November 14, 1997

Sir Isaiah Berlin, who died last week aged 88, was the epitome of those open-minded, cosmopolitan intellectuals from central Europe who made British academic life, both in the humanities and the sciences, less insular in the decades before and after the second world war. In recent times, intellectuals from India have played a somewhat similar role.

As an undergraduate at Oxford in 1930, Berlin attended lectures by Rabindranath Tagore. In 1961, he went to India and lectured on Tagore's view of nationalism. Later in life, he was intrigued by Tagore's disagreement with Einstein about the nature of reality. Einstein used to refer to Tagore in private as "Rabbi". Said an amused Berlin: "Einstein did not hold with rabbis much; still less with quantum physics."

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