The Republic of India was written into being – ours is a country made by writers. From social reformer Rammohun Roy to writer of the Constitution BR Ambedkar, the central figures of the 150 years of intellectual and social ferment that culminated in Independence and the Constitution were not simply people who used writing as a vehicle, but true writers of the highest class – of poetry, fiction, memoir, and above all of journalism.
They quite literally believed that the answer to a book was another book: Lala Lajpat Rai’s was one of dozens of book-length replies to Katherine Mayo’s Mother India. Our Republic’s record, across governments, of treating books and writers with suspicion is a particularly tragic betrayal of our own history.
As we celebrate 75 years of freedom, one way of honoring the men and women who gave us that freedom would be to begin, at last, to reverse that betrayal. We could start by letting people read The Satanic Verses without restrictions.
Another would be to read them. Compared with the writings of say, the American Founding Fathers, our inheritance is far richer and immeasurably more relevant to today. From philosopher Vivekananda to activist Tarabai Shinde, from judge Mahadev Ranade to anti-caste activist Jyotirao Phule, they give us, paragraph by paragraph, a source of insight and invigoration that is inexhaustible, like Draupadi’s cooking pot.
For all their differences, what they shared was a love of India that a century later still explodes off the page. That love manifests as deep pain at our collective sorrows and imperfections, and deep conviction in our collective capacity for improvement. We have never needed them more.
Keshava Guha was born in Delhi and raised in Bangalore. He is the author of the novel Accidental Magic.
Read all the contributions to the PEN project here.