India: A Wounded Civilization Summary and Analysis
‘Brilliant” – Says John Grigg in the Spectator for the travelogue India: A Wounded Civilization written by V.S. Naipaul. The narration of the travelogue begins from August 1975 and ends in October 1976. Naipaul was the frequent visitor of India since 1964. The visit in 1975 was the second long stay of Naipaul in India. During the period India was reeling under Emergency rule clamped by Mrs. Gandhi. Though Naipaul had nothing to do with Emergency but he was astonished to see the historical ruins, political unrest, cultural calamity and religious decline of the ancient Indian civilization. The people of India should not become blind to the inherent incapability on which their civilization is based upon. The visit of India was nothing new for Naipaul but the horrendous plight of India opened his eyes. He had read a lot of good things from his ancestors about India. He was surprised to see India. He had heard just the opposite from his ancestors about India. Naipaul digs at this awful predicament of India which has been spiritually starved. Naipaul exercised his intellectual acumen to understand India. He has admiration for old ancient India but this glory did not last long. India came under foreign rule after the invasion of Arabs in 712 AD. It also ended the rule of Hindu Kings. Here he has given the account of Vijayanagar, the Hindu dynasty which tried to revive the Hindu rule in South India against the powerful Moslem principality.
At last, the Moslem rulers united together against the Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar and crushed the Hindu rule. They defeated Vijayanagar very badly. This historical incident ended the supremacy of Hindu rule in South India and in 1565 proved the supremacy of Moslem rule. The dynasty of Vijayanagar had emerged in sixteenth century in South India. It has been remarkable to notice that all the foreign invasions have been done to India from the north direction. The North India is comparatively insecure than South India. When North India was entirely under the Moslem rule during the medieval period, in sixteenth century, the rise of Vijayanagar kingdom brought a ray of hope of revival of Hindu rule. The kingdom did not survive for a long period and it became a forlorn chapter in the pages of history after 1565, when the Vijayanagar was defeated. Only the ruins remained to speak the might of this kingdom. The pathetic defeat of the powerful Hindu kingdom Vijayanagar has symbolic significance in the pages of history. Naipaul mocks at Hindu kingdom for the lack of strength against the mighty Moselm principalities in 1565. Naipaul says about the defeat of Vijayanagar.
“Vijayanagar- Vijaya, victory, nagar, city-was established in the fourteenth century; it was conquered, and totally destroyed, by an alliance of Moslem principalities in 1565. The city was then one of the greatest in the world, its walls twenty-four miles around foreign visitors have left accounts of its organization and magnificence – and the work of destruction took five months; some people says a year.”
The sharp intellect eyes of Naipaul perceived this historical incident as the symbolic defeat of Hindu rule. After defeat of Vijayanagar kingdom, the Hindu rule never revived in south India. The kingdom had a very interesting story of its establishment. The kingdom was founded in 1336 by a local Hindu prince. He was defeated by a Moslem ruler. He was taken as captive and transported to Delhi. He was forcibly converted to Islam and then sent back to the south as the representative of the Moslem power. In south the converted Muslim representative once again reconverted himself to Hindu. He established the Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar. In this unlikely way the mighty Hindu kingdom of the south was established. He became the custodian of Hindu religion and gods. Naipaul sums up the religious awakening of this Hindu ruler of Vijayanagar:
“It was committed from the start to the preservation of a Hinduism that had already been violated, and culturally and artistically it preserved and repeated: it hardly innovated.”
The defeat of Vijayanagar kingdom had a symbolic significance. This kingdom had kept sincerely the Hindu culture alive. After the invasion the Moslem conqueror had completely destroyed the Hindu legacy which flourished for a little time in the soil of south India. Naipaul considers that the long slavery of India proved fatal for her. She has lost her old glory. In the medieval India, the Hindu culture, religion and thoughts witnessed a sharp decline because of the lack of patronage. The soil of India had only seen the Vijayanagar kingdom as a Hindu kingdom in medieval period. The kingdom became prominent during the glorious rule of famous emperor Krishna Deva Raya. The rule of Krishna Deva Raya was the bright period in the history of Vijayanagar. Hindu temples of different gods were erected. Art and culture were preserved. Krishna Deva Raya (1509-1529) also built the big dams for irrigation. He was committed to the welfare of the people. But Hindu knowledge suffered sharp decline after the destruction of Vijayanagar kingdom. Naipaul says:
“It was at Vijayanagar this time, in that wide temple avenue, which seemed less awesome than when I had first seen it thirteen years before, no longer speaking as directly as it did then of a fabulous past, that I began to wonder about the intellectual depletion that must have come to India with the invasions and conquests of the last thousand years. What happened in Vijayanagar happened, in varying degrees, in other parts of the country.”
Naipaul speaks about the decline of intellectual knowledge of India. India came under foreign rule after 712 AD. The Indians were ruled by the invaders who become their emperors. India lost her glorious heritage. The past heritage of ancient India did not persist in later periods. The language, culture and religious thought were attacked and transformed suddenly. The dramatic fall of language Sanskrit was replaced by Arabic language. In dress code was also changed. The medieval India did not see the rise of any big Hindu kingdoms. These transformation gave birth to new India. The freedom of women was challenged. Earlier Indian culture did not have any genesis of veil system. But the thereat to beautiful Hindu females forced them to remain in veil. A sharp erosion to Indian religious values began. India lacked the spirit of struggle. India has yet to develop the mechanism te overcome the difficulties of life. ‘India absorbs and conquerors Indians says’. (18) This shows that India is incapable to fight against her aggressors. The aggressors came here, looted the land and left the nation. Some of them became their ruler and ruled India. Naipaul says:
“I wondered whether intellectually for a thousand years India hadn’t always retreated before its conquerors and whether, in its periods of apparent revival, India hadn’t only been making itself archaic again, intellectually smaller, always vulnerable.”
Naipaul considers India as the weak nation of the human history and civilization. Only this nation has inherent quality to surrender before her aggressors. In Indian history these conquerors and aggressors came to India from the northern boundary, looted and left with much fanfare. Naipaul sees the kingdom of Vijayanagar as the case study of the defeat of Hindu rule. It was the reason behind India’s slavery.
Naipaul mocks at Hindu religion. He considers that the Hindu religion teaches the escapist attitude of life. If the problem comes to a Hindu the religious thoughts failed to give strength to fight against it. Though such kind of thoughts are not deeply embedded in Hindu religion. Naipaul further gives the miniature of two most pathetic states of India. He had visited Bihar and Rajasthan. Both these two states are important in Naipaul’s narration of this travelogue.
Naipaul was astonished to see the worst life led by the people of Bihar. The horrendous plight of the people of Bihar by the mighty people raised the eyebrows of Naipaul. The rich landlords who had once exploited the poor peasants during the British rules once again become their master by joining the ruling party in Bihar. The soil of Bihar has given birth to Lord Mahavira, the founder of Jainism is now without any hope. Once this land spread the teachings of love and non-violence. Lord Buddha got enlightenment in Gaya and become the founder of Buddhism. The land of Bihar had witnessed the rule of dynasties like Maurya empire and Gupta empire. Now it has become the land of torture, ransom, murder injustice and decline of human values. Cruelty is the way of life in which the people are forced to accept. Child labour and school dropouts are nothing new in Bihar. Naipaul during his visit to Bihar in 1975 writes this heart rending and soul searching truth.
“Cruelty no longer had a meaning; it was life itself Men knew what they were born to. Every man knew his caste, his place; each group lived in its own immemorially defined area and the pariahs, the scavengers, live at the end of the village.”
In Bihar every single individual knows his caste. The caste identity plays a prominent role in deciding the fate of an individual. The state Bihar was once known for shaping the intellectual horizon of the nation. Now Bihar is known for her deplorable social evils of casteism and misrule. The prominent politicians since the days of independence made Bihar the political laboratory of casteism and ill governance. The development of Bihar is so pathetic that the youths of Bihar are forced to leave to other developed stated of India like Punjab, Gujarat and Maharashtra in search of jobs. Ironically they treated badly outside their own state. They have no alternate choice, but to flee from the state for their livelihood. The development of Bihar is a distant dream because the politician of state are well aware of their entry to Assembly or Parliament owing their caste allegiance. The residents of Bihar is called Bihari which has developed the symbolic meaning of inferiority’ and ‘poverty. The state of Bihar enjoys a special privilege in the heart of Naipaul. He sums up the genesis of the birth of Bihar and the meaning attached to this word.
“Such a moment came to me this time in North Bihar. Bihar, for centuries the cultural heartland of India (“Bihar’ from vihara, a Buddhist monastery), now without intellect or leaders in the south a land of drought and famine and flood, in the north a green, well watered land of jute (like tall reeds) and paddy and fish ponds.”
The mighty Indian politicians talk Bihar as a ‘political laboratory of India. Unfortunately these politicians never talk to make Bihar as a scientific and cultural laboratory. The educational hub is vet to emerge in Bihar which had once witnessed the glory of Nalanda University. The industry is a difficult dream for Bihari people because these politicians are well aware of the passion for casteism of these poor people. They know the passion for caste will force the mountain to move if not in other place of India at least in Bihar. The art and culture of Bihar has been completely destroyed.
After depicting the deplorable condition of Bihar, Naipaul has given the awful picture of Rajasthan, the western state of India. This region of India is known for the glory of Rajput kings and princes. The kings and their kins behaved as a self styled rulers. There has been a communication gap between the administration and the local people. The villagers have high regard for their former local rulers. These villagers did not change their mind set with the tide of the time. The former rulers also remain unchanged. The forts of Rajput rulers were lying vacant without any care. Rajasthan is not only known for valour but also for the creativity of art and culture. Bundi and Kotah are twin cities. They were famous for creative art. The people’s expectation of these regions were not adequately addressed. The government functionaries have also complaint against the local people for their frequent disturbance made during their official work. Naipaul says:
“They complained even when they had no cause; and it seemed that they complained because they felt it was expected of them. Their mock aggressiveness and mock desperation held little of real despair or rebellion.”
In Rajasthan the palaces are reduced to nothing. The common people of the state are forced to face the difficulty of life. The Indian babus at lower level are worried for money and promotion Naipaul has also depicted the frustration of Indian prince. He has been deprived of special privilege ‘Privy Purse’. The prince cries in desperation.
“……. For twenty-eight years until 1947 I ruled this state power of life and death. Could have hanged a man and nobody could have done anything to me.. Now they’ve looted my honour. my privilege. I’m nobody I’m just like everybody else Power of life and death. But I can still go out and walk.”
Naipaul was hearing the emotional outburst of the former princely of the states of Rajasthan. The prince boasted that he is not like Kennedy, who will be killed by his own people.
After giving the realistic depiction of Rajasthan’s prince Naingul witnessed the political turmoil of India. The people of India were living their life under the threat of Emergency. The constitutional rights were suspended. Naxal violence was also emerging as a challenge. The leaders from the opposition were put behind the bar. These opposition leaders were talking about revolution but without any reasons. All these leaders gathered together for selfish design to attain power. They claimed themselves as Gandhian. But in fact these leaders had their selfish motive. Most of the opposition leaders overestimated themselves during the time of Emergency. They claimed themselves as a people’s leader. But the truth was somewhat different.
“But the India of 1975 was not the India of 1930 and the Dandi Salt March. Political action couldn’t be concentrated in a single symbolic act (picking up a handful of salt from the shore at Dandi), a religious act, a ritual cleansing of a subject and defiled land. The needs of 1975 were more worldly and difficult. India wasn’t to be cleansed again; it was (as Mrs. Gandhi intuited) to be cleaned up and got going it was to be seen to be offering worldly opportunities.”
Naipaul had serious reservation against the success of the political movement against Emergency. The movement was called for selfish reasons. The country was also facing the threat from Naxal movement. The unrest was also felt in Maharashtra. It was social unrest. Shiv Sena, a regional outfit wanted to bring the lost pride of Shivaji. Martha King. He opposed the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. He had formed his Maratha kingdom. A cartoonist from Bombay formed this party in the name of Maratha ruler Shivaji. This regional outfit has been democratically accepted by the of Maharashtra people. This regional outfit had wide support. The Sena claimed that they were fighting for the welfare of Marathi people and their pride. Naipaul says:
“The Sena, army is xenophobic. It says that Maharashtra, the land of the Marathas, is for the Maharashtrians. It has won a concession from the government that eighty percent of jobs shall be held my Maharashtrians. The government feels that anyone who has lived in Bombay or Maharashtra for fifteen years ought to be considered a Maharashtra. But the Sena says no : a Maharashtrian is someone born of Maharshtrian parents.”
The Naxal movement also gained wide support in the rural areas of Bengal. The movement started against the landlords. The unequal land distributions among the people led to this movement. The wealth of the nation remained only in the hands of few people. The movement became violent and it claimed the life of several people. Earlier the respective state government were not serious to curb the movement.
“Naxalism was an intellectual tragedy, a tragedy of idealism, ignorance, and mimicry : middle class India, after Gandhian upheaval, incapable of generating ideas and institutions of its own, needing constantly in the modern world to be inducted into the art, science, and ideas of other civilizations, not always understanding the consequences, and this time borrowing something deadly, somebody else’s idea of revolution.”
Naipaul felt that India as a nation has many things to learn. The nation has borrowed several foreign institutions to their nation. But they did not adopt these institutions. India brought press from the West. Indian constitution was written with the help of the constitutions of USA, UK and France. Indian Judicial system is the product of the West. All these things are yet to find their adequate space in Indian democracy. Naipaul says:
“The turbulence in India this time hasn’t come from foreign invasion or conquest; it has been generated from within. India cannot respond in her old way, by a further retreat into archaism. Her borrowed institutions have worked like borrowed institutions; but archaic India can provide no substitute for press, parliament and courts.”
The study of India will remain inconclusive without making proper assessment of Gandhi. Gandhi has given a political lexicon, language and culture to India but all these things lacked clarity and coherence He raised up its archaic religious emotion. His Hindu-Muslim unity was not cemented on sound principles. It was mere a selfish bond of two communities. His Gram Raj and Ram Raj had no ideological base. It was accepted only in principle and never became practical. Gandhi was an apostle of truth but he did not share his London stay and South African experience to Indian people. Gandhi should have utilized his experience of London and South Africa in building the nation. His utopian thinking had created only confusion. The people did not accept his day dream. The nation cannot be governed on anyone’s fantasy. Gandhi delivered a fantasy, far away from the real world. Naipaul says:
“Gandhi gave India its politics; he called up its archaic religious emotions. He made them serve one another, and brought about an awakening. But in independent India the elements of that awakening negate one another. No government can survive on Gandhian fantasy; and the spirituality, the solace of conquered people, which Gandhi turned into a form of national assertion, has soured move obviously into nihilism that it always was.”
Naipaul has touched all the vital issues in his narration of the travelogue India: A Wounded Civilization. As a narrator he has been faithful, sincere and impartial. He has focussed his attention on India, and Indian people. The Indian people need to understand the limitations of their civilization. India has to evolve her racial identity. Indians have discovered their limited vision of ‘caste’ ‘clan’ and ‘language’. The followers of other religious groups like Jews, Moslems and Christians identify themselves with their race. Indian remained slave for the centuries because of the lack of their racial consciousness. India has been slaved and still cherishes the mentality of slave by her own people. India must work hard to save her borrowed institutions and realize her inner spiritual strength to recover from present ill affairs.