The previous Nandy work I “attempted to read” was The Tao of Cricket. I couldn’t get past the fifth page and reckoned the book to be high funda nonsense about cricket. Of course I was naive.
I have had the opportunity in this final year of my engineering life to do a course under Dr. GN Devy. And when a Sahitya Akademi Award winner reckons a book to be the best piece of work to come out of India in the last 50 or so years, I suppose it is worth a read.
In these two essays, Nandy discusses how the growth of colonialism in India and the responses to it were unique. The British occupation of India was hardly marked by any bloodshed and even in the history books we hardly read about any sustained violent response to the colonizers, as opposed to the colonization of Africa and of Latin America. The first essay discuss at depth the psychology adopted by the British to conquer India using the metaphors of masculinity and feminity. The British believed in the superiority of the masculine traits over the feminine. It can be argued that this ideology came into being with King Henry VIII saying goodbye to Pope and the setting up of the Church of England, though why this happened is another story. Thus, there was this projection of virile young men who went about civilizing the savages. These young men faced a dilemma in India as we were not a country of savages. Read the book and find out how they resolved their dilemma
The essays further highlight the responses from within India to this British image of hyper-masculinty in the form of the early socio-religious reform movements and the military nationalism of the educated middle-class youth. These movements had an inherent flaw to them as they, in their ideology, acknowledged the British superiority by attempting to pay the British in their own coin.
It is here that the Mahatma came into picture and created the powerful androgynous image consistent with the philosophy of Hinduism to
fight ‘cure the British’, as colonialism was not a one sided affair. It affected the British equally.
The second essay discusses the search of identity within the western and the colonized worlds in the aftermath of colonialism as there was exchange of ideas and collision of cultures. The author explains using the lives of Rudyard Kipling and Sri Aurobindo as strikingly similar yet hugely different examples.
Vividly written, this is one of the most interesting pieces of non-fiction I have read. The language and the references would be a little difficult for the casual reader to understand easily, but once you get started, it makes a gripping read. Just over one hundred pages long and the cost being 150 rupees, highly recommended buy for anyone with interest in the colonial rule, the Mahatma’s philosophy or India, in general.