It was indeed a privilege and lofty experience altogether to get a glimpse into the workings of prodigal minds. An Argumentative Indian, a documentary on Nobel Laureate and economist Amartya Sen, directed by Suman Ghosh was one such experience.
Its screening at Nandan, Kolkata, was organised by NGO Prabha Khaitan Foundation. Present at the gracious occasion was actor Soumitra Chatterjee, the guest of honour and a host of other celebrity faces in the audience, Sen’s wife Nabaneeta Dev Sen and daughter Nandana Sen being the most notable ones.
The documentary effortlessly weaves itself around an insightful interview between Sen and his student and Cornell economics professor, Kaushik Basu.
The Nobel Laureate reminisces his days in Santiniketan which moves him to wonder how the rather small university town had an “air of freedom” about it and how it is “progressive” in the truest sense of the term. In that one hour documentary, the viewers get to see this international icon’s personality from the multiple perspectives of distinguished persons like another Nobel winning economist Paul Samuelson or the former Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh.
One of his professors from Presidency University feels it was Cambridge which played a greater role in shaping his visionary ideas. “Cambridge taught him to ask questions which we failed to do,” he confessed. In a touching scene his mother Amita Sen shares the moment she first came to know over telephone that her son won the Nobel Prize. “I don’t believe you,” was her immediate reaction.
But once she hung up, she found that her room was filled with people. The economist’s fighting spirit is revealed when the viewers learnt that at the young age of 18, he selfdiagnosed himself with cancer. “It inspired me to know that I was ahead of my medical people and I got it right when they haven’t. It was a sense of victory,” he said.
He repeatedly mentioned his friends Sukhamoy Chakravorty and Mahbub ul Haq as huge inspirations to him. The interview brought out the polymath’s opinions that he will always remain a supporter of a modernist secular right wing party that is also pro-business.
He shared his experiences on how it was like meeting Mahatma Gandhi as a child. “He is someone from whom you could learn without having to agree with him. This is what inspires me about him,” said Sen.
About his book An Argumentative Indian, he tells that he believes India to be a highly dialectical country but nowadays we are being interpreted in very narrow terms.
Discordant viewpoints are always welcome but it is wrong to suppress anybody’s outlooks. He most humbly stated his position saying, “I don’t call myself a nationalist but I do love my country”.
Quite ironically, An Argumentative Indianhas fell victim to censor board’s disapproval against words like “cow”, “Hindu”, “Hindutva” and “Gujrat”. However, the director has refused to beep the words.
“My fascination on Sen increased after reading his works. To me he emerged as a mythical figure and a renaissance man,” said Suman regarding his inspiration to make the documentary.
On a following question answer session, that brought up burning issues, Sen said, “A response is needed to the contemporary antagonism taking place. Rights are being violated but nothing much is being done about it. It is as if we are walking in a trance”.