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India: A Million Mutinies Paperback – 3 Jan 1998
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V.S. Naipaul s fascinating account of his journey around India approaches this shifting, changing land from a variety of perspectives. Through interviews with people from many different walks of life, he builds an oral history of a country constantly on the move.
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Reading between the lines, however, you can tell that Naipaul has mixed feelings about India. Apart from the revulsion at the filth and decay, he can not hide his despair of the Indian character. He sees Indians as self-destructive, always letting unnecessary foibles and squabbles obstruct progress. For Naipaul the class-warriors of the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu have replaced a wise culture with a wasteland, the self-regarding idleness of Bengalis has turned Calcutta into a sewer and the Sikhs of Northwest India are persecuted because, deep down, that is their raison d'être.
It's a point of view.
The format of "India" is almost oral history or anthropology. He lets Indians, mostly middle- and upper-class, tell the stories of their lives. Gradually these tales coalesce in the reader's mind and Naipaul's collage of caste, class and ethnicity emerges. The language is clear and engaging; it is hard to imagine a more entertaining introduction to the social processes at work in modern India. Naipaul's own viewpoint emerges gradually between the lines. And he is honest about his own place in the book, not glamorising his trip with chichi exoticism like your average poncey travel-writer, but just making himself a man who travels from hotel to hotel and talks to Indians.
The only pieces I felt slightly unsure about were those (admittedly fascinating but somewhat negative) chapters about Sikhs: perhaps these reflect the time at which the book was written (it was published first in 1988).
I'ld recommend this unreservedly to anyone interested in the sub-Continent.
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