A pioneering historian of the Sikhs, the author of a fine novel about Partition, editor, memoirist, columnist and political naif, he is a man of many parts, but he’s here as the writer who invented himself: the hard-drinking, wise-cracking, godless sardar taking on hypocrisy.
Not just a great Kannada novelist, but an institution-builder who shaped cultural sensibilities to a larger worldview. He also wrote encyclopaedias, compiled lexicons, revived traditional dance-dramas like Yakshagana, all his work imbued with a spirit of scientific quest and a liberal humanism.
Bengal has a habit of producing world-historic Indians: Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray and now, Amartya Sen. His work on social choice theory, on the causes of famine, on ‘positive capability’ give him intellectual credentials respected by such disparate publications as the Wall Street Journal and the Economic and Political Weekly. Middle-class Indians know the geography of his resume by heart, from Drummond Professor, Oxford, to Nobel winner for Economics. The UPA government could have brought that resume home by making him President.
O. V. Vijayan
English-speaking readers know him as a grim, unsmiling acerbic cartoonist. For the rest, he was possibly Malayalam literature’s most potent and gifted novelist. Author of the astonishingly creative novel The Legends of Khasak, he set a "benchmark" for Malayalam writers. "For me," he said, "fiction can only be written in Malayalam, however unexposed the language is". Vijayan passed away in 2005, largely unmourned and unlamented.
One of India’s most influential playwrights, his work evokes social, political issues that are eternally relevant. Ghasiram Kotwal was set in the 18th century, but it found contemporary resonance at a time when the Shiv Sena was on the rise and the Emergency was round the corner. His Sakharam Binder, Ardh Satya, Manthan are immortal too.
One of his earliest plays, Tughlaq, a stupendous allegorical work on power, history and the complexities of the human psyche, was the first sign of a prodigious talent that was to express itself in many more plays, as well as in his acting and his courageous activism in support of all forms of freedom of expression.
The father of our ‘white revolution’, he represents another side of business—collective ownership and a bottom-up approach. His work in setting up dairy cooperatives empowered thousands of small farmers, gave them financial power, and helped make India one of the world’s biggest milk producers, with globally recognised brands like Amul.