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India: A Wounded Civilization Paperback – April 8, 2003
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“Extraordinarily forceful. . . . Naipaul is an elegantly precise and exacting writer.” –Newsweek
“A deep pleasure to read. . . . Adventurous, inquiring, observant, penetrating, intelligent.” –The Washington Post Book World
“Typical Naipaul–brilliantly lucid, terse, with something hardbitten yet resigned in the emotional background.” –The New York Times Book Review
From the Inside Flap
In 1975, at the height of Indira Gandhi's "Emergency," V. S. Naipaul returned to India, the country his ancestors had left one hundred years earlier. Out of that journey he produced this concise masterpiece: a vibrant, defiantly unsentimental portrait of a society traumatized by centuries of foreign conquest and immured in a mythic vision of its past.
Drawing on novels, news reports, political memoirs, and his own encounters with ordinary Indians-from a supercilious prince to an engineer constructing housing for Bombay's homeless-Naipaul captures a vast, mysterious, and agonized continent inaccessible to foreigners and barely visible to its own people. He sees both the burgeoning space program and the 5,000 volunteers chanting mantras to purify a defiled temple; the feudal village autocrat and the Naxalite revolutionaries who combined Maoist rhetoric with ritual murder. Relentless in its vision, thrilling in the keenness of its prose, India: A Wounded Civilization" is a work of astonishing insight and candor.
Top customer reviews
The work does not do justice to the tremendous task that Naipaul has set for himself, if that task is to make sense of India's present from its historical path of where it comes from. Naipaul seems to impute that the religious beliefs of Hinduism are responsible for indians' easy acceptance of foreign rule, defeat and subjugation, if i got his point right through this well-written narrative of post-independent India's predilictions. Hindus, in Naipaul's view are only too willing to 'spiritualise' the experience of abject poverty. This analysis of Naipaul is of course very different from the usual diagnosis of difficulties of running world's largest democracy in which more than half the people were illiterate for most of existence as a independent nation.
The aspect of Hinduism that is debilitating in author's view is a certian obsession with the self and withdrawal from outer social world. This made Indians complicit in easy acceptance of foreign rulers and accept defeat
spiritually.Naipaul sees this debilitating Hindu thought in none other than Gandhi and his adherents - gandhi being presented as a self-obsessed man who is ever conscious of his inner workings and impulses while missing to observe or narrate a lot what happens around him. Naipaul is relentless in critically examining India's father of nation.
Also a certian lack of historic sense among Indians, and pride yielding long years of subjugation means Indians interpret themselves through ideas of their colonial masters rather than through their own illustrious past. Naipaul has a point here, no doubt.
What Naipaul's penetrating observation misses is much more than what it catches - for instance, to say Hinduism is self-centered is a jaundiced view. Any society that has a notion of good and evil has some concept of society and social norms and obligations, and concept of Dharma is just that. Likewise, this land was not always poor and in fact pursuit of wealth, so called Artha among four purusharthas, is one of the goals of Hindu life - wise men as alms-seeking mendicants seeking elightenment through suffering is a perhaps much later addition to Hindu thpught, may be more buddhist than hindu in origin. Likewise, while Naipaul bemoans India's loss of a part of cultural heritage in areas such as painting, architecture he has ignored the successful continuation of dance and music.
All in all, a laboured and contrived explanation to explain a complex civilisation through a single simplistic idea. Lastly, it needs to be mentioned though Naipaul's prose is as good as I have found it in his other non-fiction
works. That to many of his fans makes anything he writes worth reading, even if that writing is only dimly illuminating
This is typical of Naipaul's prose. Starting with someone else's words, he superimposes his own voice on theirs and creates what, to my mind, must be the finest contemporary English prose around. Through it, we experience not one person after another, but a whole cast of characters all in layers. Naipaul interviews an engineer who takes him to a village where he is introduced to a money lending landlord and his tenants. In one paragraph we are exposed to many relationships. Naipaul's and the engineer's, then the engineer's relationship with the powerful landlord who could forbid his tenants to talk to the him thus making him unable to carry out his land improvement projects. There's the relationship between the tenants and the landlord, between Naipaul and the tenants, and so on. It is almost like an opera which, unlike theater, remains coherent even if everyone is talking all at once.
Economy is a mark of great art. The title makes this point too. India was wounded, not dead. But during Indira Ghandi's Emergency, it was in critical condition. And the point is made in four words.
India has a long history of art and culture but their natural development was largely interrupted during the British Raj. The forms have remained but the conscious sense of continuity was lost. What remains is the here and the now. The people no longer remember their past but at any moment they feel its presence around them.
I've never been to India so cannot say if Naipaul's picture of it is true or faithful. I suspect it is, but that is immaterial. It is certainly an accurate presentation of what he himself thought and felt as a foreign-born Indian returning to the land of his ancestors, and that is how we ought to measure an artist's achievement, by his ability to make us feel precisely what he wishes us to feel.
Vincent Poirier, Tokyo
What I enjoyed most were passages describing visits that Naipaul made as a semi-outsider to the home of a village Brahmin, and to a suburban Mumbai squatters settlement. Social description was my desire in obtaining this book, but it disappointed me in that there was not more of it.