India: A Million Mutinies Now

A look at India explores the ways different individuals have been affected by the numerous frictions present in Indian society, the contradictions and compromises of religious faith, and more. Reprint. NYT.

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2 Responses to “India: A Million Mutinies Now”

  • "jjpill" says:
    19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    A personal view, March 10, 2002
    By 
    “jjpill” (Evanston, Il United States) –

    This review is from: India: A Million Mutinies Now (Paperback)
    This is a big book about India and its people. When you start to read this book you indubitably bring your own baggage of views and expectations, which color your subsequent grasp of the book and the picture it presents. I am an Indian expat and like many other expats, I am often called on to present my take on my homeland. Having grown up in India I could relate to my immediate experiences and my family. I like most Indians had no sense of history(other than the post independence interpretation found in most books on India), how they came to be and where my people are in relation to the world. India is fragmented into so many religions, classes &castes it is almost impossible for an ordinary Indian to grasp the whole.
    This book by Naipaul attempts to paint a picture of the whole and define the crux of what it means to be an Indian(a very modern concept). Naipaul is perfectly suited to this task, with his curious mind and very sharp observations. After having followed India over three decades, he does have a handle on the mentality of an Indian, at the same time he relates to the wider world and has a sense of perspective. This book presents a collage of people from different parts of India, different classes, castes, religion. He attempts to find out what drives them within the wider social context and how they see themselves, their values and their expectations and how they are standing up to the changing times. His portraits are clear, sympathetic and samples the wide spectrum of India. The people we meet are a varied group, a lower caste former Naxalite leader from the south, to a former Nawab of Lucknow, gangsters from Bombay, a disillusioned Sikh, a Bengali Boxwallah… An access into the minds of such a wide cast of people is definitely the best thing about the book. You could take from this selection what interests you; strange cultural practices, triumphs and tragedies of a slum dweller or a struggling Brahman. Fascinating details that an Indian might not spend a second thought on are illuminated by this author of Indian origin. In spite of so many people and interviews, the narrative is for the most part easy going and does not leave you stranded. This is because there is the underlying theme to the book I talked about earlier and Naipaul’s skills a great travel writer.
    Naipaul’s quest is not truly an Indian one, i.e. it is not a quest that an Indian would undertake, as he/she is ensconced in a rich cultural mythology that gives a sense to every ones place which most people accept in the normal course of life or are frustrated by its limitations, but learn to accept it as part of the `tension of living’. Naipaul’s quest is an occidental mind’s attempt to know India. That is not taking way from it any of its value, as from his unique perspective he sees things that others easily miss. At the same time in many parts of the book, he fails to grasp the underlying thoughts and world view of each of the Indians he meets. He is more in his element when he meets people of the educated class in the cities and towns but fails for the most part in getting to know the peasant. This is sometimes only too obvious when Naipaul meets some of the people to be interviewed in the plush surroundings of his hotel, which some of his interviewees are probably setting foot for the first time in their lives and which they would be talking about long after the author has gone. This is where his occidental mind fails, it fails to see the Indian peasant from how he sees himself and has a condescending respect for his hard life.
    In spite of its very few limitations, this is the best book on India I have read(I rank it higher than his earlier book, An Area of Darkness). It is sincere and sympathetic and you do come from it feeling you know the people of India better. This is also an important book that probes the Indian psyche in this time of change. Indians for the most part are opening up to the world and are bucking up to see a lot of changes in their lives & culture, mostly irredeemable.

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  • Timothy Ritter says:
    59 of 63 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Exhaustively researched, finely crafted, not to be missed., November 5, 1998
    By 
    Timothy Ritter (Colorado) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

    This review is from: India: A Million Mutinies Now (Paperback)
    India, A Million Mutinies Now is like going to India with a friend who knows everybody, and takes you to meet everybody: holy men, politicians, authors, princes, revolutionaries, gangsters, women’s magazine publishers… At first, the prospect of so many interviews and anecdotes seemed daunting, but as I read on I found that somehow Naipaul was able to drop one after a few pages and go on to the next almost seamlessly, just as a skilled conversationalist moves from one group to another at a party. It’s a testament to Naipaul’s considerable ability as a traveler and writer.
    Although the interviews and mini-biographies are all about his subjects and their lives, there is ever a sense of his presence, at once gentle and piercing, the antithesis of the loud, gauche Western tourist. He is critical without being crass, intellectual without being dreary. When he’s finished, a portrait of considerable depth and color has emerged.
    I got exactly what I wanted from it: a lot of perspective and innumerable fascinating details. Like the U.S., India is a pluralistic nation limited by its bigotry. Like Israel, it is sitting on a powder keg of ethnic aspirations. Like China, it has way too many people.
    How they cope (or do not cope) with that last problem is a recurrent topic. A family of ten can live together in a 10’X10′ room by working and sleeping in shifts. A talented young professional must turn down a good job because it requires nine hours of daily commuting through Calcutta. People are loath to walk outside because their clothing and skin gets begrimed with dust and soot in a matter of minutes. Washing is difficult because the supply of water is intermittent, as is the supply of electricity.
    Naipaul presents basic facts like these, which any journalist could provide, but then builds upon this framework vignettes and tableaux that are often surprising or ironic or astonishing. India has perhaps the largest collection of slums in the world. Yet, for legal reasons, their film industry (also the largest in the world) must build their own slum if they want to depict a slum in a film. The most cursory reading of Indian history will tell you that the priestly class of the Hindus (brahmins) must keep away from the latrine cleaning class (sweepers). But did you know that a brahmin could be “polluted” by a menstruating woman at a distance of up to fifteen feet? Or that brahmins should only drink water that comes directly from the earth (not from a pipe)? Or that some poorer brahmins, with the rising wages of sweepers, have been reduced to cleaning their own latrines?
    There is much affection and empathy in Naipaul’s account, as in the description of a family of five riding together on a motorcycle: “father on the main saddle, one child between his arms, another behind him holding on to his waist, mother on the carrier at the back, sitting sideways, with the baby.” One sees in a glance the flirting with catastrophe that is necessarily a part of most Indians’ daily struggle.

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