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'The easiest way to approach history': Why Ramachandra Guha is curating a new series of biographies

Historian and writer Ramachandra Guha is the editor and curator of Indian Lives, a new series of biographies in which scholars will focus on the life and legacy of important figures from India’s history. Published by HarperCollins India, the series will feature biographies of extraordinary individuals who may be separated in time sometimes by centuries, but continue to shape Indian cultural and political discourses.

The first book in the Indian Lives series, Ashoka by Patrick Olivelle, is a fascinating study of the philosopher king, while the second book, Sheikh Abdullah: The Caged Lion of Kashmir by Chitralekha Zutshi, is a richly told narrative about the 20th-century politician from Kashmir.

Guha talked about the series he has conceived, its contents, and on writing today. Excerpts from the interview:

On how the series came to be

My idea for the series Indian Lives, in a sense, goes back to my own career as a biographer. I have relatively recently written a two-volume biography of Gandhi, but a decade and a half before that, I published a biography of a fascinating minor figure called Verrier Elwin, a British scholar who became an anthropologist and worked among Adivasis in India

While I was working on Elwin’s life, I encountered a lot of resistance among my academic colleagues who said, why are you wasting...

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