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 04 Mar 2016

Sunil Khilnani tells the story of the poet and philosopher Sir Muhammad Iqbal. One of India's most patriotic, eloquent writers, Iqbal is also celebrated as Pakistan's national poet. In his spare time, he wrote one of the first Urdu textbooks on economics; earned a doctorate in philosophy, which he studied for in Lahore, Cambridge and Germany; and became a barrister in London. It was during his time in the west that Iqbal formulated his Islamic critique of Western society that would eventually become famous in Europe, India and the larger Muslim world. To Iqbal, the West's problem was one of love and desire. Like the devil, the West seemed consumed with an insatiable appetite. But the devil's failing, like the failing of Milton's Satan, was that he 'declined to give absolute obedience to the Almighty Ruler of the Universe.' In the same way, the West, by turning away from God and the human brotherhood preached by Christ, had become a terrible inversion of the ideal society. Its desires, severed from the highest things, had become purely material. Iqbal's vision inevitably brought him to loggerheads with those, including the British government and the Congress movement, whose aspirations for India did not extend to an ideal Islamic polity. Partly as a result, although he died almost a decade before its creation, Iqbal's work has often been read as a forceful argument for Pakistan. Featuring Professor Javed Majeed. Readings by Sagar Arya. Producer: Martin Williams Executive Producer: Martin Smith.. . .