Born in a village in East Bengal in 1897, the scholar Nirad Chaudhuri has been a lifelong enemy of received wisdom, especially Indian received wisdom. In the early '70s, he was in England researching a book on the German-born British Sanskrit scholar Max Müller. James Ivory took time out, shortly after finishing his fourth Indian feature film, Bombay Talkie, to observe Chaudhuri in Oxford and London dressing up in a velvet party coat with lace cuffs, commanding a dinner party, dominating a seminar, and laying down the law on every subject under the sun. The servants of the British Raj, to whose memory this diminutive gadfly dedicated his best-known book, Autobiography of an Unknown, once behaved with a similar sort of unabashed self-assurance.
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