Saturday, September 4, 2010

Blood, Sweat, Tears

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill is among the most overrated men of the twentieth century. As a student boxer at Harrow, he no doubt learned the value of getting in the first, telling punch: witness his self-serving telling of the history of World War II, which came out shortly after the war ended, and for which he won a literature Nobel Prize — not the last time a prize was political, but surely the only time it went to someone who relied on ghostwriters. That multi-volume work, through sheer dogged heft, re-routed his legacy: a prime minister who was comprehensively routed the first time he faced an election became the Last Lion, a fawning reputation that has survived various efforts to examine his record more rationally.

Just as Winston’s stubborn commitment to greatness is foundational for so many men — usually men — of the Right, halfway across the world, equally foundational for generations of Bengalis is the memory of the famine of 1943. Satyajit Ray was haunted by it all his life; and American economists would ask me, puzzled, why Amartya Sen had abandoned “real work” to study famines. When I would explain, haltingly, about ’43, nobody had ever heard of it. It wasn’t part of the story of the War. Why would it be? In all his volumes, Churchill never mentioned it.

Full review here Indian Express

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