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April 09, 2007


Namit, great observations in the light of a second glance. Agree with you completely.

I like reading Naipaul very much. I have read several of his books and the hatchet job that Paul Theroux did on his "friend" Sir Vidia. His book of essays "Literary Occasions" is currently on my increasingly crowded bookshelf of "to be read" volumes. But strangely enough, I never did get around to reading "An Area of Darkness" even after I checked it out twice from the library. Have to buy it.

The point that some people seem to miss when they accuse an author or an activist of "onesidedness" on an issue is that sometimes a person has only enough time or energy to fight one battle. Some like Said (European imperialism), Hindu and Jewish nationalists (Muslims) and liberals and conservatives (each other) take on their adversaries and fight the same fight repeatedly. Others feel more pain in what they see as corruption and rot among their own. Chomsky, Finkelstein (politics of zionism), Hirsi Ali, Taslima Nasreen (Islam's misogyny and intolerance) and Naipaul (the weakness and decay in Indian society). This does not mean that they applaud the mischief of the opposite side. It's just not their battle.

Naipaul is pompous, curmudgeonly and quite abrasive. But he is a keen observer of human nature and the myriad path that a human can follow to find his/her identity. And he is also honest and very often right.

And hey, if you feel that I have been unusually loquacious of late at your site, just say so. I will shut up for a while and allow you a breather. :-)

Thanks for your thoughtful note. It's precisely this that makes blogging a worthwhile activity! So please keep reacting to whatever catches your fancy and for which you can find time. If I'm less active now on the blogging front, it's because I've recently started a new job. Hopefully at some point, things will start to "settle down".

Agree with your point on limited time and picking one's battles. Naipaul may not be personable but he sure has keen insights and a razor sharp prose to boot. I think he'll be read for a long time to come. His critic and the other brand name in Indian (and diaspora) literature in English, Rushdie, has for years been unreadable to me.

Rushdie isn't very personable either. I have heard/seen some of his diva like tantrums. One of them actually occurred with my brother in law Manoj Joshi when Manoj was the Washington correspondent for his paper in 1995 -97. Amazingly enough, my husband and I happened to catch it on C-Span in Omaha! Rushdie's thin skinned response to Manoj's question was thoroughly graceless.

Although his relatively new (post fatwa) non-fiction collection, "Step Across the Line" is very readable, "Moore's Last Sigh" began the slide for me. "Fury" was one of the most unbearably manic and "show-off" piece of literary endeavors I have ever come across. That was the end of the line for me. And I had started reading him in 1982 when I discovered him in my local library in the US before most people had heard of him. The early books were very good.

Naipaul will indeed be read for a long time to come.

I never read Naipaul, having been scared off by the impression that his writings were rabidly anti-Indian and anglophilic to boot. You've just persuaded me to check out his writings (much needed after my dose of Desai for the week!) Does he overload his sentences with similes? I hope not!

Happy reading! Going by Walcott's left-handed compliment for him ("our finest writer of an English sentence"), you shouldn't have much trouble at least on that front. :)

Your knowledge and understanding of the bhakti movement is suspect. Neither does it carry any world negating tendencies. However, the medieval bhakti movement was only a means to resist conversion to Islam but in doing so, it became totally oblivious to reason.

For the most part, Bhakti was a mystical-religious movement, not a political one as you seem to suggest. It drew inspiration from Bhakti Yoga, said to be the easiest of the four paths to liberation within Hinduism. Its defining ideals include: surrender to a loving god, detachment from worldly pleasures, and suppression of the ego (think Mirabai, Chaitanya, Surdas, Purandaradasa, etc.). As one might expect, the mystical worldview does not engender ideas like competition, individualism, or democracy. Instead, it furthers tolerance and pacifism, still evident in popular Hinduism (excluding, of course, the brand of Hinduism promoted by the Hindutva brigade).

Islam's legacy in India is a mixed one but inciting the Hindu Bhakti movement is not part of it. Bhakti was a popular movement, not a reaction to Islam. By the time the first Muslim invader, Mahmud of Ghazni, arrived in India, Bhakti was already popular in south India. If anything, it allied rather well with the mystical movement within Islam: Sufism (think Kabir).


Don't you think you are a bit confused? As far as I can understand, Naipaul talks of Islam as a force that hurt a civilization that was there before it. Now, the reason why this happened was because of a pacifist nature and more importantly wrongly placed principles without adequate valor (my interpretation).

Now, losing battles and being weak is one thing. To say that this is akin to a decaying "civilization" is quite another! You are actually positing Bhakti as a decaying agent of a civilization, when you actually want to say that it made those people pacifist?! Is being pacifist the same as a decayed mind?

And how did Bhakti hurt Buddhism? To the best of my knowledge, Buddhism got hurt the most by Islamic invasions and resurgence of Hindu intellectual thought through efforts of Shankara.

And in the strictest spiritual sense - there is no such thing as "suppression of ego". The spiritual freedom is a stage of no ego - meaning no difference between Observer and the Observed. Where Observer becomes the observed. Upasana means "Sitting besides".. which is another way of saying being in that same state. So, act of suppressing ego has never taken anyone to that point.

As for the relationship of Ego and Spiritual freedom as expounded by Krishna is concerned, the ONLY reason why he equates Karma, Bhakti, and Jnana as equally useful is because at the end of these paths, one can achieve that "Freedom" state ONLY when that ego is dissipated.

Meaning - when the knowledge seeker becomes knowledge himself (read Jiddu Krishnamurti to better understand this), or when the doer does an action without a motive or desire and is free from its result, or when the Lover becomes love. Now, this "Love" or Devotion (better verbiage), has been bastardized by those who never understood its profoundness. Love that is linearly directed is never an omni-directional love. When you say you love someone/thing... you are choosing that over all else... that is NOT the love of Bhakti (or even Jesus).. the omni-directional love. The omni-directional love has no condition so no recipient (and so everyone is a recipient of what one thinks he/she is getting). Such lovers do not differentiate between a friend and a foe... for they have no differentiation.

To better understand the concept of bhakti, please listen to a very good qawwali from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (if you can understand Punjabi) "Tere Hundeyan Sundeyan Mehbooba". It explains this concept in the most user friendly way.

The decline of Buddhism in India happened around the same time as the rise of Bhakti as a popular movement. One could say that the religious market shifted to a more user-friendly product. By 1000 CE, when the first Muslim invader arrived in India, Buddhism had already shrunk as a popular religion in much of India and lost most royal patronage. It had retreated to what is today Bihar and West Bengal—the Palas of Bengal were the last major dynasty to patronize Buddhism. It is true that Muslim invaders hastened its demise, but Buddhism, thanks to devotional Hinduism, was by then already on its way out. This was also aided by Hinduism having assimilated many of Buddhism's popular features—vegetarianism, (certain insider) critiques of the caste system, ending animal sacrifices—and embracing the Buddha as the ninth avatar of Vishnu.

Yes, I am indeed calling out Bhakti as a key contributor to the subsequent decay of Hindu civilization—not because of its tolerance and pacifism but because of its disinterest in (and indeed aversion to) reason. Mysticism has this property in all religions. Indeed, a byproduct of popular mystical movements like Bhakti is tolerance and pacifism—but let's be quite clear about one point—this is not the tolerance and pacifism that springs from reason. More often it arises from a lack of engagement, apathy to one's environment, from a dreamy, fatalistic detachment from the world. Among the masses, it fosters a "narcotic effect" and all manner of unholy superstitions. (It's true that some later Bhakti thinkers/poets, like Kabir and Tukaram, also rebelled against caste and Brahminism in a thoughtful way, but they are a minority strand within the larger Bhakti movement.)

(I'm not saying other cultural belief systems are demonstrably better, so don't go there. Thanks for the Nusrat pointer; I'll check it out.)

I have read and re-read both these travelogues a few times. What I see in these books is honest observations of Indian society by the author. His observation about Vijayanagar kingdom of the south is brutally honest in stating that human sacrifice was in practice. He exposes the Indian hypocrisy there. No Indian history book will ever mention such black and ugly facet our society even as a probability. No wonder he is not popular with Indians.

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