Saturday, July 02, 2005

Part 3 Naipaul Abridged

A Million Mutinies
(Author: V.S. Naipaul, Publication: India Today ,Date: August 18, 1997 )
I think that it would be wrong to ask whether 50 years of India's Independence are an achievement or a failure. It would be better to see things as evolving. It's not an either-or question. My idea of the history of India is slightly contrary to the Indian idea. India is a country that, in the north, outside Rajasthan, was ravaged, and intellectually destroyed to a large extent, by the invasions that began in about 1000 A.D. by forces and religions that India had no means of understanding.

The invasions are in all the schoolbooks. But I don't think people understand that every invasion, every war, every campaign, was accompanied by slaughter, a slaughter always of the most talented people in the country. So these wars, apart from everything else, led to a tremendous intellectual depletion of the country. I think that in the British period, and in the 50 years after the British period, there has been a kind of recruitment or recovery, a very slow revival of energy and intellect. This isn't an idea that goes with the vision of the grandeur of old India and all that sort of rubbish. That idea is a great simplification, and it occurs because it is intellectually, philosophically and emotionally easier for Indians to manage.

What they cannot manage, and what they have not yet come to terms with, is that ravaging of all the north of India by various conquerors. That was ruin not by an act of nature, but by the hand of man. It is so painful that few Indians have begun to deal with it. It's much easier to deal with British imperialism. That is a familiar topic, in India and Britain. What is much less familiar is the ravaging of India before the British. What happened from 1000 A.D. on, really, is such a wound that it is almost impossible to face. Certain wounds are so bad that they can't be written about. You deal with that kind of pain by hiding from it. You retreat from reality. I wrote a book about that, and people thought I meant that India hasn't really a civilization, or India can't go ahead. What I was saying is that you cannot deal with a wound so big. I do not think, for example, that people like the Incas of Peru or the native people of Mexico have ever got over their defeat by the Spaniards. In both places, the head was cut off. I think the pre-British ravaging of India was as bad as that. Muslims shouldn't be too sensitive about this. Because in the Islamic world, a similar vandalization occurred with the Mongols. Muslims all over still grieve about that.

In the place of knowledge of history, you have various fantasies about the village republic and the old glory. There is one big fantasy that Indians have always found solace in: about India having the capacity for absorbing its conquerors. This is not so. India was laid low by its conquerors. There's an extraordinary work by the young Gandhi-his 1909 book, Hind Swaraj, about the need for Indian independence-where he says that what is really wrong with India is modern civilization: doctors, lawyers, railways (spreading famine and vice). His arguments are quite absurd. Rome has fallen, Greece has fallen, every other culture has fallen, but old India has survived. It is immovable and glorious. Now Gandhi is writing this at one of the blacker moments in India's history and one of the blacker moments in his personal life. He has seen South Africa and the abject, unprotected condition of Indians there. Out of that despair, and out of his own lack of education, all he can manage intellectually is that rejection of modern civilization, which is a rejection of the tools of self-defense. It is the deepest kind of despair. That's my starting point in understanding Indian history. And so, I feel the past 150 years have been years of every kind of growth. I see the British period and what has continued after that as one period. In that time, there has been a very slow intellectual recruitment.

I think every Indian should make the pilgrimage to the site of the capital of the Vijaynagar Empire, just to see what the invasion of India led to. They will see a totally destroyed town. Religious wars are like that. People who see that might understand what the centuries of plunder and slaughter meant. War isn't a game. When you lost that kind of war, your towns were destroyed, the people who built the towns were destroyed, you are left with a headless population. That's where modern India starts from. The Vijaynagar capital was destroyed in 1565. It is only now that the surrounding region has begun to revive. A great chance has been given to India to start up again, and I feel it has started up again.

The questions about whether 50 years of India since Independence have been a failure or an achievement are not the questions to ask. In fact, I think India is developing quite marvelously. People thought-even Mr Nehru thought-that development and new institutions in a place like Bihar, for instance, would immediately lead to beauty. But it doesn't happen like that. When a country as ravaged as India, with all its layers of cruelty, when that kind of country begins to extend justice to people lower down, it's a very messy business. It's not beautiful, it's extremely messy. And that's what you have now, all these small politicians with small reputations and small parties. But this is part of growth, this is part of development. You must remember that these people, and the people they represent. have never had rights before. So in India at the moment you have a million mutinies-every man is a mutiny on his own-and 1 find that entirely creative. It's difficult to manage, gets very messy, but it is the only way forward. You can't get people from Bihar suddenly behaving very beautifully. When the oppressed have the power to assert themselves, they will behave badly. it will need a couple of generations of security, and knowledge of institutions. and the knowledge that you can trust institutions-it will take at least a couple of generations before people in that situation begin to behave well.

From India's point of view, the Partition was extremely fortunate. The religious question would otherwise have paralyzed and consumed the state. By cruel irony, this is what it's done across the border in Pakistan. In India, there's the emphasis on human possibility. In Pakistan, there's only a constant regression to greater and greater fundamentalism - it's quite extraordinary and shameful that Pakistan, 50 years after independence, could have created something like the Taliban.

People ask me about the forces of Hindutva in India. I got into trouble a couple of years ago when I said that with this new kind of self-awareness in India, the Hindu idea is almost a necessary early, stage. It contains the beginnings of larger, new ideas: the idea of history, the idea of the human family, of India. I hope this self-awareness doesn't stay there, and I don't think it will, but it's necessary. We are dealing with a country that has started from a very low point, a very low intellectual point, a low economic point. When people start moving, the first loyalty, the first identity, is always a rather small one. They can't immediately become other things. I think that within every kind of disorder now in India there is a larger positive movement. But the future will be fairly chaotic. Politics will have to be at the level of the people now. People like Nehru were colonial-style politicians. They were to a large extent created and protected by the colonial order. They did not begin with the people.

Politicians now have to begin with the people. They cannot be too far above the level of the people. They are very much part of the people. The Nehrus of the world have to give way now to the men of the people. It is important, in this apparent mess, for two things not to be interfered with. One is economic growth. I would like to see that encouraged in every way. It is the most important news coming out of India, more important than the politics. I would like to see education extended and extended. If this were to happen, and I feel it might, gradually, the actual level of politics will reflect both the economic life and higher level of education.

In India the talent is prodigious, really, and it increases year by year. And in sheer numbers, in another 10 years, India will probably be one of the world's most intellectually gifted countries. The quality and the numbers are extraordinary, and I think this makes India extraordinary. But India shouldn't have fantasies about the past. The past is painful, but it should be faced. We should make ourselves see how far these old invasions and wars had beaten India down and how far we have come. I would say that India in the 18th century was pretty nearly a dead country. India has life now. India is living.

A Strong Hindu Response to Historical Humiliation
Sir V.S. Naipaul
Publication : Afternoon (Excerpts from The Los Angeles Times, June 29, 1996)

INDIA was trampled over, fought over. You had the invasions and you had the absence of a response to them. There was an absence even of the idea of a people, of a nation defending itself. Only now are people beginning to understand that there has been a great vandalizing of India.

In pre-industrial India, people moved about in small areas, unaware of the dimension of the country, without any notion of nation. People seemed to say: We are all right here. The rest of the world may be disastrous, but we are not affected. Now, however things seem to be changing. What is happening in India is a mighty, creative process. Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on.

But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: Deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging to their historical humiliation. The new Hindu attitude, the new sense of history being attained by Hindus, is not like Mohammedan fundamentalism. Which is essentially a negative, last-ditch effort to fight against a world it desperately wishes to join.

The movement (Hindu awakening) is now from below. It has to be dealt with. It is not enough to abuse these youths or use that fashionable word from Europe, 'fascism', There is a big, historical development going on in India. Wise men should understand it and ensure that it does not remain in the hands of fanatics.

"An area of awakening", interview of Sir V.S.Naipaul
by Dileep Padgaonkar, Editor, The Times of India, July 18, 1993

In one of his interviews (not included here), Sir Vidiadhar had said: "The (second) millennium began with the Muslim invasions and the grinding down of the Hindu-Buddhist culture of the north. This is such a big and bad event that people still have to find polite, destiny-defying ways of speaking about it. In art books and history books, people write of the Muslims 'arriving' in India, as though the Muslims came on a tourist bus and went away again. The Muslim view of their conquest of India is a truer one. They speak of the triumph of the faith, the destruction of idols and temples, the loot, the carting away of the local people as slaves, so cheap and numerous that they were being sold for a few rupees. The architectural evidence - the absence of Hindu monuments in the north - is convincing enough."

Padgaonkar: The collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent rise of Islamic nations in Central Asia, the Salman Rushdie affair, similar harassment by fundamentalists of liberal Muslim intellectuals in India: all these factors taken together persuaded some forces to argue that a divided Hindu society cannot counteract Islamic fundamentalism.

Naipaul: I don't see it quite in that way. The things you mentioned are quite superficial. What is happening in India is a new, historical awakening. Gandhi used religion in a way as to marshal people for the independence cause. People who entered the independence movement did it because they felt they would earn individual merit.

Today, it seems to me that Indians are becoming alive to their history. Romila Thapar's book on Indian history is a Marxist attitude to history which in substance says: there is a higher truth behind the invasions, feudalism and all that. The correct truth is the way the invaders looked at their actions. They were conquering, they were subjugating. And they were in a country where people never understood this.

Only now are the people beginning to understand that there has been a great vandalising of India. Because of the nature of the conquest and the nature of Hindu society such understanding had eluded Indians before.

What is happening in India is a mighty creative process. Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on, especially if these intellectuals happen to be in the United States. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

However, we are aware of one of the more cynical forms of liberalism: it admits that one fundamentalism is all right in the world. This is the fundamentalism they are really frightened of: Islamic fundamentalism. Its source is Arab money. It is not intellectually to be taken seriously etc. I don't see the Hindu reaction purely in terms of one fundamentalism pitted against another. The reaction is a much larger response... Mohamedan fundamentalism is essentially negative, a protection against a world it desperately wishes to join. It is a last ditch fight against the world.

But the sense of history that the Hindus are now developing is a new thing. Some Indians speak about a synthetic culture: this is what a defeated people always speak about. The synthesis may be culturally true. But to stress it could also be a form of response to intense persecution.

P: This new sense of history as you call it is being used in India in very many different ways. My worry is that somewhere down the line this search for a sense of history might yet again turn into hostility toward something precious which came to use from the West: the notion of the individual......

N: This is where the intellectuals have a duty to perform. The duty is the use of the mind. It is not enough for intellectuals to chant their liberal views or to abuse what is happening. To use the mind is to reject the grosser aspects of this vast emotional upsurge.

P: How did you react to the Ayodhya incident?

N: Not as badly, as the others did, I am afraid. The people who say that there was no temple there are missing the point. Babar, you must understand, had contempt for the country he had conquered. And his building of that mosque was an act of contempt for the country.

In Turkey, they turned the Church of Santa Sophia into a mosque. In Nicosia churches were converted into mosques too. The Spaniards spent many centuries re-conquering their land from Muslim invaders. So these things have happened before and elsewhere.

In Ayodhya the construction of a mosque on a spot regarded as sacred by the conquered population was meant as an insult. It was meant as an insult to an ancient idea, the idea of Ram which was two or three thousand years old.

P: The people who climbed on top of these domes and broke them were not bearded people wearing saffron robes and with ash on their foreheads. They were young people clad in jeans and tee-shirts.

N: One needs to understand the passion that took them on top of the domes. The jeans and the tee-shirts are superficial. The passion alone is real. You can't dismiss it. You have to try to harness it.

Hitherto in India the thinking has come from the top. I spoke earlier about the state of the country: destitute, trampled upon, crushed. You then had the Bengali renaissance, the thinkers of the 19th century. But all this came from the top. What is happening now is different. The movement is now from below.

P: My colleague, the cartoonist, Mr R K Laxman, and I recently traveled thousands of miles in Maharashtra. In many places we found that noses and breasts had been chopped off from the statues of female deities. Quite evidently this was a sign of conquest. The Hindutva forces point to this too to stir up emotions. The problem is: how do you prevent these stirred-up emotions from spilling over and creating fresh tensions?

N: I understand. But it is not enough to abuse them or to use that fashionable word from Europe: fascism. There is a big, historical development going on in India. Wise men should understand it and ensure that it does not remain in the hands of fanatics. Rather they should use it for the intellectual transformation of India.


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