Thursday, August 17, 2006

Posting after quite a while, found a nice interview with VS Naipaul, i've posted some of the relevant points that he makes about how and why our society has come to be the way it is, i guess it takes an outsider to make such shrewd observations, his is an interesting journey in itself, hes an Indian from the carribean whose forefathers migrated a few generations back to work in the sugarcane plantations , and now he has come full circle, returning as a world famous author, revealing to us things about our past that we just like to slide under the carpet or just are completely oblivious to. History is obviously not one of our strongest subjects, even though it should be.

Some excerpts of this brilliant interview:

And then in your next book of travel, a journey through India called An Area of Darkness there are more unacceptable truths. It created a huge stir in India. I must confess that reading it at college was a revelation: it made one aware of things that were hitherto invisible, but right in front of one's eyes. And yet I found it difficult to argue wholeheartedly for the book amongst my friends. My admiration had to be a sly secret. Tell me how you came to write An Area of Darkness. Why India?

Oh, ancestral land. I was close to India in my upbringing. I grew up in a very, very Indian household. That was the world for me. And there was also the independence struggle, which was taking place when I was in my teens. That mattered to me.

And you had kept abreast of it?

Oh absolutely. All our family did.

So India was self-discovery?

Well, the truth was that I was shattered by India, by what I saw. The things I saw just seemed to be repetitive, and I didn't think there was a book there. I felt there wasn't a book in my travels. And for three months afterwards I did nothing. I was faced with the possibility of having to give the £500 advance back to André Deutsch, so I wrote the book. What I did was I opened an exercise book, and put down on two sheets all the things that struck me, with little headings, and I looked at them; and I made a shape, and more or less followed that shape. The book changes in mood and manner. It's now writing about literature, it's now telling about the writer being in Kashmir, it talks about arrival and then talks about visiting ancestral villages - but that was the way it was done.

The book violated our central Indian preserve of nationalism, an uncritical and often mendacious glossing over history, over poverty, prejudice, superstition, caste, cruelty, hypocrisy, filth, etcetera. India didn't want any of that talked about. Didn't that reaction come back to you?

Not really. I was doing my work, I had to keep alive, I had to write another book. And you must remember at a very early stage I stopped reading the critics. I didn't like seeing my name in print, and hurried past it whenever I saw it. That's still true.

Nissim Ezekiel, a well-known poet, edited a collection of essays against An Area of Darkness.

I didn't know. I didn't think of it that way, as an attack on India. I thought of it as a record of my unhappiness. I wasn't knocking anybody, it was a great melancholy experience actually. Mark you, it's full of flaws: what it says about caste is influenced by ideas I had picked up here, British ideas. I think differently about caste now. I understand the clan feeling, the necessity of that in a big country. And the book was bad about Indian art. I should have understood that art depends on patrons, and that in Independent India, with the disappearance of Indian royal courts, the possibility for art had been narrowed - instead of thinking that this was rather terrible, that there was no art. It will nag at me now, it will nag at me for some years.

Years later you return to India and that journey results in A Wounded Civilization, which is much less a travel book. It brings to the surface movements from below that haven't been looked at by Indian writers.

Yes, the book is different. The result of an American commission. The publisher asked me to go and look at the Emergency that had been imposed on the country by Indira Gandhi's government. A modern way of doing that, a cannier way, would have been to go to India, chat to a few dissidents and journalists, and do that kind of report. But I preferred to do this.

The book is unusual. It tries to make sense, in one section, of the Shiv Sena, regarded in India as a provincial, even a fascist movement. You express empathy and see them as the only party who care about hygiene, about health, about the destitution of the slums in which they operate. The main characteristic of the book is its urge to get under the surface of these phenomena with a tremendous sympathy. It is the opposite of ideological. What compelled you to attempt that?

Because of my background I have the most sympathy with these movements coming from below. I don't forget my peasant origins in this way, and that we were unprotected, our family, people like us in Trinidad. We had no voice. And in this way I'm quite different from Indian writers. I'm different from Mr Nehru and people like Indira Gandhi. I don't think those people ever knew the Indian peasantry. I think very few Indian writers know or have a feel for their mentality and their lives even now. They're middle-class chaps. But I came directly from the other. In spite of the transplantation, my ancestors going to Trinidad, and in spite of education, and being a writer and everything else - those are my origins and perhaps this is why my sympathy is there. And I could always understand them, the peasantry, the landless, the people below giving themselves a break for the first time for centuries, perhaps even for a millennium or more.

And that was the book in which I began to understand the nature of the Indian calamity, what had happened to India: and that was when I began to question, where I went against, the teaching of the independence movement that spoke of the two cultures, the two religions being one really - and I saw that India had been crushed by the Muslims. I didn't see this clearly, I saw it later, but that book begins to deal with that idea. And I think this is a book which only someone of my background could write, because middle-class, self-deceiving Indian people wouldn't think like that.

Underlying your observation of India there is the historical perception that the Muslim rule of India which spanned perhaps five or six centuries destroyed much of Hindu India. The wounded civilisation is seen as a society which has been historically mutated, truncated and damaged by proselytising and intolerant Islam. You begin to see this in India: A Wounded Civilization.

In my analysis of Narayan's novel at the beginning of India: A Wounded Civilization, I think it's clearly stated about the invaders. But Narayan speaks about the invaders in this general way, and I suppose I myself was just dealing with the invaders in this general way, not specifying or researching the acts of the Muslim conquerors, the rulers and their governors.

The thing about being an Indian, and it remains true of Indian writing now, is that it seems to work without history, in a vacuum. Indian writers don't know why their country is in such a mess. They can't understand the poverty of India, they don't know why seventeenth- and eighteenth-century travellers talk of a derelict countryside. Very easy to think that it might be because of the British, but much easier in fact to pay no attention to it at all. This lack in Indian writing, even in Narayan's writing, is a fatal flaw.

Narayan grew up a day's journey from Hampi, where there are these extraordinary ruins of the city of Vijayanagar, capital of the ancient Hindu kingdom, which I went to see in 1962. And this destruction had been done in 1565. I think a writer like Narayan should have understood what had happened, especially as he'd written a guidebook to the area. But he didn't respond to that. In a way perhaps the defeat had been too great. How can you write about your setting, your culture, if you can't see what happened 400 years ago? He has a really magical way of writing and looking, but his picture is incomplete.

Because it has no historical perspective?

It stands on no history. It hangs in the air.

But he writes about a place he has created, an imaginary town, Malgudi, like Hardy's Wessex.

Yes, and he thinks it's eternal. In fact, his India is a ruin, he's writing about a ruin. And indeed you should ask, who created the ruin? Why is there this ruin? The ruin wasn't eternal.

You explore the theme in great detail in your last and major work about India, India: A Million Mutinies Now. It has a huge sweep and a powerful underlying theory of the progress of a myriad classes and kinds of people. And the form is startling too. It is virtually a chain of biographies that define the subcontinent, biographies of ordinary and extraordinary but neglected people. Why do you call them mutinies?

It discovers modern India through the revolts, then further revolt, the individual mutinies. And 'mutiny' is a simple word meaning people wishing to assert themselves. People coming up, the wounded people, the wounded civilisation, using these British-given institutions to assert themselves after independence. They have had no voice for so long, but now they are in the process of being someone. To me that's very moving.

It is a very hopeful book. And again embodies the compassion from below. I remember you correcting me when I first asked you about it, telling me they were 'stories' not 'interviews'.

They are stories. In an interview you are getting someone's opinions, and I was very particular in this book, I wanted people's experience, and for the experience to illuminate something. One experience, one illumination, linked to another - it's linked in that way, it makes a pattern. I remember when I began it I spent so many days in the Taj Hotel in Bombay, wondering how to move. Where do you start? Then a reporter, Laxman, a person I had been in touch with, began to understand what I wanted, and he took me to the Shiv Sena, which had now become a political force in Bombay. It was just one of these happy accidents, we began like that. I talked to people who people would not have looked at before. Indian writers wouldn't want the stories: they would do social surveys about the very poor and the very wretched. And then I met a man from the Atomic Energy Commission whose grandfather had been a priest in a temple. So when I went down south I looked for this person, to understand how over a couple of generations one can breed atomic scientists from families steeped in ancient religion. I was interested in that sort of discovery.

It has been said that your historical analysis of the Islamic conquests and destruction in India plays into the hands of divisive politicians, setting Hindus against Muslims today, and gives succour to the Hindu extremist.

People who say that have no wish to understand history, or what is created by history, or the movements that are part of a response to history. They have their own idea of history in this respect. It's - to use this word, which is actually a good word - a construct. It's a construct that came about during the independence movement.

Whose construct? Was it Nehru's, Gandhi's?

I think Nehru had a hand. Gandhi didn't construct it. Gandhi in a way had a pretty good idea of the damage, but he felt that India had survived it all. But he knew what had happened.

What evidence is there that Gandhi knew or shared the idea that the Muslims had destroyed Hindu civilisation?

No, I'm not saying it as boldly as that. I'm thinking of his book about Indian Home Rule, Hind Swaraj, where he talks about the anguish of India, etcetera. I'm assuming he knows a little bit why the anguish is there. He thought the British made it all; the British made it, yes, but it started long before then.

You do understand the argument of the nationalists, like Nehru…

They had to get people together for the independence movement, and they had to tell stories.

Is it dangerous to violate that story? To point at the Muslim past?

I don't think it's dangerous. I think it's necessary to violate that story. Indians wonder why their country is a country of misery. I have some idea of this land trampled over, and why it was trampled over. Every country has a history. Indians live in a country without seeing the history.

So without understanding there is no redemption?
No, I don't think so.

You don't think that knowing the truth about that history would predispose anybody to be anti-Islam or anti-whatever?

I think that the Muslim people of India should know the history too, and in fact just across the border in Pakistan they know the history. They boast of the history. So why should people just across the border in India pretend it doesn't exist? What kind of nonsense is this? In their junior history books it's there. 'We conquered, and looted. And we destroyed. We did away with all the idols, we did away with all the temples. Yes, it was our land'. The Pakistani dream is one day that there'll be a Muslim resurgence and they will lead the prayers in the mosques in Delhi. You can hear that in Pakistan.

Can you? I didn't know that the Pakistanis were about to do that to India.
But it is a kind of dream.

you can read the rest here:


At 8:06 AM, Blogger sage_of_dio said...

excellent article ! a clear eye-opener and only by a man of the stature of sir Naipaul. if only india had native sons like him in political power, then the whole place would change! witness how clueless and apathetic indians are to their own country and history. it's sick !! and we call ourselves a great civilization and aspiring power? we dare to criticize the US and Israel? pity the nation, where such "suckers" and hijras live and reproduce in abundance. hey, wait a minute, didn't Ram tell the hijras in Ramayana that they would rule for sometime on this planet? well, this has to be the day !


Post a Comment

<< Home

Dual Drill
Free Web Counter
Dual Drill