Wednesday 24 April 2024

Brexit's Ganga-Lahiri


From Matthew Arnold's Oakfield 'exiled to Ind by the 39 Articles'
To Parousia's 'Free Church' Buchan's 39 paranoid Steps
Our English Commonwealth's 'Ganga-lahiri'
Is of Pundit Jagannath not Shaunak Rishi





Amartya Sen on Satyajit Ray

Some artists are parochial. They serve a local market. Some may be said to to be universal. Anyone at all can enjoy them. What of a parochial product, which the locals don't greatly care for, but which is exported as exotic or artsy-fartsy or as embodying some virtuous ideology? Might it not represent something universal? Certainly. But only in the sense that the Japanese Tea Ceremony is universal, not to mention watching paint dry. 

Satyajit Ray's work was parochial. Unlike his Uncle, Nitin Bose, who invented play-back singing, moved to Bombay and made some blockbusters, Ray stuck with being an artsy-fartsy Bengali whose films were devoid of nice song & dance numbers.  Marie Seton, the biographer of Eisenstein Nehru who brought to Delhi to help with the Government's 'Films division', befriended Ray and got Nehru to champion him (which is how his first film got to Venice despite opposition from the State and Central Government). Previously, in 'January 1952, Nehru had stressed the need for more State interventions in the field of films. ‘Film has become a powerful influence in people’s lives. It can educate them rightly or wrongly… I mean that they should introduce artistic and aesthetical values in life and encourage the appreciation of beauty in all its aspects. I hope that films which are just sensational or melodramatic or such as make capital out of crime, will not be encouraged. If our film industry keeps this ideal before it, it will encourage good taste and help pave its own way in the building of a new India…' Since Ray's films were boring but artsy, Ray was the 'sarkari' director par excellence. Well, he would have been if he hadn't been utterly shit. Nehru, again on Seton's advise, had brought in an actual Italian- not a Bengali bloke who had liked 'Bicycle Thieves'- to film 'India- Matri Bhumi'. Ray could not compete with Rossellini as an auteur but he was certainly more boring than any Italian or Frenchman and thus a true acolyte of Tagore. 

Sadly for Marie Seton, Rossellini & co, Mehboob Khan re-made 'Aurat' as 'Mother India' in 1957. What's more the Communist countries were prepared to pay hard cash for entertaining movies which were melodramatic and sensational and made 'capital out of crime'. Thus Nargis, whose social origins were perhaps not very exalted, could tell the Indian Government to stop subsidising bougie Ray & his miserabilist bullshit. 

One other thing. Ray's 'Kanchenjunga' came out in May 1962.  The Chinese invaded in October. Nehru suddenly needed a film-maker, familiar with the relevant terrain, who could stir up patriotic sentiment. Could Ray do something in this regard? No. Don't be silly.  'Kanchenjunga' explained why the Indians didn't want to defend the Himalayas. It wasn't that the Himalayas weren't beautiful or sacred to the Hindus. It's just that Nehru's Indians were lazy, cowardly and utterly shit. 

Amartya Sen, who may have crossed paths with Ray at Shantinketan (where the latter studied Art after taking a degree in Economics) has a chapter in his 'Argumentative Indian shithead' titled 'Satyajit Ray and the art of Universalism: Our Culture, Their Culture'. 

Rossellini's art may have been universal. Nehru thought it worthwhile to pay him to make movies in India of the sort he had made in Italy and Germany. Incidentally, an Iranian diplomat wrote part of the script of 'Matr-bhumi'. What of Ray? Did he make films in Italy or China? Nope. He was parochial. However, because of competition in the local market, Ray needed either Government subsidies or else the equivalent of an 'affirmative action' rent arising on foreign markets where his competitors were artificially excluded. Ray was smart enough to neither become wholly dependent on the Government nor the tiny foreign market. Sadly, he wasn't smart enough to make good films. 

Sen, like Ray, has made a career by pretending to be Indian to foreigners and pretending to know Western Liberal culture to Indians. He writes-

The work of Satyajit Ray presents a remarkably insightful understanding of the relations between cultures,

In India, the relationship between cultures was crude. The rulers had culture. The ruled were merely human cattle. I suppose one might say that Ray belonged to the first generation of Bengalis for whom Hindu, Islamic and European cultures jostled with each other to establish dominance. Pakistan went down the Islamic route. India was Hindu with a small topsoil of secular stupidity and boring virtue signaling. 

 Ray was not interested in war or partition or anything dramatic in nature. He did make a film about the famine where everybody starves to death in between saying boring and stupid shit. He never made a film about partition. He had no insight or understanding of the clash between Hindu and Muslim culture which led to so much bloodshed in Bengal. What of the relation between English and Indian culture? Once again, we draw a blank. David Lean's 'Passage' might be said to address that issue. Ray's 'Chess-players', though starring Richard Attenborough, was boring shite about how Muslim Nawabs are boring shitheads. 

and his ideas remain pertinent to the great cultural debates in the contemporary world, not least in India.

He had no ideas, that was the trouble.  

I would like to pursue these ideas. In Ray’s films and in his writings, we find explorations of at least three general themes on cultures and their interrelations: the importance of distinctions between different local cultures and their respective individualities;

why is that important? Is it because it could lead to ethnic cleansing? Ray saw that happen with his own eyes. He didn't write about it or make films about it. There is no big clash of cultures in his films. There are some dudes from Calcutta who meet a Santhal girl or something of that sort but the thing misfires.  

the necessity of understanding the heterogeneous character of each local culture (even the culture of a common, not to mention a region or a country);

Sen's people understood that heterogeneous character well enough to run the fuck away from East Bengal and its Muslim majority 

and the great need for intercultural communication,

film-makers need to make interesting films if they wish to communicate with audiences from other cultures.  

attended by a recognition of the barriers that make intercultural communication a hard task.

The British had no trouble overcoming 'cultural barriers' so as to rule Bengal. They could also make good enough films about 'cultural barriers' between themselves and the Indians- e.g. Attenborough's 'Gandhi' and  Lean's 'Passage' and various interminable BBC serials about the Raj. 

However, the Brits did not confine themselves to the urban chattering classes.  Korda had made 'elephant boy' Sabu a star in Hollywood. Renoir mightn't have been able to do much with Rumer Godden's 'the River' but 'Black Narcissus' was a big hit. I personally quite liked 'Nine hours to Rama' where Godse was played by Horst Buchholz and Robert Morley played a Congress Minister. I suppose we should mention Merchant and Ivory and Jhabwala- especially their 'Heat and Dust'- all of whom show that film can easily be as universal as you like provided it doesn't aim to be as boring as shit. 

A deep respect for distinctiveness is combined, in Ray’s vision, with a recognition of internal diversity and an appreciation of the need for genuine communication.

Sen says 'Ray shows women as wearing Sari and men as wearing dhoti'. This is clear proof the man was a freakin' genius.  

Impetuous cosmopolitans have something to learn from his focus on distinctiveness, but it is the growing army of communitarian and cultural “separatists” — increasingly more fashionable in India and elsewhere, that most needs to take note of the persistence of heterogeneity at the local level and the creative role of intercultural and intercommunal communication and learning.

Why didn't Raj make a movie about the Bangladesh war? He says it was because he preferred refugees to 'politics'. In other words, he wanted to be a boring virtue signaling cunt.  


In emphasizing the need to honor the individuality of each culture, Ray saw no reason for closing the doors to the outside world. Indeed, opening doors was an important priority of Ray’s work.

You could replace 'Ray' with 'Tagore' or, indeed, 'Sen', himself.  

In this respect, Ray’s attitude contrasts sharply with the increasing tendency to see Indian culture (or cultures) in highly conservative terms, to preserve it (or them) from the “pollution” of Western ideas and thought.

Indian movies, like American movies, have never been conservative. They eagerly imitate or appropriate anything from anywhere if that will boost box-office receipts. Ray was unusual in that he wanted to make boring shit in the way he had previously made boring shit. But then his was a niche market predicated on some supposed genius he had.  

He was always willing to enjoy and to learn from ideas, art forms, and styles of life from anywhere, in India or abroad.

He wasn't even willing to learn from his Uncle, who invented play-back singing.  

Ray appreciated the importance of heterogeneity within local communities.

This is like appreciating the importance of the cosmopolitanism of small, smelly Turd World villages.  

This perception contrasts sharply with the tendency of many communitarians, religious and secular, who are willing to break up the nation into communities and then stop dead there: “thus far and no further.”

Why shouldn't there be ethnic cleansing and partition in every hut or hovel? 

The great filmmaker’s eagerness to seek the larger unit — to talk to the whole world — went well with his enthusiasm for understanding the smallest of the small — the individuality, ultimately, of each person.

This is where Ray failed. He couldn't create any interesting characters. His 'Feluda' is a fool.  If Ray really had any universal, as opposed to virtue signaling, quality, his detective films and his films for kids would have been remade- at least in India. But they were boring shite. 


From such a vision, I believe, we have much to learn right now. There can be little doubt about the importance that Ray attached to the distinctiveness of cultures.

If cultures aren't distinctive they may end up getting Gay with each other. Ray was very stern about such things. He would tell Classical culture to kindly take its dick out of the arsehole of Modern culture.  

He also discussed the problems that these divisions create in the possibility of communication across cultural boundaries.

e.g. Americans not being able to understand what Japanese actors are saying in Japanese films.  

In Our Films, Their Films, he noted the important fact that films acquire “colour from all manner of indigenous factors such as habits of speech and behaviour, deep- seated social practices, past traditions, present influences and so on.”

Yet Korda could make money out of films about an elephant boy in Mysore who, a little later, is a Prince on the North West Frontier. What Ray was noticing was nonsense.  

He went on to ask: “How much of this can a foreigner — with no more than a cursory knowledge of the factors involved — feel and respond to?”

Enough to make money from movies that aint as boring as shit.  

He observed also that “there are certain basic similarities in human behaviour all over the world” (such as “expressions of joy and sorrow, love and hate, anger, surprise and fear”), but “even they can exhibit minute local variations which can only puzzle and perturb — and consequently warp the judgment of — the uninitiated foreigner.”

Ray was wrong. The inscrutable Chinese and the histrionic Hispanics all responded in exactly the same way to the great silent film starts. During the Thirties, import restrictions played a role in market segmentation by language for 'the Talkies'.  But 'genre' movies- e.g. Samurai movies, creature features,  or sword & sandals epics- showed that audiences responded to the same things in the same ways in very different countries. As a human document, Ray's first film, like Nanook of the North, had some value. Oddly Ravi Shankar's music turned out to have some appeal everywhere though it appealed to few in India itself. With Ray, even this wasn't true. He peaked with his first and went down hill thereafter. 

The presence of such cultural differences raises many interesting problems.

By 'interesting' Sen means 'boring and stupid'.  

The possibility of communication is only one of them.

The Brits had no problem ruling Bengal. This is because they understood that by learning a language you solve all fucking problems associated with the possibility of communication.  

There is also the more basic issue of the individuality of each culture.

No there isn't. Either a culture exists or it doesn't. Individuals have individuality. Cultures don't. It doesn't matter if Jain culture is indistinguishable from Hindu culture to most people. There is absolutely no need for Jains to put on some special type of dress in order to appear different.  

How might this individuality be respected and valued, even as the world grows steadily smaller and more uniform?

There is no reason or need to respect or value individuality or culture or anything else. Now it is true that some people may say 'the Government should ensure that such and such indigenous tribe or ancient dialect does not perish'. But that has to do with protecting autochthonous people from settlers or mining corporations etc.  

We live in a time in which many things are increasingly common, and the possibility that something important is being lost in this process of integration has aroused understandable concern.

amongst virtue signaling cretins. The rest of us don't care. Cinema is either entertaining or it makes a loss. Unlike penis puppetry, cinema can't discover a cure for cancer.  


The individuality of cultures is a big subject now,

No. 'Clash of civilizations' had become a thing. Nobody was saying that Canadians were completely unlike human beings.  

and the tendency towards the homogenization of cultures, particularly in some uniformly Western mode, or in the deceptive form of “modernity,”

how is modernity deceptive? Sen doesn't know. He is just repeating shit at third hand.  

has been sharply challenged. Anxieties of this kind have been expressed in different forms in recent cultural studies, which flourish today in Western literary and intellectual circles.

Shitty ones populated by Bengalis- maybe.  

There is an irony, perhaps, in the fact that so much of the critique of “Western modernity” has come straight from the West to the Third World;

England was modern in the sense that it used newer technology. It ruled India, which was backwards in many respects. Since England is to the West of India, Indians would naturally speak of 'Western modernity' more particularly if they are qualifying as barristers or Actuaries, etc.  

but these questions are being plentifully asked in contemporary India as well. Engaging arguments in this direction have been presented by, among others, Partha Chatterjee, in The Nation and Its Fragments (1993) and elsewhere, and in the literary, sociological and anthropological writings of such diverse and forceful authors as Ashis Nandy, Homi K. Bhaba and Veena Das, to name a few.

They were worthless shitheads just as Ray was a boring fool 

These approaches share, to varying extents, a well-articulated “antimodernism,” rejecting, in particular, “Western” forms of modernization, which Chatterjee contrasts with the preferred form of what he calls “our modernism.”

which was and is technologically less advanced in many fields. 

Sometimes the defiance of Western cultural modes is expressed in India through enunciations of the unique importance of Indian culture and the traditions of its communities.

In every country, there are people who want to preserve traditions unique to themselves.  

At the broader level of “Asia” rather than India, the separateness of “Asian values,” and their distinction from Western norms, has often been asserted, particularly in east Asia, from Singapore and Malaysia to China and Japan.

But this has nothing to do with cinema. Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea could earn good money exporting movies and TV series to the West. 'Asian values' had to do with a different type of polity and legal structure. As Singapore's law minister says, the fact that Singapore has had only 4 Prime Ministers since its Independence, whereas the Tory Party has had 4 Prime Ministers since the Brexit referendum, is also the reason Singapore is now much richer than the UK. Sen, cretin that he is, thinks 'Asian values' has to do with wearing kimono or dhoti.  

The invoking of Asian values has sometimes occurred in rather dubious political circumstances. It has been used to justify authoritarianism (and harsh penalties for alleged transgressions) in some east Asian countries. In 1993, at the Vienna conference on human rights, the foreign minister of Singapore, along with the Chinese Foreign Minister, cited the differences between Asian and European traditions and argued that “universal recognition of the ideal of human rights can be harmful if universalism is used to deny or mask the reality of diversity.”

They were saying they wouldn't sign trade agreements which had human rights clauses or shite of that sort. They have prevailed.  

The championing of “Asian values” has typically come from governmental spokesmen and not from individuals opposed to the established regimes. Still, the general issue is important enough to deserve our attention; and so, in examining the implications of cultural diversity, I must also take up this question.

Sen contributed nothing to this debate. It simply is a fact that 'human rights' are meaningless if incentive compatible remedies aren't available. Greatly curtailing the freedom of a large class of people may lead to rapid economic development such that, with hindsight, they would consider the sacrifice worthwhile.  


Even though he emphasized the difficulties of intercultural communication, Ray did not take cross-cultural comprehension to be impossible.

He spoke English. It is fucking obvious that he could do 'cross-cultural comprehension' because he had no difficulty working in London.  

He saw the difficulties as challenges to be surmounted rather than as strict boundaries that could not be breached.

Which is why there are so many scenes of Argentines dancing the Tango and Chinese people doing Kung Fu in his films.  

He did not propound a thesis of “incommunicability” across cultural boundaries; he argued instead that we need to recognize the difficulties that may arise. And on the larger subject of preserving traditions against foreign influence, Ray was not a cultural conservative. He did not give systematic priority to inherited practices.

He gave priority to boring shite.  


I find no evidence in Ray’s films or in his writings that the fear of being too influenced by outsiders disturbed his equilibrium as an “Indian” artist.

If you are making boring films, why bother to steal stuff from interesting films made by foreigners?  

He wanted to take full note of the importance of a particular cultural background without denying what there is to learn from elsewhere.

He didn't have to learn how to be boring. It just came to him naturally.  

There is much wisdom, I think, in this “critical openness,” including the prizing of a dynamic, adaptable world over a world that is constantly “policing” external influences and fearing “invasion” of ideas from elsewhere.

Sen is a Professor. His job is 'policing' ideas. In the above he is saying one type of thinking is very wicked and evil. Ray was just as bigoted. What neither understood is that it is the outcome of the receipt of ideas or the result of actual invasions or insurrections which matters. Ray might have been able to make watchable movies if he had followed the example of his Uncle and what other directors were getting up to in Bombay and Madras. If he wanted to make a detective film, he could have studied Hitchcock. If the wanted to make a musical fantasy for kids, he could have watched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. His films needn't have been utterly shit.  To be fair, Ray was something of a one-man band. Hitchcock's movies would have sucked if he'd composed the music and the dialogue and also taken on the role of the icy blonde. 

The difficulties of understanding each other across the boundaries of culture are undoubtedly great.

Not for film-makers.  

This applies to the cinema, but also to other art forms, especially literature.

Not if you are bilingual or just have access to a good enough translation 

The inability of most foreigners, even of other Indians, to grasp the beauty of Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry

which is boring shit. On the other hand, because the guy was the head of a Hindu sect he could convey a particular Hindu sentiment well enough.  

(a failure that we Bengalis find so exasperating) is a good illustration of this problem. Indeed, the thought that these non-appreciating others are being willfully contrary and obdurate (rather than being thwarted by the barriers of languages and translations) is a frequently aired suspicion.

We suspect that people who went to Shantiniketan are going to pretend Tagore wasn't a boring cunt because they gain a reputational benefit thereby.  


The problem is perhaps less extreme in films, so far as film is less dependent on language. People can be informed by gestures and actions. Still, our day-to-day experiences generate certain patterns of reaction and non-reaction that can be mystifying for foreign viewers who have not had those experiences.

Not really. Samurai films and Hong Kong 'chop-socky' were popular precisely because of the bizarre body language and facial tics associated with the genre. 

The gestures — and the non-gestures — that are quite standard, and are “perfectly ordinary,” in India may appear altogether remarkable when they are seen by others.

Fuck off! If you want Indian, get Peter Sellers. Actual Indians are too boring. On the other hand, you could pass of IS Jowhar as an Arab.  

Also words have a function that goes well beyond the information that they directly convey.

No. Words convey information even if their meaning is not known. Sen thinks semantic information is the only sort. He is as stupid as shit.  

Much is communicated by the sound of the language, and a special choice of words conveys a particular meaning or creates a particular effect.

to cretins. Others understand that sonorous boring shit is just boring shit.  

As Ray observed, “in a sound film, words are expected to perform not only a narrative but a plastic function,” and “much will be missed unless one knows the language, and knows it well.”

Ray was wrong. Lots of the films he liked were in languages he didn't know.  

Even the narrative may be inescapably transformed by language barriers, owing to nuances that are missed in translations.

More plausibly, Sen may be a fucking cretin. 

I was reminded of Ray’s remark the other day when I saw Tin Kanya again, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at a recent festival of Ray’s films (in their wonderful reissues by Merchant-Ivory). When the obdurate Paglee at last decides to write a letter to her spurned husband, she conveys her new sense of intimacy by addressing him with the familiar form tumi rather than the formal apni.

So what? We get that the 'tom boy' has calmed down. This is like 'taming of the shrew'. Fuck is wrong with Sen.  

This could not be caught in the English subtitle.

Why the fuck is the cunt looking at the subtitle? 

The translation had to show her sign the letter as “your wife,” to convey this new sense of intimacy; but the Bengali original form in which she signs as “Paglee” but addresses him as tumi, is infinitely more subtle.

It is meaningless. What matters is that she looks happy and is not fisting herself.  

Such difficulties cannot be altogether escaped. Ray did not design his movies for a foreign audience, and the Ray fans abroad who rush to see his films know that they are, in a sense, eavesdropping.

Nobody 'rushed' to see his boring shit.  

This relationship between the artist and the eavesdropper is by now very well established among the millions of Ray’s admirers around the world.

He had few admirers which is why his films never had nationwide releases or ran for very long. However, they were heavily promoted by the Indian Government through their missions abroad.  

There is no expectation that his films are anything other than those of an Indian director — and a Bengali director — made for a local audience, and the attempt to see what is going on in these films is a decision to engage in a self-consciously “receptive” activity.

He was known as a maker of art films. Since they featured no nudity, you assumed it was about spirituality and the duty to be nice to starving darkies in shithole countries. Economic theory explains why there will always be some boring and shitty movies which however there is a reputational benefit in having claimed to have watched.  


In this sense, Ray has triumphed and on his own terms.

Because Govt. of India promoted the cunt.  

This vindication of his belief that he will be understood, barriers notwithstanding, tells us about the possibility of understanding across cultural boundaries. It may be hard, but it can be done; and the eagerness with which viewers with rich experience of Western cinema flock to see Ray’s films (despite the occasional obscurities of a presentation tailored to an entirely different audience) indicates what may be accomplished when there is a willingness to go beyond the bounds of one’s own culture.

There simply is no such 'eagerness'. True, some kids may think Kurosawa or Scorsese were sincere in their praise of Ray. But the only sincere type of praise in cinema is imitation.  


Satyajit Ray makes an important distinction between what is or is not sensible when one tries to speak across a cultural divide, especially across the divide between the West and India. In 1958, two years after Pather Panchali won the Special Award in Cannes, and one year after he won the Grand Prix at Venice for Aparajito, Ray wrote the following, in an essay called Problems of a Bengali Film Maker: “There is no reason why we should not cash in on the foreigners’ curiosity about the Orient. But this must not mean pandering to their love of the false-exotic.

or the love of stuff which isn't as boring as shit. Aim always to be more boring than Tagore.  

A great many notions about our country and our people have to be dispelled, even though it may be easier and — from a film point of view — more paying to sustain tile existing myths than to demolish them.”

Even Ray put beautiful actresses into his films. This did create a myth that Indian women might be comely.  

Ray was not alone, of course, in pursuing such an approach. There have been several other eminent directors from India who have essentially followed the same route as Ray.

No. Ray was alone because the Government could not afford to subsidize a whole bunch of morons.  

As an old resident of Calcutta, I am proud of the fact that some of the particularly distinguished ones have come — like Ray — from this very city. (I think of Mrinal Sen, Rhtwik Ghatak, Aparna Sen and others.)

Sen and Ghatak are from East Bengal.  

But what Ray calls pandering to the “love of the false-exotic” has clearly tempted many other directors.

A Hollywood movie set in India- e.g. Octopussy or Temple of Doom- should feature snake-charmers and elephants and maharajas.  

Many Indian films that can fairly be called “entertainment movies” have achieved great success abroad,

only if they achieved even greater success in India.  

including in the Middle East and Africa, and Bombay has been a big influence on the cinematic world in many countries.

Not really. Other countries, including India, re-make South Korean movies like 'Old Boy'.  Nobody remakes Indian or Iranian or Nigerian films. 

It is not obvious whether the imaginary scenes of archaic splendor shown in such “entertainment movies” should be seen as mis-descriptions of the India in which they are allegedly set or as an excellent portrayal of some non-existent “never-never land” that is not to be confused with any real country.

This stupid cunt thinks everything he sees in films like 'Robin Hood' or 'Ten Commandments' is historically accurate. 


As Ray notes in another context, quite a few of these traditional Indian films, which attract large audiences, “do away wholly with the bothersome aspect of social identification” and “present a synthetic, nonexistent society, and one can speak of credibility only within the norms of this make-believe world.”

Ray presents a boring and stupid world. Apparently kids bought his detective stories and so he didn't starve.  

Ray suggests that this feature “accounts for their countrywide acceptance.” This is true; but this quality of make-believe also contributes greatly to the appeal of these films to some foreign audiences, which are happy to see lavish entertainment in an imagined land.

I think Indian music and the ugliness of most Indian men was a drawback. On the other hand, apparently Rajnikanth is big in Japan.  

This is an easily understandable “success” story: acceptance abroad brings both reputation and revenue.

No. In 1946, a Chetan Anand film based on a story by Maxim Gorki won a prize at Cannes. Anand didn't bother to release it in India because it was miserabilist shit.  

In contemporary India, where “export promotion” is becoming a supreme value, who can deny such an achievement?

Does Sen mean the 'NRI movie'? But they weren't art-movies. 

In fact, the exploitation of the biases and the vulnerabilities of the foreign audience need not be concerned specifically with the “love of the false-exotic.”

Indians weren't exporting exotic films. The Government did promote shite by Ray because they wanted their begging bowl refilled. Anyway, Indira had attended Shantiniketan and Ray was gentlemanly enough.  

Exploitation can take other forms — not necessarily false, nor especially exotic. There is nothing false about Indian poverty nor about the fact — remarkable to others — that Indians have learned to live normal lives in the midst of this poverty, taking little notice of the surrounding misery.

Because it isn't misery- to them.  

The graphic portrayal of extreme wretchedness, and of heartlessness towards the downtrodden, can itself be exploited, especially when supplemented by a goodly supply of vicious villains. At a sophisticated level, such exploitation can be seen even in Salaam Bombay!, the wonderfully successful film by Meera Nair.

Woody Allen & Bette Midler watch the movie in a mall and rush to the food court to stuff themselves. Nothing like a bit of Poverty porn to put you in the mood for a porterhouse.  

Nair’s film is powerfully constructed and deeply moving; and yet it mercilessly exploits not only the viewer’s sympathy and sentimentality, but also her interest in identifying “the villain of the piece” who might be blamed for all this suffering. Since Salaam Bombay! is full of villains, and of people totally lacking in sympathy and any sense of justice, the causes of the suffering portrayed in the film begin to look easily comprehensible even to distant foreigners.

The film isn't as boring as fuck. Nair is Punjabi, not Bengali. Sad.  

Given the lack of humanity around these Indian victims, what else can you expect? Nair’s kind of exploitation draws simultaneously on the common knowledge that India has much suffering and on the common comfort — for which there is a demanding seeing the faces of the “baddies” who are causing all this trouble, as in, say, American gangster movies. (This easy reliance on villains is less present in Nair’s subsequent film, Mississippi Masala, which raises some important and interesting issues of identity involving ex-Ugandans of Indian origin in the United States.)

It has Denzel. That's enough.  

At a more mundane level, City of Joy

which has Patrick Swayze. 

does the same with Calcutta, with clearly identified villains who have to be confronted. By contrast, even when Ray’s films

which have ugly actors. If he had put in a couple of good songs and kept the camera on Sharmila, he would have found a market.  

deal with problems that are just as intense (such as the coming of the Bengal famine in Ashani Sanket),

it is based on a Bibhuti story but is shit. Ray and Sen knew what caused the famine. It was also what caused the 1974 Bangladesh famine. Hiding the truth, showed they were 'Secular Socialists'.  

the comfort of a ready explanation through the presence of villains is avoided.

Those who stole the famine relief money weren't villains.  

In Ray’s films, villains are remarkably rare, almost absent.

Villains are interesting. Ray worked hard to be very very boring.  

When terrible things happen, there may be nobody clearly responsible.

But if someone is, you have an interesting story.  

And even when someone is clearly responsible, as Dayamoyee’s father-in-law most definitely is responsible for her predicament, and ultimately for her suicide, in Devi, he, too, is a victim, and by no means devoid of humane features.

The silly woman should just have got her father-in-law to transfer the property to her and then fuck off to Benares. Brahmo propaganda is as stupid as any other sort of propaganda but twice as boring.  

If Salaam Bombay! and City of Joy ultimately belong in the “cops and robbers” tradition (except that there are no “good cops” in Salaam Bombay!), the Ray films which portray tragedies have neither cops nor robbers. Ray chooses to convey something of the complexity of social situations that makes such tragedies hard to avoid, rather than to supply easy explanations in the greed, the cupidity and the cruelty of “bad” people.

He conveys his own stupidity.  

While Satyajit Ray insists on retaining the real cultural features of the society that he portrays, his view of India — even his view of Bengal — recognizes a complex reality, with immense heterogeneity at every level.

His films aren't complex. They are stupid. 

It is not the picture of a stylized East meeting a stereotypical West,

because the fucker wasn't making 'Passage to India'. He made stupid shit about stupid Bengalis who met other stupid Bengalis. 

which has been the stock-in-trade of so many recent writings critical of “Westernization” and “modernity.” Ray emphasized that the people who “inhabit” his films are complicated and extremely diverse.

They are boring and stupid.  

Sen quotes Ray

'Take a single province: Bengal. Or, better still, take the city of Calcutta where I live and work. Accents here vary between one neighbourhood and another. Every educated Bengali peppers his native speech with a sprinkling of English words and phrases. Dress is not standardized. Although women generally prefer the sari, men wear clothes, which reflect the style of the thirteenth century or conform to the directives of the latest Esquire. The contrast between the rich and the poor is proverbial. Teenagers do the twist and drink Coke, while the devout Brahmin takes a dip in the Ganges and chants his mantras to the rising sun.'

Ray forgets that there some intrinsically interesting people in Calcutta- e.g. a gangster who was also a  devout Brahmins, and police detectives who did the twist and drank coke while wearing Sari. What would be cool, is if there were an arranged marriage between them. 

It is important to note that the native culture which Ray stresses is not some pure vision of a tradition-bound society, but the heterogeneous lives and commitments of contemporary India.

Ray does not depict Islam as being part and parcel of 'native culture'. On the other hand, he does show women, but not men,  as wearing Saris. It is very important to note this.

The Indian who does the twist is as much there as the one who chants his mantras by the Ganges.

There were orthodox Brahmin film actors who danced the twist.  Actors tend to be superstitious. 

The recognition of this heterogeneity makes it immediately clear why Ray’s focus on local culture cannot be readily seen as an “anti-modern” move.

It can't be seen as modern. Ray was boring and old fashioned.  

“Our culture” can draw on “their culture” and “their culture” can draw on our culture.”

Nobody needed Ray's permission. He made shitty films. Nargis told him to go fuck himself. Bengalis of his own class might stick up for him but they can't point to any thing worthwhile in his oeuvre.  

The emphasis on the culture of the people who inhabit Ray’s films is in no way a denial of the legitimacy of the interest in things originating elsewhere.

It is a denial of the notion that Ray could stop being a boring shithead for even a second.  

Indeed, Ray recollects with evident joy the time when Calcutta was full of Western (including American) troops, in the winter of 1942: #Calcutta now being a base of operations of the war, Chowringhee was chock-a- block with GIs. The pavement book stalls displayed wafer-thin editions of Life and Time, and the jam-packed cinema showed the very latest films from Hollywood. While I sat at my office desk … my mind buzzed with the thoughts of the films I had been seeing. I never ceased to regret that while I had stood in the scorching summer sun in the wilds of Santiniketan sketching simul and palash in full bloom, Citizen Kane had come and gone, playing for just three days in the newest and biggest cinema in Calcutta.# This interest in things from elsewhere had begun a lot earlier. Ray’s engagement with Western classical music goes back to his youth, and his fascination with films preceded his involvement with music.

Ray liked movies. Everybody did. That's why the Cinema was a profitable industry. Sen is saying 'despite being Bengali, Ray was heterogeneous. Seriously, he wasn't constantly shoving things up his bum.'

In his posthumously published book, My Years with Apu: A Memoir Ray recollects: “I became a film fan while still at school. I avidly read Picturegoer and Photoplay, neglected my studies and gorged myself on Hollywood gossip purveyed by Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons.

Okay. Maybe he wasn't really 'heterogenous'. Boys don't 'gorge on gossip'. Suddenly, hanging out with GIs doesn't sound quite so innocent.  

Deanna Derbin became a favourite not only because of her looks and her obvious gifts as an actress, but because of her lovely soprano voice. Also firm favourites were Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, all of whose films I saw several times just to learn the Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern tunes by heart.” Ray’s willingness to enjoy and to learn from things happening elsewhere in India or abroad is plentifully clear in how he chose to live and what he chose to do.

Why were his films so boring and stupid? Did Deanna Derbin or Ginger Rogers shit on the screen? 

(In addition to Ray’s own autobiographical accounts in Our Films, Their Films and My Years with Apu: A Memoir his involvements in ideas and arts from elsewhere are discussed in some detail in Andrew Robinson’s Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye, which appeared in 1989.)

'The Inner Eye' was the title of  a short film Ray had made on a famous blind painter at Shantiniketan. Robinson, perhaps, was suggesting that Ray was a film-maker who like Benode Behari, had lost the ability to appreciate his own type of art in 1956 or thereabouts.  

When Ray describes what he learned as a student at Santiniketan, where he studied fine arts at Tagore’s distinguished center of education, the elements from home and abroad are well mixed together.

There was no art at Shantiniketan. After Okakura met Tagore, some started to filter in from Calcutta and Japan etc. But if people won't pay for art, it isn't art. It is ugly shit.  

He learned a great deal about India’s “artistic and musical heritage” (he got involved in Indian classical music, aside from being trained to paint in traditional Indian ways)

an Indian learned some Indian music. That shows India has universalism.  

and “far-eastern calligraphy” (particularly the use of “minimum brush strokes applied with maximum discipline”).

Japanese calligraphy. Since the Japs planned to take Bengal from the Brits, it makes sense for them to get the Bengalis to learn calligraphy.  

When his teacher, Nandalal Bose, a great artist and the leading light of the Bengal school, taught Ray to draw a tree

Ray had a degree in Economics from Presidency. Then his Mummy decided he needed to learn how to draw a tree.  

(“Not from the top downwards. A tree grows up, not down. The strokes must be from the base upwards…”), Bose was being critical of some Western conventions and introduced Ray to the styles and the traditions of China and Japan. (They got the tree right, Bose had decided.)

Ray was taught to draw Japanese tree. He was not taught to draw upside down tree because that is the tree Lord Krishna mentions in the Gita. Ray was secular boy.  

Ray does not hesitate to indicate how strongly Pather Panchali — the profound film that immediately made him a film maker of international distinction — was influenced by Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief.

 But De Sica's film is dramatic. Ray's is boring shite. Okay Ravi Shankar's music is good and the cinematographer was very good. 

He saw Bicycle Thief within three days of arriving in London for a brief stay, and noted: “I knew immediately that if I ever made Pather Panchali — and the idea had been at the back of my mind for some time — I would make it in the same way, using natural locations and unknown actors.”

Rossellini was more important. 'Rome- Open City' & 'Germany- year zero' are harrowing. But his 'India-MatrBhumi' wasn't much watched. Still, it has elephants and is not boring shite. 

Despite this influence, Pather Panchali, of course, is a quintessentially Indian film,

boring Indian film 

in subject matter and in style, and yet a major inspiration came from an Italian film.

No. The idea of not having sets or actors came to Ray from Italian films shot just after the war. But Italians aren't boring as shit. Buddhijivis are.  

The Italian influence did not make Pather Panchali anything other than an Indian film; it simply helped to make it a great Indian film.

Only liked by Marie Seton who got Nehru to push the shitty thing abroad.  

The growing tendency in contemporary India to champion the need for an indigenous culture that has “resisted” external influences and borrowings lacks credibility as well as cogency.

If it lacks credibility that means no one believes there is any such 'growing tendency'. Sen is saying that he is getting at is false and insane.  

It has become quite common to cite the foreign origin of an idea or a tradition as an argument against its use, and this has been linked to an antimodernist priority.

Where has it become common? In Indian cinema? Fuck off! Nobody was saying you can't have a kung-fu type fight followed by a disco number.  

Thus, even a social analyst as acute as Partha Chatterjee

Sen thinks film producers care about that professors of useless shite 

finds it impossible to dismiss Benedict Anderon’s thesis linking nationalism and its “imagined communities” by referring to the Western origin of that “modular” form.

Sen means the reverse. Partha dismisses Anderson's stupid shite by shitting copiously.  

“I have a central objection to Anderson’s argument. If nationalisms in the rest of the world have to choose their imagined community from certain “modular” forms already made available to them by Europe and the Americas, what do they have left to imagine?”

Sodomy?  

Anderson’s concept of “the nation as an imagined community” may or may not have much to commend it

definitely sodomy. Partha fucks Anderson in the ass. Does Sen provide a reach-around? I imagine so. Academic communities are like that only.  

(I think that it does); but the fear that its Western origin would leave us without a model that is our “own” is a rather peculiar concern.

Sen forgets that Indonesia and India were both colonized by Western nations. It might be worth having one's own definition of nation just in case it once again becomes profitable to colonize these two countries. 

The crucial concept here is oikeiosis which is based on uncorrelated asymmetries. If you belong to a particular family or community by reason of biology, it is worthwhile having an emic understanding of it. Behaving like a fucking Martian anthropologist will get you laughed at if it doesn't invite physical attacks. Nehru may have imagined India to be Secular rather than Hindu. But this meant China could attack it because if Indians aren't Hindu why the fuck would they bother to defend territory? Moreover, if China stamps out Buddhism in Tibet, obviously, the secular Indians would want the Chinese to move further south and suppress Hinduism. Indeed, there were Bengalis who said 'China's chairman is our chairman'. Ray said he admired their courage (they were killing policemen) though they showed little after the police started slaughtering them. 

Indian culture, as it has evolved, has always been prepared to absorb materials and ideas from elsewhere.

Sen means the country got invaded a lot. But it didn't absorb shit. England was the leading naval power. India didn't absorb any fucking interest, let alone skill, in maritime matters.  

Satyajit Ray’s heterodoxy is not out of line with our tradition.

He was stupid, boring and bigoted just like Sen, Tagore etc.  

Even in matters of day-to-day living: the fact that the chili, a basic ingredient of traditional Indian cooking, was brought to India by the Portuguese from the “New World” does not make Indian cooking any less Indian.

Ingredients don't alter the nature of a cuisine. It is the method of preparation which matters.  

Indeed, chili has now become an “Indian” spice.

India grows some chilis. They are referred to as domestically produced ingredients. But Indian cuisine can be prepared with types of chili not grown in India.  

Of course, cultural influences are a two way process: India may have acquired the chili from abroad, but we have also given the world the benefits of our culinary traditions.

A culinary tradition is independent of ingredients used.  Indian restaurants were set up abroad either by immigrants or local entrepreneurs. Those restaurants may use local ingredients. A dish originally from India may morph into something very different- e.g. Japanese 'curry'. 

While tandoori came from the Middle East to India, it is in its Indian form that tandoori has become a staple British diet. In London last summer I heard something described as being “as English as daffodils or chicken tikka masala.”

Back then, there were more Indian takeaways. This was a 'supply side' fad.  

The mixture of traditions that underlie the major intellectual developments in the world dictates strongly against taking a “national” (or “regional” or “local” or “community-based”) view of these developments.

They are irrelevant. Ray was promoted by the Indian government, not that of China. He was 'national' so long as Nehru or Indira was in charge. But Nehru had brought in Rossellini and Seton to improve the Government's 'Films Division'. Had Ray started making films in Hollywood, we could say he was 'cosmopolitan' or 'universal' rather than parochial.  

The role of mixed heritage in a subject such as mathematics, for example, is well-known.

It is irrelevant. There is no fucking mixed heritage now.  

The interlinkage between Indian, Arabic and European mathematics has been particularly significant in the development of what is now called Western mathematics.

It didn't matter in the slightest.  

These connections are beautifully illustrated by the origin of the term “sine” in Western trigonometry.

But those connections are irrelevant to learning mathematics or advancing its frontiers.  

That modern term came to India through the British, and yet in its genesis there is a remarkable Indian component. Aryabhata, an Indian mathematician and astronomer who lived in the fifth and early sixth centuries, discussed the concept of “sine,” and called it Jyanardha, or “half-chord,” in Sanskrit. From there the term migrated in an interesting way, as Howard Eves describes in An Introduction to the History of Mathematics: “Aryabhata called it ardha-jya (“half-chord”) and jya-ardha (“chord-half”), and then abbreviated the term by simply using jya (“chord”). From jya the Arabs phonetically derived jiba, which, following Arabic practice of omitting vowels, was written as jb. Now jiba, aside from its technical significance, is a meaningless word in Arabic. Later writers who came across jb as an abbreviation for the meaningless word Jiba substituted Jaib instead, which contains the same letters, and is a good Arabic word meaning “cove” or “bay.” Still later, Gherardo of Cremona (ca. 1150), when he made his translations from the Arabic, replaced the Arabian jaib by its Latin equivalent, sinus [meaning a cove or a bay], from whence came our present word sine. ” Given the and intellectual interconnections, the question of what is “Western” and what is “Eastern” (or Indian) is often hard to decide, and the issue can be discussed only in dialectical terms. The characterization of an idea as “purely Western” or “purely Indian” can be very illusory. The origin of ideas is not the kind of thing to which “purity” happens easily.

However, as Sen himself admits, nobody in India practices 'Indian' mathematics. Only Western mathematics is used. Nowadays, almost all papers are written in English. 

 


This issue has some practical importance now, given the political developments of the last decade, including the increase in the strength of political parties focusing on the Indian — particularly the Hindu — heritage.

Sen thought the BJP would insist that Indians write math papers in Sanskrit. He was wrong. 

There is an important aspect of anti-modernism, which tends to question, explicitly or implicitly, the emphasis to be placed on what is called “Western science.” If the challenges from traditional conservatism grow, this can become quite a threat to scientific education in India, affecting what young Indians are encouraged to learn, and how much emphasis is put on science in the general curriculum.

If the challenge from the nationalists hadn't grown, nutters like Sen would have insisted that all Indian universities, not just Nalanda, should give diplomatic immunity to Naxalites or ISIS terrorists.  

The reasoning behind this “anti-foreign” attitude is flawed in several ways. First,

it objects to being conquered and enslaved.  

so-called “Western science” is not the special possession of Europe and America.

Nor is Eastern wisdom. You can buy both but investing in the former is vital. The latter is shite.  

It is true that, since the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, and the Enlightenment, most scientific progress has occurred in the West; but these scientific developments drew substantially on earlier work in mathematics and science done by the Arabs, the Chinese, the Indians, and others. The term “Western science” is misleading in this respect, and misguided in its tendency to establish a distance between non-Western people and the pursuit of mathematics and science

Similarly the term 'Europe' is misleading because it establishes a distance between people who don't live in Europe and those who do. The plain fact is, if you are genuinely 'pursuing' mathematics and science, you don't give a fuck where it comes from. Still, it is true that if you relabel 'Chemistry' as 'Girlie-twirly fun-fun', more girls will take it up. That's what happened to Mrs. Thatcher. Later she stopped being an industrial character because training to be a barrister had been relabeled 'Vagina maintenance for posh bints'. Similarly, she only became Prime Minister after Number 10 Downing Street was redesignated as a powder room.  

Second, irrespective of the location of the discoveries and the inventions, the methods of reasoning used in science and mathematics give them some independence of local geography and cultural history. To be sure, there are important issues of local knowledge, and of the varying perspectives regarding what is or is not important; but there is still much of substance that is shared in methods of argument, demonstration, and the scrutiny of evidence. The term “Western science” is misleading in this respect, too.

Which is why this nutter keeps using that term.  

Third, our decisions about the future need not be parasitic on the past we have experienced. Even if there were no Asian or Indian component in the evolution of contemporary mathematics and science — this is not the case, but even if it were the case — their importance in the contemporary India need not be deeply undermined for that reason.

If there is no indigenous component in the evolution of a discipline of vital importance, then the thing must be imported wholesale. If this is not done, the thing will only be important in the sense of representing a deficiency which endangers the country. 

Rabindranath Tagore nicely illustrated the tyranny of being bound to the past in his amusing but profoundly serious short story Kartar Bhoot (“The Ghost of the Leader”), in which the wishes of the respected but dead leader make the lives of others impossibly constrained.

Tagore is Sen and Ray's Kartar Bhoot. He was boring and stupid. They were boring and stupid. But he was pro-Hindu. They were anti-Hindu. This is because they were sucking up to a different dynasty.  

There is a similar issue, to which I referred earlier, about the role of “modernity” in contemporary India.

Ray wasn't modern. He was as boring as shit.  

The recent attacks on modernity (especially on a “modernity” that is seen as coming to India from the West) draw greatly on the literature of “post-modernism” and on similar approaches that have been quite influential in Western literary and cultural circles, and in India, too.

Post-modernism was about rejecting grand narratives which were as boring as shit. You could 'mix & match' provided you were entertaining. Sadly, post-colonial studies wasn't entertaining. It was stupid and boring sit.  

There is something interesting in this dual role of the West, the colonial metropolis supplying ideas to post-colonial intellectuals to attack the influence of the colonial metropolis; but there is no contradiction here.

Stupidity involves no contradiction. Ray and Sen gathered up a lot of international accolades not because they were any good but because they were Indian and showed that India is a shithole.  

 Which brings us back to Satyajit Ray. His delicate portrayal of very different types that make us what we are cannot be matched.

Sen is lying. Bengalis do that to boost fellow Bengalis- provided those Bengalis are as boring as shit.  

Reflecting on what to include in his films,

after excluding anything interesting 

he posed the problem beautifully:

'What should you put in your films? What can you leave out? Would you leave the city behind and go to the village where cows graze in the endless fields and the shepherd plays the flute? You can make a film here that would be pure and fresh and have the delicate rhythm of a boatman’s song. Or would you rather go back in time — way back to the Epics, where the gods and demons took sides in the great battle where brother killed brother and Lord Krishna revivified a desolate prince with the words of the Gita? One could do exciting things here, using the great mimetic tradition of Kathakali, as the Japanese use their Noh and Kabuki. Or would you rather stay where you are, right in the present, in the heart of this monstrous, teeming, bewildering city, and try to orchestrate its dizzying contrasts of sight and sound and milieu?'

We get it. Ray was a blathershite.  

The celebration of these differences — the “dizzying contrasts” — is far from what can be found in labored generalizations about the unique and fragile purity of “our culture,” and in the vigorous pleas to keep “our culture”, “our modernity”, immune from “their culture”, “their modernity.”

Sen is only praising Ray because he is a fellow boring shithead of a Shantiniketan alumni who rose under the Dynasty.  

In our heterogeneity, and in our openness, lies our pride, not our disgrace. Satyajit Ray taught us this, and the lesson is profoundly important for India. And for Asia, and for the world.

Sen and Ray thought India's pride lay in getting fucked in the ass by the Chinese. Watch Kanchenjunga and you can see why Asia and the world might have rejoiced when the Reds poured into Assam. Hopefully, Sen will live long enough to watch Mamta turn West Bengal into a no-go zone for Hindus. Then his cup of joy will overflow. 

Tuesday 23 April 2024

Sir Abdur Rahim & J.A Rahim

Z.A. Bhutto had the dynamite idea of getting the Pakistani Army to go to war twice- in 1965 and 1971- so that, by getting defeated, it would be forced to let go of East Bengal and let the the Civilians take over in the West Wing. However, since 1965 was a draw, Ayub got rid of Bhutto while remaining in power.

It is said that Jalaludin Abdur Rahim- a senior Pakistani diplomat who was secretly a Communist- persuaded Bhutto to return to Pakistani politics from exile in London. J.A Rahim was compared to P.N. Haksar, an Indian diplomat who had helped Indira Gandhi move to the Left and thus outflank her rivals. 

Dawn newspaper reports- Bhutto was more a populist pragmatist than a socialist. From 1974 onwards, he moved slightly to the right and sidelined the party’s left ideologues. Some of them were even ousted. Rahim was asked to become Pakistan’s Ambassador to France.

'But in 1975, Rahim was back and sitting in the drawing room of 70 Clifton with some other ministers. Bhutto often invited his ministers and party leaders for dinner but would not meet them till very late in the night.

Philip Jones explains how Rahim, now in his 70s, got agitated and complained, ‘I am not waiting for the Maharaja of Larkana anymore!’ He then stood up and left. The very next day an armed party of Bhutto’s special security force raided Rahim’s house, dragged him out, punched and kicked him, and then threw him in jail.

Bhutto accused Rahim of insulting his (Bhutto’s) ethnicity. However, Bhutto soon released him, apologised and asked him to return to France. Rahim passed away in 1977, the year Bhutto’s regime fell in a reactionary coup orchestrated by General Ziaul Haq. Rahim’s son welcomed the fall.

Interestingly, the father of J.A Rahim was Sir Abdur Rahim, a Bengali Judge and senior politician who said in 1926 at the Muslim League Conference-

The Hindus and Muslims are not two religious sects like the Protestants and Catholics of England, but form two distinct communities of peoples,

Muslims like Bhutto get their own Ambassador to France beaten and thrown in jail. Hindus like Indira didn't do any such thing to Hindus like Haksar. 

The Pakistani Army, which is Muslim, committed genocide in Bangladesh. The Indian army, which is Hindu, does not kill Hindus. There is a good reason Hindus, or Christians in lands ruled by Turks or Arabs, sought to preserve their own culture and religion and way of life. Dynasties, where the usual method of inheritance is by the killing of a parent or a sibling, may be powerful and wealthy. But they are not a good role model for the rest of society. 

Sir Abdur Rahim was right about the difference between Hindus and Muslims. But it is also the difference between Muslims and Christians or Muslims and Buddhists. 

and so they regard themselves... the fact that they have lived in the same country for nearly 1,000 years has contributed hardly anything to their fusion into a nation...

Abdur Rahman ended up contributing nothing to his native Bengal. Neither did his son. The latter was happily cuddling with Zulfi while his own people were being slaughtered. Then Zulfi had him beaten and chucked in jail. Who would avenge him? Sheikh Mujib?  

Any of us Indian Muslims travelling in Afghanistan, Persia, Central Asia, among Chinese Muslims, Arabs, and Turks would at once be made at home

Saudi Arabia was trying to get Britain to take back the Indian beggars who kept getting to the Holy Cities. The Afghans had told the 'Hijrat' caravans to kindly fuck off back to India.  

and would not find anything to which we are not accustomed. On the contrary in India we find ourselves in all social matters aliens when we cross the street and enter that part of the town where our fellow townsmen live.[5][17]

Unless you are known to be a decent person in which case people will invite you into their home. Equally, if a person is of bad character, it is unwise to seek hospitality in their house. Still, I'm sure Sir Abdur would have been very happy to hear of the treatment his son received in the Karachi home of a fellow Muslim lawyer.  

Holy Fox vs Holy Cow- Irwin vs Gandhi

If Reading, a gifted prosecutor,  played cat and mouse with Gandhi, what did Irwin do? It is difficult to say. The Indian view was that he was the tool of Birkenhead (F.E.Smith, a staunch Imperialist and ally of Churchill).  In other words, he hoped to marginalize leaders like Nehru and Jinnah. It may be that the Tory moderates- e.g. Zetland- really had some such crazy scheme in their heads. Like their appeasement policy towards Hitler, it seems the aristocratic Tory was a brainless as well as chinless wonder. Yet, this is deceptive. Afterall, only the British aristocracy remained unscathed by the massive political changes in Europe. India was retained as a member of the Commonwealth. 

In the case of Gandhi- who was holy in a bovine manner but was fraudulently claiming he wanted the Brits to fuck off- they prevailed without violence. With Hitler, they gave him enough rope. Their aim was to ensure it was the Tories, not Labor, which led the Commonwealth into the War. After it,Labor was welcome to do Reconstruction at home and Imperial retrenchment abroad.  The aristocratic Tory moderate lived to see an England 'which never had it so good' though even they would have been surprised when the 14th Earl of Home gave up his title to become PM. He was only brought down by a bizarre sex scandal featuring KGB agents.  In other words, these Viscounts and Marquesses and Earls gave themselves a soft landing. 

Turning to India, Andrew Roberts wrote in 'Holy Fox' that Lord Irwin took advantage of Labor's victory in the May 1929 British General Election- in particular the appointment of Benn as Secretary for India- to completely overturn the previous 'die hard' policy of Churchill and F.E Smith. A more charitable view is that the Viceroy did his constitutional duty. He was loyal to the policies of the new Secretary of State. True, this put Baldwin (his Party Chief) in a pickle but that was Baldwin's look-out. 


Three Viceroys- Curzon, Reading, Irwin- were proper politicians. Others, like Willingdon or Linlithgow had social but not political prestige back home. Interestingly, the 'political' Viceroys were politically disastrous. Curzon partitioned Bengal before having to resign because he picked a fight with Kitchener. Rufus Isaacs was the most hated Viceroy (by the Brits in India) though he ran circles around Gandhi. Irwin, too, was felt to be soft on Gandhi. Moreover, he backed the Simon Commission, anger at which once more united Muslim and Hindu.  However, the 'Holy Fox' and his family were personally popular. Once Labor fell- or Ramsay changed sides- Willingdon crushed Congress with insulting ease. Linlithgow too crushed resistance while mobilizing India's resources for the war. The Army, however, had never wanted to run India and Wavell, as Viceroy, said so. A naval man, Mountbatten, finally cut the cord though he became a great friend of Nehru. 

Roberts thinks that Irwin (known as Halifax in UK history) was influenced by his experience in India, facing Gandhi, and this led him to become an 'appeaser'. This is a profoundly silly war. Reading had only negotiated with Gandhi so as to break up his alliances and finally destroy his credibility once and for all. Irwin's stupidity (it was he on insisted on Simon Commission) revived Gandhi's career who then found the Salt tax issue. True, while Benn was Secretary of State, the Indians were bound to create problems. But it was by no means inevitable that Congress would be foolish enough to let Gandhi fuck everything up once again. Anyway, Willingdon- who knew India best- pursued the same policy Indira Gandhi did in the mid-Seventies- viz. beat and lock up the blathershites. Unlike Indira, Willingdon didn't need to worry about being assassinated by some crony of her son. 


The father of the 'holy Fox' had wanted to bring Catholicism and Anglicanism together. The son hoped to promote peace on the continent. Perhaps the Germans and the Poles and the Hungarians- after dividing up Czechoslavakia between them, could come to an agreement regarding eating up the Soviet Union. Sadly, Stalin was quicker off the mark in getting a deal with Hitler to gobble up Poland. What took Halifax & Co by surprise was France's sudden and complete collapse. Britain stood alone.

Why did this not create an opportunity for Gandhi and Congress? The answer is obvious. Gandhi was a fucking cretin. After War was declared he wrote an article saying that the Brits must hand over the Army to Congress before fucking off. This was because Congress is a Hindu party. Hindus are addicted to Ahimsa. Thus, without British protection, Hindu Congress would suffer under the heel of the Muslims and the Punjabis. The problem with saying 'we are shit at fighting' is that though this may be reassuring to an occupying power, it also means that your support in a miliary conflict is not worth having. Beating and imprisonment will keep you quiet. Your people can be recruited to do menial labor for an Army in which more 'martial' races do the fighting. You are welcome to go on hunger strike or to refuse to take a shit or to kiss your Mummy or whatever. Nobody gives a fuck.

Anyway, as in the First World War, so too in the Second- the British Indian Army didn't do particularly well while the Provinces (which were now autonomous) were corrupt and badly run. Famine had returned while Ethnic Cleansing was now State sponsored. Halifax supported Atlee's 'cut and run' policy. India was a shithole. There was neither profit nor honor to be got from there. 


Monday 22 April 2024

Mahesh Rao on Vikram Seth

There was a time when Indians thought that boys who went to a British public school and then Oxbridge were bound to be very special. They would do great things when they returned. Aurobindo was one such. There were other revolutionaries who turned mystic but Aurobindo was in a class of his own. Then people discovered he was boring and stupid. The same thing happened to Nehru. Perhaps, lads who went to America would be different? Sadly no. JP had collected some degrees in the US. He was utterly useless.

With Vikram Seth, however, things might have been different. After all, after British Public (that is private) School and Oxbridge, he did a PhD at Stanford and learned Chinese. Surely, sunny California might have rendered him utile? Sadly, his return to India to write 'Suitable Boy' foreclosed that possibility. But even India was growing and developing. Seth returned to England- an insular island from which Canute turned back Time's wasting tide. 

Mahesh Rao has an article on 'Suitable boy' in Prospect magazine. 


A suitable re-read: What I learned from Vikram Seth’s great novel, second time round
Twenty-two years after A Suitable Boy came out, this masterly novel feels as relevant as ever to modern India

It was shit and painted a distorted picture of India in the Fifties. Why? Seth's Mum was a stenographer with a good job with the railways. She wasn't just a set of ovaries to be married off. During the war, Indians has seen fine English ladies doing clerical work or undertaking nursing duties. In Delhi, the 16 year old daughter of the American Ambassador was bicycling too and from a Hospital where she volunteered.  Girls like Vikram's Mum were admired. Her marriage was 'semi-arranged'. A smart and sensible woman of such fine character was indeed a 'suitable girl' for any self-respecting man who wanted to rise through hard work, enterprise and strong family values. 

Back when Vikram shat out 'suitable', few thought that the Bench- which his mother had adorned for over a decade- would end up with more power than the Legislature. It would be Mummy and her brother Judges, not Rahul Baba, who decriminalized the type of naughtiness Vikram was getting up to.  


It was a moment of shock that firmed up my wavering desire to re-read a novel of almost 1,400 pages. The BBC television adaptation of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy meant that the book was back in the culture pages.

I confess, I wasn't able to watch it through. Why couldn't they put in better looking actors?  

I had a few hazy memories of reading it two years after its publication in 1993. The story of Mrs Rupa Mehra’s quest for a husband for her daughter Lata in the fictional north Indian town of Brahmpur forms the main thread of a great web of interwoven narratives.

None of any great intrinsic interest. I suppose, back then, we might have seen Seth as being like Gurcharan Das- i.e. a champion of private enterprise and American style 'know-how'. But Seth backed away from anything so full throated.  So did Das. He turned out to be a cretin. 

Set in the 1950s, the age of India’s post-independence promise,

when there were good harvests and the Brits still owed India a lot of money 

and published in the 1990s, the era of India’s post-liberalisation fervour, what would it be like to re-read this mammoth work in 2020?

Disillusioning. India has changed for the better. Seth, and the sort of England he represents, has changed for the worse.  

I found an old hardback copy at my parents’ home, the date of purchase pencilled on the first page. As I skimmed over a few passages, I did some mental arithmetic. When I first read this book I was exactly the age of Lata. Now I am the age of Mrs Mehra.

Perhaps Mahesh is non-binary 

Once the jolt of dismay had subsided, this neat reflection of the passing of eras seemed like a strong sign. A re-read was inevitable.

While wearing saree- no?  

I could only express my memories of the novel as feelings, a hazy sense of wellbeing in its capaciousness, an impression of gratifying drift.

It was an easy read. That is true enough. There's a pretty girl. Who will she marry? Since Mrs. Mehra is sensible enough, the answer is- some suitable boy. Mummy and Daddy had just such a marriage. I like kissing Mummy and hugging Daddy.  

While key plot points and characters escaped me, a few images floated into view: musicians tuning their instruments in a courtesan’s home;

as opposed to the patrons tuning their instruments on the courtesans. We appreciated Seth's reticence. Mummy and Daddy may have had sex. That is a topic we'd rather not think about.  

a meeting of a small-town literary society;

standards had fallen since those halcyon days. I once heard of a Bengali Professor of Literature at Columbia or Cornell. There was a rumor that the lady could speak grammatical English. I am happy to say it was wholly unfounded. Back in the Fifties, however, Indians could write good English even if they had trouble speaking it intelligibly.  

a crumbling palace reflected in a river.

as opposed to an open sewer. India continues to progress by leaps and bounds.  

When I asked friends what they remembered of it, they mostly spoke of how they had read it.

Or hadn't. That's the problem with big doorstoppers you take with you on holiday. Having actually read it means you didn't get laid or, at the very least, try hard enough to get laid. 

One friend said she could remember reading it in Shimla in the Himalayan foothills over a long summer vacation, chapters punctuated by currant buns, samosas and tea.

and not getting laid- which is okay if you are a girl.  

Another said he would treat himself to a few pages every night while he wrote his PhD thesis.

he definitely wasn't getting laid.  

Another friend said she read it in the afternoon hush of her home, seated at the dining table as though she was in a library, the book too heavy for her to hold up in bed.

where she wasn't getting laid.  

Enthusiastic re-readers often quote Nabokov: “one cannot read a book, one can only re-read it.”

They don't say that to me. They just say 'I can't read your book. A monkey with a typewriter would have made a better fist of things.' 

A first reading, he argued, is a way of finding our bearings, line by line, locating that world in space and time.

Mahesh read Seth line by line. Gradually, it dawned upon him that he was reading about India. Also, the librarian requested him to kindly not insert tome up rectum.  

True artistic appreciation can only come

if the thing is actually artistic. We don't have to re-read middlebrow shite to appreciate its modest attractions. 

through a later reading, when we are free to take in the work as we would a painting, eyes swooping over the entirety of its surface, picking out details at will. The sense of a book as a broad canvas is apposite for A Suitable Boy. In the foreground would stand a callow university student

a Hindu girl. Her mum will marry her off by the end of the book.  

and her fretful mother,

domineering 

flanked by three suitors in different poses.

No. Three 'interested parties'. But the Muslim isn't very interested- a Hindu bride might be a liability in the Diplomatic service- and the Bengali lacks virility and belongs to a different caste. So, there's only one real offer on the table. 

And the expansive background would be populated by a great array of scenes, many appearing to have little connection with each other but all concerned with the growing pains of a republic,

Fuck off! Vikram is writing about boring middle class Khattris in an inconsequential backwater.  There is some anti-Muslim bigotry- Mians fuck their own sisters, right?- and anti-Brahmin bigotry- Brahmin girls fuck anything on two legs- and anti Jan Sangh bigotry (though 'Justice Chatterjee' is likely to have supported Sir Ashutosh's sprog who founded the BJP) .

from the passage of land reform legislation to a disputed religious site. Having rooted ourselves comfortably in the story, our eyes would be able to linger over the institutional politics of an English department in a small town's college, the dwindling audiences for a courtesan’s music performances or the tanneries and shoe-making industry of Kanpur.

What it lingers on is the utter callousness of 'Mrs Rupa Mehra' and her extended family for those Khattris- i.e. people of their own caste- who had been killed or who had had to flee from Pakistan. Not a single one of them has lifted a finger to provide shelter or seek compensation for their co-religionists.  


However, as I made my way through the novel this time, a different metaphor came to mind. Reading the book today felt like constantly switching between a pair of telescopes. The first is the one that Seth looked through, its lens pointed at India’s Nehruvian journey. And the second is my own, providing a vantage on the era when the book first appeared. About a third of the way through, Mr Justice Chatterji, head of one of its exuberant families, expresses “a great sadness for what had happened to the country he had known since childhood...”

Chatterji wasn't sad that his own people had been and were being slaughtered by the Muslims. How is it not a single refugee has been granted under his capacious roof?  

The distinguished judge’s thoughts are fixed on the ruptures of independence and Partition.

But not on people named Chatetterji or Mukherji who were being killed or who, having fled East Pakistan, were now homeless.  

But the same sentiment was often expressed in the months before the novel’s publication, following the 1992 destruction of the Babri mosque by an extremist Hindu mob in Ayodhya, a pivotal moment in modern Indian history.

This cunt, like Seth, has no objection to Hindus being slaughtered- e.g. in Kashmir Valley. He only cares about mosques. Why won't he convert to Islam? Is it because he is a gay?  

And when I returned to those words in August 2020, in the next room images from the site of the demolished mosque flashed across a television screen. Sanctioned by the Indian Supreme Court, a temple will now be built on the site and Prime Minister Narendra Modi was participating in the ground-breaking ceremony, stating that the “day was as significant as the day India gained independence.” Under the festive images, India’s world-beating daily coronavirus infection numbers scrolled across the screen.

This cunt shat himself because only mosques are good. Temples are very evil. Have you watched 'Indiana Jones- Temple of Doom'?  

The same dual vantage provides a new dimension to the novel’s Zamindari Abolition Act,

Seth shows a Muslim female from a Zamindari family valiantly defending the right of Ashraf Muslims to suck the blood of the Hindu tenants. The bisexual nutter Seth approves of, has a Congress-wallah Dad who is seeking to rise by clinging to the coat-tails of Rafi Ahmed Kidwai. 

which allows compulsory acquisition of landlord estates for redistribution to tenant farmers. Seth departs from the legislation’s arid clauses and noble objectives to take in the linguistic pyrotechnics that it engenders in court, the chicanery that ensues across towns and villages to avoid its consequences, and the friendships and family ties that are ruptured by its intent.

Or vice versa. Seth's account is ignorant. Nehru's autobiography had shown that at least since the early Twenties, the land reform movement was led by Hindu preachers. The masses understood that the Muslim dominated administration had to be dismantled. Nehru explains that he will oppose this. That's what gave him salience in the Doab- among corrupt cunts and blathershites.  

It is a masterful example of fiction vividly bringing to life a reformist policy to reverse hundreds of years of entrenched social and economic inequality.

No. Power to do land reform had been handed to the elected Premiers in the Provinces in 1937. What was important was that Nehru chose Hindus and kept out of alliances with clever Muslim barristers like Yunus in Bihar or Fazl ul Haq in Bengal.  

Less than three years prior to publication of the novel, a real-life landmark policy had been announced by the Indian government. The implementation of the recommendations of the Mandal Commission relating to quotas for government jobs and higher education would transform the conversation about caste-based positive discrimination.

Dalits wept as their traditional oppressors rose.  

Today these conversations of how, or indeed whether, to address historic inequalities continue to dominate the political agenda and Seth’s work continues to feel relevant to the state-sponsored or abetted land grabs of successive governments.

Rubbish! Seth gave us a Jane Austen novel in a post-Independence India seen through rose-tinted glasses. His book was like one of those interminable BBC TV series about the Raj which were broadcast during the Eighties. Then Seth's book was turned into a shitty TV serial featuring ugly actors.  My memory is that Art Malik got his first break playing a wog in some Raj TV series. Nobody's career has been advanced by participation in 'Suitable'. 

How has the book’s language fared over the intervening years? What struck me most was the way in which Seth’s prose revels in India’s multiple Englishes.

There is Babu English and there is Bureaucratic English but they are one and the same because Babus are Bureaucrats.  

In the nineties, Indian literature in English was still beset by questions of representation and authenticity, stemming from the mere fact of writing in English; mercifully, today there is less of an impulse to revisit those debates over whether or not English is really an Indian language.

It isn't. Rahul's Hindi is better than his English.  

Seth has enormous fun with Indian English usage,

he truly is the Indian Doestoevsky- if Doestoevesky was actually Noel Coward.  

whether in film notices (“A Rainfall of Melody, Acclaimed, Applauded, Admired by All”), tourist brochures (“the palace was not less than a heaven where beauty and charms were scattered freely”) or papers presented to literary societies (“Eliot: Whither?”) Family letters, religious disquisitions, court judgments, blithe rhyming couplets: it seems like no form of syntax or cadence is left unexplored.

No. Only limp wristed shite is explored. Voice it out for yourself. You will sound like a mincing catamite.  

“What use is English?” asks Maan,

who fucks the bloke he will try to kill 

the indulged son of a powerful politician while chatting to a farmer on a train. “If you talk in English, you are a king,” comes the response.

Sethji is writing very deep book. It must have been lodged at least 8 inches up his large intestine.  

Today English can probably stake a much greater claim to being the language of professional opportunity,

Which is why England has fallen so far behind Singapore 

accessible to more Indians than ever before, and has been annexed and moulded into potent amalgams with different Indian languages, the ubiquitous modern lingo of TV shows, advertising and tweets.

English doesn't matter. Hindi does. Modi's Hindi is okay. He will get a third term. But then Nehru's Hindi, not his having been to Harrow, is what got him the top job. There's a reason Mahatma Gandhi took the trouble to learn Hindi. On the other hand, if Rahul wants to stay in Indian politics, he had better learn Malayalam. 

But Seth concerns himself with languages other than English too.

He learnt Chinese to do his PhD on Chinese demographics. Nothing came of it. Still, the boy had a high IQ. Pity he was a typical Khattri bigot- albeit a bisexual one.  

The theme of the loss of the linguistic and artistic traditions of Urdu in a post-Partition landscape recurs through the novel.

The truth was even Muslims outside urban areas didn't speak Urdu in Bihar or UP. Listen to a speech by Akhilesh. How many Urdu words does he use? Modi uses many because he is a Gujarati speaking Hindustani. But Akhilesh speaks in exactly the same way that rural Muslims and Yadavs speak. The guy knows which side his bread is buttered on. An immigrant from Pakisant, like Sahir, might drone on about how we killed Gandhi and Ghalib, but the Nehrus were one of a handful of Hindu families which spoke Urdu. Even there, the wives- like Kamala- were Hindi speakers. Also, if daughter is marrying Muslim- which is what Vijaylaxmi did- some Mahatma will break up the marriage and find suitable Brahmin boy. This made Khattris very jelly.  

Unusually for an Indian novel written in English,

book is not about Mummy and Daddy and Nannee and Phupi and Soosoo and Tutu. I'm kidding. No such novel can exist. At least, Seth does not depict himself fucking his brother the way Arundhati does (being Gay he didn't need to lust after sister the way Salman did in 'Midnight') . But that is also why he couldn't get Booker. Sad.  

Seth is a careful signposter of language, not only consistently indicating whether a character is speaking in Hindi, Urdu or English, but also pointing out a change in Hindi dialect or accent.

What happens when nice Hindu boy learns a few Urdu words? He stabs his bum-chum. The lesson is clear. Stay the fuck away from Muslims. Also, all Brahmin girls are sluts.  

In doing so, the impression we get is of the rippling, roiling transformations of “Hindi” as we move around the fictional state of Purva Pradesh and further afield. This is in stark opposition to what Professor Alok Rai calls “artificially sanskritised Hindi,” a monolith that “lays claim to the real (but also mythical) excellences of ancient Indian culture” and which is so bound up with a particular type of “culturally exclusive, socially divisive and ultimately upper caste and anti-democratic politics.”

Rai is the grandson of Premchand- i.e. a Kayastha. Being 'sickular' he is cool with Tamils speaking pure Tamil or Pakistanis having to speak Persianized Urdu. His problem is with Hindi speaking Brahmin Pundits, from certain lineages, speaking Hindi the way their ancestors did.  Anyway, since Rai and Seth- however much they hate Brahmins- are considered 'forward caste', whereas Modi is 'backward', they can go fuck themselves.

Language aside, critics today might take issue with the relevance of a book with a marriage plot,

The Mum was important. A stenographer  with the Railways in Calcutta who becomes a Chief Justice and member of the Law Commission is worth commemorating even if she did pick up a degree from Loretto. Interestingly, the husband too had vocational training. Neither was a blathershite or virtue signaling cunt. 

grousing that even the mention of Indian arranged marriages

Indian arranged marriages feature astrologers and professional match makers. This was a case of a guy with a diploma in boot making getting hitched to a steno-typist. The stars didn't matter. The couple would rise by hard work. 

is to tumble into a pit of clichés.

i.e. the place where Mahesh most likes to wallow 

While there may have been a time when marriage could be crafted into a satisfactory metaphor for order and stability, surely that time has passed?

Mahesh's Granny used to beat the fuck out of his Grandfather.  His Mum blew up his Daddy on their honeymoon night. That is why Mahesh thinks marriage can't symbolize order and stability.  

This, however, would be a misunderstanding of the continued importance of marriage as the fulcrum of Indian society.

In Amrika, marriage is not fulcrum of Society. Sodomy is.  

Today the questions may cover wider ground,

Mahesh may marry goat. Their honeymoon may cover a lot of ground depending on how frisky the goat happens to be.  

encapsulating who we ought to marry,

goat should not be of Hindutva type. Also it should have dick. Mahesh has somewhat higher standards than Mrs. Rupa Mehra 

who is legally permitted to marry, whether we should marry at all—but for the most part, marriage remains the elemental constituent of society.

I suppose the cunt means most peeps are 'born in wedlock'. Sadly what constituents a society relates to what defends it or pays for its defense.

Yes, people arrange to marry for companionship or to start families, but a vigilantly constructed endogamy remains the way power is consolidated, wealth is shared and social mobility is sought.

Nonsense! Nobody gives a shit about the caste of your husband or wife. Feroze wasn't a Brahmin. Neither was Sonia. That doesn't change the fact that Rahul is a Brahmin, while Muhammad Ali Jinnah's descendants are Parsi.  

The recent Netflix show Indian Matchmaking lit up social media with its carefully edited idiosyncrasies of professional matchmaking, generating a deluge of memes and snark.

The matchmaker kept saying 'lower your expectations. You really aren't as cute or young as you think.' What was wrong with that?  

But stories on social media also revealed the continued pressure on young people to marry in conventional ways

Mummy tried to make Mahesh marry a non-goat.  

and the resulting conflict, ruined family relationships, and physical and mental health problems.

Which is why it is important to 'beat your mother while she is still young'. You look a fool blaming some toothless hag for the way your goat husband ruined your life by eating all your precious manuscripts. I'm not saying that's what happened to me. It's the sort of thing which could happen to anybody.  

It may have been a foregone conclusion in 1950s India that Lata’s family would flatly reject her Muslim suitor.

But there was little point flatly rejecting her Muslim rapist if they lived in a Muslim majority area.

But in 2020, an Indian jewellery brand has felt the need to withdraw an advertisement featuring a Hindu wife and her Muslim mother-in-law after a storm of online outrage and protests from Hindutva activists outside some of its stores.

But in 1950 plenty of Hindus were still having to runaway from Pakistan probably because of all the nice necklaces their rapists' mummies wanted to give them. 

In a grimly predictable twist, the Seth adaptation, aired in India on Netflix, has itself been caught up in a controversy: a scene showing Lata and her Muslim boyfriend kissing on the premises of a temple formed the basis of a police complaint, registered by a member of the youth wing of the governing BJP, against executives of Netflix India for “hurting religious sentiments.”

Kissing should be confined to mosques. Sodomy should only be depicted as occurring with the Vatican.  

This coincided with the Uttar Pradesh government’s recent promulgation of an ordinance prohibiting religious conversion on a “fraudulent” basis, which has since been used to target inter-faith marriages.

In Nehru's time things were simpler. As Mahatma Gandhi noticed, Congress workers simply slaughtered Muslims regardless of whom they loved or whether they were kissing in temple or fucking in mosque.  

And of course, along with religion, caste continues to be paramount.

Mahesh is of the wrong caste. Goat is refusing to marry him.  

While Mrs Rupa Mehra deals with the issue of caste as though it is routine and immutable, coolly enumerating the castes she finds acceptable, the fact remains that even in 2011 the proportion of inter-caste marriages remained lower than 6 per cent.

Because 'jatis' evolved to solve 'the stable marriage problem'. Mahesh thinks it is only because of social attitudes that more Merchant Bankers arent' marrying coolies.  

One of the most arresting—and truthful—sentences in the novel appears when Lata visits a tannery:

tanneries are smelly.  

“somewhere within her had risen an atavistic revulsion against the whole polluting business of hides and carrion and everything associated with leather.” Seth denies his heroine, the representative of a so-called new age, any kind of fig leaf to mask her caste prejudice and presents the ugly line with little warning. He knew it to be true of millions of upper-caste homes then, just as it is now.

She'd have been looked up to if she married a guy who owned a shoe factory, not one who worked in it.  

As I made my way to the final chapters, weeks after I had begun, it struck me that the novel’s most prevalent character is perhaps the Indian constitution itself.

Which has had the fuck amended to it, when it wasn't suspended. 

This was a document forged broadly by elite consensus but which aimed to codify fundamental legal rights in a profoundly hierarchical, diverse and unequal society—and to go even further and also address questions of social and economic justice, the state’s equidistance from all faiths, and access to good education and public health.

But Ambedkar dismissed his contribution to it as 'hack work'.  

In spite of its flaws, the spirit of the constitution gusts through the novel as a profound aspiration, the only dependable blueprint for a nation that survived such a traumatic birth. It is present in the shoe manufacturers’ strike in their fight against the traders, in the public life carved out by the female relatives of the Nawab of Baitar, and in the jockeying of candidates preparing for the first elections of independent India.


“It was the early winter of 1950 and India had been free for over three years.” Appearing on the fourth page of the book, the word “over” in this sentence is an accomplished sleight of hand.

No. It was historically accurate. India had been free since the autumn of 1947.  

It leads us to expect a significant passage of time and then we are caught short by the breathtaking newness of the nation.

No we are not. On the other hand, maybe Mahesh got caught with his goat. No doubt that was very breathtaking indeed. 

Seth writes about this newness with his poet’s rhythms, expansive knowledge and mischievous wit, but also endowed with four decades of hindsight.

Seth could have written about things which were new. But what was new was an Indian administration at the Center. The Delhi portions of his book are shit. Daddy attended St. Stephens but, back then, it was a shit college. Then Daddy went to England and learned how to make boots.  New Delhi wasn't interested in him or his stenographer of a wife.  ایاز قَدر خود بَشَنْاس. Ayaz should know his place. 

Revisiting the book, I was equipped with almost three more decades of hindsight. A few days after I had finished my re-read, I walked down a street in Bangalore, a high wall running down its length. Tiles were set into the wall at regular intervals, aimed at dissuading men from stopping there to urinate. Normally these kinds of tiles feature the images of Hindu deities but here some of the tiles were different: they depicted Jesus, the Virgin Mary, a mosque-like structure with a crescent moon hanging above it. The tiles showing Hindu gods were all intact. The others had all been defaced, their surfaces chipped, cracked or in some cases almost entirely gouged out.

Did Mahesh bash in those tiles with his dick? That was naughty of him. Still, hopefully, nice goat will love-jihad him or, if he demurs, stab him to death

In A Suitable Boy, the temple-goers prevail in the matter of a disputed holy site.

They killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims and chased more away. India was a disputed political site. The Muslims got Pakistan. The rest was for non-Muslims.  

To mark this triumph the Raja of Marh orders a massive Shiva-linga to be carried from the banks of the Ganga to the temple site, eschewing winches and pulleys, and insisting on 200 men pulling it up the ghats for dramatic effect. As the men strain and struggle with the weight of the linga, the ropes snap and it rolls back over the steps, injuring men as it crashes back into the river.

Vikram was interested in lingas.  

“The Shiva-linga rested on the bed of the Ganga once more, the turbid waters passing over it, its bloodstains slowly washed away.” In the grand tableau that the book presents to a re-reader, this is the image I am most likely to recall.

When Mahesh first read the book he identified with Lata. Now he identifies with Mrs. Mehra. Quite naturally, it is this crude bit of propaganda which sticks in his mind. Still, one day, he may make a goat very happy. Not perhaps a very choosy goat. But, it will be a goat better able to digest Seth's oeuvre than myself.