Why has Indian biography been so undeveloped? Why are Indians so good at writing uncritical hagiographies? These are among the the questions historian Ramachandra Guha explores with historian and author Dinyar Patel in the first episode of Past Imperfect.

The discussion is built around Guha’s latest book, Rebels Against the Raj, which profiles seven foreign-born men and women who fought for India’s freedom and became, in the process, Indians themselves.

But beyond the book, Patel and Guha also talk about the problems in India’s educational system, the process of producing historical scholarship, and, especially, the genre of Indian biography.

Past Imperfect is a history podcast series in which Dinyar Patel will be in conversation with authors of some of the most important new books in Indian and global histories. This pairing is deliberate: too much popular historical discussion in India focuses exclusively on Indian history. Instead, this series brings a much-needed global perspective to history in India, highlighting commonalities and connections across borders.

India has never been a self-contained entity – quite the opposite is true, as, through the centuries, it has absorbed political, economic, and intellectual influences from across the world while sharing its own culture and intellectual traditions with other societies.

By including scholars who do not specifically study India – but whose work speaks to salient themes in Indian history – it hopes to widen popular historical horizons and engage with a diverse listening audience.

Dinyar Patel is an assistant professor of history at the SP Jain Institute of Management and Researchin Mumbai. His award-winning biography of Dadabhai Naoroji, Naoroji: Pioneer of Indian Nationalism, was published by Harvard University Press in May 2020.

Past Imperfect is sponsored and produced by the Centre for Wisdom and Leadership at the SP Jain Institute of Management and Research.