Why is India the most interesting country in the world?

From the point of view of a historian, at least — Ram Guha in a recent piece in EPW explains (pdf file with access for a limited time; link via Venkatesan at Law and other things):

I have refered to independent India as the most interesting country in the world. This is the impartial judgement of a historian, not the partisan claim of a citizen.

(…)

There were, and are, four revolutions occuring simultaneoulsy in India; the urban revolution, the industrial revolution, the national revolution, and the democratic revolution. The key word here is simultanelously.

(…)

The size of its territory plus the diversity of its people plus the simultaneity of these four great social revolutions — that is what makes India the most interesting country in the world.

There is also some advice as to how a historian can approach the process of writing a comtemporary history of some aspect of Indian life:

Two maxims might be useful here. The first is from F. W. Maitland; “What is now in the past was once in the future”. The second is from George Orwell: “The writer musty not be a loyal member of a political party”. Maitland’s maxim warns us against using the privilege of hindsight. Orwell’s warns us against imposing the political preferences today on our renditions of the past.

A nice piece; Take a look!

A digression: Guha’s seventh footnote of the article reads as follows:

My use of the conventional “he” to denote “he” or “she” should not be taken as a manifenstation of male bias. It is just that I find the alternatives– “s/he” or “he or she” –clumsy and cumbersome.

I am not very happy with Guha’s choice or solution; I have noticed lot of work arounds that people have come up with; Guha’s is neither original nor satisfactory; I find the suggestion offered by Mary Claire vanLeunen to be the best–for every such sentence, toss a coin and choose he or she. In fact, it might be helpful to come up with an add-on for the usual word processing programs which would automate this process.

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2 Responses to “Why is India the most interesting country in the world?”

  1. foo Says:

    Commenting on the digression here, not the main post.

    I find the suggestion offered by Mary Claire vanLeunen to be the best–for every such sentence, toss a coin and choose he or she.

    As a research problem, I think that’s harder than it looks. Not only must the word processor be able to decide the pronouns in their different grammatical inflections (he/him/his or she/her/her etc) consistently, it must also be semantically aware to recognize what “he” refers to, so that the consistency may be maintained. It should not refer to “The Manager” as male in one sentence and female in the next (or anywhere else in the document). Also, at the time that the program assigns the genders, it may be useful to assign it in such a way that the number of confusing conflicts is minimized. For instance, if “The Professor” and “The Grad Student” occur together in many sentences, it would be helpful to assign different genders to them, so that we don’t have sentences like “He asked him whether he could give him the data” – who asked whom now? Such a requirement also makes the problem NP-complete. (Proof: terms like “The Manager” are vertices of a graph, edges represent whether they occur together in a semantically linked way, and genders (he/she/it/they) are colors assigned to the vertices. Now reduce from a vertex coloring problem, assigning the coloring that minimizes conflicts).

    It makes for an interesting problem in computer science and operations research, but I usually use the singular they. I don’t know anyone other than a few humanities researchers who use Spivak and similar systems.

  2. gaddeswarup Says:

    Guru,
    I came across one article (through crazyfinger’s blog) which Ramguha would probably appreciate “Professor Kingsfield Goes to Delhi: American Academics, the Ford Foundation, and the Development of Legal Education in India ” by Jayanth Krishnan

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=682341

    If you across such articles in other areas, please let us know. Thanks.
    Swarup

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