A return to some foundational ones. And other, newer, eye-opening ideas – even though they’re steeped in some of India’s most sacred ancient texts.
Mani Shankar Aiyar and Swapan Dasgupta are among the most formidable intellectuals of their own political dispensations; informed, engaged and articulate.
Curiously, in conversation at Algebra, they found themselves in agreement on more than one occasion – but it was in their divergent views on nationhood, and on what really makes an Indian that there was the most riveting dissent.
Swapan, who has long batted for the right-of-centre, argued that cultural nationalism is not just desirable but essential, and that while the constitution operates like the laws of the game, it is not the final word on the idea of India — society is; and it’s important for everyone in India to visibly acknowledge their Hindu civilisational underpinnings.
To Mani – passionate Nehruvian, and fierce “secular fundamentalist” – the only meaningful definition of being Indian is “anyone who calls himself an Indian”, a contention that earned him a rousing round of applause from the audience. He argued that India’s fundamental diversity of language, food, dress, custom, tradition, religion, ritual and more could not be flattened into any universal framework of Indianness, and that allegiance to the constitution and to the idea of nationhood was the only framework needed.
It was a conversation peppered with philosophical insights, with historical evidence, with rich literary reference, with nuanced articulation – but it was perhaps Swapan’s startling admission that he views Golwalkar and Savarkar’s version of Hinduism and nationalism as problematic that was the most hopeful note of the night, signalling that the tolerance for the extreme view may not be as universal as it sometimes appears among the right.
It was a conversation true to the very intent of Algebra, to create spaces for provocation and insight and courteous dissent, and is an essential watch in its entirety for all those grappling with unease at the nation we are now becoming.
Algebra, the Arts & Ideas Club brings together a fellowship of people who believe great cities are built not just on infrastructure but a life of the mind; who understand robust and liberal societies need the oxygen of great conversation and nuanced thinking.
At a time when we are increasingly surrounded by rage and noise, Algebra is a live and continuous space for people to come together for a genuine exchange of ideas and exposure to issues; where new seeds could be sparked, fresh perspectives formed, and intelligent connections made.
Algebra – the Arts and Ideas Club is designed to host almost 35 engagements over the year with topline thinkers and practitioners from almost every discipline that impacts human affairs: politics, economy, environment, spirituality, cinema, medicine, science, technology, music, media, literature, the arts, sports, people’s movements, et al.