Pratap Bhanu Mehta: Once upon a time there was another public, another India

The single best thing ever written on the idea of the university in India is Ashutosh Mukherjee’s Convocation Address to Mysore University in 1916, and published in the now inaccessible Dacca Review (October 1918). It literally anticipates every single debate we have on the idea of the university - from finance to governance, from pedagogy to the romance of research - but with a rigour, insight and generosity that is a reminder of how small we have become. This should be compulsory reading for everyone concerned with higher education

If you want to resist the will to simplicity, the flattening of public discourse, and the potential slide into barbarism that characterises our times, you could do worse than to turn to an astonishing new resource that has for the first time been made available to the public. Rahul Sagar, an academic at NYU, and his associates have laboriously created the single most comprehensive, and searchable, database of over three lakh articles published in all Indian periodicals published in India between 1857 and 1947. 

The database is This database is an astonishing act of public service.
It conveys the sheer romance of what a love of ideas looks like, and the meticulous care that has to go into preserving access to them. The database is also a reminder of the way in which we have desecrated even our own recent past. Most of the amazing periodicals used in this are not available in India; and most are not accessible. It is almost as if the literal, physical rotting away of our recent heritage, is also a metaphor for the rotting away of our memories and our minds. We are obsessed with history, but not so much to deepen our understanding of how we came to be, but to ransack it for our purposes.

This database will almost certainly transform our understanding of India’s past. It is an access to an amazingly vibrant public sphere that is deeply thoughtful and wide ranging. It is contentious but sincere and respectful. It is almost impossible to list the many profound ways in which perusing the lists of articles, let alone digging them up and reading them, will change your perspective on Indian intellectual history. The database is a reminder of the fact that the big contentious debates of Indian spiritual, political, economic and social life are not often accurately reflected in the big, and conventional figures we all study or distilled in books....

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