Sunday, March 07, 2004

There is a celebrated opening sequence to Sir Vidia's masterpiece, India: A Wounded Civilisation. It is 1975--a full quarter century before he won the Nobel--and Naipaul is surveying the shattered ruins of Vijayanagara....

For Naipaul, the Fall of Vijayanagara is a paradigmatic wound on the psyche of India, part of a long series of failures that he believes still bruises the country's self-confidence (or from which, according to some
of his more recent statements, the country is only just now beginning to recover). The wound was created by a fatal combination of Islamic aggression and Hindu weakness--the tendency to "retreat", to withdraw in the face of defeat....

The problem is that such ideas rest on a set of ignorant and Islamophobic assumptions which recent scholarship has done much to undermine....

Sir Vidia's non-fiction about India is arguably the most profound body of writing about the region in modern times, and it is precisely because of this that it is important to challenge his errors. In the current climate, after the pogroms of Gujarat and the continued malevolent and inaccurate rewriting of textbooks, Sir Vidia's absurdly one-sided and misleading take on medieval Indian history simply must not be allowed to go uncorrected.

-- From a fascinating & substantial essay by William Dalrymple in Outlook India, arguing that Naipaul's views on Indian history are thoroughly misinformed. (There are also very useful links to six or seven years of Naipaul coverage in Outlook India--essays, reviews, interviews etc.)

I myself know next to nothing about Indian history, so the less opinion I offer the better, but I am struck by Dalrymple's argument that Naipaul has chosen to avoid acknowledging the fruitful interaction between the Hindu & Islamic cultures of the subcontinent--a creative hybridity which he says Salman Rushdie calls "chutnification". This fascinates me, of course, because cultural hybridity--creolisation, we call it--has also been a major creative force in the Caribbean, & particularly here in Trinidad, where it has been passionately contested & misunderstood by some, but embraced by many as an invigorating & even redeeming force. I recall that Naipaul in an interview once said that the word "creolised" has no meaning. And I wonder now--I'm sure this has already occurred to some scholar or journalist somewhere--to what degree Naipaul's vision of Indian history, of a pure, organic Hindu culture ravaged by the Muslim invasions, has been influenced by his early experience of the mixed-up, muddled-up, creolised, chutnified, callaloo culture of his native island.

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