Pankaj Mishra, reviewing William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, wonders “why did Jaswant Singh suddenly become so protective about a syncretic culture [when he tried to defend Jinnah’s legacy] that his own hardline party has done much to undermine?”

Singh was trying to defend a millennia-old pluralist India.

Mishra writes: “The public definition of the “self”, even in liberal nation-states, is parasitic on the existence of an excluded, preferably dangerous, “other”. But few nationalist hatreds in India and Pakistan survive the discovery that the much-demonised “other” is an aspect of one’s own personality, who not only has identical preferences in food, movies, sports, poetry and music, but also a similar worldview: one that can accommodate the eccentric and irregular in life – all that modern societies rigorously organised for production and profit would seem to have discarded over the last two centuries of industrial capitalism.”

“Both Gandhi’s syncretism and the loyalty to pan-Indian and local gods that Dalrymple describes seem to reveal that the self in Indian culture – whether individual or collective – is not something clearly defined or enclosed. The sharp disjunctions and separations – between self and others, us and them, the secular and the religious – that define identities in even the most liberal and multicultural Western nation-states rarely occur here. Indeed, this idea of the self makes space for what other more modern societies, which require clean-cut identities, would isolate and stigmatise as the fearful “other” – an irrepressible spirit of accommodation and fellow-feeling that occasionally overcomes even hardline nationalist politicians like Jaswant Singh.”

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