The Bengali word ‘Adda’ when translated as ‘gossip’ slips from a middle class ‘baithak khaana’ and enters into a parlour, club or salon. In the ‘baithak khaana’, ‘adda’ comprises passionate exchanges (the topics may include anything from political, cultural, linguistic to gastronomical), and is, first and foremost, a social speech-act that requires a performance of words-orally. ‘Adda’ relies on a communal appreciation of arguments as spoken words, often deploys sarcasm and laughter, and is solely dependent on the ‘delivery’ of an orator. This orator ought to be a ‘parahita’ (concerned for the welfare of others), and hence his opinions ought to be heard and debated upon. Reading Sumanyu Satpathy’s Will to Argue: Studies in Late Colonial and Postcolonial Controversies felt like entering into an mid-nineteenth century ‘baithak khaana’ wherein every chapter dwells upon a ‘vaad-vivaad’ (controversy), and Satpathy, as a skilled orator, ‘tells’ the reader about the inconsistencies and unconnected stories at the heart of our national history.
One of the crucial insights this book hopes to develop is that argumentation is not always to seek adherence to a given thesis. The conflicted positions on a particular controversy are productive spaces of uncertainties. The five different controversies, developed in the course of five chapters, put forward constellations of various positions without rationalizing one single standpoint as the logical conclusion. Somewhere within the myriad juxtaposing viewpoints the book illustrates lies the truth. And the book does not seek to find that definite moment of truth. This is the strength of the book–-the several controversies serve as a discursive framework that persuades the reader to look into the conditions upon which reasoning lies, rather than on the reasoning itself. This understanding of ‘controversy’ is best articulated in the introductory chapter of the book—Satpathy reads the Partition in a teleological sense such that the multiplicity of the political foci in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is reflected in the debates on Urdu/Hindi, which then translates into Muslim/Hindu and finally to Pakistan/India. Gandhi, Ambedkar, and Tagore within this discursive framework do not provide a meta-narrative of one particular kind of a nation. Instead Satpathy illustrates how the claims and counter-claims of Gandhi, Ambedkar, and Tagore proliferate different versions of ‘India’. Their varying imaginative frameworks enable the linguistic divisions to find a firmer ground, which thereafter leads to the Partition in 1947.