Noted historian and biographer, Ramachandra Guha has said that India offers an “inhospitable” atmosphere for writing historical biographies. He said that biographies are written under constant fear of offending someone, a problem that historians have been dealing with regularly.
Guha was speaking at the Samvatsar Lecture of Sahitya Akademi’s Festival of Letters on Thursday here on “The Craft of Historical Biography” on Thursday evening.
He said that Mahtama Gandhi is the only great personality in India on whom historians can write anything, even criticise, without having to fear that they might offend someone. Mahatma Gandhi, according to Guha, belongs to everyone and yet no one. He said that writings on Gandhi do not invite book bans or protests.
Guha has taught at the universities of Yale and Stanford, held the Arné Naess Chair at the University of Oslo, and been the Indo-American Community Visiting Professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
Although most of Guha’s lecture was a repetition of what he has spoken at many events, most lately at Penguin India’s Spring Fever, he maintained that fear of giving offense is a stumbling block to India’s robust democracy.
The noted historian also said that the “colossal” egos of some writers and indifference to record-keeping were among other issues faced by historical biographers in India.
Guha said that writing a biography requires one to let go off his ego and do justice to the personality he is writing about. Distorted facts are a result of such ego clashes, he noted.
Guha, a recipient of the Ramnath Goenka Prize for excellence in journalism, the Sahitya Akademi Award, and the R. K. Narayan Prize, among others, also lamented that history is treated as a “social science” in India and this attitude needs to change.