Return of the native

Tabish Khair in conversation with Pankaj Mishra on his new book, “From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia“. In The Hindu:

That might explain why you have many harsh critics in Western circles. But why is it that you also seem to raise hackles in some Indian circles?

I am hardly the only writer to be attacked. Anyone questioning delusionary narratives such as ‘India Rising’ is likely to be denounced as a bitter JNU jholawalla, and critiques of the appalling human rights situation in Kashmir gets you stigmatised as an ‘India-hater’. Our journalistic and intellectual culture in two decades of economic liberalisation has manifested a growing intolerance for real dissent and a deference to power and wealth — and a pathetic desperation to stand with and be counted among the apparent winners of history. In that sense, we have closely followed recent trends in the West, though we also seem to have replicated in India some of the intellectual pathologies that Tagore witnessed in the ‘rising’ nation-state of Japan.

You often take a combative political stand, but you have also written a book that is partly a biography of Buddha, An End to Suffering. Why Buddha?

He struck me as a very profound thinker, perhaps the greatest the subcontinent has produced, someone who stood well out of the mainstream of classical Indian thought, and was also astonishingly modern in his diagnosis of the human condition. He was particularly trenchant about the concept of the self-directed, self-seeking autonomous individual — something that in our own era has been the basis of social and political and economic models that we associate with Western modernity and which have now been exported across the world. More:

Salil Tripathi in Mint Lounge:

Intrigued and fascinated by the idea of modernity, Mishra’s earlier non-fiction works include An End to Suffering (in which he wrote about Buddha’s modernity) and Temptations of the West (in which he explores the meaning of modernity in South Asia). With From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West And the Remaking of Asia, he has turned his attention to the intellectuals of Asia, who responded to colonial onslaught by articulating a response that was modern without being Western, while acknowledging Western influence.

It is a nuanced argument. Mishra’s book begins with the sensational Japanese victory over Czarist Russia in the battle in the Tsushima Strait in 1905. At a time when Lord Curzon was busy partitioning Bengal in India and Albert Einstein was writing papers that formed the basis of quantum physics, Russia was in turmoil. By defeating the outwardly superior Russian navy, Japan demonstrated the power of non-Western nations. Mishra shows the many Western politicians, writers, and academics who were stunned by the development; he also notes thinkers and leaders in the East feeling inspired by the Japanese success. More:

The Guardian review here

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