The Discovery of India Analysis
Nehru ranks as a superb writer in English. He has a chaste expression and flowery style. In his masterpiece, The Discovery of India Nehru goes through self-discovery and self-introspection that renders deep insight in his motherland, the holy India.
The Discovery of India is, in fact, the discovery or Nehru’s rich and graceful personality. It gives us glimpses into the manifold aspects of this great man symbolized for many years the youth of our rejuvenated race awakened after long slumber.
The Discovery of India considered as a whole is a curious jumble of historical facts, philosophical speculations and reflective essays on divergent themes couched in pleasant prose often rising to poetic heights. It is a thesis on Indian culture and history by the catholic and cosmopolitan mind of Nehru. He approaches India like a “friendly foreigner”, appreciates her wisdom, condemns her follies and studies her past to make it a spring-board of action, to push and direct the current of history in creative future channels.
This book has acquired the status of a classic since it was first published in 1946. To read The Discovery of India is to more than discover just India. Not limited to information about the subcontinent as it is today, one discovers the world from Plato, Emerson, the history of lands like Afghanistan, China’s ancient trade links with India and so much more. It is to venture into a discovery of the world itself.
The whole written and unwritten history of India is given in the book. The Indus valley civilization, the coming of the Aryans, Hinduism, caste system, the continuity of the great Indian culture, name it and it is in the book. The epics, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad-Gita, Buddha, Ashoka and through all the people, the books and the contemporary records of the time, we get a complete picture of India through the ages. The dawn of the medieval period and the golden era of the Gupta dynasty give a good insight of India’s foreign relationships with the people of Iran, Greece.
Then there is the answer to the most perplexing question of Buddhism in India. That is the fact that even though the religion was started in India, the larger part of Buddhism in India merged with Hinduism the book gives a detailed picture of the times. Through the Arabs, the Mongols we come to the golden time of the Mughal Empire. And the lives of Babar, Akbar, the Marathas, all flash before our eyes, as we are led to the colonial times of the British rule, with all the minute details. The path takes through the times when the British came as traders to India and later went to build a colonial empire. The dawn of the national movement, and what better way to learn about it than through the words of the man who along with Gandhi trembled the colonial rule. This is best section of the book in my view. We get all the bits and pieces of history of the country and this is a must read for all the Indians.
It can be understood and appreciated as an introduction to the cultural history of India, as a study of the various phases in the gradual development of the national mind from the early dawn of civilization to the feverish, twentieth century when British India stood at the threshold of liberty and light. It is only a general introduction meant for the general reader. Nehru is not an academic historian, and his aim is not to narrate the facts of history with meticulous care. He is rather a philosopher of history, and his aim is to make constructive suggestions on the basis of historical knowledge.
Nehru says that Afghans after being settled in India were Indianised. The fact is they never were. They did not, of course, like the British drag away India’s wealth into a foreign country. But they lived in a conquered country like the robbers who also ruled. Ruling over India from Delhi does not Indianise them. They considered themselves the Moslem masters of Hindu population. They identified themselves with the wandering tribes of Arabia, and hated the culture of India. The Afghan period in the history of India is the darkest period, the period of chaos where might passed as right, where brutal bloodshed of kafirs who refused to be converted was the only ideal. In respect of Jajia Tax Hindus for being what they were had to pay taxes and pay heavily. Afghans physically lived in India, but their spiritual home was abroad. Their descendants continued to cherish the same mentality till India was divided and Pakistan came into existence.
Nehru never presumed that he was writing literature. His purpose in The Discovery was to discover India for himself, and he tries to achieve it with all his power and penetration. But while at the work of writing, the unconscious artist in him possesses all his other faculties so completely that he instinctively displays literary excellences. Prof. C. D. Narasimhaiah rightly observes:
“The Discovery is not merely a chronicle of historical events or a treatise of Indian culture, it is a piece of literature conceived and executed by one who is probably India’s greatest writer of English prose.”
(Foreword, India Rediscovered, Oxford University Press)
The Discovery has the elements of autobiography in it. In the autobiography which was written some ten or twelve years earlier, we see how a child of Motilal grows into a distinguished personality whose whole being expands, embraces and becomes one with India, whose voice becomes the articulate utterance of her vaguely felt dreams and aspirations.
The first three chapters of the book are an outright autobiography. Nehru is imprisoned in the Ahmadnagar Fort while the country is struck with famine and the world is torn in war. In leisurely mood he rambles into the past of India and her present, reflects on life’s philosophy and the future of democracy, and begins writing. In the second chapter he narrates the events of his life after his term of imprisonment at Almora in 1935, the illness and death of his wife, his journey to Switzerland and back from there. “The Quest” the third chapter is the real beginning of the discovery of India. Still, even here he is busy clearing his approach of India, her appeal to him, and lapsing once more into the stray reflections on nationalism and internationalism, his journeys and general elections. The first three chapters thus have distinctly autobiographical content and flavour.
We may conclude with an extract from Albert Einstein’s letter to Nehru:
“I have read with extreme interest your marvellous book…It gives an understanding of the glorious intellectual and spiritual tradition of …India.”