Imaginary heroes

Churumuri links to an op-ed in DNA on Amartya Sen and the one-dimensional heroes in his recent book. Makes great reading.

The best part of Sen’s jargon-filled book is where he explains his ideas through examples. This is where Ashoka, Akbar and Arjuna figure in large doses. Through Sen’s lens, all three emerge as one-dimensional heroes, reasoning automatons, not real people.

Ashoka figures in almost all of Sen’s recent books as a kind of champion of public reasoning and moderation. There are, however, problems with the blind lionisation of Ashoka. No thinking person should presume that the historical Ashoka was the same as the Ashoka of the rock edicts.

All emperors have hagiographers and Ashoka surely had his. All histories gloss over the early part of his life, when his armies were murdering people. His Kalinga war was the worst massacre in Indian history at that point of time. If you want to turn Ashoka into a folk hero, you start by looking at him after his “conversion” and change of heart — which is what Buddhist historians like to do. Surely, this is a deficient way of judging someone with history’s hindsight. It’s like assessing Jinnah by looking only at the first half of his political life.

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  • you12  On September 12, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    R Jagannathan seems like a decent columnist. A rare rare rarity in the minstream media. this
    is nice. And this
    is certainly thought provoking.

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