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Fascinated by India

P. Sujatha Varma
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Chatline Gandhian and ecological economist Mark Lindley continues to explore the present and future of a complex land, discovers P. Sujatha Varma

Vijayawada connectionMark Lindley with Gandhian atheist leader LavanamPhoto: Ch. Vijaya Bhaskar
Vijayawada connectionMark Lindley with Gandhian atheist leader LavanamPhoto: Ch. Vijaya Bhaskar

Mark Lindley was nine when he first became interested in India. His father was chief of the Washington Bureau of Newsweek and visited India for the inauguration of the Republic in August 1947. “When he came back to Washington he told me, ‘They have leapt ahead of us. They have an Untouchable in their national capital.’”

His father had met B.R. Ambedkar, of course. “I thought to myself, if they have leapt ahead of us, I should go there and see,” recounts Lindley, a historian of modern India.

Born in Washington, DC, he studied at Harvard University, Juilliard School of Music and Columbia University and has taught at Columbia University, City University of New York, Washington University, University of London and Oxford University.

As a historian, he has focussed on the Indian Independence struggle, particularly on Mahatma Gandhi and some of his associates.

“Towards the end of 1947 and beginning of 1948, I was following with great interest the reports of Gandhi’s last two fasts – the one in Calcutta and the one in New Delhi – and then, when he was assassinated, at my school we had no classes, the entire school spent the whole day learning about Gandhi in an assembly. This was an unforgettable day in world history.”

Around 1950, Lindley’s father was one of a small number of people whom the State Department was considering to be the first American ambassador to the Republic of India. “They took Chester Bowles instead, but still this episode stimulated my interest in India,” he says.

He began his association with Vijayawada in 1994, when the Gandhian atheist leader Lavanam, during a visit to Harvard University, invited him to India to collaborate with him in writing a book on Gandhi and the religions he was interested in. The second edition of that book was released at the National Gandhi Museum two years ago.

“During my work on that book, I got interested in J.C. Kumarappa, who had collaborated with Lavanam’s father Gora in 1952 to launch an NGO to protest against the Second Five Year Plan and some other aspects of Nehru’s top-down economic policies.”

Lindley then read Kumarappa’s Economy of Prominence . “In 1999, when I met Ramachandra Guha in Bangalore, I asked him, are you going to write a book about Kumarappa? He said no. So I said, in that case I will. He said “Good” and told me where to go to do the documentary research.”

The book was published in 1997 by Popular Prakashan in Mumbai. In 2010, the same publisher brought out Lindley’s biography on Gora, which was released at Teen Murthi Bhavan in New Delhi.

“I have been to India a dozen times since that fist visit in 1994 and every time, I have come to Vijayawada. Now I am more interested in writing and teaching about present and future problems than about the past. I am focussing on problems of ecological economics which Kumarappa foresaw in the early 1940s and which are getting worse and worse, alas, in the 21{+s}{+t}century.”

Lindley is also a Gandhian author and a noted musicologist but he seldom allows these multiple roles to overlap. For now, the ecological economist in him is active. “I am interested in these issues as worldwide problems and as problems that may interfere with India’s attempts to solve the problem of food security for her less well-off people,” he says.

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