INDIA by V.S. Naipaul


A Wounded Civilization
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Far from being undercut by the new Indian elections, Naipaul has in essence overtaken events. When his inquiry into the Emergency appeared serially in the New York Review of Books, Indira Gandhi seemed destined to rule India for life; then, suddenly, elections were called, the Government fell, the Emergency officially ended. One saw the victors, in homespun, worshipping at Mohandas Gandhi's shrine, led by the new Prime Minister, Morarji Desai. "The Gandhianism of a man like Mr. Desai. . . offered nothing," Naipaul writes. "At its heart were the old Indian attitudes of defeat, the idea of withdrawal, a turning away from the world. . . 'simplicity.'" Close by is J. P. Narayan: on the eve of his 1975 imprisonment he reiterated Gandhi's 60-year-old appeal to Indian antiquity for independence from the British: "Swaraj means Ramraj," self-rule means Rama rule. "We have gone back to the solace of incantation," Naipaul observes in another context, "and back to Gandhi as to the only Indian truth." Gandhi is blamed for not leaving independent India with an ideology, for not giving its people an identity, in place of self-absorption, obedience, submission. Indians are blamed for embracing the "culture of distress" and eschewing self-examination. Rich Westerners are blamed for exporting "their romantic doubts about industrial civilization." Repeatedly: "Indian poverty is more dehumanizing than any machine." But the masses are stirring, Naipual finds, learning "new ways of seeing and feeling." A Cooperative irrigation scheme challenges the status quo. An industrial job, exercising new skills, is a source of pride. A Bombay squatters' settlement now governs itself: "Identity there was no problem; it was a discovery." Naipaul is angry and hopeful. Readers would be well advised to take his stimulating appraisal with the morning papers.
Pub Date: June 10th, 1977
ISBN: 1400030757
Page count: 175pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1977


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