In 1916 Rabindranath Tagore, the great Bengali writer and visionary, published The Home and the World, a novel critical of nationalism at a time when Indian nationalists were beginning to intensify their struggle against the Raj. Over a century later, another great Bengali, Amartya Sen, has adapted the phrase for the title of his memoir, Home in the World.
Sen is an admirer of Tagore, who was a friend of Sen’s mother. He was educated at the school founded by Tagore at Santiniketan and he is at least as anti-nationalist as the older man. But the subtle rewording suggests not just a universalist outlook but a cosmopolitan who is at home in the world, a man physically as well as intellectually at ease in Cambridge (England), Cambridge (Massachusetts), West Bengal and indeed many other places. He refuses to tell interviewers which is his real home, because he doesn’t have only one. He also refuses to think of himself or others as people with a single identity, because he does not want to miss ‘the richness of the multiple identities we all have’. Although he could easily have acquired a British or American passport, he proudly retains just his Indian one. He does not need extra documents to proclaim that he is the least insular of men.
Sen was born in 1933 into a Hindu family that lived in Dhaka, a city that became part of East Pakistan in 1947 and has been the capital of Bangladesh since 1971. Although his scholar grandfather insisted that the Hindu–Muslim division in Bengal had no political significance, the