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In Conversation: Romila Thapar and Arvind Narrain


My generation grew up on the cusp of independence—nationalism at its height, just about to take over. So we were very aware of it. Conversations in school were very much about when you British children go away, this is what we are going to do. India is ours, not yours kind of thing. In a place like Pune, Gandhi was constantly being put under arrest and let out and then put under arrest again. His big fasts took place when he was under arrest in Pune. The periods when he was not under arrest, he would hold prayer meetings as he called them. I still remember, in a huge compound of a house that belonged to a nature cure clinic of Dr Mehta's. We would rush home from school, quickly do our homework—it wasn’t too far in the cantonment and three or four of us would go to these prayer meetings. There we sat, evening after evening, maybe not fully understanding what the conversation was about. After the prayer was over, he would talk about things. But nevertheless, there was the feeling that we have got to be a part of this. - Romila Thapar

What does the study of history mean for a historian? Where does the professional historian depart from one who popularizes history? Why is this distinction so fundamental in nature? Where do we locate historical methodology within this—in terms of historiography, reading sources, analysing them and arriving at conclusions based on evidence. In this free-flowing conversation with Arvind Narain, Professor Romila Thapar addresses some of these questions troubling the discipline today as she draws upon her life from her childhood to her days of training to becoming a historian and her career as one of the leading historians and public intellectuals that the world has seen.

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