In these sketches of a dozen Westerners who visited South Asia, ranging from intellectuals of global renown to sociopaths...


FATHER INDIA: How Encounters with an Ancient Culture Transformed the Modern West

In these sketches of a dozen Westerners who visited South Asia, ranging from intellectuals of global renown to sociopaths and sexual misfits, Paine, formerly literary editor of the Wilson Quarterly, contemplates the pull that Indian culture has exerted on outsiders of various sorts. The earliest camp included such die-hard missionaries of Western progress as the British viceroy Lord Curzon, who tried unsuccessfully to shape India in Europe's image, and theosophist and president of the Indian National Congress Annie Besant, who viewed India as a laboratory for the synthesis of Eastern spirituality and Western politics. A second and much larger group of travelers consisted of those seeking self-transformation. E.M. Forster, the author of A Passage to India, came to terms with his homosexuality while serving at a provincial maharajah's court. Another English novelist, V.S. Naipaul, sailed to the land of his ancestors to find his ethnic identity. His quest remained largely unfulfilled as he battled to adjust to the Hindu fatalist mentality and unsanitary living conditions prevalent in India. Sex-crazed homosexual screenwriter Christopher Isherwood interspersed his debauchery with visits to the Hollywood Vedanta Center. The inevitable result of these lost souls' superficial forays was the vulgarization of Eastern religion, confirming Carl Jung's sensible statement, volunteered after a brief trip to India in 1938, that the Westerner is sure to make an inappropriate or misguided use of the Indian legacy. With the possible exception of his discussion of Martin Luther King, who adapted Gandhi's theory of nonviolence, Paine falls short of his stated goal: to show how Indian thought transformed the modern West. At most, his book demonstrates how several eccentrics misappropriated and misrepresented Indian culture. While readers shouldn't expect a coherent picture of Indian spirituality, Paine does offer a fresh perspective on various 20th-century personalities, enlightening provided that one is somewhat familiar with them already.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1998


Page Count: 336

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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