Stanley Albert Wolpert
|Died||February 19, 2019(aged 91)|
|Alma mater||City College (B.A.)|
University of Pennsylvania (A.M.) (Ph.D.)
|Morley and India Nineteen Six to Nineteen Ten (1967); Jinnah of Pakistan (1984)|
Stanley Wolpert (December 23, 1927 – February 19, 2019) was an American historian, Indologist, and author on the political and intellectual history of modern India and Pakistan and wrote fiction and nonfiction books on the topics. He taught at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) from 1959-2002.
Stanley Albert Wolpert was born on December 23, 1927 in Brooklyn, New York to Russian Jewish parents. While serving as an engineer aboard a U.S. Merchant Marine ship, he arrived in Bombay, India for the first time on February 12, 1948. Upon arriving, he was both fascinated and overwhelmed by the extraordinary outpouring of grief over the death of Mahatma Gandhi—whom he then knew very little about—just two weeks earlier. Atop a hill, he witnessed numerous mourning Indians who were rushing to touch the ashes of Gandhi as the ship on which the urn was placed weighed anchor to scatter a portion of his ashes into the water below. On returning home, he abandoned his career in marine engineering for the study of Indian history. He received a B.A. from City College in 1953, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1955 and 1959. with a dissertation (published as Tilak and Gokhale) on the revolutionary and reform wings of the Indian National Congress. The dissertation was one of the two books selected for the now discontinued biennial Watumull Prize of the American Historical Association in 1962, a prize recognizing "the best book on the history of India originally published in the United States."
Wolpert began his academic career in 1959, when he took a job as an instructor in the Department of History at UCLA. He was promoted in 1960-63 to assistant professor; 1963-66 associate professor; 1967 full professor. In 1968 he was appointed department chair. He was later an emeritus professor.
In 1975 Wolpert was awarded UCLA's Distinguished Teaching Award.
He married to Dorothy Wolpert (née Guberman) on June 12, 1953. They met in an American government class at City College of New York. She went on to become a senior partner in a Century City law firm, and has made several visits to India with her husband. They had two sons—Daniel and Adam, and three grandchildren—Sam, Max, and Sabine. His book Nine Hours to Rama was adapted to a feature film in 1963. Wolpert died on February 19, 2019.
Few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Fewer still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone can be credited with creating a nation-state. Muhammad Ali Jinnah did all three.
The book is regarded as one of the best biographical books on the life of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Wolpert served as editor alongside Richard Sisson of the volume of papers presented at the University of California, Los Angeles March 1984 international conference on the pre Independent phase of the Indian National Congress and published by the University of California Press.
Participating scholars in the conference include Dilip K. Basu, Judith M. Brown, Basudev Chatterji, Walter Huser, Stephen Northrup Hay, Eugene Irschick, Raghavan Iyer, D. A. Low, James Manor, Claude Markovits, John R. McLane, Thomas R. Metcalf, W. H. Morris Jones, V. A. Narain, Norman D. Palmer, Gyanendra Pandey, Bimal Prasad, Barbara N. Ramusack, Rajat Kanta Ray, Peter Reeves, Damodar Sardesai, Sumit Sarkar, Lawrence L. Shrader, William Vanderbok and Eleanor Zelliot.
Published in 2001, Gandhi's Passion is a biography of Mahatma Gandhi. Delhi University historian Shahid Amin in his review for the Outlook, called it an "empathetic and meticulous biography". He observed, "Wolpert's attempt is to demonstrate through a close reading of Gandhi's own voluminous writings the unique combination of yogic tapas and Christian passion (the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross") that the Mahatma embodied in his body-polity." The biography was severely criticised by columnist Swapan Dasgupta, who wrote in India Today, "Wolpert's biography is not the work of a professional historian.... it is essentially a sympathetic assessment, a study of Gandhi the saint that only tangentially — and with some glaring factual inaccuracies (like describing the Jallianwala Bagh meeting in Amritsar as a gathering of peasants 'celebrating their spring harvest') and sweeping over-generalisations takes into account the environment he operated in.
That is not surprising because Wolpert approached the project less as a scholar and more as a polemicist. His study was prompted by his grave disquiet at the May 1998 Pokhran blasts, particularly his "amazement" that "hardly any Indian voices were raised against so complete a departure from everything Mahatma Gandhi believed in and had tried to teach throughout his mature life". An Indophile angst at the disappearance of a mythical "eternal India" is articulated through a celebration of Gandhi's piety."
Pankaj Mishra, in his review for The New York Times, described it as a "somewhat perfunctory biography". He wrote, "the best that can be said about Wolpert's book is that while it tells you nothing about Gandhi that hasn't been said before, it doesn't oversimplify its subject." Further adding, "Wolpert mentions Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela as having drawn inspiration from Gandhi's methods. Disappointingly, he doesn't go into the manifold ways Gandhi's distrust of modernity has found echoes among many political and environmental movements around the world." Diplomat and author, Shashi Tharoor in his review for The Washington Post called it " a smooth, highly readable but flawed book." He added, "Wolpert's narrative is rather bloodless; the characters on its pages are largely just names, with little physical description, social background or political context provided. Two skimpy chapters on Gandhi's legacy are all that justify the book's subtitle.... the book is riddled with minor errors unworthy of a historian of Wolpert's eminence, ranging from the description of Ahmedabad in 1887 as the capital of Gujarat, a state that did not come into existence till the 1950s, to placing the British Viceroy in 1925 in Calcutta, though British India had moved its capital to Delhi in 1911.... Wolpert gives us the saint, but the shrewd politician is little in evidence in this book. And yet Wolpert gets all the essentials right, and he does so in lucid and lively prose."
Columnist Swapan Dasgupta in his review for The Times Of India criticised Wolpert's 'central argument' for mirroring 'the misgivings of the relics of the pre-War Conservative Party to the management of decolonization.' Yet, he refused to lump him with the Tory "revisionist" historians such as Andrew Roberts and Niall Ferguson and called his central thesis 'intriguing'. He observed, 'The problem is that Wolpert's own narrative doesn't justify singling out Mountbatten for all the opprobrium'. Furthermore, 'On Wolpert's suggestion that a united, independent Bengal would have prevented the tragedy in the east ignores cruel ground realities'.