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An Area of Darkness: A Discovery of India Paperback – July 9, 2002
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“Whatever his literary form, Naipaul is a master.” –The New York Review of Books
“This is India. I don’t know any other book that comes so near to capturing the whole crazy spectrum. . . . Brilliant.” –John Wain, The Observer
“His narrative skill is spectacular. One returns with pleasure to the slow hand-in-hand revelation of both India and himself. . . . There is a kind of displaced person who has a better sense of place than anybody: Mr. Naipaul is an outstanding example.” –The Times (London)
“[Naipaul’s] penetrating, opinionated travel writing . . . makes up a remarkable running commentary on the clash of civilizations.” –The New York Times
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A classic of modern travel writing, An Area of Darkness" is Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul's profound reckoning with his ancestral homeland and an extraordinarily perceptive chronicle of his first encounter with India.
Traveling from the bureaucratic morass of Bombay to the ethereal beauty of Kashmir, from a sacred ice cave in the Himalayas to an abandoned temple near Madras, Naipaul encounters a dizzying cross-section of humanity: browbeaten government workers and imperious servants, a suavely self-serving holy man and a deluded American religious seeker. An Area of Darkness also abounds with Naipaul's strikingly original responses to India's paralyzing caste system, its apparently serene acceptance of poverty and squalor, and the conflict between its desire for self-determination and its nostalgia for the British raj. The result may be the most elegant and passionate book ever written about the subcontinent.
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Having offered that disclaimer, I was thoroughly enamoured of the remainder: with his different insights into the Indian culture and society that he sometimes sought out and at other times just fell into accidentally. I am trying to remember specifics, but I am an old man whose memory is flying past so quickly that I feel the air moving against my face. However, I do remember those endearing passages regarding his visit to his grandfather’s village; the problematic relationship with his Turbaned Sikhs companion; his many fascinating descriptions of the varied people he encountered throughout his Indian journey.
Naipoll’s return visit to his biological homeland if not his actual homeland providers innumerable insights into fascinating countries of many aspects. I urge any reader with a broad interest in Indian society to obtain a copy.
The caste system
V.S. Naipaul illustrates profusely what a caste system really is. A caste is not a class, because a class system is a system of rewards. `Caste imprisons a man in his function. From this it follows, since there are no rewards, that duties and responsibilities become irrelevant to position.'
Caste also implies a brutal division of `labor' with at its centre the degradation of the latrine-cleaner. The main aim of the sweeper, however, is not to clean, but `to be' dirt.
By divorcing function from social obligation, caste becomes inefficient and destructive. Physical efforts (labor) are seen as degradation and have to be avoided. Caste lies at the heart of the Indian passion for symbolic actions: planting trees, but leaving the trees alone afterwards.
Poverty, the British
Poverty is not felt as an urge to anger or improving action, but as an exhaustible source of tears.
For V.S. Naipaul, India was (is still?) the world's greatest slum, with Kolkata as its nadir: filth, overpopulation and tainted money. It stands as an example of the total Indian tragedy and the terrible British failure. The British expressed their contempt for it and escaped back to England.
The religious doctrine was not as important as the forms it had bred. Religions was a spectacle (flagellations, ten thousand simultaneous prostrations), `a mixture of the gay, the penitential, the hysterical and, importantly, the absurd.'
The pilgrimage to the Cave of Amarnath with its massive ice phallus showed that `the generative force alone remained potent.'
Has India fundamentally changed since this disastrous report? Was the treatment of a former `untouchable' Prime Minister a sign on the wall?
Our world today needs more V.S. Naipauls, who do not deny what they see and who have a keen eye for crucial political, social and economic issues and psychological impacts.
This impressive in depth travel report should be a model for all those who want to learn to see.
Not to be missed.
I also highly recommend the movies by the great Indian director Shyam BENEGAL.
Most recent customer reviews
'Indians defecate everywhere'. This trivial (not to Indians though) observation should have alone earned Naipaul a Noble.Read more