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The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian

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3.87  ·  Rating details ·  444 ratings  ·  34 reviews
The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian is an astonishing work of self-discovery and the revelation of a peerless and provocative sensibility. Describing his childhood in the Bengali countryside and his youth in Calcutta—and telling the story of modern India from his own fiercely independent viewpoint—Chaudhuri fashions a book of deep conviction, charm, and intimacy that is ...more
Paperback, 536 pages
Published September 30th 2001 by NYRB Classics (first published 1951)
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Khush
Apr 12, 2018 rated it really liked it




Nirad C. Chaudhuri was an eccentric man, but he could be admired for his eccentricity. He grew up in in a very conservative, though educated, middle-class Bengali family. He admired the English, or shall I say he adored them – their language and literature. He knew London as he knew his native Calcutta even though he had never been to London. Once he was in a small gathering in Delhi, listening to someone who had already been living in London for over four decades. As the speaker continued descr
...more
the gift
290717: not exactly an Everyman life in early 20th century India, Bengal and Calcutta, as the author is educated, professional, perceptive, and thorough in both his own history and that of his culture. i do not know the current state of living, politics, culture, in India, but it is intriguing to see history, reverberations, from recent past. i do not know about his varied portraits of Hindu, Muslim, city, village, work, leisure, ethics, prejudices, of his time, but again he does seem sincere... ...more
Claire S
His masterpiece, The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian (ISBN 0-201-15576-1), published in 1951, put him on the short list of great Indian English writers. He courted controversy in the newly independent India in the dedication of the book itself which ran thus:

“ To the memory of the British Empire in India,

Which conferred subjecthood upon us,
But withheld citizenship.
To which yet every one of us threw out the challenge:
"Civis Britannicus sum"
Because all that was good and living within us
Was made
...more
Anil Swarup
Apr 07, 2014 rated it liked it
This voluminous presentation by Nirad Babu is much more than his autobiography. The book leaves the reader in no doubt about the levels of erudition that the author had achieved and his command over the English language. First half of the book deals with his personal life and is the more difficult part from reader's perspective. His elaborate description of the days spent in the village and then his ruminations about what he found in Kolkata are perhaps for the purists and not a casual reader. H ...more
Riku Sayuj
Aug 18, 2017 marked it as to-read
Possibly a great book and a wonderful chronicle of the times, but do consider beforehand Chaudhuri's cringe-worthy dedication to the British Empire in India:

To the memory of the British Empire in India,
Which conferred subjecthood on us,
but withheld citizenship.
To which yet every one of us threw out the challenge:
‘Civis Britannicus sum’
Because all that was good and living within us
was made, shaped and quickened
by the same British rule.
Anurag
Apr 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biographies
This once controversial book now appears to be a must-read to understanding the extent of Indian colonialism. Although it is dedicated to the memories of British empire, it is hardly an account of railways, town halls or the administrative paraphernalia - things that we attribute India's modernity to. It is an account of the Indian ambiguity towards the empire's legacy.

The account is beautiful in the way Chaudhuri's life is intertwined with that of the Raj. His excitement about Queen Victoria c
...more
Sean de la Rosa
Apr 15, 2011 rated it liked it
More than 500 pages of autobiographical work on the life of Nirad Chaudhuri, an unknown Indian born in 1897 in Kishorganj, a small town in present Bangladesh.

For the book: it relays wonderful facts, tales, myths and superstitions about India in the early twentieth century. He also refers to the works of Ghandi and Tagore quite a bit which I enjoyed.

Against the book: I found Chaudhuri patronizing in places with the endless use of unnecessarily long words and quotes in French and German with no
...more
Gregory
Feb 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
Wonderful account of growing up in mid 20th century India, from the dynamics of family life in rural villages to the political dynamics during the time of Gandhi. The first half, concerning childhood, was especially entertaining for me, and I happily soaked up every little detail about a family life that differed so much from my own.
Vivek
Apr 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Nirad C. Chaudhuri's Autobiography of an Unknown Indian covers the author's years from his birth in 1897 to 1947. Ramchandra Guha rated this as one of the best autobiographies by an Indian. Chaudhuri describes his own life , growing up in Kishoreganj, now in Bangladesh, to his life as a student in Calcutta and then as a young man. Side by side he describes his growing political and cultural growth and how he became a scholar. I cannot imagine how anyone read this book in the pre-Google days. Wor ...more
Anand Simha
Jan 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Scholarly but not balanced on controversial topics but a should read

This voluminous autobiography of Nirad Chaudhuri runs to 600+ pages on a book size that is larger than a pocket book. It is characterized by the author's keen sense of observation, with indication in every page, of his erudition especially in English literature, so much so that sometimes it becomes difficult for the lay reader to grasp the full purport of his account without the reader's own ability to appreciate the generous
...more
Tom Leland
Jan 26, 2014 rated it it was ok
Very rare that I don't finish a book -- perhaps 10 times in 30 years; I now know much about growing up in Bengal (now Bangladesh) at turn of 20th century, but other than that I couldn't muster interest for this chronicle of his life/study of his people and their theologies. Word choice is often odd to me, and it's old enough that I'm sure much has changed - and since I'm not bent on getting into Indian life of the last 50 years or so, which would help me understand what's transpired since this b ...more
Srikanth
Jan 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a Magnum opus in the real sense, I wish i had any other word to convey the meaning. It isnt exactly his story but a story of his surroundings also. A brutally honest in your face book.I say that anyone who loves his country will have the balls to write about her fallacies which Nirad has done. Tit bits like how sarojini naidu refused to give back the costly pen, that she signed an autograph. He was the right man at the right places at the right turn of events. A must read. Good english ...more
Mohit Sharma
May 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Nirad Chaudhari clearaly has great behavioural insight. Although he gives some form of historical perspective most of the book revolves around the author's young life and how his surroundings affected his views and thoughts. It's indeed a fascinating read if you're interested in the social and political stratum around early 20th century.

Here's my favorite quote from this book "I understood the life around me better, not from love, which everybody acknowledges to be a great teacher, but from est
...more
Siddhartha Das
Jul 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Personal history mixed with the history of India. What opulence!
Sujan
May 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Even at the time of reading it, I felt vividly that this book was to put an indelible mark on my mind. This consciousness solidified within me mainly because with my limited reading and experience, I could relate and validate pages after pages of observations regarding many things Bangali and Indian, observations deeply shocking and unorthodox yet true and illumimating. I am also agreed to the thesis of the writer that almost all of our countrymen, educated or not so educated alike, are still un ...more
Prabhat
Feb 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: completed
The Autobiography of an unknown Indian by Nirad Chandra Chaudhuri (born 1897 death 1999 ) describes life in Indian as he saw it. In four chapters showing his growth, education, man of letters, editor of magazine in English, Bangla. His marriage, service with army accounts department, leaving the job and working a freelance journalist, secretary to Sarat Chandra Bose, his exposure to Indian leaders at the residence of Sarat Chandra Bose. His joining All India Radio as Political Commentator. He ha ...more
Diptesh Augustine Sarkar
Jul 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Every Bengali needs to Read at this book.
Simonne
Mar 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: autobiography
More on the political side, but really discuses the history of India quite well, three genres of old tradition to the more modern ara of how India (mainly Calcutta) has established throughout the years. Not much of an autobiography of a man, but more on the country itself. Good for a text book
Matt
Feb 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A remarkable book.
Soumya
Aug 11, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A complex mind, a declared anglophile, an encyclopedic, a historian with penchant for objectivity and a tendency to ruffle feathers - Nirad C. Chaudhuri represents all of these. His voracious criticism of the national movement from 1905, the English in India and life in Calcutta and his views on Indian nationalism and history can interest people as well as enrage less liberal minds. He was a strange contrast of a man who fell in love with the Bengali countryside and yet looked at England as the ...more
Tamanjit Bindra
3.8 Forcing a 4. The book is just about bearable in the first half (40% to be precise). The author tries to talk about his childhood and the virginity of the Bengal semi urban state. Its all nice but kind of becomes irritating.
I was recommended this book because of the book covering the unfolding of the Indian National Movement from a common man's perspective. In this regard the book really picks up pace in the second half. Where the background is sightly more urban (Kolkata) for my taste and t
...more
Karan
Apr 02, 2012 rated it did not like it
Boring, partial and very descriptive. It was one of the books I loved even before I began reading it, but have been slowly and reluctantly grind into a critic.
Nirad Chaudhuri comes across as one of the foremost intellectuals of the country, but his overly descriptive writing style (which I suspect springs out of his desire to make this a historical record of the times and places that he lived in) and his unsubstantiated deductions (often right wing, though I do not consider myself an anti right
...more
Omar Ali
Jun 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A must read book. Nirad Choudhry is politically incorrect and turns some people off, but he is a master writer, he is hugely intelligent, he is very observant and he is terrifyingly honest, about himself and about everyone else. I just started reading this book again, and I am liking it much more than when i first read it as a young man. I guess Nirad Choudhry has not changed, but I have. A little.
Carol Harrison
Jun 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
This book was strong and interesting when the author stuck to the promise of the title: "Autobiography". Unfortunately he used the last quarter of the book, plus parts of the rest, to explain Indian history, expound his viewpoints, and analyze Bengali society of the time he was writing (late 1940s). Some of this would have been fine--it's just that there was too much. I couldn't finish it, though I had enjoyed the first parts.
Dayanand Prabhu
May 24, 2013 rated it did not like it
This book should probably be renamed as 'The Autobiography of a arrogant Bengali'. This book starts out beautifully with the spot on description of a Indian village. After that it doesnt live up to it expectations at all. The author rambles on and on and what surprises you is how the authors 'India' is consistently restricted only to Bengal.
Tarun
Sep 18, 2014 rated it liked it
The quality of writing is superb. Nirad C. Chaudhuri style reminds me of the English of India's founding fathers. His grasp on the language is unwavering.That said, I couldn't finish the book. The first half was quite interesting but my desire to go on petered out somewhere after the middle.
Vamsi Kumar
Jan 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book tells us about the culture of our ancestors in India and history of different kind of situations occurred during the British India times. more over, the narration is quiet different in this book and this book will be the best book for authors reading.
Pankaj Sharma
May 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It took me one year to finish this.description of his early life is excellent.later it dragged a bit .reading was tedious as I had to take help of dictionary but his flow of writing and first hand account of events was mesmerising.
Manish Katyal
Oct 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic.
Shelagh Plunkett
Jun 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
A delight to read, this book offers insight into the everyday lives of South Asians disrupted by the 1947 partitioning of India.
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NYRB Classics: The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian, by Nirad C. Chaudhuri 1 12 Oct 18, 2013 01:35PM  

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Nirad C. Chaudhuri (Bangla: নীরদ চনদর চৌধুরী Nirod Chôndro Choudhuri) was a Bengali−English writer and cultural commentator. He was born in 1897 in Kishoreganj, which today is part of Bangladesh but at that time was part of Bengal, a region of British India.

He was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award, in 1975 for his biography on Max Müller called Scholar Extraordinary, by the Sahitya Akademi, India'
...more