An autobiography is more than a book, it is the statement of a life. Hence a review of an autobiography is drawn to an appraisal of the life as well as of the book. Verrier Elwin’s was an unusually varied and productive life. He died shortly after the autobiography appeared and so it stands as his final summary of his work and aims. A young British minister who visits India and then decides to stay, leave the church, become an Indian citizen, and expend all his human and scholarly efforts the numerous tribal peoples of India is bound to be a little “”eccentric,”” a label Mr. Elwin graciously accepts in his autobiography. Definitely not in the British colonial tradition of the great sahibs, he made his way from comfortable Oxford to the voluntary poverty of Ghandi’s ashram, campaigned for Indian independence, and eventually settled his interests and his life in the remote and primitive tribal villages, producing scores of volumes on their customs and ways of life. Practicing what he calls “”philanthropology”” first in middle India, he moved later with his Indian wife and family to the hills and forests of NEFA (the North easternmost sector of India), continuing his studies and explorations with “”a mixture of Franciscan and Gandhian ideals.”” Elwin is probably better known in Great Britain than here, and his autobiography would seem to be of interest primarily to those who know his scholarly works. The descriptions of the Indian tribes are interesting enough, but the does of home-spun personal philosophy is rather heavy.
Publisher: Oxford University Press (17 May 1990)
About the Author
Verrier Elwin was an English missionary in India who was converted to Indian ways of thinking through contact with Mahatma Gandhi, the national movement, and tribal India. He studied and lived with several of the country’s little-known tribes and became close to Gandhi as well as Nehru. This moving and well-written autobiography describes Elwin’s remarkable experience in India and provides a fascinating look at this important pioneering anthropologist.