Nirad Chaudhuri (Was Re: Greek and Latin in India)

Dominik Wujastyk ucgadkw at UCL.AC.UK
Mon Feb 16 17:33:04 UTC 1998

On Sun, 15 Feb 1998, S Krishna wrote:

> I find his [Chaudhuri's] works a more academic version of Katherine
> Mayo's "Mother India" or Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses", people whose
> main incentive for writing seems to be indulging in invective...

Sorry, I can't let that one pass.  First, freedom of speech allows you to
impute "incentive" to whomever you like, of course.  But if you expect to
have your claims taken seriously in an academic forum like INDOLOGY, you
can't just present condemnations of that kind without justification.  You
have to back up your claim with genuine scholarship on the topic,
especially if your claim is that controversial.

At the risk of starting a flame war on a topic rather inappropriate for
INDOLOGY, I have to say that until Khomeni issued his fatwah, it never
occurred to me, or apparently most people including Muslims in the
Middle-East or India, that Rushdie's book was anything but a witty,
flamboyant, funny, and closely-observed piece of well-written fiction,
very much in the vein of his earlier Midnight's Children. I have always
felt that his editors were rather lenient with him, and that the book
would have been much better if it had been about one-third shorter.  But
that's another issue.  Khomeni issued his fatwah for his own reasons which
seem to have been determined to some extent, at least, but the very local
political situation in which he found himself in Qom, rather than by the
contents of Rushdie's book. Rushdie's book does contain a lot of prose
lampooning various people, public and private, contemporary and
historical; this material is by and large extremely funny, and was
explicitly intended to be so.  Those who first reacted negatively to the
book, like some of Mrs Thatcher's supporters, tended to be seen at the
time as lacking in a sense of humour or the ability to take a tease in
good part.  The book is certainly not full of invective, nor does that
appear to form any part of Rushdie's programme as a writer.

Katherine Mayo is a very interesting case.  I don't know much about her
background or motives, and I shall certainly take time now to find out a
bit more.  But I did read her book years ago, and remember coming away
with the sense of someone who had come far closer than most people to the
disease and poverty in the India of her time, and who found it an affront
to her sense of common humanity.  Her goal in writing Mother India, she
said in her introduction (p.18), was to hold up a mirror to India.  She
went on, "I am fully aware of the resentments I shall incur: of the
accusations of muck-raking; of injustice; of material-mindedness; of lack
of sympathy; of falsehood perhaps; perhaps of prurience.  But the fact of
having seen conditins and their bearings, and of being in a position ot
present them, would seem to deprive one of the right to indulge a personal
reluctance to incur consequences."  She was writing about life-threatening
issues of public-health and education, particularly as they affected
untouchables, poor women, and children.  Her book is strongly-worded in
places, and she had views about Gandhi which could not have been popular
amongst his supporters in 1927 when her book was published. I can think of
several criticisms one could make about her work, but althought the book
does contain a great deal of open criticsm of social conditions in India,
having her "main incentive in writing ... indulging in invective" does not
seem to be borne out by an actual reading of her book.

All the best,

Dr Dominik Wujastyk        Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine
email: d.wujastyk at      183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE, England
<URL:>                FAX: 44 171 611 8545

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