Ian Jack, from the Introduction to Autobiography of an Unknown Indian.
I knew him during his last two decades, as many others knew
him at that time, as a deeply mischievous and superbly entertain-
ing egoist. It is impossible to exaggerate these aspects of his char-
acter, which are also fully present in his writing. The word “ego”
held no shame or fear for him. As he sometimes said, it was the
brute power of his ego that had driven him onwards and upwards.
How else would he have lived so long and productively? His
physique had nothing to do with it. He was always frail, with the
bustling energy of a small bird, and never stood much more than
five feet tall or weighed more than ninety-five pounds. His early
circumstances were not promising. Birth and childhood in an ob-
scure deltaic town in Bengal usually guaranteed the opposite of
Western standards of longevity, nor did they offer any obvious
route to a literary career in the English language. “I am a striking
illustration of the survival of the unfittest,” Chaudhuri would say.
“It comes from self-assertion through writing. Otherwise I should
be dead, or living on a clerk’s pension in some foul Calcutta slum.”
(Nirad C Chaudhuri was born on 23 November, 1897)