ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Asok Mitra: One of a Kind

Asok Mitra was essentially a polymath, constantly on the lookout for new ideas - be they in his chosen field of public service or in the fields of art, literature or even demographic statistics. He took in his stride the adverse consequences of his penchant for swimming against the tide.

Human life is a perpetual tussle between a search for the means of survival, which the body compels, and a pursuit of interests impelled by the human free spirit of enquiry. For a living one chooses a way which supersedes the quest for the finer things of the mind, and as the time passes the success or failure achieved in terms of physical well-being becomes the sole criterion for judging worthwhileness of living. While this is virtually a universal norm, there are persons of exceptional talent and calibre in any society who transcend it. For such people a unidimensional life is not sufficient for what they consider their life mission. A chosen profession is taken by them as a springboard for flights of the mind and unfettered roaming in the stratosphere of knowledge. They never feel knowledge-proof, and, as the philosopher Thomas Hobbes said, “their quest of knowledge is a lust of mind that by perseverance of delight in the continued and indefatigable generation of knowledge exceeds the short vehemence of carnal pleasure”.

Asok Mitra, one of the last members of the hallowed Indian Civil Service (ICS) and a distinguished art critic, demographer and social scientist, who passed away a few months back, epitomised these high virtues. He was an illustrious civil servant of integrity and ability, and one endowed with a rare sense of public service. Though Mitra was a civil servant of pre-independence India with aristocratic airs, he defined himself differently from the other members of his cohort. And by so doing he denied himself the plums of jobs which could easily have come his way.

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