"India - A Wounded Civilization" by Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul

It took me nearly a month to complete this book. Of course, I was reading it in tranches of an hour or so, at a time. The fact that I was reading a commentary on the state of Indian affairs, added to the delay. Now when I think about it, this book seems to be the first one of its kind that I have read. Most of the books I have read so far were either fiction or dealt with history. I remember buying "Hegemony or Survival" by Naom Chomsky but have not made any decent progress in reading it. Back to the book.....

While I was reading the book, one thought that repeatedly came to me was "I have to read this book again at least once to get a hold of its idea". May be I will need to read more on the themes touched by Naipaul to sift the facts from the assumptions from the inferences. "India: A Wounded Civilization (1975)" forms the second part of Naipaul's "Indian Trilogy"; "An Area of Darkness (1964)" and "India: A Million Mutinies Now (1990)" being the first and third constituents, respectively. To be frank, the author's handling of the central theme - India and its history, its people, their attitudes, the national psyche and the reasons behind it - can give an rush of nationalistic fervour to even the most candid of readers. This could be reason why Naipaul is is much disliked person among "laymen".

The book has been written at a time when a lot of things were terribly wrong with our country - Emergency, laying of foundations of the Naxal movement, maturing of the system of sycophantic politicians and political families - Naipaul has extrapolated these phenomena to predict a very bleak future.

For a person cut off from India by a spatial distance of thousands of miles and a temporal distance of many decades, Naipaul does exhibit knowledge which is wide in its range but, I feel, shallow in its depth, at places. He uses examples as long as they serve his argument.

Naipaul also shows an exemplary knack for belittling personalities who have been hailed by "ordinary masses". In one place Mahatma Gandhi's work is described thus "The difficult lessons of South Africa were simplified and simplified in India: ending as a holy man's fad for doing the latrine cleaning work of untouchables, seen only as an exercise in humility, ending as a holy man's plea for brotherhood and love, ending as nothing". To allay any misunderstandings, here Naipaul actually tries to explain the watered down South African Gandhism that was followed in India. The author does give adequate explanations for this conclusions, though at times, the reader begins to feel that "Indianness is bad because it is not western".

Giving Naipaul due credit, I would say that this book is a must read as many sensitive topics are discussed. And discussed in such a way so as to challenge the hitherto unquestioned beliefs of the average reader. A positive aspect of the book is that for a change, the Indian hubristic mindset is posed with difficult questions - questions which are not always unanswerable.

PS: I found a reference to the book the very next morning in a review of India A Journey Through a Healing Civilization by Kishore Singh in Business Standard. Talk about co-incidences!

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