- Hardcover: 276 pages
- Publisher: Orient Blackswan Private Limited - New Delhi (2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 8178243709
- ISBN-13: 978-8178243702
- Package Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.2 x 1.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,90,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Is Indian Civilization a Myth?
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Description for Is Indian Civilization a Myth?
About the Author
SANJAY SUBRAHMANYAM is Distinguished Professor of History at UCLA. Earlier he taught in Delhi, Paris, and Oxford. His many books include The Career and Legend of Vasco da Gama (1997), Three Ways to be Alien (2011), and Courtly Encounters (2012).
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It would be a pity if readers were misled by the title to reject the book without giving it a chance, or to hold a prejudiced view on Sanjay Subrahmanyan’s positions. For the author is, first and foremost, a historian, steeped in the methods of archival research and patient interpretation of facts. History is not intended to provoke, to enrage or to disturb, but to establish facts and offer reasoned interpretations. Is Indian Civilization a Myth? is intended to provide the general reader with the perspective of a professional historian, based on the tools of the trade but without the cumbersome apparatus of scholarly productions. It is defined by the author as “a book without footnotes,” written with the general public in mind and geared toward a mostly Indian audience, although these “Indian lessons” were also translated into French, as were all the other books written by Subrahmanyam.
Some chapters reflect the author’s engagement with history as a scholarly discipline, and allude to academic debates in which the fate of different schools is discussed—subaltern studies, cultural studies, global history, post-colonial theory. Other chapters collect book reviews or discussions on literature and testify to the author’s long-standing interest in literary criticism. In these columns, first published in newspapers or magazines, Subrahmanyan doesn’t hesitate to take a stand, which is often critical of the author’s work under review. He also makes no secret of his political leanings—and here, the strong reactions of BJP readers appear somewhat justified, for the author has only contempt for the Hindutva ideology. A third set of chapters are essays in ego-history. There Subrahmanyam gives indications about his family background, his Delhi upbringing, and the various places and academic settings in which he has pursued his career.
The opening chapter, eponymously bearing the book’s title, is considered the most offensive by readers who see the whole enterprise as an attack on Indian civilization. It is true that the author doesn’t refrain from harshly criticizing the BJP ideology, deriding the Hindutva movement and turning into ridicule the followers of the RSS clad in khaki shorts. If a myth there is, it is to be found in their vision of India as a stable and pure entity that was corrupted by foreign invasions and Islamic domination but that will rise again by returning to its roots. It is in that sense that the Indian civilization heralded by Hindu nationalists and ideologues is a myth, a construct, a fabrication. It turns history on its head: it makes time flow from the present to the past, and brings into existence traditions that never existed but in the imagination of their inventors. It selects whatever sources it sees fit, and mostly relies on nineteenth-century categories brought forth by imperial England.
It is against this vision of a closed and atemporal India that Subrahmanyam writes. The India he attempts to describe is not an essence, it is a process. It is not a rock or a land mass, it is a flowing river. It is not a closed fortress closed by walls; it is a crossroad, an open field, a meeting place. It is not the land where never the East and the West shall meet; it is a mix of Eastern and Western influences, of Southern and Northern traits, inextricably interwoven. The idea of purification and returning to roots is anathema to him. There is no passage to India: India itself is a passage, a gateway, a bridge. Indian civilization, like “the West”, is less a cultural area than an idea, an ideology, a myth. It is what people make of it. India is just like the knife from which one has changed the blade and then the handle: it stays the same by becoming different. And like a knife, it can be used as a weapon to exclude, to oppress, to negate.
The market for India is also on the rise in the United States. New departments of Indian studies are being created in American universities, and Indian (female) professors specializing in postmodern studies or critical theory fit the hiring requisites of politically-correct academic committees. (The following message recently went viral on Twitter: “She decided to teach postcolonial theory instead of seventeenth-century poetry. Because, you know, easier Said than Donne.”) Subrahmanyam shows postcolonial studies for what they really are: an academic carnival, an attack on common sense and decency, a license to kill any pretense to academic rigor. Worse, they lead to the marginalization of other strands of research, no less critical of colonialism, that suddenly find themselves excluded from the intellectual marketplace. Far from escaping from empire, postcolonial theory stays hostage to the culturalism and national narrative that it ostensibly denounces. It is an American product through and through.
Meanwhile, studies on India made in India by Indian scholars have declined and have lost almost all academic visibility globally. They have fallen victim to the budget cuts in Indian universities and the passing fads on the global academic market. One consequence of this is that sources and archives in languages other than English are being neglected by the vast majority of researchers, resulting in a narrowing of the research scope. Even global history—a recent fad that the author rejects, although he is often put into this category—can be criticized for its monolingualism: globalization is seen exclusively through English sources, and through the prism and categories of the English language. How can one write a history of India, or survey Indian literature, without a familiarity with vernacular languages? These include Hindi and Bengali, of course, but also Dravidian languages such as Tamil and Telugu, as well as the languages in which sources are available: ancient languages and scripts now disappeared, such as Pali and Sanskrit, as well as the archives of the empires and colonial powers that intervened on the Indian subcontinent. Subrahmanyam, for one, studied extensively Portuguese sources, and published columns and articles in the popular press Tamil.
Forming the second category regrouped in this volume, Subrahmanyam’s book reviews and essays on literature are distinctive for their negative tone. He displays the art of the savage critique, the vitriolic attack, the scathing review. He is brutally honest and straightforward. His targets include a roster of prominent Indian figures: Ramachandra Guha, the most popular historian of contemporary India: Ashis Nandi, a social scientist with a huge followership akin to that of a guru; Aravind Adiga, the recent winner of the Booker prize; and others. Even individuals which whom he feels close and shares basic values are not spared by his criticisms. He blames Martha Nussbaum for her narrow vision of the Indian intellectual landscape, which she reduces to the three figures of Tagore, Gandhi, and Nehru. He sums up his chapter on V. S. Naipaul with the title: “Pride and Prejudice,” the two traits that he sees define the Trinidad writer’s worldview. He highlights Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s cult of his own personality and fascination for celebrity, which led him to associate with pop singer Shakira. Reviewing Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, he states that the pages on the birth of Islam, which caused so much outrage in the Muslim world and led to the fatwa condemning the author, are among the weakest and the most preposterous in the book. With a friend like this, who needs enemies?
In addition to surveying history and reviewing books, Subrahmanyam’s collection of essays depicts his itinerary as an academic, from India to Portugal, France, and the United States. His description of the Delhi School of Economics, where he completed his undergraduate and graduate studies, is especially valuable. It was one of the high temples of social science in post-independence India, where economists would work side-by-side with anthropologists and historians. But even then, bright students would move to Oxford, Cambridge, or the US to complete their PhD studies. Subrahmanyam chose to stay, and to pursue his thesis in economic history after having received a sound training in economics. One of his junior teachers was Kaushik Basu, who is currently the chief economist at the World Bank and a prominent microeconomist. Subrahmanyam also spent almost a decade in Paris at the EHESS, the birthplace of the Ecole des Annales and a hotbed of academic creativity; but he confesses he was disappointed by its provincialism and its incapacity to follow the times. He was also somewhat disappointed by France, and writes his recollection of the time spent in Paris as an “ambiguous Parisian” who was at once fascinated and repelled by the French’s lack of civic sense and indulgence for ultra-left extremism. He would certainly find the extremism displayed by the reviews on this website equally repelling.
Sanjay, don't come to India. We know how to take care people like you. If in doubt, ask the families of Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh
Here is a obvious evidence against book's doctrine,
archeological evidence site, which is declared a world heritage site in 2003.:
Anyone with any basic knowledge of history and archeology can see, this is a biased sensationalism literature, which is being repackage as history.