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 02 Jun 2015

Prof. Sunil Khilnani profiles the life of Malik Ambar, an Ethiopian slave who rose to become a power-broker and king maker. Malik Ambar's story challenges some of our familiar perceptions of slavery. He was part of a tradition of military slavery which created elite warriors, educated and nurtured by their masters and treated almost like sons. Once freed, his power base grew. He took on the mighty Mughal Empire of the north using sophisticated guerrilla tactics and an ability to harass his enemy under cover of darkness. Emperor Jahangir became obsessed with the Ethiopian, calling him "the ill-starred Ambar" and "Ambar of dark fate". A painting commissioned by Jahangir shows the Ethiopian's severed head on a spear and the Emperor firing arrows into it. However, as Prof. Khilnani reveals, all is not what it seems in that image. Sunil Khilnani contrasts the rise to power of a black African in 16th century India with contemporary Indian attitudes towards people of African descent - a racism even shared by Mahatma Gandhi during his South African years. Producer: Jeremy Grange.. . .