If you write a book that ventures out to tell readers about your findings about Indians after extensive research, be prepared to be asked nuanced sociological questions. If you’re Patrick French at the launch last Thursday in Delhi of your book, India: A Portrait, the top ‘nuanced’ question you were asked was: “Are Bengalis or ‘South Indians’ more intelligent?”
There are many subjects that French tackles in his book — the sudden preponderance of the children of MPs entering Parliament, BR Ambedkar (“one of the finest writers, India’s George Orwell”), communal violence, India’s economic reforms. But everyone seems to have dropped anchor on one thing: what scientific research has to say about the mental prowess of one kind of Indian versus the other —which, rather strangely, in Delhi boils down to two camps: Bengalis and Malayalis-'Tamil Brahmins'. The founder of the Indian Statistical Institute, French said, was deeply interested in the measurements of Indians’ heads. The scientist who helped French was present at the launch, and this triggered a desire to know who’s better, who’s best — ‘scientifically’. The verdict? Well, that geographically all kinds of Indians — Bengalis and Tam Brams included — are genetically too similar for any ‘nature over nurture’ argument.