinguished Scottish scientist and thinker on town planning, and founder of an international learning centre at the university, the Collège des Ecossais.
The times that Raja Rao and Geddes spent at Montpellier overlap; and, I would really love to know if. apart from “instigation”, Geddes also (like he did with Sister Nivedita) imparted some of his methodological wisdom to Raja Rao. But that is a biography waiting to be written — in my fantasies, it is called “Raja Rao: a Rishi of modern times”.
Thus, Geddes seems to be not just an internationalist, but also the one who inspired internationalists!
PS:- If you are a fan of Sister Nivedita’s writing, here is a page where you can get two more books apart from the The web of Indian Life — Studies from an Eastern Home and Kali, the mother. Have fun!