I have read Guha’s book with equal fascination. His compact, yet loaded essays on a variety of people who have had an impact on the subcontinent kept me riveted. The obvious political figures—Nehru, Rajagopalachari and Vajpayee—have a surprising companion, B.P. Koirala. Nirad Babu figures in a fun essay on the coconut men of Bengal. Then there are the shy, modest Indians, the salt of the land, the counterpoise to the political figures, but no less valuable, Chandi Prasad Batt, Anil Aggarwal, Dharma Kumar, Shivaram Karanth and Sujit Mukerjee. Guha, of course, has to slip in something on cricket. After reading his essay on C.L.R. James I simply have to read Beyond a Boundary.
Written in easy, limpid prose, each essay is the result of intense research and labour, all lightly moulded into beautifully balanced figures. Being Dharma Kumar’s nephew thrice over, he is of course a liberal, and therefore his judgements are finely balanced and shot through with humaneness. Rajagopalachari was of course right on the Partition, the atom bomb and many other issues. Guha is generous to Nehru, in apportioning blame for the coolness between them, and the loss to the country thereof. I, for one, never understood why Rajagopalachari was denied the Presidency. Even today, the larger share of political goodies always falls in the North’s plate. In the case of Bengal, the decline was not only due to the shift of the national capital to Delhi, but also the marginalising of C.R. Das by the Mahatma and friends. In fact, Subhas Bose did not unwisely leave the Congress. He was seen off by the same group. The Mahatma was, after all, a finely-tuned political man. On the midnight celebrations of 50 years of Independence, sitting in the Central Hall, what struck me as the turn of the wheel of history was the fact that the Mahatma’s and Nehru’s recorded speeches were heard casually, but the hall erupted in applause when we heard, for the first time, the emphatic voice of Subhas.