S. Gopal (1923–2002) was the most respected Indian historian of his time. His biographies of Jawaharlal Nehru and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan remain the finest political lives written in the country. His writings on Indian history and politics are admired for their flair, elegance, insight, and thoroughness.
The present book gathers together thirty pieces from scattered and relatively inaccessible sources. It is remarkable equally for the quality of the writing within it, reminiscent of the virtues that made Gopal’s reputation. ‘The English prose of most Indian academics is wooden’, say Ramachandra Guha and Sunil Khilnani in their preface to this collection. ‘Gopal, who had immersed himself in the literature of the language, was by contrast a stylist with a wry turn of phrase. Though his mother tongue was Telugu and he spoke Tamil fairly well—as well as an Oxford-educated Brahmin could—he wrote almost entirely in English, crafting his sentences fastidiously …’ This is everywhere apparent in the essays here.
They range from analyses of imperialists such as Curzon and Churchill, to nationalists such as Nehru, Gandhi, Ambedkar, and Patel, to novelist-democrats such as E.M. Forster and Rabindranath Tagore. The Suez Crisis, cricketers and cricket-writing, secularism and Hindutva, women and Indian law, and the English language in South Asia are among the varied subjects that they are about.
This is not a collection only for historians and students of Indian politics. It is a book for anyone wanting to read first-rate English prose by one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking writers of modern India.
Sarvepalli Gopal is the author of War and Peace in Modern India (2010). He is Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, and Lecturer in Defence Studies at King’s College London. He is writing an international history of the India–Pakistan war of 1971 and the creation of Bangladesh.