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The Hindu on : Reason and passion

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Monday, December 04, 2000

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Reason and passion

Sir, - When a noted social historian applies the yardstick of academic research to evaluate a passionate popular article, it neither enhances the academic cause nor the social concerns of the article. This seems to be the unhappy situation that has led to Mr. Ramachandra Guha's well-written essay ``The Arun Shourie of the left'' (TheHindu, Nov. 26).

Mr. Ramachandra Guha laments that Ms. Arundhati Roy's article ``The Greater Common Good'' (Outlook and Frontline) lacks in original research and objectivity. But Ms. Roy never claimed that her articles were entirely original; she relied on certain secondary data which she specifically acknowledged in the articles. Unlike the social-researchers, she never pretended that her articles were totally objective. As a writer-activist, when she shares some of her personal experiences with her readers an element of subjectivity is inevitable. But what is important in such a scenario is that the personality of the author does not overshadow the social message of her articles.

In spite of the alleged personal tilt in her articles, which according to Mr. Guha is self-indulgence, Ms. Roy's social message is clear, poignant and powerful. Thanks to Ms. Roy's essay ``The Great Common Good'', which many consider the essay of the decade, now more people are aware of the Narmada issue and the valiant struggle of the Narmada Bachao Andolan than ever before.

Earlier it used to be the subject matter of academic discussion among a handful of social researchers. Now the message has reached the middle and upper segments of social terrace. Ms. Roy's contribution in this regard is certainly significant.

Again, comparing big dams with nuclear bombs may be unacceptable to a scholar who uses social research as his scale. But to the writer- activist, it is a moral stand based on her inner light and strength; it is such an intense personal stand that she does not need any social affirmation. In the emerging complex social scenario, any critique of the public issues and social writings should overcome ``the Wren and Martin'' straight jacket approach. Guha the thinker is guided by reason; Arundhati the artiste is driven by passion, and the social causes need both in equal measures.

B. J. Krishnan,

Udhagamandalam (TN)

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