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Alice Thorner: Memorial meeting held at India International Centre, New Delhi

by, 26 September 2005

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The Hindu, Sep 18, 2005

Delhi remembers Alice Thorner

Staff Reporter

Memorial meeting held at India International Centre

NEW DELHI: It was the end of Alice’s wonderland for all her friends in India. A global soul in the true sense before the term became fashionable, Alice Thorner - an eminent social scientist - left behind a legacy that has served to inspire the stalwarts of modern thought in India and elsewhere.

Bringing bright scholars together in her house in Paris over dinner and even on her trips to India, her memorial meeting held at India International Centre here in the Capital on Saturday was no different. With some of India’s greatest minds in the development world - economic, history, social science and even journalism - coming together to remember a woman who left an impression on them more than just intellectually, she still certainly had not lost her touch.

Reading out Ms. Thorner’s eldest son Nick’s message, well known journalist Pamela Philipose said: "Although Alice lived in France for 45 years, her heart was in India. I think her greatest strength was that she drew young scholars into a circle. It is a lonely time for all of us. I think she would be very grateful if she knew that there are people gathered in her name. If it was possible I think she would have loved to be there getting to see her old friends and making new ones.’’

While her essays with her husband Daniel Thorner on "Land and Labour in India" shaped modern thought and have become a benchmark for anyone interested in development issues, she also left an indelible mark on feminism and gender in the country.

"I think that one of her big contributions is that she managed to persuade the editor of the Economic and Political Weekly to put gender on the same plane as labour, agriculture and economy. Scholars started waiting to write in the biannual issue of the magazine for even a year and a half so that they could be read by their colleagues,’’ said historian Uma Chakravarty.

Living in three continents while she was American, she lived in France and her heart always belonged to India, Alice and Daniel Thorner, according to their friends and admirers, were one of the last few of a generation that thought they could change the world and seriously believed it. Targeted in the McCarthy era, the Thorners left America for ideological reasons to make an extended family that straddled continents and generations.

"I only know of her academic work vaguely. But she will be Aunty Alice for me. I think that she was a teacher in the real sense. She always raised questions. I may have moved far away from her and my father’s values, but they set a benchmark for me. I also remember that through my childhood, she talked about changing the world and she believed it. This I will not forget,’’ remembered lawyer Nandita Haksar.