One of the finest minds in the world has spent the past year in London, barely noticed by a media class that (like your correspondent) is fond of bemoaning a decline in standards. Yet though his tenure as Philippe Roman Chair in History and International Affairs at the London School of Economics is coming to an end, the impact that Ramachandra Guha has had on those lucky enough to share a hall with him has been profound.
On Tuesday, in his penultimate lecture in the current post (where he succeeded Niall Ferguson), he authored a scintillating 90 minutes on the relationship between Indian history and cricket. His final lecture, on Indian democracy, is next Tuesday.
The much-garlanded Dr Guha is one of those exceptionally erudite men who can pronounce on a huge array of subjects, from ecological history to sport and the vagaries of liberalism.
As a speaker, he is electric, full of quizzical anecdotes and very funny. As an author, he has produced a series of seminal works. Just as Tony Judt's Postwar is the history of Europe after 1945, so Guha's panoramic India After Gandhi is the history of independent India. I have read a few books on cricket, and his A Corner Of A Foreign Field is matched only by C L R James' Beyond A Boundary as the greatest of all.
And the completely bonkers, thrilling thing about all this is not just the fact of Dr Guha's mere existence; nor the fact that he is sojourning on these shores; but the fact that you can see him for free. That's right, free. Pay zilch. A guest list for all.
Like supping the finest vintage, listening to a great lecture is a taste of well-matured wisdom. Most people wouldn't give away their best bottle – but at the LSE, that's what they're doing with Dr Guha. That may be one reason that Mervyn King, the Bank of England's Governor, was in the hall, along with distinguished cricketers-turned-journalists Ed Smith and Mike Atherton.
I remember thinking years ago, on reading John Carey's The Intellectual And The Masses, that most academics must be haughty types, closeted away in their cloisters, not interested in firing the imaginations of the less educated.
The talented and inspirational Dr Guha proves that view to be wrong, and personifies the extraordinary and free opportunities available to audiences in this country, if only we bothered to look.Reuse content