Exploring the glorious literary heritage of Bengal

The first time I went to India, nearly 30 years ago, I was sent as a young novelist by the British Council. Unusually, my first encounter with the country was Kolkata, a city I loved instantly. At the first event, after I had finished reading, an audience member gently asked if I liked Indian novels. I thought I was prepared, and mentioned R.K. Narayan, Salman Rushdie, Anita Desai and Vikram Seth. The questioner smiled. ‘Those are all writers in English,’ he said. ‘What about writers in Indian languages?’ I was stumped. Perhaps many people of generous reading habits have the same block without knowing it. The liveliness of English-language writers

Oh! Calcutta! Amartya Sen’s childhood memories brim with nostalgia

Santiniketan, in West Bengal, about 100 miles from Kolkata, is one of the most magical places on Earth. The Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore used a stretch of family land there to set up a great university. Modestly scaled buildings are scattered among groves; classes are conducted under the trees. The last time I was there, our rickshaw driver puttered to a halt outside a handsome residence. That, he said with some pride, was the house of Professor Amartya Sen. I’m not sure that there are many professors of economics, even in university towns, whose presence inspires the cab drivers like that. Sen, over the past decades, has earned the gratitude

The difficulty of building heaven on Earth: why utopias usually fail

The years after the first world war were a boom time for utopian communities. As the survivors of the conflict began to recover, many were drawn towards experimental ways of living. Anna Neima looks at six of these communities, asking what brought them together, what kept them going and what legacy, if any, they left behind. In doing so, she offers an original perspective on the entire period and a new way of navigating its artistic and ideological upheaval. She begins with Santiniketan Sriniketan, the community founded by the Nobel Prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore in West Bengal. Part ashram, part school, part agricultural college, it promoted the twin causes of