Responses to Our Autumn 2021 Issue

Inoculating India

Much of the criticism Murzban F. Shroff levels against Narendra Modi’s handling of the Covid crisis in India (Letter from Mumbai, Autumn 2021) is well justified. His reference to India’s vaccine preparation, however, is highly misleading. Although the government had ordered only 16 million doses of the vaccine by January 2021, it was fully cognizant of the enormous capacity within the country to both manufacture and administer vaccines. By mid-September, more than 750 million doses had been administered by the government free of cost—double the U.S. volume at that time. With daily production in India of 10 million doses, the government projected that the entire adult population would be vaccinated by the end of the year.

S. Ashok
State College, Pennsylvania

Murzban F. Shroff replies:

While I do appreciate Professor Ashok’s feedback, I wish he had pointed specifically to the statement he finds misleading. Never have I doubted India’s vaccine-producing capacity; what I am showing is how politics and a self-aggrandizing agenda took precedence over concerns of human lives and safety. More than capability, it was the lack of intention I am pointing to, and, by the time the leadership got its act together, it was too late: several thousands of lives had been lost. In fact, I clarify that India exported vaccines produced in the country in bulk; this, at the cost of its own people. Only after the social media outcry and the bad international press did the government at the center start working with the states to ramp up the vaccination drive. When power structures fail the people, literature must take on a catalyzing role. This was the overriding purpose of my essay.

Racial Reckoning

Farah Peterson writes in “On Our Knees”: “If you’re not Black, you may not understand how it feels to live among a people who expect you to embody two-dimensional caricatures, to act out icons, types, and figures.” What a bizarre proposition! I am a “white” person living in a majority “white” European country, and I experience such expectations all the time, at least when I am among people who don’t know me. That kind of “social shorthand” among strangers is ubiquitous, a convenience to get through the day with reasonable effort. Many of these devices are rough-and-ready heuristics distilled from the underlying statistics of our social experience, and thus can contain some grain of truth (with the obvious limitation that though, say, men are typically taller than women, that is not true in every case). It is truly discouraging to see such commonplace makeshifts be turned into fuel for racial animus!

from our website

Changing Fortunes

Thanks for Jennifer Sinor’s “Creative Destruction” (Tuning Up). The silly notion that alchemy is all about turning base metal to gold was always a blind to keep the profane at a distance. The goal was, and still is, to transform the baseness in ourselves into the gold of enlightenment.

“gerald brennan”
from our website

The Limits of a Presidency

David Levering Lewis’s “A Prophet and a President” illuminated frustrations with the Obama presidency that I couldn’t quite articulate, even though I knew that he could never deviate from the center or address racial politics without setting off a racist backlash. In the end, we got that backlash anyway in the next administration.

from our website

A Question of Perspective

Ingrid D. Rowland’s review (“Holding the Reigns,” Book Reviews) is fascinating. But did I detect one slight case of religious tendentiousness in the phrase “Protestant heretic”? Any of the 300 Protestants whom “Bloody Mary” burned at the stake would have thought her a “Catholic heretic” and an idolater!

from our website

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Our Readers may send letters to The American Scholar, 1606 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009; or e-mail them to Please include a daytime telephone number. Letters may be edited for length or clarity.


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