New Delhi, March 16 (PTI) Award-winning British author, historian and academic Patrick French, best known for his biography of VS Naipaul, The World Is What It Is and India: A Portrait, died in London on Thursday after a four-year battle with cancer. He was 57.
French, who was the first dean of Ahmedabad University’s School of Arts and Sciences in 2017 and also held a visiting position at Ashoka University, died in the morning, his mother-in-law and co-founder of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF). Namita Gokhale to PTI.
“It was so sudden. We are all so heartbroken. The death occurred in London. He’s had cancer for four years,” Gokhale said.
French is survived by his wife Meru Gokhale, former publisher of Penguin Press Group, and four children.
He was “an extraordinary father, friend, husband, teacher and mentor to many,” said Meru Gokhale from London.
“At 8.10am this morning in London my beloved husband Patrick French passed away after a brave battle with cancer… His kindness and love will stay with us forever. He went in peace without suffering,” she said in a statement.
The London-based historian, who earned his PhD in South Asian Studies from the University of Edinburgh and an MA in English and American Literature, focused primarily on the political and social analysis of India in the decades immediately preceding and following independence in 1947. He also did research with the period following the economic “liberalization” of the 1990s.
In addition to his writing and academic work, French also briefly dabbled in politics. In 1992 he ran unsuccessfully as the Green Party candidate in the UK general election.
His famous works, which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, include Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer (1994), a biography of British explorer Francis Younghusband, Liberty or Death: India’s Journey to Independence and Division, and “Tibet, Tibet: A Personal Story of a Lost Land”.
French, who has also held residencies at the University of Warwick, the University of the South Pacific, NYU Abu Dhabi and the University of Pennsylvania, has received numerous awards for his work. These have included the Hawthornden Prize, the Royal Society of Literature’s WH Heinemann Prize, the US National Book Critics Circle Award, the Somerset Maugham Award, and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award.
Among those paying tribute to French, perhaps the most popular biographer, were congressman and author Shashi Tharoor, his party colleagues Jairam Ramesh and Rahul Gandhi, and historians William Dalrymple and Ramachandra Guha.
Dalrymple said he was heartbroken to learn of the loss of his close friend and best man at his wedding, and described French as “the greatest biographer of our generation”.
“He was funny, smart and charming, always full of enthusiasm and energy. He was also the greatest biographer of our generation,” Dalrymple tweeted.
Guha said: “I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Patrick French. He was a wonderful writer whose books on Francis Younghusband and VS Naipaul are classics of modern biographical writing. He was also a very fine person, always generous to friends and strangers alike.” Tharoor said he was deeply saddened by the news.
“…just spoke to his mother-in-law @NamitaGokhale_ to offer my condolences. My heart goes out to @MeruGokhale and her 4 year old son Krishna. We have lost an outstanding writer and a good man. RIP,” Tharoor tweeted.
Ramesh said: “Patrick French was a wonderful writer, two of his books are particularly scholarly and compelling: his biography of Francis Younghusband and his account of the events before the Partition. I have benefited enormously from my conversations with him about Tibet and it is difficult to believe that he is no more.
Gandhi offered condolences to French’s death, saying his death was a tremendous loss to the literary community.
“I am saddened to learn of the passing of Patrick French – a well-known writer, historian and most importantly, a wonderful human being,” the former Congress President said in a Facebook post.
“His deep understanding of Indian culture and history is reflected in his insightful writing. His death is a tremendous loss to the literary community. I offer my deepest condolences to Meru Gokhale ji and the bereaved,” he said.
Author Aatish Taseer described French as a “wonderful biographer, historian, essayist and teacher” and called his biography of Naipul a “classic”. PTI MG MAH MIN ANB ANB ANB
(This report was published as part of the auto-generated syndicate wirefeed. Aside from the headline, the copy of ABP Live has not been edited.)
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