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Hari Shankar Vasudevan (1952–2020)

The ‘Memory’ of a Historian

A scholar extraordinaire in the fields of Russian and European history, Hari Shankar Vasudevan had been associated, in and outside the subcontinent, with numerous academic institutions and research centres apart from the University of Calcutta where he taught for nearly four decades. One of his students reminisces about a great teacher, whose untimely demise on account of Covid-19 on 10 May 2020 meant a great loss to the world of humanities and social sciences.

Despite being an apparently inappropriate student of HSV (as Hari Shankar Vasudevan was known to his students), I am making this attempt at writing something close to an obituary. I did not attend his European, or precisely Russian history classes or have done research on any given theme of global history under his erudite supervision. However, I still could consider myself, along with my classmates of master of arts programme in the Department of History, University of Calcutta during 2011–13, quite an exceptional (sometimes conceited too) pupil to witness him delivering lectures on modern and contemporary Indian history, an area of study he was relatively less known for. Leaving aside his expertise on Russian, European and global history, I was among those who, by the stroke of timing and fortune, got the opportunity to develop new understandings on an area of Indian history, that is, the intellectual origins and nature of planned economy in postcolonial times, on the basis of some fresh new perspectives from a scholar who happened to be an expert of non-Indian history.

I was attending the MA programme in history when Vasudevan had already spent over three decades in the department and was going for the last quarter, if his almost 40 long years of teaching career could be considered as a whole unit to count. Between August and December in 2012, he delivered a series of lectures that could have been compiled as lectures on the planned economy of India. This was a possible derivation from the fact that he simultaneously also took our Industrial Revolution classes, which he started with the references to the “Lectures on the Industrial Revolution in England” delivered in 1883 by Arnold Toynbee. Involved with a handful of policymaking bodies of the union government. In retrospect, it has been a one-of-a-kind and unique experience to listening to him during the penultimate years of the Planning Commission when we did not foresee its dissolution.

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Updated On : 21st Sep, 2020

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