Hari Vasudevan : In remembrance

Hari Sankar Vasudevan: Biography

Hari Sankar Vasudevan

Born in Madras (now Chennai) on February 15, 1952, Hari Sankar Vasudevan was the elder son of Methil Vasudevan, a mechanical and aeronautical engineer who came from the Methil House in Chittelencheri of Palghat in Malabar, and Sreekumari Vasudevan of the Mamballikalam tarwad (matrilineal joint family) in the Walluvanad Taluk of Malabar. His younger brother is Ravi Vasudevan, a film historian, who for most of his career has been at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi. Following the matrilineal tradition of the Nairs of Kerala, the brothers were initially called Mambalikallathil (M.) Hari Sankar and M. Ravi Sankar, keeping their mother’s tarwad name. It is only after the family shifted to the United Kingdom in 1960, that Vasudevan became the family name, an adjustment to British patriarchal conventions of naming.

During the 1950s, Methil Vasudevan was employed with the Defence Science Organisation of the Government of India, and Hari’s childhood years were spent in Bangalore (now Bengaluru), Poona (now Pune) and New Delhi, where he studied in different convent schools. Hari recalled sharing in all the nationalist optimism of Nehru’s India, and like many children of his generation, developed a special fondness for “Chacha Nehru”, to whom he would write little notes and drop them in the postbox outside his home in Bangalore. He treasured deeply a year (1959–1960) spent in the temple town of Guruvayur in Kerala—when his father moved to the U.K. to take up a teaching job at the Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, his mother moved to Guruvayur with the two boys while they waited to join him abroad. As Hari often recalled, this was the time when he attended a local school at Guruvayur and picked up his spoken and written Malayalam which laid the foundation for his lifelong cultivation of his mother tongue, even as he lived and travelled around the world and became skilled in many other European and Indian languages.

Once in England, the family lived in a small suburban town outside Manchester called Romiley, and Hari and Ravi attended a nearby school. In 1962 his father decided to join the faculty of Mechanical Engineering at the Royal College in Nairobi (subsequently the University of Nairobi), and the family travelled by sea from Southampton through the Suez Canal to the Kenyan port city of Mombasa, a journey that Hari would vividly recollect. Kenya was then on the cusp of Independence from British colonial rule, and the family arrived there at this exciting time of transition and decolonization across the African continent. The children first studied in Hospital Hill School, the first multi-racial primary school set up by a progressive Ismaili, John Karmali, and his English wife Joan. Then, from 1964 to 1969, Hari studied at the Duke of York School (which was renamed Lenana School in his last year there, when he remembered a visit to a school ceremony by the country’s new President Jomo Kenyatta). Finishing his O and A levels from this school, following the British schooling system, his subjects were Latin, English and History, in each of which he did extremely well, while he also learnt French as an additional subject.

Throughout the 1960s, the Vasudevans remained connected to the family in India. This was a time of regular letter writing between family members in Nairobi and India, mostly on pre-stamped blue-coloured “aerogrammes”, which could be sealed and deposited in a designated foreign mail postbox. The family also travelled to India on vacations in 1964, 1968, 1970 and 1974, and in turn received visits from close family members. Sometimes the Vasudevans would first arrive in Bombay (now Mumbai), and start their holiday at the home of Sreekumari’s younger brother, Goku, M. Govind Kumar Menon, who then headed the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. Hari had fond memories of the time spent at Gokumama’s residence, with his wife Indu, and their two children, Anku (Anant Kumar Menon) and Chittu (now Preeti Menon Vaid), at the gracious Jenkin’s House in Colaba (a house that he retraced in 2019 when he visited his daughter, Mrinalini, in Mumbai). Most of the time, the family’s Indian trips inevitably centred on Madras and the hospitality of Sreekumari’s elder sister, Dr. M. Sarada Menon, India’s first woman psychiatrist renowned for her pathbreaking work in the treatment of schizophrenia. The house of Sarada Valliamma (aunt, mother’s elder sister) would be the place from where the family would travel out to visit other relatives in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Bangalore. In 1967, Sarada Valliamma made a memorable trip to visit the Vasudevans, and travelled with them to visit the magnificent game parks of Kenya and Uganda and the lovely port city of Mombasa. Later in 1969, after he finished his schooling and before he joined Cambridge for undergraduate study, Hari came down to Madras to spend some six months with his aunt, during which he studied Malayalam systematically, took Hindi classes, and became very close to the many cousins who lived in the city. From then on, Madras, and Sarada Valliamma, would remain a constant and precious part of his life. 

Hari studied for the Tripos in History from Christ’s College, Cambridge, which he completed in 1973, and then went on to do his Ph.D. in Russian history under the supervision of the European historian, Norman Stone. The choice of undertaking an academic career was perhaps influenced by the wider family setting. Sreekumari’s elder brother, the civil servant M. Gopal Menon, married Kalyani Candeth, or Ammayi (aunt, brother’s wife) as she was called in the family. Ammayi’s father, Professor Candeth, was a well-known teacher of History at Madras’ Presidency College. Of their three children, “Babu”, Madhavan K. Palat would become a historian of modern Russia, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and later the editor of the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru. Sreekumari’s elder sister, Narayani, married to the civil servant V.K.R. Menon, had three daughters, of whom the youngest, also a Narayani, became a leading urban historian. She taught history at Indraprastha College and Jamia Millia Islamia, and was married to the eminent historian of labour and empire, Partha Sarathi Gupta. When Hari arrived in Cambridge in 1970, Madhavan, Partha Sarathi and Narayani were also doing their academic work in the U.K. The two cousins became key reference points in Hari’s life, as academic mentors, familial intimates and close friends. He called them Ettan and Edathi (elder sister and elder brother), the absence of a distinguishing name singling them out amongst all his other cousins for his special fondness and respect. 

If a substantial academic profile of his maternal family provided Hari a context to pursue a scholarly career, he made his own distinctive choices as to the nature of the subjects he would work on. His doctoral research was on the Tver Zemstvo from the late nineteenth century through to the years before the Russian revolution. The zemstvo was a form of local self-government which emerged as part of a spate of governmental reforms under Tsar Alexander II in 1861. The zemstvo provided the institutional frame for the participation of an enlightened elite—agronomists, statisticians, teachers and educationists, doctors and nurses, folklorists and linguists—all committed to improving life circumstances in provincial Russia. It was this local setting which facilitated the possibilities of improvement in health, education and agriculture, providing substantial foundations for the achievements that would take place after the revolution. The zemstvo represented a model of good governance, as we would call it now, and was not doctrinaire or partisan in its design—an outlook that perhaps reflected Hari’s own inclusive political inclinations and his rare ability to work at various levels, with government, with diverse institutions, and with contesting opinions and personalities. During the years of his doctoral research, Hari added to his linguistic skills by mastering the Russian language which he learnt not just to read but to speak like a native Russian. At a time when the archives and travel in the Soviet Union were greatly restricted, Hari based himself for a long period in Helsinki in Finland, where a large archive on Tsarist Russia was housed, and where he made close friends and added a dash of Finnish to the array of European languages already in his command.

At Cambridge, Hari developed intellectual ties and friendships that were to prove durable. It was here that he became friends with Mushirul Hasan, who was doing his Ph.D. on Muslim politics during the Indian national movement. Mushir would become a lifelong friend, whom he affectionately called “the Mullah”, and with whom he would later work at Ramjas College of Delhi University and at Jamia Millia Islamia. In Hari’s expansive circle of friends was also Basudev (Robi) Chatterjee, then pursuing his Ph.D. on the politics of Indian tariffs and Lancashire cotton interests—the two later worked together at the Indian Council for Historical Research when Basudev was Member Secretary. Close friendships sprung up between Hari and Dominic “Chai” Lieven, an important historian of Russian and comparative empire; the major Indian labour historian, Rajnarayan Chandavarkar; and Arup Banerjee, who was then researching the New Economic Policy that the Bolshevik regime pursued in the early 1920s, and would later teach at Delhi University’s Deshbandhu College and the university’s History Department. There were many other friends from this time, with whom Hari remained in touch, even when he did not meet them for years and his life moved to wholly new parts of the world. There was, for instance, Dipankar Deshmukh—the computer science student from Presidency College, Calcutta, whom he befriended at Helsinki, and with whose wife, Sonali, he had his first brush with Bengali—who settled abroad but reappeared in his life periodically after Hari began to live in Calcutta. What all his friends remembered was Hari’s special talent for keeping going friendships and renewing these ties across different times and places, whenever opportunities arose.

When Hari finished his Ph.D. from Cambridge, as a historian of Russia, he could well have opted for a faculty position in the U.K. or U.S.A. But, through the seventeen years he spent abroad, India had never ceased to be ‘home’. His brother Ravi had already moved to Delhi for his undergraduate studies in History at St. Stephens College and postgraduate studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. And Hari now took a brave and unusual decision (one he never regretted or looked back on) to return to India in 1978, at the age of 26. His father had wanted him to sit the Civil Service examinations in India, but his mind was set on an academic career. Following a short stint of teaching and supervision at Cambridge colleges, Hari took up his first job in Delhi as a Lecturer at the Department of History, Ramjas College. For some months then, he shared a flat at Press Enclave, Saket, with a young journalist, Chaitanya Kalbag, who became another lifelong friend. By the end of the year, giving up an offer of a permanent job at St. Stephen’s College, Hari took another career turn well off the beaten path.

He accepted a position as Lecturer in History at the Department of History, Calcutta University, at the invitation of the then head of the department, Professor Amales Tripathi. It took a person of his sense of adventure and his incredible ability to be at home in different places to undertake this move to a city that he had never visited before. When asked about his reasons for this move, he talked about how, on his first survey visit to the city, he was immediately drawn to the National Library, Calcutta (the erstwhile Imperial Library) with its unparalleled collection of books, including a large number in the European languages; how he loved the old-world charm of the Darbhanga building and the chaos and bustle of the College Street campus of Calcutta University; not least of all, how he welcomed the opportunity to teach postgraduate courses in European and Russian history. When he joined the department in December 1978, Hari had thought he would move back to Delhi in the course of time, when a suitable university position opened up there. But, through a conjuncture of circumstances, he ended up making the city of Calcutta (renamed Kolkata in 2001) and Calcutta University his main professional base for the next four decades. Within three years of joining the Department of History here, he moved to a position of Reader in 1981 and became a Professor in 1999.

Settling into an apartment on Southern Avenue (one of the loveliest parts of Calcutta, next to the Lakes, now called the Rabindra Sarovar), Hari made the city his own. The nearby homes of his friends from his Cambridge days, Rajat Kanta Ray and Ratnalekha Ray, and of Ashoka and Saibal Gupta (parents of his brother-in-law, Partha Sarathi Gupta) were his first social supports, even as he began to grow new collegial friendships and expand his circle of acquaintances in the city. Among the earliest and long-standing friendships he developed in Calcutta were those with Sudeshna Chakrabarty (initially, his colleague at the Department of English at Calcutta University, who moved to Paris), Lakshmi Subramanian, then a Ph.D. scholar in History who later became his colleague at Calcutta University, and with another departmental colleague, Bhaskar Chakrabarty. As a dedicated Europeanist in the city, Hari kept going his linguistic skills, especially in Russian and French, and actively forged professional connections with institutions like the Gorky Sadan, Alliance Francaise and Max Mueller Bhavan. All through his years of settling into Calcutta, Hari continued to go on annual summer visits to Madras, to spend a month or more with his favourite Sarada Valiamma and her husband, Sreekumar Menon, and reconnect with his family in the south. And it is on these long train journeys on the Coromandal Express that Hari would strike up conversations and build new contacts with fellow passenger, some of whom became close acquaintances, and others who remembered him fondly years later.

Hari’s roots in the city strengthened in the early 1980s, through his friendship with his former student at Calcutta University, Tapati Guha-Thakurta, their courtship and their marriage in March 1984. It was an unusual coming together of a young man who had travelled the world and lived in so many countries and a Calcutta girl, who was from a cosmopolitan family but till then had never gone abroad, nor lived in any other place in India. But their different worlds and backgrounds blended beautifully in the city where they met and then chose to live in for the rest of their lives. When Tapati went on a West Bengal State scholarship to do her D.Phil. at the University of Oxford, between 1984 and 1988, Hari spent part of these years with her in the U.K., renewing his connections with friends and colleagues at Oxford, Cambridge and London. During these years, he took leave from Calcutta University to take up short fellowships at institutions in Paris, Moscow and Kiev. By the autumn of 1988, Hari and Tapati, with her Ph.D. completed on colonialism, nationalism and art in late 19th and early 20th century Bengal, returned to settle into their new home in Salt Lake, Calcutta. Their only daughter, Mrinalini, was born on March 31, 1989. By the end of that year, Tapati (who remained a Guha-Thakurta) took up her academic position at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, an institution that would become her academic home for her entire career. Thereafter, as a professional couple, they together (each in their individual institutions and areas of research) built their solid professional foundations and life in Calcutta, even as they travelled for conferences and took up visiting fellowships abroad.

Hari became an integral member of the extended Guha-Thakurta family he married into. He was like a son to Tapati’s parents, Pranab and Krishna Guha-Thakurta, especially after he, Tapati and young Mrinalini moved in to stay on the first floor of their residence at CD 157 Salt Lake, Calcutta. From 1993 till the end, this would remain Hari’s permanent home address. This is where Mrinalini grew up with her parents and maternal grandparents, with her father lavishing on her his precious time and companionship—putting her to sleep as a baby; standing at Modern High School, when she first joined, to put her on the school bus back home; diligently attending all her parent-teacher meetings at school; organizing her birthday and Christmas parties; sharing books, stories and music; taking her out for films; and travelling with her across India and the world. Hari’s mentorship was a crucial guiding force through Mrinalini’s school years, her college education at the Department of English at Jadavpur University, her Masters at the School of Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and the beginnings of her professional career in editing and publishing in Kolkata and Mumbai. Through the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, Hari also increasingly took charge of his own parents’ affairs after they relocated to India from Nairobi—first settling them into the southern hill town of Coonoor, bringing them to stay in Calcutta from 1990–1991, then moving them to a flat in Chennai, and later making a home for them in Delhi, when he took up a Professorship (from 2002–2005) at the Academy of Third World Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia.

Combining an unwavering commitment to his family with an equally unbending commitment to institution-building became the hallmark of Hari’s life, especially since the 2000s. The intensity of both these commitments and the energies he invested in them remain unparalleled. The Department of History at Calcutta University, during his two first decades there, developed a reputation of being one of the best in India for the teaching of European and Russian history, with a good library to support this teaching. Hari always laid great store on keeping up with the latest literature in the field and making it available to his colleagues and students through books and photocopies. Many contributors to this website write extensively about his time as an influential teacher at Calcutta University, keeping a high standard of knowledge about European historiography in play, along with other interests in the history of industrialization, comparative economic development, international relations and geopolitics. Along with this high standard was Hari’s ability to communicate with a diverse student audience, especially through putting up detailed points and notes on the classroom board. His pronounced English accent never left him through all his years in India, but it never came in the way of his becoming one of the most committed and accessible teachers in the department. For a person with extraordinary linguistic skills—stretching from Latin, Russian, French and German to his native language, Malayalam—his ease with speaking and communicating in Bengali also became a great strength, allowing him to build his great rapport with the large number of non-English speaking students at Calcutta University. He was conscious about using his pedagogical, advisory and mentoring skills in institutional consolidation and developing an outreach in many other universities across West Bengal and India; in teaching refresher courses for the university’s colleges and as a member of the College Service Commission of West Bengal; and in overseeing the complex work of social science textbook writing under the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), where he worked closely with Krishna Kumar, Neeladri Bhattacharya and others. From the end of the 2000s, he also took to the work of shaping civil servants and was closely associated with training them at the Institute for Civil Service Aspirants, Calcutta, run by Dr. Jyotirmoy Pal Chaudhuri.

With little scope for research in European and Russian History from his base in India, Hari’s professional interests gradually shifted to the sphere of Indo-Russian relations, international affairs and politics, and the histories of Central Asia and Eurasia. During the 1990s and 2000s, he was associated with several other institutions that mapped this new direction in his work. Following the opening of the Russian archives after 1992, he spearheaded a landmark project with the support of the Asiatic Society, Calcutta, which researched India-related material in the Moscow archives and led to the two volumes, Indo-Russian Relations, 1917–1947, Select Documents from the Archives of the Russian Federation, published in 2000. From 2002–2005, Hari went on deputation from Calcutta University to become Professor of Central Asian Studies and, for a year, the Acting Director at the Academy of Third World Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. During this period in Delhi, he also became the Chairman of the Advisors Committee for the new social science textbooks of the NCERT, a project that he passionately took to as an educationist, and remained closely invested in, even after he returned to Calcutta. Over 2006–2007, he conceived and embarked on one of the most adventurous projects of his career—an expedition by road, sea and air across three continents, retracing the 15th-century journey of the first Russian traveller to India, Afanasii Nikitin, placing his historical voyage in the context of contemporary Russia, Eurasia and India. The expedition was organized by the Adventurers’ and Explorers’ Society, Delhi and supported by the Ministry of External Affairs and other agencies. A documentary film on this expedition (which is included in this website), and Hari’s own scholarly monograph, In the Footsteps of Afanasii Nikitin: Travels in Eurasia and Beyond (New Delhi: Manohar, 2014) remain the lasting legacy of this one-of-a-kind venture. The opening photograph on the Home Page of the website, showing Hari travelling on the Red Sea, is from this expedition.

The most institutionally productive phase of Hari’s career unfolded when he was appointed Director, for a term of five years (2007–2011), of the Maulana Abul Kalam Institute of Asian Studies (MAKIAS), Kolkata, an institution under the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. This is when his skills and vision as an administrator scaled new heights, and he was able to radically transform the academic life of the institution, giving it a new footing in Central Asian and Eurasian affairs, opening up a host of new research and exhibition projects, and promoting the study of complex regional networks in Northeast India. Commemorating the centenary of the Russian Revolution and 70 years of diplomatic relations between India and Russia in 2017 marked another highpoint in Hari’s academic and professional career. It occasioned some of his best writings on the impact of the revolution in India in journals, anthologies and conference volumes; a remarkable exhibition he curated on The Russian State and India: From Imperial Encounters to Contemporary Collaborations, at the India International Centre (IIC), New Delhi, and Gorky Sadan, Kolkata; and a documentary film on the subject, titled A Friendship Beyond Diplomacy, for which he was the field expert. These years showcased Hari’s multi-pronged organizational acumen, spreading across the spheres of conferences and publications, government consultancies and delegations, expeditions, exhibitions and documentary films.

In pursuing various projects which interested him, in areas such as International Relations, Geopolitical Studies and Defence Studies, Hari’s special forte lay in developing associations and building friendships across a wide institutional spectrum. At Calcutta University itself, his interests extended to international relations and foreign policy, and to neighbouring regions like Myanmar and China. As an adjunct to the Department of History, he set up two research centres with funding from the University Grants Commission—one for Indian Foreign Policy Studies (IFPS) which developed its own M.Phil. programme, and a subsequent one for the study of China and her neighbourhood. He also developed strong ties with the Indian Council for World Affairs, New Delhi, and close professional friendships with diplomats such as Krishnan Srinivasan and Sarvajit Chakravarty, both of whom settled in Kolkata after their retirement. His long-standing involvement with the activities of the Alliance Francaise in Kolkata and the Maison de Sciences de l’Homme in Paris went hand in hand with his larger academic and public interest in the history of the French in India, in the study of French establishments in towns such as Chandernagore (now Chandannagar) and Pondicherry (now Puducherry), and in archival and architectural restoration projects in these places. From 2012–2013, he also came to actively participate in a multi-sited project led by Professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, titled Radiating Globalities, looking to alternative ways of understanding modern transformation and global connection outside a Euro-American dominated focus, which Hari carried from the French Institute in Chandannagar to Yunnan Normal University in Kunming.

Looking back at the list of Hari’s publications reflects the shifts and diverse range of his academic engagements in the historical and contemporary fields. In his translation of key Russian texts collected in his edited volume, Commercialization and Agriculture in Late Imperial Russia (1997), he noted a contemporary resonance in their critique of a liberalizing recipe of “unfettered international trade and private enterprise for the evolution of a healthy economy”. His major project with Purabi Roy and Sobhanlal Datta Gupta, sponsored by the Asiatic Society, to study and inventorize material on Indo-Soviet archives, made available in the mid-1990s, resulted in the volumes that have already been referred to. His stint at the Academy of Third World Studies at Jamia saw him editing a volume with Sri Prakash and Mujib Alam called Global Politics of the Iraq Crisis (2004). His writings on contemporary Russia after the break-up of the Soviet Union took a new turn with his book, Shadows of Substance: Indo-Russian Trade and Military Technical Cooperation Since 1991 (2010), which emerged out of his work as consultant to a study group in the Ministry of Commerce. Here Hari researched the increased significance of Indian private enterprise and the importance of India to the new Russian State’s military industrial complex and regional politics. This was a theme he would pursue further at the Observer Research Foundation, where he published his last paper on “India’s Look Far-East Policy”, arguing that a logic of self-interest governed agreements to facilitate Indo-Russian collaboration in the Russian Far East. One of Hari’s most innovative works, the book on Nikitin mentioned before, reflects on the changing history of the spaces the expedition moved through, from times before Russia was properly instituted as a state, through the Tsarist, Soviet and the post-Soviet periods. Moving across large chronologies and geographies, the book conveys a textured sense of changing landscapes, economies, material life and social structure over time.

From the time he settled in Calcutta, Hari also began to write extensively in newspapers, initially in The Statesman, which was once Calcutta’s quintessential English papers, and later The Telegraph, where he incisively commented through the mid-1990s on the breakup of the Soviet Union, post-Soviet politics and its implications for India. In 2017, on the centenary of the Russian Revolution, he prolifically spoke and wrote about the legacies of 1917 and the need to recover these from the brute authoritarian cast of Soviet history and present-day indifference and denigration. The Russian Revolution, he argued, had opened up new vistas for the working people outside feudal hierarchies, and had internationally championed the cause of anti-colonialism. Two of his more recent academic articles on “Communism in India” and on “India and the October Revolution” emerged out of this occasion of the revolution’s centenary. As the pandemic struck the world in the fateful year of 2020, and India went into lockdown, Hari turned his attention and concerns to the events unfolding around him, In April 2020 which sadly turned out to be the last month of his life, he wrote in The Wire about the coronavirus crisis in the Chinese-Russian border town of Suifenhe, and, in Newsclick, on the stark failure of the Indian government to use its food reserves to contain the human tragedy of migration and starvation arising from the pandemic.

In the last count, however, Hari’s publications do not do full justice to the range of his academic interests and the depth of his erudition. He wore his erudition lightly, always with grace and humility, while he kept spreading his scholarly interests across a wide array of fields. His energies were given over more to his multiple commitments to university teaching, a public intellectual life, developing collaborations and networks, and to institution-building, all of which remain the larger legacy of his professional career and expertise. In July 2018, he assumed another important institutional charge, when he took over from the ailing Professor Sabyasachi Bhattacharya the post of President of the Governing Council of the Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata (IDSK)—a charge that he was not given the time to see through. With his characteristic energy and vision, he was orienting himself to developing IDSK’s programmes in new directions. He was, in many ways, truly coming into his own with his academic writings and book projects over the past six to seven years, and was brimming as always with professional energy and engagements, when the coronavirus abruptly struck him down and cut short a life that still had so much to give. A different historical book on the travels of Afanasii Nikitin and the complex afterlives of his travelogue was one he was working on till the end, and essays on the contemporary geopolitics of Russia, Central Asia and China were in the pipeline, for which a vast library of his books, several files and writing pads filled with notes remain witness. He was meant to have written up, during May 2020, an essay on “The Lengthening Shadow of Russia in the Middle East”—this has now been put together from the recording of his conference lecture of December 2019, by his young colleague, Kingshuk Chatterjee, in a volume titled Political Faultlines in the Middle East, which he edited and dedicated to Hari.  

What Hari did manage to finish and practically see into publication was the book he authored of the memoirs of his mother. After he took over the care of her and relocated her from Chennai to Kolkata in 2011, he spent hours in conversation with her, assembling her life story from childhood through to the early years of marriage and motherhood. Travelling with her in time, Hari put together an account of her experience of the matrilineal joint family in Malabar, and her travels and stay with her father, K.S. Menon, a figure of the colonial judicial service, across the towns of Madras Presidency and in the princely state of Jodhpur. Mainly covering the period from the 1920s through the 1950s, this is a story at once personal, familial and social, about the continued hold of older ties and obligations even as individuals access wider worlds, social networks, familial and professional possibilities. This work remains a wonderful instance of the way Hari, throughout his career, brought together his personal and academic worlds and shows his flair for a new field of family histories. Well before the book fell into place, he began to circulate within the family several pre-print editions of these memoirs.

Hari, like all of us, could never have imagined that, with his kind of joie-de-vivre, will to work and good health, he would be snatched away by the virus within less than four months of his mother’s passing away on January 19, 2020. Titled Memories of a Malabar Lady: Sreekumari Vasudevan’s Reminiscences of Life with Justice K.S. Menon, 1926–1956, this book has been seen through by his brother, and is forthcoming from Manohar Books.

Hari, we would like to believe, lives on in the exceptional intellectual generosity, goodwill and camaraderie with which he held together friends and family, students and colleagues, across the many worlds he graced. May the love and light he brought into so many of our lives shine on, and show the way for another generation that he groomed and mentored.  

Tapati Guha-Thakurta
Ravi Vasudevan

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