Wednesday, October 27, 2010

From ‘India in Mind’ Edited by Pankaj Mishra

It is better to go to the villages of a strange land before trying to understand its towns, above all in a complex place like India. Now, after travelling some eight thousand miles around the country, I know approximately as little as I did on my first arrival. However, I’ve seen a lot of people and places, and at least I have a somewhat more detailed and precise idea of my ignorance than I did in the beginning.

The two religious systems are antipodal. Fortunately the constant association with the mild and tolerant Hindus has made the Moslems of India far more understanding and tractable than their brothers in Islamic countries further west; there is much less actual friction than one might be led to expect

A professor from Ranikhet in north India……….Among the many questions I put to him was one concerning the reason why so many of the Hindu temples in south India prohibit entry to non-Hindus, and why they have military guards at the entrances. I imagined I knew the answer in advance: fear of Moslem disturbances. Not at all, he said. The principal purpose was to keep out certain Christian missionaries. I expressed disbelief.

“Of course,” he insisted. “They come and jeer during our rituals, ridicule our sacred images.”

“But even if they were stupid enough to want to do such things,” I objected, “their sense of decorum would keep them from behaving like that.”

He merely laughed. “Obviously you don’t know them.”

- Paul Bowles

This is invariably the case in the East; a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the scene of events the vaguer it becomes.

- George Orwell

He was covered with the usual white rages: while around him, along that street on the periphery (if periphery and center have any meaning for Indian cities), the usual lugubrious misery, the usual shops little more than boxes, the usual little homes in ruins, the usual high stench which smothers breathing. That smell of poor food and of corpses which in India is like a continuous powerful air current that gives one a kind of fever. And that odor which, little by little, becomes an almost living physical entity, seems to interrupt the normal course of life in the body of the Indians. Its breath, attacking those little bodies covered in their light and filthy linen, seems to corrode them, forcing itself to sprout, to reach a human embodiment………..Every Indian is a beggar: even he who does not do it for a profession, if the occasion presents itself will not flinch from trying to extend his hand.

Whatever the Indian middle class is I have seen it above all in Africa, in Kenya, where there are some tens of thousands of Indians (brought there by the English to construct the railroad when the Africans were still unusable), who have become the lower middle class of the place. They have become completely washed-out. Unsympathetic to the Africans, they cultivate this family gentility around the shop which gives them the ease or even a little wealth to do so: while underneath lingers the pain of not yet being Europeans

………with turbans wound round the most beautiful hair, black and wavy, in the world ……….

Now, all the Indians are minute, thin, with the little bodies of children: they are wonderful until twenty years old, gracious and full of pathos afterwards

- Pier Paolo Passolini (1961)

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