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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 24

Veteran Historian and Versatile Personality

A tribute to Professor Suhas Chakravarty

Monday 2 June 2008, by Ravindra Sharma

On May 4, around 11 am, a close friend of mine telephoned me to inform that Professor Suhas Chakravarty is no more. I broke down. I rang up to Dr K.K. Panda to confirm the news. The news was correct. I passed the news to Dr V.C. Bhutani (a close associate of Prof Suhas). Three of us attended Prof Suhas’ condolence meeting at the India International Centre. His condolence meeting gave a message—that a sincere, honest, dedicated, competent and missionary man is still honoured by the Indian society. Speaker after speaker spoke endorsing Prof Suhas’ contribution to the academic world in general and history in particular.

This is not the occasion to assess Prof Suhas’s contribution, yet one can say that books written by him, particularly Khyber to Oxus (1976), Anatomy of the Raj (1981), The Raj Syndrome (1989), Afghanistan and the Great Game, will be passionately read, discussed and quoted by the younger generations. More importantly, Professor Suhas also wrote the biography of V.K. Krishna Menon (in three volumes), which covers the period of an age. In the twilight of his life, he was writing the fourth volume of Krishna Menon’s biography. Dr V.C. Bhutani has reviewed the biography of Krishna Menon in the Indian Historical Review (January 1976) entitled “Long Crusader”. Academically, Professor Suhas as a brilliant student was the product of Cambridge University; he was the Head of the Department of History, University of Delhi, and also a Nehru Fellow, as well as the Visitor’s nominee at the School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He held the Indian Chair at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy at Tashkent. He had a passion for books.

HISTORIAN apart, Prof Suhas was a pro-poor, pro-teacher and pro-student progressive activist. He was a wonderful orator and a skilled organiser; he always enjoyed the social gatherings of intellectuals; he had a wide range of interests from film to politics to art to culture to literature and finally philosophy. On the whole, he was a lively person and a versatile personality. Ideologically, he was a liberal democrat, yet he honoured the basic nuances of Marxism. Not many know that Prof Suhas was widely read and well informed about Marxism. He was anti-authoritarian, yet he followed the Rule of Law; he was a moderate critic of Gandhi and Nehru, yet he wrote books on the freedom struggle. In the evening of his life, he was deeply upset by seeing the misuse of power, induction and promotion of mediocres, and decline of research and knowledge in the academic world. He was equally perturbed by seeing the collapse of the socialist model. Very often, in personal conversations he would lambast the endorsement of private property in socialist China. Paradoxically, as a youngster Professor Suhas witnessed the idealisation of socialism, and on the eve of his exit, he witnessed the encroachment of capitalism in the socialist world, notably China. I am sure this must have been a cause of deep pain and agony for him. Perhaps that also hastened his departure bringing about his untimely demise.

The author is a noted China scholar and a known activist.

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