Book Review: Non-fiction/ India: A Portrait by Patrick French, Penguin/2011, 436 pp; Rs699 (Hardback)
Rabindranath Tagore and James Mill represent the two different world; their worldviews were in complete contrast as Tagore never accepted the drawing of boundaries in the cult of knowledge but Mill stood juxtaposed of that. If Tagore did it for the better sake of humanity, James Mills plotted a very virulent discriminatory education system to not only maximise the influence of western world but also to ruin the consciousness of ruled subject, India. This nation otherwise had a clear edge being among the oldest civilisations. For knowing the starting of western subversive historiography, there is need to know the dynamicism of last few centuries through observing the growing tussle between biased western theorists and defending old culture!
Patrick French, who has credit of writing a cocktailed/sandwitched book on Tibet and a funny biography on an unusual though a nice subject for him, V.S.Naipaul had already displayed enough through these works, that he is still not clear what the basic of writings should be in the domain of history and how it’s different from travel writing, caricaturing or gambling with the subversive motives. With his new book, India: A Portrait, he has chosen to maintain all the trash ideas into main sight and leaving aside the beauties and strength, which this nation possesses. Ofcourse, India is not free from the parallel strains that are coinciding with its rapid growth but inequitable distribution of resources as a strong economy but the cases in Europe are even much graver, where the tall claim of stellar performances in either economy or in other field is simply crazy or the lost old pastime of past.
I will not say Patrick; an Irish gentleman totally resembles Bob Christo’s characters or the “Curzon” but he has worked on this India project with all wrong adventures and minimal understanding about this truly difficult nation. His claim of writing an intimate biography of1.20billion Indians under the present work could be the classic case of single biggest fatal in terms of statistical calculation. Barring the accounts of few long established and equally faded Indian Intellectuals including Amartya Sen or Meghnad Desai, a jobless Venkatesh(for meeting him, he travelled to Karnataka rather sensitizing the mind for plights which is pervasive), the very long and inhuman description of Ayushi episode and few other senseless descriptions, it’s hard to get anything new, striking and balance. That disappoints heavily after spending hours reading a thick book without any gain of information or new insights. Even grimmer could be the realization to any reader including myself that Patrick doesn’t want to show the loopholes in Indian systems as wrong but more often as inevitable byproducts. That’s nothing less than a brazen exercise of subversive follies with idealizing own trivia as remarkable judgement before a nation which has honour of possessing countless thinkers of high intellectuality.
Patrick must have spent his valuable time in India, like many other writers from the west travelling across the India which is less dusty than anticipated, counting the trees, monkeys, elephants, beggars before reaching Taj Mahal or Surajkund Mela for a smiling snap under the canopy of wisdom tree! From this imagined and false wisdom tree, the shape of India they want to choreograph in their mind and fails miserably doing this. The disservice of this kind does all harm to the sentiments of integrated global economy which is now runs on potential of emerging economies. India’s good or bad reliance on the liberalisation of its economy has atleast given a much needed momentum in its domestic entrepreneurship whose impact is now being felt worldwide. I am sure, Patrick has not even the remote understanding of business, and his interview with Sunil Mittal shows it candidly. He has forwarded his talk on philanthropy with Sunil, that’s awkward but even on this how he could forget this same western world is going to turn philanthropy into a profit business with establishing a special stock exchange in the posh city of London!
So no surprising, innovation is being taken by few as the “labour of love” for spreading not so holly ideas of CSR in business under a proven western sermon that “conventional wisdom” has its limitation, so the virtue of good thoughts always winds from the western side that’s simply ridiculous and unsustainable. A nation with GDP touching close to the $2trillion can’t be taken so lightly any longer; there are flaws with the growth pattern of India but all admits it, so it’s already passing through a makeover. Over fancied description of sachet shampoo reminds that author has deep addiction of watching the “advertising contents” of nonstop TV channels, because he is clueless that an Indian management professor, C.K.Prahlad, who had coined the term “fortune lies at the bottom of pyramid” that furthered the consumerism at down of hierarchy. It deserves accolade as sensible capitalist agenda which maximises profit and also forward even a tint of welfare. But alas this book has written so flat and pointless, that not even a single aspect of new India have carried in proper light, that’s gross injustice with the title of this book!
It’s indeed ironical that the free and fair exchanges of views are still being blocked by the narrow pursuits and over consideration on geography, race, history etc as reference points. The second big concern is the lack of sound studies, rhetoric is swiftly catching it as substitute which is indeed unfortunate and not going to do well for anyone in longer course. Surprisingly, no Indian scholars is trying to distort the historical basics of west, even the post-colonial writings are basically dealt through the narratives of struggle between power and subjects not as the conflict of culture. These malices are the brainchild of western world and their time is over now, so cultural discourse or historical writing should be no longer written through the prism of empire. World is free, so should be the thought in both east and west…Patrick and rest fellows should understand it and must adopt a good reading habit of Indian writings, that’s indeed very rich in different areas. As knowing the conflicts of growth in India through an outside perspective, this book would be an essential read for both the incorrigibially optimist and pessimist readers!
Atul Kumar Thakur
New Delhi, February 05, 2012, Sunday