am 4. April 2009
Naipaul, Nobelprize winner for literature in 2001, born in Trinidad as son of indian parents, living in Great Britain, describes himself in this book as a stranger in India. True, it is the land of his forefathers, but for him an unknown and undetected country.
Of course he knew the caste system, the austere rituals, the food prescriptions of the Brahmins, but the true, genuine India means still a cultural shock to him. "It was as if a part of reality was taken away from me...I had no more face!"
That`s because when nourishing and cherishing ones wishful thinking much too long! Naipaul travels through half of India, but nowhere he can find his home, not even in the village of his grandfather.
Through the whole book runs the pessimistic keynote, for which many of his customers reproached him. Naipaul, they should have known, is an aesthete! When travelling in India one is constantly confronted with the unaesthetic.
Not so much has changed since the time when Naipaul travelled his first time to India to the very day today. Worse could have repeated on him that the alleged spirituality of the Indians is coming over too often a bit rather dim - so to speak sinister! The author is disappointed without measure about what he has to confront in India. And he accuses! He turns into ridicule. He has compassion and he feels anger.
Already on the first page he states: The Indians had not yet learnt how to produce it (cheese), as well as they had not yet learnt to bleach newsprint.
So what? Instead they got the spirituality! In fact so much of it that they neglected the material side of life. For what hygiene in kitchens, when being sentenced to be reborn as a sewer rat? And this is one of the favourite occupations of the author, to describe what the Indians cannot. India as a "chaos of uneconomic movements and hysteric noise".
Naipual is exact in his words. I spent more than a year in India and hence can say that Naipaul is correct in what he writes. I would also agree to most of his conclusions. Finally a writer who does not ad another to the countless idealizing descriptions of India! There is a lot of positive one can say about Indians - everything has its time and place; but here the author is about depicting a contrary picture of what he expected himself. He had been living in an ideal world concept. This broke thoroughly now.
He writes that on the journey from Athens to Bombay bit by bit a new picture of man took shape, a new kind of domination demeanour and subservience. The people had become degraded and inner deformed ones who whimpered and begged.
But for this, was not the British colonial spirit to blame? Of which he himself sprang off? The education, which he enjoyed, was it not a part of that system which also showed the Indians of the Empire how they were supposed to subordinate? And at best down to the floor! More solidarity will be shown by the author not before the second journey to India.
He is astonished about himself, astonished about his reactions, strange surrounding - strange sensation - new self-recognition. The self-observation reveals, you adopt, you change. The author is seized by inner restlessness, despair and creeping deadening. At least in the latter you meet the locals.
Naipaul calls it the Indian negation, which became the foundation of his thoughts and feelings. His departure was like an escape, the Indian adventure ended "in senselessness and impatience, with unnecessary cruelty, self-reproach and flight." Many moments of unreality in which the judgement is abandoning. India was not the enlarged house of the grand-parents, in which all was familiar. The Indian capability to fade out a part of reality, even when it was obvious, had not yet taken position of him.
He says, what for other people would have meant the basis for a neurosis - for Indians it was just a part of an encompassing philosophy of hopelessness which led to inactivitiy, distance and acceptance. And this philosophy, the author perceives, was also a part of him, hence the sudden fright! A hurting, yes, humiliating recognition! He comes to the conclusion: It is only good that Indians cannot regard their country directly and undisguised, because the misery they would have to see would drive them to insanity. And it is only good that they have no historical awareness, because how then they should be able to dwell in ruins? And which Indian could study the last thousand years of his history without pains and fury? It is better to flee into fatalism and fantasy, to trust in stars in which the fate is written and to watch the progress the rest of the world is performing with a tired longanimity of somebody who has everything already behind himself!
Thirty years later he will not any longer report about pains and fury, but about self-consciousness and commercial thinking.
Also in this book it is about the deracination of man, even more about his self-deceptions and the sedulousness when living out and through the contradictions and self imposed impediments in life.
Somebody who travels in India today, sees all this and additionally much more, much more that holds out hope, much more that leaves you baffled like Naipaul.