Incarnations: India in 50 Lives

By Prof Sunil Khilnani

On Going since May 2015 • Updated weekly

Over the course of 50 episodes, Sunil Khilnani, director of the King's India Institute in London, takes listeners on a whirlwind journey from ancient India to the 21st century through the prism of the life stories of 50 remarkable individuals. He will also explore their surprising afterlives, which illuminate both the astonishments and urgent conflicts of India today.

He begins with the Buddha, exploring the story of his life and how he has been reinvented in modern India by those who oppose the caste system. "Buddha's solution to suffering lay in the individual mind. But he was also sketching a new form of society," says Professor Khilnani. "He was a moral meritocrat, and to an extent a social one too."

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  Direct Link   Download 0 Minutes 08 Mar 2016

Sunil Khilnani explores the life of political leader and freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose. When Bose's father named his ninth child Subhas - "one of good speech" - he wasn't imagining the boy applying an oratorical gift to fervent radicalism. Just over forty years later - after numerous stays in British jails, a daring escape followed by appeals to ally his own forces with Nazi Germany and then Japan - George Orwell wrote that the world was well rid of him. Nonetheless, in India today he rates as a national hero, his name affixed to airports, schools, and stamps. The vitality of his hold on the national imagination is manifest in other ways too: after his death he was periodically "discovered" alive, as a prisoner in a Soviet concentration camp, as a Chinese military officer, or as an Indian sadhu, a holy man with miraculous powers. It took three official commissions, the last one in 2006, to certify that Subhas Chandra Bose actually died in 1945. His own life ended in failure, but his legacy would come to shape India's relationship with the world, in ways he could not have predicted. Producer: Martin Williams.. . .