By V. S. Naipaul
In 1975, on the top of Indira Gandhi’s “Emergency,” V. S. Naipaul lower back to India, the rustic his ancestors had left 100 years past. Out of that trip he produced this concise masterpiece: a colourful, defiantly unsentimental portrait of a society traumatized via centuries of overseas conquest and immured in a mythic imaginative and prescient of its past.
Drawing on novels, information reviews, political memoirs, and his personal encounters with usual Indians–from a supercilious prince to an engineer developing housing for Bombay’s homeless–Naipaul captures an unlimited, mysterious, and agonized continent inaccessible to foreigners and rarely obvious to its personal humans. He sees either the burgeoning area application and the 5,000 volunteers chanting mantras to purify a defiled temple; the feudal village autocrat and the Naxalite revolutionaries who mixed Maoist rhetoric with ritual homicide. Relentless in its imaginative and prescient, exciting within the keenness of its prose, India: A Wounded Civilization is a piece of miraculous perception and candor.
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Extra info for India: A Wounded Civilization
When John Marshall’s contemporary, the Frenchman Jean Baptiste Tavernier, visited Varanasi in the mid-1670s, he found the stone column set on a raised platform beside a new-built mosque. Since there were several Muslim tombs in the vicinity, Tavernier assumed the pillar to be some form of obelisk: In the middle of this platform you see a column of 32 to 35 feet in height, all of a piece, and which three men could with difficulty embrace. It is of sandstone, so hard that I could not scratch it with my knife.
6 According to Shams-i Siraj ’Afif, Timur ordered every horseman in his army to gather two loads of firewood. This was heaped round the pillar and set on fire. The pillar still stands beside the mosque at Hisar, its lower section so badly fire-damaged that nothing remains of whatever pre-Muslim inscriptions it may once have carried. Having slaughtered one hundred thousand infidel prisoners who were slowing him down, Timur proceeded to assault and sack Delhi, acquiring so many new prisoners in the process that each man in his army came away with fifty to a hundred of them; men, women and children.
At some point in the next two decades the explosion of a powder magazine blew the pillar at Firoz Shah’s hunting lodge north of Delhi into fragments (painstakingly reassembled two and a half centuries later, with one neat slice missing – now in the British Museum in London). As the Mughals declined, other powers moved in to fill the political vacuum: most notably, the Sikhs from the Punjab, the Marathas from the Deccan and the EICo from Bengal. Under the patronage of the Maratha warlords and the saintly widow of one of their number, Rani Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore, the city of Muhammadabad very soon reverted to Varanasi and underwent a spectacular rebirth.
India: A Wounded Civilization by V. S. Naipaul