TIRTHANKAR ROY

TIRTHANKAR ROY: about me

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I grew up in Santiniketan in eastern India, the "ashram" founded by Debendranath Tagore (1817-1905), father of the poet, writer, composer Rabindranath (1861-1941). Santiniketan embodied the spirit of the Bengali renaissance, a movement to refresh modern India's links with classical Indian music, art, and literature. Rabindranath Tagore added to this ideal an internationalism. "Knowledge has no borders" - this is the motto of the university that was started there. My father Satyendranath Roy (1918-2003), a Tagore Professor in Santiniketan and one of the best literary critics in Bengali, also wrote about the ideals of 19th c. Bengali cultural revival.

The premier city of eastern India, Calcutta was an international city until 1940, thanks to its cosmopolitan business heritage. It lost its international character first in business and then in culture during a communist upsurge in the 1970s and 1980s, and ended up as the provincial backwater now known as Kolkata.

Santiniketan maintained contact with the world at large. Growing up here made me allergic to a grotesque side of Bengali modernity : the arrogance and short-sightedness with which the communists, with a fetish for the village, set out to first destroy Calcutta's capitalist heritage, and then to mould the intellectual and cultural life of Bengal - a great deal of it contributions of Calcutta and Santiniketan - into a politically correct image.

My move into economic history happened in the Centre for Development Studies (where I did doctorate). A left-leaning institution, CDS in my time valued original thought, wide reading, history as a way to understand the present, and democracy between teachers and students. All of these values helped me grow.

CDS taught me that history is telling a new story credibly. Credible is that story which trusts its sources .. unless contradicted by other sources.

This is a useful lesson to do Indian history, because what often passes as history is nothing better than an expression of patriotism. Doing the history of India is an enterprise to free the past from political narratives.
Evidence is key.

The move to LSE Economic History strengthened the commitment to evidence-based history.