Biases in Biographies

The book next on my reading list is Ravindra Kavita Kanan by Suryakant Tripathi Nirala. Its a book length essay on poems of the Nobel Laureate Ravindra Nath Tagore. Its very interesting as Nirala was a great poet himself.

He isn’t afraid to express his own opinions and that comes as a joy. Sample this:

अंकुर को देख कर उसके भविष्य-विस्तार के सम्बन्ध में अनुमान लगाना निरर्थक होता है | क्योंकि प्रायः सब अंकुर एक ही तरह के होते हैं | उनमें होनहार कौन है और कौन नहीं, यह बतलाना जरा मुश्किल है | इसी तरह, वर्तमान के महाकवि को उनके बालपन की क्रीड़ाएं देख कर पहचान लेना, उनके भविष्य के सम्बन्ध में सार्थक कल्पना करना, असंभव है | क्योंकि उनके बालपन में कोई ऐसी विचित्रता नहीं मिलती, जिससे यौवन-काल की महत्ता सूचित हो | जो लोग वर्त्तमान के साथ अतीत की श्रृंखला जोड़ते हैं, वे वर्त्तमान को देख कर ही उसके अनुकूल अतीत की युक्तियाँ रखते हैं |

I posted that in original Hindi. To translate, he says that it is impossible to look at a child and to predict the later greatness. There is a selection bias at play when people extrapolate the current greatness to events in childhood. He also says it poetically: All seeds are similar.

This is very different from the usual biographies written by journalists. There is an examination of the early years to show how the great person was different even in early years. Nirala clearly didn’t feel the compulsions that a Journalist does.

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