Tapan Raychaudhuri, one of India’s foremost economic and social historians passed away on Wednesday aged 88, leaving behind several colleagues, admirers and former students in India, Oxford and elsewhere who benefited from his guidance over decades.
A Padma Bhushan awardeee, 'Tapan Babu' was a long-time resident of Oxford, where he accepted a Readership in South Asian History at the university in 1973. An alumni of Presidency College, Kolkata, he completed his second D. Phil. in Oxford in the late 1950s, and was the Emeritus Fellow of St Antony’s College until his death.
Reacting to his passing away, noted Cambridge historian Christopher A. Bayly told HT: “He was a part of that outstanding trio of Readers in Indian History at Oxford in the 1960s and '70s, following Ashin Das Gupta and Sarvepalli Gopal”.
“All three did much to sweep away the colonial version of the Indian past which was still widespread in Britain at that time. Raychaudhuri's scholarly range was very great, moving from the Mughal period through the nineteenth and into the twentieth century and he was equally at home in economic, social and political history”.
Bayly added: “His mild manner concealed a penetrating mind and a well developed sense of irony. Indian historians at Cambridge never quite forgot his charge that they understood Indian nationalism only as 'animal politics'”.
Margaret MacMillan, Warden of St Anthony’s College, Oxford, said: “Dr Tapan Raychaudhuri was a much valued member of this College for many years. He was a highly distinguished scholar whose work over many years contributed significantly to the understanding of modern India. He was an excellent teacher who inspired generations of students. I am grateful to have known him personally from the time he arrived in Oxford with his wife and daughter in the 1970s. He was a warm and kind person, always interested in others, and with a wonderful sense of humour.”
Bristol-based local historian Carla Contractor described him as an inspiring figure, and said: “I got to know him during his visits to the annual Rammohun Roy service at the Arnos Vale cemetery. He was a courteous man and a very reliable speaker. Talking with him was better than any of his books”.
The author of several books, Raychaudhuri’s most recent book was ‘The World in Our Time: A Memoir’ (2012), in which he narrated social life in a zamindari estate in east Bengal, and described his uneasy time at the Delhi School of Economics and inherent racism in Britain, among other key events in his life.
A former deputy director of the National Archives of India, Raychaudhuri was made the National Research Professor by the Indian government in 2011.