Monday, September 19, 2005

The (Un)Thinking Indian?

In an interesting op-ed in today's Indian Express, Ananya Vajpeyi engages V.S. Naipaul's recent assertion that "there are no thinkers in India," and William Dalrymple's recent comment that good Indian writing in English will "increasingly come to be the preserve of the diaspora." Vajpeyi's article is an important and necessary contribution to what needs to be an ongoing discussion, and she makes some good points, particularly towards the end when she says:

"The fact is, whether in Hindi or in English or in any other major Indian language, we are patently not in the midst of a cultural renaissance, or on the brink of a revolution in ideas. It will not do to dismiss Naipaul and Dalrymple as “outsiders” who cannot appreciate the thought or writing of at least a handful of people in a billion-strong nation. They are talented men who have spent their respective literary careers engaging India with a degree of seriousness that not many native intellectuals or creative writers can match."

But I can't help chuckling when she follows this up with:

"If they are both pointing to a paucity of quality intellection, a scarcity of creative self-expression, a lack of thinkers looking 50 years ahead and anticipating a changed world, then we need to take stock of the Indian mindscape."

or earlier in the piece, when she says:

"Who can say that our leaders stand head and shoulders above the tumult of the times, and look out into futurity?"

Umm... What's with the esoteric, SAT words?

Anyway, there's something slightly more problematic with Ananya Vajpeyi's piece than just words that appear to be made up. Here is the central question she poses:

"We return, then, to a perennial search: the search for a philosopher-statesman."

Now, if she had read her Lilla, she would know that this is exactly the wrong kind of search for us to engage in. Philosophers make terrible statesmen precisely because they are philosophers. This has been true ever since Plato first went to Syracuse. In fact, I would argue that a lot of India's current misfortune stems from the fact that India was led by such philosopher-statesmen during the nation's infancy.

To be fair to Vajpeyi though, she may get the question wrong, but she does get the answer right:

"A clamorous cabal of squabbling schoolmen, shrill ideologues and paid consultants will not steer this ship out to the high seas of growth, stability and equity."

Amen to that.

No comments: