V. S. Naipaul has died

Like many I have only read Naipaul’s nonfiction. His genius, as a literary intellectual, was to distill intuitions and observations that many of us have, but compress them into more economical and clear prose.

But, in my opinion, literary intellectuals’ genius lay not in uncovering new things, but unmasking what we already knew. Therefore Naipaul never presented me a startling insight that was totally novel, and much of his analysis I later rejected upon deeper study and thought. And yet if the question is the answer, then his prose definitely opened many mental doors.

Of course, others can speak to his fiction.

76 thoughts on “V. S. Naipaul has died”

  1. Bit of a fun fact, Razib. Naipaul always claimed Brahmin ancestors, at least on his mother’s side. If Wikipedia is to be believed, his antecedents originate from the Bhumihar caste. They claim Brahmin status, but by all accounts they appear to be a peasant caste that eventually received the right to call themselves “Brahmin.” Seems they were a relatively prominent landowning community at one point, and had somewhat higher than average literacy.


    Regardless of his forbears, a giant of literature has passed. The Caribbean (as much as Naipaul would have hated to be considered one of its sons) has lost perhaps its most prominent and powerful voice. RIP.

    1. Would be interesting to see how genetically similar/dissimilar Bhumihars are to other UC communities of the region like Maithil Brahmins, Rajputs or Kayasthas.

          1. Bhumihars are involved with Ranvir Sena, a nasty militia known for massive atrocities on Dalits in Bihar. My opinion/experience is generally groups closer to Dalit origin themselves are perpetrators of caste violence. Can’t imagine proper Brahmins being involved in something gory like killing Dalits. Hence I tend to side with the non bhumihar Brahmins of Bihar that assign a low status or do not accept bhumihars as Brahmins.

          2. Do Bhumihars look Brahmin.

            One of the great eye-rolling moments of my life was at a expat dinner in Uganda and the Indian chaps were telling the American girl “never trust a dark Brahmin.” She was so mortified and so was I..

          3. @Razib
            Thanks for that information.

            They might be involved in more caste violence because they are major land-owners and therefore have much greater contact with and power over lower caste people.
            Don’t think there is anything inherent about other Brahmins that would prevent them from acting similarly in the same situation.

      1. Prats

        There is something inherent in Brahmins not being involved in Dalit maiming… i.e. built in to the fact that Brahmin doesn’t traditionally get in the dirty business of landlording. I understand in history this had happened in different contexts. Generally those Brahmins lose Brahmin status, as possibly happened with the Bhumihars. But on my personal interpretation, there is something that betrays a more recent Rajput and/or ascendant Dalit subcaste origin than a downwardly mobile Brahmin origin to Bhumihars that explains their involvement in killing business.

        I’m not sure how genetically close Bihar or Maithili Brahmins are to Bhumihars. My suspicion is that they are not exactly close at all. They can appear close on these garbage models with two/three nodes that use migrationist models for everything from 9000bc forwards including Indus Valley proper. Otherwise the two are separate endogamous communities with proper delineation going back at least 1500 years. Bhumihars can have made themselves closer to Brahmins via acquiring Brahmin females (by force) or Brahmins can have done same by marrying women from communities down the caste ladder. Plotting close using components that are yeons older than the ethnogenesis of various Indian communities is not indicative of common or more recent shared ancestry. Rather focus of these models should shift to the real genetic differences that have resulted from the drift of centuries or millennia of indigenously located endogamy.

        Otherwise apparently the score of a Punjabi Dalit is the same as a Telugu Reddy. So does that mean a Punjabi Chamar moved southeast and was accepted as a higher caste? This kind of reasoning and modeling is absurd and lazy. People and communities are not cake batter and the components like steppe iran_n etc are not cake batter ingredients that people are like “oh you and I are 50% sugar and 50% vanilla, we will call ourselves and our progeny the Brahmin people… No those people are 40% sugar, 20% butter and 40% vanilla, they are the Kayastha people” lol.

        The ratio of genetic component knowledge to explain the Indian subcontinent at community levels is negligible to what is there for Europeans, both in quantity and time and spatial resolution. Until then all the genetic models are just force fitting into old 19th century models of “Australoids first out of Africa (AASI) then dark skinned proto Caucasoid/Veddoid brings Dravidian and wheat farming then light skinned Caucasoid brings Aryan language and religion”. Genetics has so far not given any new or revised insight imho that wasn’t already being purported a century ago with craniometric pseudo science. Not for Indians. For white people it has delivered well. Fifteen years ago who would have imagined dark skinned indigenes of Europe with colored eyes mixed with light skinned middle eastern and selectively created modern white phenotype? For them it has given good insights, for us we are doing GIGO still. Razib has his own opinions and this stuff is his bread and butter. I am also a man of science so I would get sensitive if someone called my work GIGO. You can ask Razib about how do Bhumihar and Brahmins plot, but it is akin to asking a creationist how does a new fossil find fit into the creationist model.

    2. Does Naipaul refer to Nepali origin as well? Did he once visit his ancestral village near Gorakhpur, UP?

      He has been in the limelight for a long time, first as author of a famous novel called A House for Mr. Biswas. He was a celebrity writer when you have very few international non-white celebrities. He is a giant among Nobel lit Laureates. The best among English writers of his generation. And from the colonies. I followed his career over the years with admiration. He has some mannerisms which make him dear to me. RIP Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul.

    3. Bhumihars call themselves bhu-bramhan. They r not allowed to accept bhiksha or be priest. I am Bhumihar too. They used to be rich landowners but their situation is similar to bramhins today, pathetic.

  2. I have mixed feelings about Naipaul. On the one hand, he was certainly a great writer, as proven by works such as “The Mystic Masseur” and “A House For Mr. Biswas”. On the other hand, he wrote and said some pretty obnoxious things, not only about Islam but also about Africans and women. In reading his obits yesterday, I learned that he had once said that no female writer could ever be equal to him, simply by virtue of being female. That is not the kind of remark that you can get away with in this day and age.

    I suppose it is possible to admire someone’s writing while finding their politics reprehensible.

    1. Very complex chap
      Had deep complexes vis a vis the Ummah; hated it but his happiest marriage was to a daughter of the Ummah.

      Maybe the only way he could psychically resolve the issue..

    1. Yes, Lady Nadira Naipaul. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t make very bad arguments about Islam. He was called out on that by Edward Said.

  3. Razib, would be better if you described which part of his legacy you rejected.

    Personally I find his India trilogy to be really brilliant – A Million Mutinies Now is still relevant after almost 30 years. I wish he wasn’t so anti Islamic though – that to me was his big blind spot.

    1. Naipaul had the intellectual luxury afforded of looking at Indian civilization trajectory from an outside upbringing while being of Indian roots. He kind of represents the fountain head of the evolution of a hazy sickularist or obscure “it isn’t that bad is it?” worldview while one lives within India to the NRI Hindutvad that evolves when outside of India. A very real impetus for the change is lack of Indian Muslims in day to day life in diaspora. Unless an Indian Hindu in diaspora is super Muslimphile, the natural interaction that happened in India with your Muslim barber or autowala or colleague etc doesn’t happen in the disproportionately upper caste Hindu diaspora. A Hindu in India is unable to understand Owaisi or obstruction to Ramjanambhoomi or various other issues because he sees the Owaisi on tv but then his Muslim barber is apolitical and just wants a peaceful life and says “arre bana lo mandir vaha humko ka lenadena”. Except the Hindu abroad is able to discern that the same apolitical guy can, given a Friday sermon, be out on the street baying for your blood at worst, or at best, after a Friday sermon, go out vote for corrupt crooks (generally Hindu politicians of the local strong caste).

      Islam has barely contributed anything of positive value to the Indian civilization. Theologically, spiritually, materially, it is at best a neutral and at worst the death knell. Politically it has only served to fracture an already fragmented society. The political part is very important because it defines the recognition of the lack of positive contribution and signals the willingness to start atoning for the past karmas. Matter of fact it isn’t just Islam but all the pre Islamic central Asian invaders themselves are of zero worth to the evolution of Indian civilization. The Huna or Kamboja or Saka did try their bit I suppose by turning themselves into voracious defenders of northwestern subcontinent against Islam, but fwiw they sucked at it and ultimately were just protecting their own skin/turf and when push came to shove they collaborated and sent their daughters and did the administrative (jaziya collecting) bidding for the neo Central Asian impulse. Similarly if the Aryans themselves are a central Asian incursion, then they/we (upper caste Hindus) too have done nothing but be parasites of the land and civilization building sons of the soil that built the Indus valley civilization. However I think Hindus are atoning for these sins via establishing the institutions of rigorous affirmative action and the most Hindu nationalist of dispensations dominated by upper caste firmly stand by reservations and all methods of uplifting the lower caste and tribal sections. We are involved and invested in our prayaschitta. If we need to do more, we will listen and do more. That is what even Ambedkar recognized when he said that the caste Hindu is capable of the “truth and reconciliation” process. Islam does not have it in itself to do the same process. Islam sits there and says what we have done was right and we should have and will do more of it. Hence the political orientation in the present over the actions and legacy of the past is important. Naipaul recognized that and called it as is.

      1. “Islam has barely contributed anything of value to Indian civilization”– This is such a problematic statement, I don’t know where to start. This reeks of bigotry.

        Urdu and Hindustani Classical Music are two examples of things that would not have existed without the Muslim influence. Without the Muslims, all Indian classical music would be like Carnatic. You also would never have seen biryani. The Taj would never have existed. You would have been much poorer off without Indo-Islamic civilization. But hey, if you want to continue to propound bigoted Hindu nationalist views, there’s not much that can be done about it.

        1. Kabir

          You became sensitive and name called and dropped a couple of items that form the standard intellectually lazy feel-good stuff about Islamic contribution to Indian civilization. If I had a real Hindu nationalist line I would not be approaching pre Islamic invaders and definitely not caste and Aryan invasion with a ten foot pole, so please grant me something more than this name calling.

          Taj, biryani, Urdu, these are best things you can come up with? What exactly is wrong with Carnatic? Also the musical equivalent I believe you were searching for is Dhrupad.

          Anyway what is really the contribution of any of these things? Mughal India and Islamist decadence in India is only going to go down in history for goofing up the world’s biggest most productive economy of the time and doing literally zero with it. Sharabi and mujra/baijee culture is what you contributed, I guess some after effects are Urdu shayarees (made by nawabs to their high profile pros*** and boy lovers). On opposite end your legacy is plundering the productive Hindu agricultural economy, paying off the European invaders and explorers for as long as possible meanwhile dressing up like girls dancing kathak with rest of harem ladies. Plenty of pop culture available (made without any Islamophobic intent) from Mughal e Azam to Netflix available Siyasaat to Satyajit Ray directed Shatranj ki Khilaadi for you to go understand exactly what Naipaul sees as Islamic contribution to Indian civilization.

          We could have had Mughal Indian colonies in the Americas lol. Instead these drunk womanizers were busy paying off extortion tax to Portuguese for Indian Muslims to go on hajj peacefully over the Arabian Sea (money produced by the Hindu labor classes).

          Let’s be honest. We had our guns pointed at each other then. We have our guns pointed at each other now. We get our panties in a bunch only when we perceive each other as stepping onto the other, but surrender meekly even from a position of strength to outsiders. Perhaps on a civilization level, we are not much higher than Africans in that we have the luxury of sitting on natural resources (in our case fertile land) but the human resource was never adequate to do something about it and develop and project power at least to defend itself.

          You think I’m being bigoted against Islam. I have nothing against Islam the religion. My post and ideas stem from Bharat as an ancient land and civilization and I’m calling both Islam and Hinduism legacies as useless and degrading…but nothing of the type you’re imagining. At the end of the day our peoples are 15x poorer than global average. This is unprecedented in history and I don’t buy any crap about history turning full circle etc or civilizations “reviving”. The truth is unfortunately much more depressing.

          1. Bharotshontan,
            There is nothing wrong with Carnatic music. But Hindustani is beautiful precisely because of the Indo-Islamic synthesis. I used the word “Hindustani Music” for a good reason. It is the term of art for North Indian classical music. I have been trained in this tradition and I know very well what Dhrupad is as opposed to Khayaal.

            Your further comments about Urdu poetry being created by nawabs for tawaifs and boys and about Wajid Ali Shah performing kathak in his zenana only serve to further reinforce the impression I had of you as an anti-Islamic bigot. Also as someone who is homophobic, otherwise there was no need to mention the boys or the cross-dressing.

            I have zero patience for people who denigrate my culture and try to write Muslims out of North India’s history. We gave North India its high culture. You are free to reject it, but you would be much poorer off.

            By the way, I have seen “Mughal-e-Azam” and “Shatranj Ki Khilari”. Both are very good movies.

          2. Mughal India and Islamist decadence in India is only going to go down in history for goofing up the world’s biggest most productive economy of the time and doing literally zero with it.

            it wasn’t the biggest or most productive. at least it wasn’t when i last read madison. what’s your citation?

          3. Kabir

            I come from a generic communist leaning background and have zero patience for so called high culture snobbery and it is a fact that behind the lipstick the pig is always bloody. Your Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb concocted by Shia Persian nawabs and their UP Kayastha collaborators is the same type of decadence as in the US there was so called southern hospitality and Antebellum culture. Whose backs are broken to maintain this high culture?

            Taj Mahal is the antithesis to the nature of Indian people anyway. We have known that the major contrast between the Indus Valley and Egyptian civilization was lack of slavery, lack of mega monument building (masculine ego stroking), focus on the general public healthcare etc. Basically Islam imports this or is the culmination of a constant barrage of bringing this West Asian masculine ego stroking culture over a balanced culture. Shah Jahan cut off the hands of the laborers so they could not recreate the Taj.

            As for construing homophobia from comment about boy lovers and cross dressing, this is hysterical. These are degenerate men of power running their lives and the evolution of the polities as a result based on the mood of their lower heads. This is before the era of consent etc, so it would serve well to keep pederastic traditions of Muslim rulers out from modern conversation about homophobia. Also on this topic, a great movie I watched (also made without any Islamophobic intent) is a Bangladeshi one called Ghetuputro Komola. It is on YouTube with subtitles.

            As far as you being trained in khayaal etc and therefore you keep finding a reason to get offended, I don’t get it. We are all products of the context and cultures we are in, doesn’t mean it was great. I am typing this out in English. Doesn’t mean I revolve my identity and more so some warped sense of morality around my knowledge of English or the process via which I know English (colonialism).

            I would rather be “poorer” and devoid of Muslim influences, because the upshot or potential to revive is higher without the latter culture. On the same note I would rather India switch to the local state languages for higher learning and even working in corporate instead of imposing English language apartheid. Latter is only serving the interests of a pan subcontinent minority to give a global passport of sorts and be modern day coolies at the expense of real knowledge and growth in India.

          4. Bharotshonton,

            If you are going to denigrate the Ganga-Jamuni tezheeb, I have nothing further to say to you. These are my ancestors whom you are insulting.

            Your comments regarding Indo-Islamic culture expose your bigotry. As you are new to BP, you may not know that we have “debated” all of this before.

            You are free to not like a culture but you don’t have to put it down so vociferously. I am really getting sick of Internet Hindus who get some strange pleasure from being nasty about Indian Muslims and our high culture.

          5. A final thought on this purist train of thought…I have already mentioned that I have no problems accepting multiple modern nation states that span the land of the Indian civilization (that we all inherit). I in fact do not have a problem also with territorial disputes like Kashmir because the upshot of competition is actually not a bad thing from a hollistic perspective. Matter of fact as absurd as this may sound, I am proud/glad that Pakistan is the only nuclear Muslim country and the most powerful military overall in the Muslim world. I was upset at some subconscious level when Pakistan capitulated in the aftermath of 9/11 and gave up its strategic depth in Afghanistan and decades of work it had done putting together Taliban. I guess at a subconscious level I am pained to know that bombs are being dropped by Western powers with impunity over Pashtun areas of Pakistan.

            Anyway several states and competition is not bad, but what is bad is that in the defense culture of both India and Pakistan, there are some strategically placed individuals that derive their livelihoods and their kid’s all expenses paid Oxford education from the kickbacks they receive from the weapons they promote as “must import”. They are in the respective armies procurement side and repeatedly saying the indigenous industry products are “not good enough”. This is essentially repeating what happened with the various princely states under British India with the Brits taking extortion money from each kingdom for military protection from the other kingdom.
            I mean it is ridiculous that if India has the capability to develop moon and Mars reaching platforms, it cannot build its own tanks and planes and radars. I would rather Indian soldiers stand at loc with bows and arrows for the fifteen years or however long it’ll take for these weapon procurements and heck maybe in the process we even lose control of Kashmir valley… But India is greater than some Kashmir valley.

            Now the enriched individuals in the import lobbies and their subsequent wealthy families are definitely a class unto themselves. If I knew my class’s wealth is the result of these shady dealings of my ancestor, I would hang my head in shame instead of pointing out how said class produced so called high culture with their ill gotten wealth. But that is just the person I am. I am capable of being a “bigot” against myself.

          6. @Kabir “By the way, I have seen “Mughal-e-Azam” and “Shatranj Ki Khilari”. Both are very good movies.”

            I would recommend you watch Umarao Jaan by Muzaffar Ali too. It draws a stark, brutal portrayal of the so called Ganga Jamuni, north indian high culture. And all marks to Muzaffar Ali for being so blunt and forthright while depicting his own cultural fountainhead.

            Muzaffar Ali makes no bones about the fact that the Urdu poetry which makes someone like you lapse into a dream about the golden age of Islamic north India really arose from the houses of tawaifs. And these tawaifs were really none but prostitutes. In fact Ali is so blunt that he doesn’t even shy away from using the word “randi” for these tawaifs in his movie.

            These tawaifs came from kidnapped peasant girls who used to be sold to brothels. They lived their lives in brothels serving customers physically. The dance and music were really just the side show. If they were lucky they could find some rich patron who would gift them a house and maintain them as keeps. Otherwise there was really nothing pretty about their lives.

            So decadent and effeminate the Muslim of north India were in the days of Wajid Ali Shah that they did not even participate wholeheartedly against the British during the uprising of 1857. Most of the rebels of this uprising came from the Hindu upper castes (Brahmins, Rajputs, Bhumihars). And they were put down by Sikhs and Gorkhas carrying out military labor for the British. Not sure what the Muslims of Awadh doing while all this action was going on but I presume they were eating Biryani and singing Khayals.

          7. Snake Charmer,

            I am quite familiar with “Umrao Jaan” thank you very much. The novel is one of the classics of Urdu literature. The movie starring Rekha is one of the classics as well.

            Tawaif translates into courtesan not prostitute. The novel goes into the details of how Umrao Jaan was taught to write Urdu poetry and sing thumris. The courtesans played a huge role in preserving Hindustani classical music.

            In Lucknow, the rebellion was led by Begum Hazrat Mahal. Wajid Ali Shah had already been exiled to Calcutta. In Delhi, Bahadur Shah’s sons led the rebels.

            I note your derisive comments about Khayal singing, but I really can’t be bothered about your perception of my choice of profession.

            It’s fine to not like a culture, but to feel the need to put it down at every turn is another thing.

        2. Kabir

          The comment about getting offended over ancestor insult is exactly why Islam contribution to Indian civilization is a big zero. Ancestor hero-worship is a Hindu/animist thing and prophet Muhammad even told one of his followers to behead father/brother for he had insulted Muhammad. If anything this Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb should have inculcated, it should be the capability of Islam to be “revolutionary” in that ties of morality supersede blood.

          So essentially Islam is incapable of delivering the ethos from which India could actually have benefited. Instead we added to our existing crap the additional crap from Islam. And this goes across the board for both the Hindus of the Ganga Jamuni culture as well as the so called Muslims of it. The same goes for Christianity, for communism, any ism imported in the modern era of India’s constant civilizational decline from fall of Gupta empire (or is it Maurya, or is it IVC?).

          Anyway, this conversation is futile and as you noted, it is falling in the category of me being an internet Hindu needlessly offending Muslim sentiments.. It isn’t like the average Indo subcontinent Muslim will read this and inculcate the “Muslim guilt” which I think would be a healthy sentiment to develop. You will possibly respond, and if I don’t see anything new in this debate from your end, I will not respond. I will say though that this topic had not been debated in the past and most Hindus are not aggressive enough to explicitly say Islamic contribution to India is zero. Most Hindu arguments still revolve around how secular Hinduism is, how India would have been utopia without partition, etc. I do not traverse that line. Hindus also have a right and a choice to deem what we consider harmful to our civilization and ethos and evolution and seek mental separation.

          1. Interesting points – I’m quite ambivalent about the whole issue .

            Out of respect to my wife I’m more censorious of criticisms of India than I am Pakistan 🙂

          2. Zack

            Urdu has enough native speakers in north India and Deccan that it can also stand as a language of learning and contribute to the growth of modern India. There are PLENTY of madrasaahs that dot this Hindi heartland and provide for Urdu education. The problem is the content. Madrasaah only produces maulvis and muezzins realistically. Where the modern hakeems at? And by the latter I mean really upgrading medicinal sciences from the stagnation it has from the Indo-Greek phase it reached in medieval era.

            The knee-jerk Hindutva impulse was anti madrasaah education. Thankfully Modi has understood the value it can have and calibrated it to “ek haath mein Quran ek haath mein laptop”. I hope that Indian Muslims, Indians, and the world can benefit from exploration and expansion of knowledge in Urdu just like all other Indian civilization languages.

            Right now the issue is nothing that puts food on our tables is actually done in the vernacular. One only learns Urdu or Hindi or Bangla or Punjabi or Tamil or Telugu if they wish to indulge in the high culture farting of reading literature and reciting poetry. I already mentioned my allergy to so called high cultures. The need is to have STEM in Indian languages. I mentioned Indian states can serve the local languages, and all the minority institutions of north and Deccan can serve Urdu in India. It does bring up how would collaboration happen? In this case we would need enough folks that have working knowledge of a multitude of other Indian languages… And this has to be symmetric. No Hindi as lingua franca, but maybe Punjabis develop working knowledge of Malayalam etc. The EU also built the Eurofighter aircraft, but respective countries that developed various subsystems did the engineering in their own French/German/Spanish etc languages.

            Also on this regard I lambasted Bangladesh for having the luxury of being mono lingual and being born from strong language derived nationalism and STILL being lazy and subservient to English at the higher levels. There is a coolie class that is pan subcontinental, the clerks of the British Raj, that took over from when the Raj ended… And as such they enjoy holding on to their English language privilege as it gives them/us jobs etc as well as an easy method to “escape” when we can’t bear the heat in India any more. So from the vestiges of power, we again did and continue to do an act of subversion against the masses by maintaining and fighting against efforts to end the English language apartheid. Also note how the bulk of education in Indian subcontinent no matter the language medium is rote learning. Teachers grade your essays on ability to memorize sections from books and reproducing verbatim. So in this regard, there is nothing superior in quality of an English medium education as it was built and left behind to produce a nation of clerks. Now the clerks want to produce more clerks.

          3. If you want to destroy secular India and create a Hindu Rashtra, go for it. I’m sure India’s Muslims will vote for the secular opposition.

            Saying that Islam had zero contribution to India is a generalization and one that comes across as ignorant if not bigoted.

          4. India’s Muslim cultures lives on in Karachi. But like the Elves of Middle Earth we shall soon depart for Turanistan!

            I shall make a Turanian of you yet Kabir Sahib..

      2. A very real impetus for the change is lack of Indian Muslims in day to day life in diaspora. Unless an Indian Hindu in diaspora is super Muslimphile, the natural interaction that happened in India with your Muslim barber or autowala or colleague etc doesn’t happen in the disproportionately upper caste Hindu diaspora.

        this is a dumb comment. t&t, fiji, malaysia, mauritius, and guayana were mostly peasant settled diaspora communities. and all have muslim minorities.

        the comment is particularly dumb since naipaul grew up in t&t (which did have issues some muslim fundamentalist activity a few decades back).

        1. You have to seek out Muslims or any other person not exactly your group in diaspora. The Hindu content in the colonial era diaspora was also disproportionately higher. Either way Trinidad is an island with the population of Kanpur, you cannot compare the experience of living in Trinidad to any Indian city. Also he lived most of his life in London. Again as I said, the better evolution of strategic thought or a thoroughly revised and qualified Hindutva lean is possible when the daily interaction with Indian Muslims that happens naturally in India declines substantially.

          As far as economy size goes, my citation is indeed Maddison. This is just quoting from the wiki
          “Among other things, it showed that Europe’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita was faster progressing than the leading Asian economies since 1000 AD, reaching again a higher level than elsewhere from the 15th century,[1] while Asian GDP per capita remained static until 1800, when it even began to shrink in absolute terms, as Maddison demonstrated in a subsequent book.”

          In essence India and China’s lead was a 1:1 correlation to the population size up till the onset of colonization.

          1. what does that have to do with your previous comment?

            basically in the pre-modern era you can just take population and project from that. by that count it’s india and china. i doubt muslims had any major impact on that cuz the whole world was the same until the early modern period.

          2. There is a qualitative difference in the United States having a $35k GDP/capita vs a Qatar or Macau having $40k/capita. Regardless of the pre industrial nature of India’s or China’s economic prowess in the pre colonial era, the rulers leading up to India’s conquest by colonialism share fault in not exercising the proper strategic thought and doing something.

            Today the Chinese have moved ahead of the Americans in select military technologies like hypersonic missiles. This does not translate into the Chinese being militarily “better” or more powerful or capable of projecting more power than America. At any point the Americans can either take that technology via espionage or attract the top level Chinese researchers and scientists into the us just like they swooped in on all the German scientists at the end of World war 2. Likewise the Mughals and Indian civilization may have fallen behind in some select military technologies like naval construction etc, but they were sitting again on the largest economy in the world (refer to point about US vs Macau/Qatar on this). Instead of wasting resources on plundering the land and being bunch of degenerates and trying to conquer back Uzbekistan, maybe they could have rung some alarm bells that the Christian West had circumnavigated both the bottom of Africa as well as the discovery of the new world… To the point that the Mughals had to pay off the Portuguese to not kidnap Indian Muslim Hajj pilgrims. I should remind that the Portuguese were sitting in Goa before even the onset of the Mughals. These people literally had almost two plus centuries of exposure to capability of learning quickly and catching up fast. They did nothing and had no intent except cannibalize Indian civilization/territory and people.

            Anyway my analysis intent is not exactly meant to revisit past and do mental masturbation of “if only xyz didn’t take bribe history would be different”. The intent is about the legacy of the past and how various communities look at this past in the present and are not recognizing their narrative was always counter productive and is increasingly continuing to be so in the present. I have mentioned that upper caste Hindus have and are capable of inculcating Brahmin guilt. It is a healthy sentiment to develop instead of sitting around saying “that’s right”. White guilt actually helped America end slavery via intra white war between the superior white side that looked at the inferior white side as having stagnated BECAUSE of slavery. In that sense white liberalism is not so much anti white but actually very very pro white. The alternative could have easily been a Haiti style black republic sitting from Georgia to Texas if the south was allowed to continue slavery and/or allowed to secede. Similarly there is something for Hindu India to gain from understanding and imbibing upper caste guilt. The Brahmins definitely have it, but I think Rajputs and Thakurs are the ones that need it. And yes if Muslims could self create Muslim guilt that will help out India’s revival… And if not, well it doesn’t matter what Muslim trajectory is. India should be able to develop with or without Muslim participation and even with counter participation at worst through both subversion from Indian Muslims as well as pin pricking from Pakistan, because, they should just be able to…

    2. I think all three of his India books are relevant, though to different degrees. “Mutinies” is indeed most relevant as it was the last in the series. But a lot of things he observed about Indians’ cultural practices and blind spots are still relevant today. I think most Indians still live a purely instinct-driven life. I think most Indians still have a remarkable capacity to avoid noticing unpleasant things that are staring them in the face. India can be an excruciating place to live in for people with perfectionist inclinations (VS was one of them), with our glorification and wholesale adoption of the jugaad philosophy.

      Honestly, the fact that so many “patriotic” Indians zoom in on his criticism of the Islamic invasions for what they did to the Indian psyche while completely ignoring his trenchant critiques of India’s core Hindu heritage and unthinking adoption of ancient practices (he says at one point in Mutinies that in 1857, Indian civilization had reached the end of its possibilities and it was inevitable that we succumbed to the British. I think there’s more than a grain of truth to that) just goes to prove his point that we Indians have very little self-awareness.

  4. ” The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it”- A Bend in the river

    RIP Vidia

    Like Razib i read his non fiction before his fiction. I dont know if i would have been ever critical of my people had i not read them. If i would have just been reading the Edward Said-ist of the the subcontinent (who are out with the full force now) probably i would have also turned it to India-the-best , everything-is-the-British-fault robot. In the age of myth making guilt tripped post colonial studies he was a refreshing change, an eye opener. Mostly Indians who were either socialist-secularist, India’s eastern or southerners or the India’s upper/middle NRI class of mumbai hated his work. His absolute antipathy towards Indians is result of what he saw as lack of urgency to fix problems .He hated because he cared.

    I have a theory that had he not endorsed BJP in the 90s / not written his islamic series, he would have been seen very differently by the left, at least in India.


    “No civilization was so little equipped to cope with the outside world; no country was so easily raided and plundered, and learned so little from its disasters.”

    1. I have not read Naipaul beyond these quotes tbh but the Indian strategic thought has to progress beyond “it is all wypipo fault”, to “it is all Muslim people fault” and it should not be afraid to make this jump (Muslims in subcontinent are incapable of reading their true legacy and instead cope with stuff about Urdu greatness). And then after the Muslims there are some other folks that need to be knocked down a couple of pegs imho. Sikhs, Rajputs etc so called martial races are getting their egos stoked by current Hindutva being called “Hind ka chaddar”. What hind ka chaddar? These groups were instrumental in putting down 1857. In fact Sikh Muslim antagonism even played out on street during 1984 and in the Hindi heartland context Muslims and Hindus see Sikhs and Gurkhas as British collaborators. I am to this day uncomfortable with likes of Modi honoring Indian soldiers that died fighting for British Empire in world war 1 and 2.

      Each group is busy celebrating their heroes not realizing that their neighboring communities do not view those heroes in such favorable light or that those said heroes celebration in itself is an act of aggression against the other.

      My people Bengali upper caste Hindus have only in last few decades begun toning down the celebration of all various Netaji and Vivekananda and Khudiram etc. There is a context to it before that. We were the first and biggest benefactors and collaborators of British rule in Indian subcontinent. We were the thugs for hire for the east India co that went terrorized the countryside peasantry for taxes we passed on to the Brits. Most of east Bengal peasantry became Muslim and took on the Muslim majority nature of that part of the world due to us. Otherwise even to this day you will see so called lower caste Hindus still tenaciously hold on to Hinduism and when they reach a breaking point you will see stories like “Valmikis threaten to convert to Islam”. To an extent most Indian subcontinent Muslim-mass-level demographic hate against Hindus you will notice is directed at upper caste and particularly those with history of collaboration. It is like “how could you abandon us” type mentality at the subconscious levels at work (of course, the prime victims of their aggression is the non converted lower caste Hindus because after converting their explicit identity only derives from the conquerors). On the western side of the West Bengali upper caste homeland our British collaboration didn’t reach the effect of converting the peasantry to Islam but rather led to indentured servitude and the genesis of Indo Caribbean as well as other displaced Santhal groups that went as slaves to work in tea gardens of Assam to Burma. Maybe we were conscious of our shameful history of collaborating with Brits that’s why we coped and played up the various freedom fighters.

      Either way my point about Indian groups pointing guns at each other more than outsiders is true even looking at several linguistic friction we have. Pakistan broke apart over Urdu imposition on the Bengali majority. If only these same Bengali Muslims had displayed 1% of the type of vigor against Brits instead of quietly tolerating centuries of plunder and famine… and look at the funny part, Bangladesh has the luxury of being mono lingual and still has no institutions of higher learning in Bengali. No scientific knowledge, no medical, no engineering etc is coming out of Bangladesh in Bengali. English language apartheid is strong. In Assam apparently simultaneously with Bangladesh movement there was friction between the Assamese and Bengalis and resolution was that in the Bengali majority Barak valley, official signs would be in Bengali and English while in rest of Assam it would remain in Assamese and English. No idiot could think of having both Bengali and Assamese in all of Assam. Nope, all the violence and counter violence, all the getting our collective panties in a bunch is reserved for the next guy getting (perceived) more favors from massa/sahib than ourselves.

      Maybe, maybe, the answer is to stop glorifying any and all historical leaders and kings. There are Muslim folk songs I’m familiar with that talk of atyachari (torturing) Prithviraj Chauhan and how Khwaja of Ajmer delivered the people from his torture. So perhaps there is some memory preserved in these songs that true Hindu nationalists should incorporate and digest before promoting Chauhan as some viraat Hindu hriday samraat…

      The reading of history of Bharat is depressing no matter which point in time you pick and go forward. If there is some hero that sticks out, there is usually something fundamentally wrong on that as well since they couldn’t keep it together and reverse the downward trajectory we have been on since eternity.

      1. You write exactly like Naipaul. Deeply cynical, pessimistic and dismissive about everything Indian. 🙂

      2. This is a secular version of orthodox Hindu Kali Yugam, when every standard keeps going down and down.

        To cheer up, one can compare with other great countries like Russia. Russia was also under Mongol and Tartar occupation for 200 years. It was Russian princes who acted as tax collectors for Mongols. Sometimes Russian principalities allied with Mongols to defeat another Russian principality. After the Battle of Kulkova, Russia has been able to get it’s act together and constantly expand becoming a great power. Ivan the Terrible was no less terrible than Aurangzeb or Delhi Sultans. They also developed efficient spy system and ran a police state, Okhrana, KGB , and what have you.

        When one reads Russian or Chinese history , the social cost paid by Indians over the centuries has not been that bad.

        1. I have been surprised and also not surprised the more I have read and digested life how much in alignment my understanding is with Hinduism in general and this kaliyug concept is definitely one of them. Thanks for pointing it out.

          I think the Chinese have done the necessary payment in lives and souls required to reverse course. I don’t know if Indians have ever shown capability to “revive”. There is a lot of “we were great we were great”, but truth is the entire history is downhill skiing. We will see what the future holds I suppose…

      3. “the answer is to stop glorifying any and all historical leaders and kings”

        Wholly agreeable thought.

    2. ” The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it”
      This line has been my motto in life ever since I read it. Bluntest truth ever written by any writer.

      1. “There are Muslim folk songs I’m familiar with that talk of atyachari (torturing) Prithviraj Chauhan and how Khwaja of Ajmer delivered the people from his torture.”

        Do you have any references to support this assertion?

    3. Saurav,
      As an intellectual, Edward Said was a class above Naipaul. Your characterization of postcolonial studies shows you are not really familiar with the field.

      1. As an intellectual, Edward Said was a class above Naipaul.

        that’s your opinion. but that’s highly disputable. both were very influential. neither were very rigorous thinkers either.

        1. Naipaul did not invent Orientalism or Post-colonial Theory. Said was one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century.

          Naipaul wrote some very anti-Islamic things and Said rightly criticized him.

      2. I loved the way Edward Said ripped Karl Marx, Marxism and neo-marxism apart piece by piece. Edward Said also critiqued structuralist (Ferdinand de Saussure) and post modernist deconstruction and negation of Islamic culture and societies. On this too I agree with Edward Said.

        Karl Marx was an intellectual light weight. The structuralist/post modernist prism of understanding the world explains less than 1% of human relations. They don’t explain love (higher spirituality and god), feeling (medium spiritual emotion), intuition (deep ideology) or thoughts (surface ideology). They don’t understand the brain and nervous system.

  5. Its amazing how much India continues to trap its emigres, and constricts their creativity. I find it perplexing that folks as talented as Naipaul and Lahiri devoted their substantial creative energies to rationalizing/deconstructing/validating their separation from India. Its as asburd as older American literature being singularly obsessed with Europe’s then situation.

    Right now, I can only locate the roots of this intellectual hara-kiri in marital norms. Indians simply cannot imagine a comfortable, normal union with the ‘other’. It is remarkable how much more relaxed Turks, Iranians, Arabs, Chinese and Filipinos in the US are about marriage and dating than similarly educated Indians.

    1. Vikram I don’t understand your comment. It doesn’t match my Indian American (or Bangladeshi/Pakistani American) friends.

      Indians are amazingly creative. The only major bar on it comes from post modernism neo marxism and the caucasion intelligentsia. But their influence is fading.

      Indians in India are relaxed about marriage and dating.

  6. “A very real impetus for the change is lack of Indian Muslims in day to day life in diaspora. Unless an Indian Hindu in diaspora is super Muslimphile, the natural interaction that happened in India with your Muslim barber or autowala or colleague etc doesn’t happen in the disproportionately upper caste Hindu diaspora.”

    I am confused by this. This doesn’t match my daily experience at all. I meet muslim Indians and muslim Pakistanis and muslim Bangladeshis (yes I consider them all to be from a common culture) all the time in:
    –my spiritual friend circles

    I will concede this much. The muslims who participate in diaspora spiritual life are likely influenced by Sufi thought. Many are twelvers influenced by Sufi thought. This is also true in business circles. Or they are liberal muslims. Or they are atheist muslims. But then, out of the world’s 1.6 billion muslims aren’t almost half some combination of minority muslim, liberal muslim, atheist muslim? Maybe they would be the majority in a secret poll. So maybe these muslims are the actual mainstream?

    Razib and others, what are your perspectives on the above?

    Bharotshontan as a muslim Sayyid friend reminded me yesterday; almost every major Hindu spiritual center has a Sufi center associated with it (albeit small in some cases). Indian muslims honor Hindu (including Jain, Buddhist, Sikh in Hindu) spiritual places. There are extremely close connections between Ali, Hassan, Hussein and the family of the prophet pbuh from the 7th century AD and large strains of Hinduism. Would you be interested in articles about this?

    “Mughal India and Islamist decadence in India is only going to go down in history for goofing up the world’s biggest most productive economy of the time and doing literally zero with it.”
    Razib, no one really knows GDP by country before 1950. They are all rough estimates. And when we get before 1900 the estimates are deeply imprecise. This said some economist have estimated that historic Hindustan might have had a third or more of global GDP before Islamist conquest. Again, the estimates might be way off.

    My own view is that Indian product development, process innovation and total factor productivity has been stagnant or negative since 640 AD. Only some of this can be blamed on Islamists [yes Islamists are different from muslims.]

    1. Razib and others, what are your perspectives on the above?

      the commenter seems to be talking about the USA community? it didn’t make sense in any other context to me.

      1. Agreed. I am speaking about Pakistani/Bangladeshi/Indian muslim Americans. Many deshi American muslims are well integrated into American non muslim deshi communities. I could provide many examples.

        I know many Hindu husbands who have married Indian muslim or Pakistani muslim wives.

      2. Razib I was simply mentioning that the likes of a thoroughly intellectualized and qualified hard core Hindutva stance is capable of being derived in the diaspora better than in India itself. So the Naipaul and Rajeev Malhotra etc all derive from the vantage point of going outside India for some time. So did Shri Aurobindo.

        Hindutva is not really about cutting up pregnant Muslim women’s bellies. That is the tit for tat type Hindutva on the street level that is generally an emotional aberration.

        In the diaspora we have a choice on the content and even amount of Indian subcontinent interaction as each individual sees fit. There are Desis in brown town and joining “brown” fraternities on campus, then there are Desis that are thoroughly post racial and assimilated and are in the larger mainstream liberal white American subculture or in the African American subculture also, and you’d be surprised but I have relatives that are in the US from the 60s and have a country music band lol. Either way, in this context, it is also easier for a person from the integrated space of a large Indian metropolis to somewhat revert to their ethnic and religious and caste core. I am from Kolkata and my neighborhood was 50% Marwari. I have zero Marwari friends in the US diaspora. The Marwaris in my friends list on Facebook are all childhood friend from the time when my life involved Marwaris. Similarly with Indian Muslims. I am required to go out and seek Desi acquaintances, and I have no reason to seek out a Marwari in particular. If I will seek out a Desi, they will be ideally an Indian Bengali from Kolkata as they will be linguistically and culturally most familiar.

    2. Anan, I agree regarding 640AD. I mentioned the entire line of pre Islamic central Asian invaders as contributing to the decadence and degradation, with the Muslims just being the final death knell or fountain head.

      As far as the diaspora experience in the US, what you are referring to is indeed a microcosm. The Hindu Muslim syncretic space is a very old and traditional and a lower class or Bahujan (OBC, SC, Pasmanda Musalman) phenomenon back in the Indian subcontinent. It took a massive beating from the partition. It also takes a massive beating from the petrodollar and increasing reach of our own Deoband within India. Increasingly Sufi places in India are seeing disproportionately higher Hindu participation, ie thirty years ago a local mazaar in a UP town with 30% Muslims may have consisted of 40% Muslim and 60% non Muslim crowd but now it has become 90% non Muslim and some token Muslim participation only of folks maybe related by bloodline like the Khadeem. Either way, this is an extreme grassroots phenomenon and I don’t see how any of this has made its way through the H1b filter of entering the US.

      Indian Bengalis in the US outside of major population centers like NYC or DC or Houston but rather smaller Desi populations like Miami or St Louis have been experimenting with interactions with Bangladeshi diaspora (somewhat out of necessity of not having enough Indian Bengali mass to put together an event). The level of success of these interactions is limited. I remember once during one such outreach that a Bangladeshi Muslim fellow participated at the cultural stage show that folks do at Durga Puja in diaspora, and the guy sang a traditional folk boatman song and it had a lyric that was somewhat like oh Allah save me from the storm. The crowd of Bengali upper caste practically atheist bhadralok subconsciously were stunned and discovered their inner Hindu and subsequently stopped inviting Bangladeshis to Durga Puja in case someone mentions Allah in presence of Durga deity. Now I have been to villages in West Bengal where the whole village Hindus and Muslims have a tradition of doing namaaz at the local mosque on Id ul fitr. The Hindus just watch what the Muslims are doing and for them this is traditional and a part of their Hinduism. So there is a class difference in the syncretic practice, where upper class Hindus are uncomfortable about even mention of Allah whereas poorer folks have an easy time mishmashing. There is a saying in Bangla that says “kaadaye kaada meshe kintu inte int meshe na” meaning mud mixes with mud but bricks do not.

      1. Excellent and important comments-
        We see this as well a lot of the BritPaks happily attending Hindu and Sikh events but almost never the other way round..

        1. “We see this as well a lot of the BritPaks happily attending Hindu and Sikh events”

          They are probably busy grooming. You should really report them to authorities. 🙂

        2. Zack, sometimes there are more Hindus (including Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs) in Sufi events than muslims 🙂

          The UK is an odd place. Do Deshis really not show up to Sufi events? If I were living in the UK, I would visit some of the leading twelver scholars to live in England.

  7. Bharotshontan

    Even though i do agree with your overall sentiment, the examples which you give (hind ki chadar, chauhan’s etc) are not the appropriate ones, as its not how historically this things panned out. Every community has a very selective reading of their own(as well as their counterparts) history which they feel is the “Indian” history (for example Rajputs before Akbar and after Akbar, people from the left and right highlight whatever suits them). Similarly for bengalis and marathas vis-v marathas wrt rest of india, so i dont think there is some pan indian perspective of most events , its better that every community has agency to define what;s its own historical narrative is.

    1. Saurav there is such a thing as a “Hindustani” or “Bharatiya” narrative. And such a thing as a pan Arya Varsha narrative (some amount of ancient Arya heritage). And such a thing as a pan “Eastern” narrative (which I would loosely define as what is similar between Taoism, Confucianism and the ten Darshanas of Sanathana Dharma (including Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism). And there is such a think as a pan humanist or globalist narrative; which you will often see in my thinking.

      Of course many narratives weave seamlessly together. Which is what makes life so beautiful.

      I have many thoughts on Rajput history I would love to share. The Sufis, Hindus and Jains of Rajastan are in many ways extensions of each other.

  8. Saurav

    The issue I guess is also how much relevance to give to the various historical narratives. Myth making is useful to a degree and then it is also counter productive after a point.

    1. Tolstoy’s novel? Can’t say I read beyond some excerpts. Should I read it, or since I’m guessing the answer is yes, it seems like you’re suggesting I’ll develop some better/different insights from reading it?

        1. I do have trouble being concise in non technical writing. Its like stream of consciousness, trying to write out the aforementioned hookah bar convo.

          I think at a subconscious level I’m hoping not to come across as offensive or hoping my level of extra detail/context will help audience be able to “transcend” the offense-taking land and perhaps join me in a journey that makes me grow as well.

          Either way looks like it doesn’t exactly pan out that way anyway… not in written context at least

  9. Bharotshontan

    Maybe think about breaking up your big arguments into many smaller clumps. And break each of the smaller clumps into yet smaller clumps (defending the assumptions you make); etc.

    In some places express your ideas in bullet proof form with many levels within the bullet point.

    Make a separate comment for each argument.

  10. Can we touch base offline Bharotshontan? You are expressing perspectives and observations of society that I have not heard before and I would like elaboration.

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