- Colleagues, activists, journalists, students and fans shared their photos with her and their memories, as well as videos of her past speeches or clips of her articles or interviews.
Indian historian Romila Thapar celebrated her 90th birthday on Nov. 30. A professor of Ancient History, Emerita, at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, she specializes in the social and cultural history of early India and its historiography.
Roshni D’Souza writes in the Madras Courier that Thapar’s “contribution to Indian history remains etched in history.” In the profile, D’Souza says “Thapar’s story, like all success stories do, started with a choice.” When faced with a choice of using the money her father saved for dowry for marriage or education, Thapar chose the latter. Although she had plans to attend Oxford University, her application was rejected. So she went to SOAS University in London, where she completed her Ph.D. in history in 1958.
Fellow historians, colleagues, students and fans took to Twitter to wish the globally renowned historian and authority on ancient Indian history. Some called her a “living legend,” others said she was “India’s finest living historian.” They shared their photos with her and their memories, as well as videos of her past speeches or clips of her articles or interviews.
Author and editor Salil Tripathi tweeted: “You turned 90 today. Thank you for teaching us about India, Romila Thapar. We need to meet for a nice drink and conversation before long.”
Historian Yusuf A. Ahmed Ansari shared a photo with the professor. “A very Happy 90th Birthday to India’s finest, most prodigious living historian, Professor Romila Thapar,” he tweeted. With prayers for many years of good health and much teaching ahead. She has been a perennial spring of inspiration, to so many like me.
Eshan Sharma, founder of Karwaan: The Heritage Exploration Initiative wished Thapar. “Janmadin Mubarak. Romila Thapar. At 90. Stay Blessed.”
Janaki Nair, a student of Thapar at JNU in the early 1980s wrote on Facebook saying, “Despite her many detractors, and the single-minded focus with which she has become a favorite object of vitriol and abuse, her copious, rigorous and luminous interpretations of Indian history will remain for a long time to come. Make no mistake, her enemies have also ensured her that place in history.”
Harsh Mander, a human rights and peace worker, writer, columnist, researcher and teacher tweeted: “In the dark times we pass through in the country we so love, her lifelong scholarship is a luminous courageous affirmation of the values we hold closest to our hearts & minds – of respect for every faith, of equal citizenship, truth, humanity & justice.”
Twitter user Rahul Mukherji, who describes himself as a consultant for hospitality and brand and a “social liberal,” wrote that Thapar is “one of the reasons” why history is his favorite subject. “Even though it stopped being a part of my academic curriculum after X. May she continue to inspire many more historians to resist the distortion of our history.”
Indian social activist and human rights campaigner Shabnam Hashmi shared videos of Thapar’s lectures.”We congratulate Prof Romila Thapar on her 90th Birthday.”
“We join you in congratulating Prof Romila Thapar on her 90th birthday,” replied Shobha Raguram to Hashmi’s tweet. ”A great scholar, inspiring teacher, and a historian who speaks the truth without self interest. We all wish her many more productive years and good health!”
Theoretical linguist Ayesha Kidwai shared her thoughts on Facebook. “Although I never studied history in JNU and I think that I never mustered up the courage to speak to her all through my student years, I was there in the audience for perhaps every talk she gave in the university for those seven years between my Masters and Ph.D., learning with awe and admiration on how to be an outstanding scholar, an excellent teacher, and above all, an academic committed to excellence in the public university,” she wrote.
“That Romila is here at 90, still dazzling us with her erudition, her scholarship, and her insight, still standing strong in her defense of the public university, the truth, and our embattled liberties of critical thought and free speech is a special gift, and that is for me once again a source of support,” Kidwai continued. “To think of her journey over nearly a century makes me believe that there will still be things to know and do in these dark times and that there will still be joy.”
Hindi poet and journalist Kuldeep Kumar shared a photo with professors Thapar and Neeladri Bhattacharya, and Indu Agnihotri on Facebook. “Blessed are we who are celebrating the 90th birthday of our guru Prof. Romila Thapar today. May she have good health in the years to come and continue to inspire us. Here is a picture from many years ago when she came to our Noida house.”
Pakistani American columnist Mohammad Taqi shared an interview with Thapar. “The venerable Professor Romila Thapar in a must-listen conversation with @thewire_in editor @svaradarajan on the role public intellectuals could play in telling fair from foul when media is used “not to communicate the reality but to propagate ideology.”
Young Leaders like Mayukh Biswas, general secretary of the Students’ Federation Of India (SFI) also wished Thapar. “Today is the 90th birthday of a living legend -Professor Romila Thapar-“the Dean of Indian Historians”, as another living legend, Professor Irfan Habib called her when his 90th was being celebrated a few months ago.”
Users like Raj Tyagi described Thapar as a “globally renowned historian and authority on ancient Indian History,” whose “scholarship has enhanced humankind’s appreciation of Indian History, like no one else before her.”
Some like Abhishek Baxi and Sarah Khan credited Thapar for her knowledge. “Happy 90th, Romila Thapar ji,” tweeted Baxi, a freelance tech journalist and digital consultant. “Thank you for widening our gyaan-chakshu.”
“Happy birthday 90th birthday Romila Thapar,” tweeted Khan. “You shaped many minds, young and old including mine with your writing of the history of us. For me it was this book. Thank you always and to cheers to another round of the sun.”
Some took to Twitter to share memories of their association with Thapar. Glasgow, Scotland-based writer Sohini Dasgupta tweeted: “She is ninety and still challenging the history of the ancient Indian narratives. Pleased to have read her scholarly articles and seen her talk in JNU. Her articles are dense but once you uncover them, there is no turning back.”
On his Facebook profile, Kanad Sinha, assistant professor at Sanskrit College & University West Bengal, shared his first meeting with Thapar. He said her 90th birthday is “perhaps a day when we need to look back and appreciate how fortunate we had been to learn from her academic journey as a historian.” Admitting that Thapar has always been his “favorite historian and greatest intellectual inspiration, he said he is “extremely lucky to have studied in the institution she is part of.” The first time he met her, Since recalled being “so overwhelmed by her presence that I could barely talk. Gradually, I could gather the courage to speak with her, and there has not been a single session from which I haven’t learnt something new.”
Similarly, Anupama Ranawana of the U.K. shared a memory. “Happy 90th birthday Prof Romila Thapar. One of my favourite things I ever did was write the entry about her for @globalsoctheory.”
The Twitter handle of InSAF India, an international coalition of diasporic Indians supporting academic freedom in India, also chimed in. “Today historian Romila Thapar turns 90. Happy birthday to the scholar, public intellectual and voice of dissent, who has taught us the importance of careful historical analysis in our ideas of India and its future.”