Naipaul’s attack on Hindu India: A Critique
Why does Naipaul err in the Foreword of “India: A Wounded Civilization”? He writes that the British rule in Delhi was for 150 years. While he is perfect in mentioning 1565 as the year of demolition of Vijayanagar Empire in page 4, he flounders in the Foreword.
Is he referring to the conquest of Delhi by the British in 1803 – by defeating the Marathas? Even then, 150 years is off the mark.
‘…..as popular Hinduism so easily decays, into barbarism.’ [page 6]
Naipaul cites slave markets, temple prostitutes, sati [spells suttee], animal and human sacrifices, in the erstwhile grand Vijayanagar Empire, as illustrations to prove his point.
It’s germane, in this context, to quote Robert Sewell’s treatise on Vijayanagar Empire:
‘ Vijayanagar’s rulers, however, in their day swayed the destinies of an empire far larger than Austria, and the city is declared by a succession
of European visitors in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to have been marvellous for size and prosperity – a city with which for richness and magnificence no known western capital could compare…..’
For Bihar, in mid-1970s, Naipaul nonchalantly writes that it is ‘without intellect or leaders’ [page 18] – though, interestingly, at that very moment – the anti-Emergency brigade was led by Jayprakash Narayan, JP.
As he starts Chapter 2, he is firmly entrenched in the opinion that majority, subaltern Indians are detached, disassociated, dismembered from the macro-level politico-economic turmoil – and they have been like that – immersed in timelessness – whether during the Sultanate or Mughal or British period, continuing their self-engrossed journey in the 1970s, during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. In the process, Naipaul critically discusses R K Narayan’s philosophy of ‘India will go on’ and ridicules it.
Naipaul, singularly, refers to this insulation as Hindu Equilibrium – a term nourished with illustrations, some from his sojourn to India during that momentous time-frame and many, from R K Narayan’s characters.
Naipaul reports that ‘Bangalore was becoming a centre of Indian industry and science’ [page 28] and in a sense, turns out to be prophetic – at least, as far as industry is concerned, though in its 21st century variant of being software based.
The author subtly chastises Gandhianism – holding it as a tactic to have strategically transformed ‘quietism’ in Hinduism [page 32] – into a political force. Is Naipaul appreciating Gandhi or is he praising the ‘quietism’ of Hindus as a virtue, surely not, I feel. Or is he suggesting the alienation of non-Hindus from mainstream National Movement due to the overwhelming success of Gandhian juggernaut, and consequent dislocation of the national movement and final fragmentation of the nation?
In page 41, he comes up with an unusual theorization which I am unable to envisage or take at face value that how a ‘risen-dough quality about the face and physique’ of an individual hints to ‘solitary sexual orientations’. It could be author’s own perversion or imagery beyond comprehension.
Till the end of Part One, Naipaul remains harsh towards Hinduism – blaming it for exposing Indians to thousand years of defeat and stagnation. How could he be so unjustified, irrational and ahistoric? Or is it that he is imposing his anti-India grievance-ridden intellectual firmament on the readers and with the flow of his post-Booker famed narrative, effectively incorporates the hegemonic discourse of the Gramscian variety?
He wants the world to believe that India means Hindus, and Hindus mean a set of dead people. He wants Indians to accept his theory, which is neither self-critical nor axiomatic, far from being normative, is drowned in self-perceived bias. The Times eulogises Naipaul’s script as ‘A devastating work’, and how truly, it devastates, rather sincerely attempts to devastate the perception about a set of people who over span of centuries have so dexterously developed a mono-cultural identity and ethos amidst a multi-cultural backdrop, after having contacted and not dented by as the author opines, various foreign civilisations – who were welcomed, absorbed and fused into.
Or is it that Naipaul was hired by his then American publisher Knopf, to vilify the ‘quiet’ Hindu religion, along with their quieter Hindu folks – most uncomradelilke, so as to construct or rather re-construct the Western engineered perception of the hindoos as a decadent, defeated group of people, yet peacefully discovering bliss in their spiritual hutments, with or without a guru.
The pushes and pulls on Hinduism – the forces of change versus status-quo, according to Naipaul, has kept the religion on a stable equilibrium, and more so, towards status-quo, towards unchange; the writer so skillfully avoiding or erroneously forgetting that with rising population, the insulated Jagans of Narayan’s novels would naturally grow in number, with however, the fact that more and more change-seeking, rebellious if not revolutionary Vijay Tendulkars would flow out of the jar, enough in quantity to disrupt that equilibrium, whose precise definition from the perspective of forces seemingly being incomprehensible to the author, which he can so easily be dismissive of being a student of literature and arts.
If a system is in equilibrium, then both the forces are of equal strength, the forces of old India cancels out with that of New India. And if this is not the equilibrium he is referring to, then he should have elaborated in the discourse. His definition of equilibrium ‘is of a rare kind’ – a euphemistic phraseology connoting unclear, fuzzy cognition.
To force into the esophagus of Hinduism the horrific crime of self-ruination is the worst surgical construct of the Nobel-prize winner. Suggestive monologues could have been welcome, along with operational critiques of the follies committed in the past and to some extent being carried in the present; but hypothetical doctrines are dangerous and that is where the author kept on peregrinating around.
Can we surmise that to feed the western world what they so eagerly desire to hear, see and ‘eat’ about the sub-continent and its history, and with the larger impact of ossifying the Indians on the portraiture of future, present and history – with the devious aim of intellectually stultifying the Hindu-Indians and mutate their minds into thoughtless boxes and coercing them to accept their inability to change as fait accompli – as an offshoot of their natural instinct, so innate in their own self-inculcation; Naipaul doctors the entire script, as a master-craftsman, yet so Satan-like, dollar-bribed. Ends page 44.
As one barges into the third chapter, ‘The Skyscrapers and the Chawls’, Naipaul’s attack on Hinduism continues, unabated, however now punctuated with tales of Bombay, immaculately painting the chawl – real at the level of a writer’s depiction, yet so nauseating at times when he refers to beggars as ‘having lost their place in Hindu system’, by being too numerous; his penchant for the word Hindu and Hinduism growing unbounded.
To aver that ‘the power of the Marathas was mainly destructive’ during the eighteenth century ‘Indian chaos’ is a gross oversimplification and severe misinterpretation of history, again so finely suited to the Western paradigm, need and necessity – reasserting the fashionable during the time of Total Revolution by JP – and deride the Indians. And if it comes from the glowing pen of an accomplished, established author – it adds to the glee and for time immemorial, to the corpus of knowledge and understanding.
With all the arraignment against him however, Naipaul is to a large extent agreeable on one count. ‘It was the business of sweepers to remove excrement, and until the sweepers came, people were content to live in the midst of their own excrement’, writes Sir Vidiya in page 57. This is a statement for which even today, four decades after the first print of his book, even after the government comes out with schemes and rallies and oratory on the philosophy of cleanliness and its operational need, Indians – and not Hindus only, suffer from the habit of lying on squalor, walking past polythene sheets, used coca-cola bottles, blood-stained sanitary napkins – all huddled together forming an ugly pool.
The Indians remain unconcerned, unnerved, unfazed by the filth – merrily celebrating Diwali and Kali Puja – as if worshiping squalor was to simulate the excrement and ashes very much required by the Kapaliks and Kalamukhs – Hindu Shaivite ascetics, the ultra-wing followers of Lord Shiva. This state of affairs, ironically, is in the second half of 21st century India. It is not an extraordinarily wrong assertion by Naipaul that Indians wait for the sweeper – the ‘scum’ on earth – to clean their scum. The sweeper becomes the Most Wanted Person [MWP] when he seeks leave for a few days, completely derailing our local drive of cleanliness. His unostentatious regular presence is just unnoticed.
Part two could have ended peaceably, but it was not to be. Not because Naipaul again upbraided Hinduism, which he did at times, in bits and pieces, to excoriate the religion as a matter of routine, but this time as he dared to pontificate, he committed a factual blunder, along with inadequate interpretation and analysis.
The best literary attribute and expected, of Naipaul, is his ability to describe, his uncanny knack of painting the ambience, the men, the women, and he marvels in that endeavour. The sarpanch of the village which is contiguous to Poona, the landlord Patel, his graduate daughter, the temple architecture, the pathways, seem to be painted exquisitely and being screened in front. A Nobel Prize winning litterateur indeed. I owe him a spectrum of words, a learning which I possibly couldn’t have mastered by cramming the GRE Word List: runnel, starveling, shimmered, mattock, restaurateur, seraglio, wickerwork, rutted.
Naipaul hit the bull’s eye when he observed [page 75]: ‘the Patel ruled by custom and consent’, and hopefully by consent he meant Gramscian hegemonic consent, where the authority of the ruler is beyond question and cannot be defied because he has already been ‘deified’. With the Zamindari system in India still ruling the roost in many regions, Naipaul’s remark can be considered to be astute and analytical. Power structure prevailing in India’s rural backyard centred around the rural gentry, from the time of the Guptas up to the British, through the Mughals, and beyond.
The worst however came just before intermission. Pages 78 to 82, of a 161 page book, turned out to be the playground for Naipaul where he donned the role of a security-analyst, political scientist, sociologist as well as historian. Why is he so prone to committing factual blunders? My question remains unanswered. If it is told to me that it was a printing error, then the Editorial Board ought to be held culpable. Naxalite movement began in Bengal – fine, in 1968 – the gaffe.
Sir Naipaul, it was 23 May 1967, when a ‘policeman named Sonam Wangdi was killed in an encounter with armed tribals’, that the Naxalite movement kicked off, writes Sumanta Banerjee in the Wake of Naxalbari. Sir Naipaul, the movement was locally led – as you weirdly and without any substantiated database argue to the contrary, with Kanu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal as couple of names to quote. Sir Naipaul, you probably again go awry when you claim that the tea plantation labourers of North Bengal were not part of the movement. The workers of the tea plantation farms were being organised by local communist groups, reports Banerjee, between 1955 to 1957. I fully agree that Sumanta Banerjee is not a Nobel Prize Winner, but his qualitative arguments and reportage aside, the faux pas on 1967 / 8, can still be accepted at Naipaul’s end without any loss of self-esteem.
Mr Naipaul, by terming the indentured labourers of the tea plantation farms as ‘far-off aboriginal communities, pre-Aryan people…’, you are oversimplifying the history of the sub-continent and treading the Western line of historiography, especially insofar as India’s antiquity is concerned. Mr Naipaul, by dismissing the Indians in not having a sense of social enquiry – cunningly setting the backdrop by cutting apart Narayan’s novels and his calibre as a novelist and in the larger perspective, Indians’ capability of writing novels and analysing society, you have flawed, dwarfed yourself as an author, derogated yourself as an intellectual and guillotined yourself at the altar of human knowledge.
If History was still ‘outside Indian tradition’ in 1975, as he claims, then how would he explain the rise of the Subaltern Studies Group in the late 1970s and early 1980s?
Mr Naipaul, Naxalite movement in its initial avatar just didn’t fall through because there was a lack of understanding of India and Indian history by the Indians or the revolutionaries – which agreeably is an infinitely unbounded subject and needs to be cultivated continuously. Naxalite movement crumbled because of poor organsiation, improper leadership, lack of arms and ammunition in the insurgent camp, concerted police and army action, among others. And if it is being suggested by you that emulating a ‘foreign’ ideology is a sign of lack of ingenuity on the part of the Indians, then what would you comment on the French Revolution – the stalwarts of which were inspired by the American revolution. Would you write-off the ‘Bolivarian’ Revolutions in Latin America since they absorbed the ideals of the French and the American examples? How your thought process would churn by looking at the Vietnamese revolution? Should Lenin be reprimanded for reading a Marx?
Intermission. Naipaul, as a master story-teller knew where to pull down the curtains for an interlude, and how to charge up the battery of climax, by needling the dying body-social called India.
It’s sickening, not disheartening. It’s severely disturbing. It’s nauseating, with the persistently consistent way in which Naipaul moves on, tearing apart India with his double-edged sword. India and the Indians, if they emulate the West in the context of modernity, would be lampooned as copycats. India and Indians, if they attempt to invent succour by unraveling their past – which Naipaul disbelieves they can in the archaeological or historical or sociological sense, would be chastised to have acted in an antiquated fashion.
‘Hindu India, decaying for centuries, constantly making itself archaic, had closed up……’, Naipaul’s inexorable march in torturing and tonsuring India and Indians, post intermission, goes on. The author’s diseased analysis reaches a crescendo when he refers to Dr Sudhir Kakar, a psychoanalyst, to bolster his argumentation – as Kakar is quoted to generalise, without any sense of logic, as if only to steer Naipaul’s distorted ratiocination to its irrational destination, that ‘his Indian patients, men and women, cannot describe the sex act, are capable of saying, it happened’. And the harangue continues, the lack of ability of Indians to chronicle their tales of sexual interactions, the lack of Indians to absorb the coitus and paint a picture of it is corroborated by citing a novel called Samskara by Naipaul’s literary favourite U R Anantamurti and its pious Brahmin, who fails to appreciate how it feels like to copulate with a fleshly low-caste woman.
The pinnacle is reached, of denigrating Indians. Naipaul applies intellectual stealth and hypocrisy to achieve it by citing ideas and observations of Indians, one a doctor and the other an author, roasts and murders Indians by terming their thought-process to be worn-out and Indians being imbecile to the extent of failing to detail the most basic exercise of human beings – the very act of procreation. The works of the two other ‘Indians’, Kakar and Anantamurti, who are skillfully yet bluntly used by Naipaul, are his favourites because their arguments, at least the portion of what he quotes, beautifully upholds his demented notion of a caste-dishevelled, inward-looking, backward-moving retrograde India. Sir Vidiya has not read or heard about Kamasutra and he showcases his literary musculature to the maximum to annihilate any corpus of composition of India’s past or present which aspires to ‘describe’ the act of sex. Sir Vidiya, interestingly is still alive to watch videos being posted online by Indian actors, detailing the bedroom actions, providing him titillation – something he so poorly needs at this stage of his life.
Naipaul gouges out the eyes, cuts the limbs, castrates and finally disembowels the Indians by positing ‘youthful’ examples – a fourth year graduate at National institute of Design, a second year girl in the printing department, an America-returned would-be-entrepreneur – yelling through his chain of words and phrases that the next generation of Indians are equally worthless as their predecessors – nincompoops not to have a knowledge or vision about India and severely handicapped in ingenuity, however enthusiastically bubbling with regressing cognition. Dollar-bribed literature reached its zenith at page 110 with Naipaul’s jeremiad against Indians reaching the cremation ground.
Naipaul doesn’t visit the Indian Institute of Technologies. Though he knows Bangalore, he doesn’t move into the campus of Indian Institute of Science. He ‘analyses’ the Chawls of Bombay, but wipes out from his narrative the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. Naipaul maps a non-euclidean geometry of India, carefully avoids the straight line and takes the geodesic instead. He doesn’t fail, but deliberately absconds meeting statistician-cum-historian D D Kosambi, as that would definitely have pushed him harder into his fraudulent analytical domains to eke out a repugnant theory to prevaricate about India’s past and the lack of historical approach of Indians.
It is nonetheless, nothing outlandish to deduce that many Indians prefer the Occident – their lifestyle and to some extent, accept their superiority. To some extent, this is an after-effect of Imperial domination close to 200 years. And why fully blame Indians with regard to this – most colonial countries, in South Asia, South-East Asia, Africa have followed similar footsteps. That however does not and shouldn’t exonerate the Indians from the entrapment of Gramscian hegemony,
Adding to Literature, Sex, Politics, Ideology, Naipaul comes up with Architecture and Painting – reflecting the decadent state of affairs of India and Indians. Just to speak of painting, Naipaul surely needs a crash course on Indian painting since 1947 – and which has been in no way merely a mugged up Western concept – with post-colonial, pseudo-realist and post-minimalist approaches being few to be mentioned. Naipaul for the second time twists the finger of the Indian journalist as he comments: ‘Indian journalism developed no reporting tradition…'[page 117].
However, he gives a passing credit to Illustrated Weekly of India as it contained a series of articles against caste oppression in Hindu India and to Economic and Political Weekly as it carries leftist tinge. He dismisses the Indians [page 116], ‘India by itself could not have rediscovered or assessed its past’ – which makes me wonder as to who Rakhaldas Banerjee was or who was Ramesh Chandra Majumdar or Jadunath Sarkar, to name a modest three. Naipaul safely does not mention S N Bose or Meghnad Saha or C V Raman and Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science – lest he has to dive into ignominy of swallowing his theories of garbage of ‘dumb Indians without ingenuity’. He leaves the interpretation of Emergency open, by telling the readers that curb on constitutional freedom had made Indian journalism more interpretative! [page 119]
I trudge on, rather studiously, to Chapter 7, ‘Paradise Lost’. Nothing seems left to be discovered – mighty and high, is there anything more grotesque – not about India, but about an individual – who claims to possess Indian ancestry and who revels in systematic butchery of Indians with his pen – mighty and high.
Yes. Naipaul attempts to teach Indians to unlearn the ‘political’. As he writes, or is dollar-bribed to write, during Emergency, without deliberating on the issue would have implied nullity. So he becomes a pulpiteer, pierces the sword into Jaiprakash Narayan’s concept of Total Revolution, finds out justification for Indira Gandhi’s Emergency by ridiculing a lady in Delhi and her political husband (belonging to the opposition) for aspiring to keep her servant ‘close’ to her residence and hence lamenting government’s decision to smash his house and forcing him out in the open in the rains. Naipaul asserts that one month notice was served upon the individual before demolishing his house.
Jaiprakash Narayan talks about ‘government from below’ – a de-facto establishment of local-self government and election of legislature at state and central levels with a bottom-up approach. I am awaken, amidst somnolence: Naipaul compares JP’s Total Revolution as ’emotional outburst’ – still fine, considering the political chaos accompanying the movement; as Naipaul terms JP’s assurance of Swaraj as Ramrajya, I cleanse the lens of my spectacles – to reread. He has to bring in religion – Hinduism – and this time he does it by positing Gandhi and Vivekananda and in the most disingenuous way connecting JP’s Swaraj with Gandhi’s Ramrajya. Gandhi had been earlier criticised for his lack of languidness in writing – which can very easily be accepted considering the fact that an author of Naipaul’s calibre will always see Gandhian ability of writing as a diminutive variety.
Nevertheless, from which angle Naipaul saw Ramrajya of Hindu religious type being offered by JP bemuses us all. Naipaul clearly and amazingly sees the revolution to have failed, all revolutions to have failed in India, Maoist, Constitutional, non-Constitutional, since Indians are a failed set of beings – as they are within the cocoon of a failed religion called Hinduism.
As I turn page 140, I wonder if Naipaul would have been better-off spending few sessions with Dr Sudhir Kakar of JNU – the psychoanalyst.
Vilifying Gandhi and his mahatmahood is still acceptable, as such analysis borders the zone of critical thinking. But to write that Gandhi ‘left India without any ideology’ [page 146] is tough not to be taken amiss. Naipaul’s venom towards India and Indians has been systematically directed towards its pantheon of leadership – specifically Gandhi – by cooking up the latter’s hidden follies of being caste-affected, burdened with an anachronistic worldview of anti-industrial posture, pursuing his status of being the mahatma with a zero-like ideology. The assassination of Gandhi takes place for the second time, at least – after Godse, Naipaul carries it out with his incisive phraseology by deconstructing the singular, simple interpretation of Gandhian simplicity and truthfulness, as if every truth of Gandhi, for Gandhi and by Gandhi was residing at the apex of untruth; as if every bit of Gandhi’s Weltanschauung is a reflection of India’s perceptive ideology and has to be decoded in the backdrop of post-truth.
Naipaul had to lambaste Vinoba Bhave, innovate the punchbag in him – as he emulated Gandhi, and according to his own words, more than typified Gandhian way of life, and puts across Bhave as ‘not a particularly intelligent man’ and ‘his political views come close to nonsense’ [pp 146-7]. This approach was nonetheless natural and expected of Naipaul -as he had to debase India and Indians – so Gandhi and hence Bhave had to be beaten to unconsciousness and then asked by the author: ‘Do you have any ideology?’ The answer would obviously be nothing.
Naipaul surely would have been charged with blasphemy if he were a Pakistani citizen. He narrowly escapes the fatwa for two reasons: there is no such authority or precedence in Hinduism and there is no such culture in Hinduism and in that sense, this is a dead religion – which does not retaliate against its molesters. His book is not banned and he sails through to receive the Nobel later.
“Get the children out into the fields, among the animals: it was, after all, the only education that the god Krishna received.” [page 149]
Again, to mock at Bhave’s educational status is still a matter of criticism which can be accepted in an argumentative stupor, but shouldn’t a giggle at one of the avatars of Hinduism be a reason enough to raise furor?
Indians belch, Indians fart – yes, they do. My question is nobody else does? Naipaul doesn’t? In 1975-6 if rural Indian gentry take pride in a graduate daughter, then how do they err? Isn’t Naipaul also a graduate? Indians make merry in festivities, they shout, they sing, they dance, at times they go berserk. My question is nobody else does? The Englishman doesn’t? The American yankee doesn’t?
Bhave is tortured by Naipaul with burning incense sticks – the former’s last fast was against cow-slaughter – his Bhoodan movement was a fiasco, a mere symbolism suffocated within the everlasting yoke of casteism and rural hierarchy. Naipaul’s veritable misuse of the word ‘cow’ with all its concomitant sense to hit ‘Hindu India’ below the belt so spookily mirrors the contemporary ‘liberal’ and ‘left-of-the-centre’ interpretations of the ‘present cow’. There is no other animal in India – no Tiger, no Lion, no Elephant, only the cow and it has to be targeted.
Indians are obedient, without any thought-process, without any civilisation, mere dehumanised, de-civilised robots, clinging onto their dead past. This is the crux of Naipaul’s 161 page book – a gist which is repeated, reiterated and reverberated methodically by the author in a meticulous fashion page after page, paragraph after paragraph. An artist could be so engrossed in shaping up and then polishing a damaged image to perfection – a sculpture impaired flawlessly and permanently to make it appear a ghost, to create a spectre of nothingness of Indians – only Naipaul could excel in this craft.
Naipaul suggests, in his vainglorious attire, that ‘the past can now be possessed only by inquiry and scholarship, by intellectual rather than spiritual discipline’ [page 161].
Yes, Indians need more consciousness toward cleanliness. Yes, Indians need to be more industrious. Yes, Indians need to develop their education system, their healthcare apparatus. And yes, Indians ought to be aware of their civilisation through the prism of scientific knowledge and leap forward to establish a greater civilisation for the future.
India and Indians are working towards the goal – with all muscles flexed and guns blazing. Naipaul’s spectre of a ‘decadent cow-ennobled Hindu India’ simply doesn’t haunt Indians, who in the 21st century,
have not only ignored such preposterous theories, but are confident and conscious enough about their potential. India’s civilization is not wounded. It is empowered; it is dynamic and ever-growing.
The author is Dy Director & Public Relations Officer, Ordnance factory Board, Ministry of Defence, GoI.
By Uddipan Mukherjee