Lunch With a Bigot: The Writer in the World

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Disjunction or No Disjunction? That is the Question Review. Reviewer: P.

Amitava Kumar

Pratap Kumar. China and Islam Review. Reviewer: Jonathan Fulton. O Tempora! O Mores! Reviewer: Niels Mulder. Reviewer: Xiao Ma. A part of this novel was first published years ago in a newspaper in India. But in terms of my career, to be honest, I felt I had really published when I got into the pages of Granta. Because it had been a dream for so long.

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What are you reading right now? Taneja is very alert to social hierarchies but one of the other fascinating things about the book is that it is a rewriting of King Lear and set in modern-day India.


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What intrigued me most was the structure. If you were stuck on a desert island, which book would you want with you? The enforced stay on a desert island might just be the ticket. Who is the most underrated author, in your opinion? You know, one of the writers I always want to tell my students about is David Markson.

This is Not a Novel is a masterpiece of formal invention. His poetry as well as his translations should have earned him a place in the pantheon. What is the biggest impediment to your writing life? The strange thing is, although perhaps it is not strange at all, that later Mr. D uring lunch, Mr. Barotia had told me that I was ungrateful if I forgot how Hindu warriors had saved our motherland.

It was an admission of guilt, of illegitimacy, as if Nehru, the socialist first prime minister of India, had done something wrong in being a liberal, and those of us who believed in his vision of an inclusive India were his ill-begotten offspring. Nehru is often accused by his detractors of having been a profligate person, and my remark had granted him a certain promiscuity. But the more serious charge hidden in my comment was that the former prime minister had produced a polity that was the result of miscegenation with the West.

I was being disingenuous — and so was Mr.

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Our lives and our histories, with or without Nehru, were tied up with links with the wider world. I am an Indian writer who writes in English. Today, Mr. Barotia is a fan of the internet. We both live and work in the United States.

We are both struggling, each in our way, to be like Nehru, whose eclecticism was exceptional. But Nehru was also exemplary because, unlike many of his Hindu compatriots, he had an unwavering belief that Hindu-Muslim conflict had nothing to do with tradition but was a modern phenomenon, which could be corrected by means of enlightened policy. In the train, flipping over some of the papers that Mr. Barotia had given me, I began to read what the Hindutva brigade had to say about Nehru.

Lunch With a Bigot, The Writer in the World by Amitava Kumar | | Booktopia

If he were a Hindu he would have respected married women and looked at the unmarried girls as "devis" goddesses. Wake Up! So, Oh Disbeliever World! A s I read the following words, it was as if I could hear Mr.


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Barotia wrote. He followed a little later with a bogus disquisition on the etymology of the name for Muslims. T here are various things that could be said about Mr. One would be that he is a fringe element that gives a dangerous edge to an increasingly powerful and mainstream ideology in the subcontinent. His political affiliation is with the party that rules now in New Delhi, although it is in retreat in parts of India. Barotia is also a member of the group that claims success in raising funds in the West — including investments made by expatriate Indians, allegedly to the tune of four billion dollars — to support the Indian government after economic sanctions had been imposed on India following the nuclear tests in But, what interests me, as a writer, are the words that Mr.

Barotia uses. Their violence and ferocity — their absoluteness compromised and made vulnerable in different ways, not least by the repeated eruption of a sexual anxiety — carry the threat most visible in the rhetoric of rioters in India today. That rhetoric leaves no place for the middle-class gentility of Nehruvian liberalism. Indeed, its incivility is a response to the failures of the idealism represented by the likes of Nehru and Gandhi.

It almost has the legitimacy of being the voice of the people, which it is not, and its aggressiveness is born through its own sense that it is pitched in battle against those who held power for too long. I am not sure whether I would ever, or for long, envy Mr. Once that thought enters my head, I am uneasily conscious of the ways in which I found myself mocking Mr. Like Mr. Barotia, I was born in the provinces and grew up in small towns.

For me, the move to the city meant that I learnt English and embraced secular, universal rationality and liberalism. Barotia remained truer to his roots and retained his religion as well as a narrower form of nationalism that went with it. His revenge on the city was that he also became a fanatic. T here is also another reason why Mr. His stories about heroism and betrayal share something with the fantasy-world of my own childhood, whose half-understood atmosphere of rumour and prejudice was a part not of a private universe but a largely public one.

What Mr. Barotia and I share in some deep way is the language of memory — that well from which we have drawn, like water, our collective stories. After my meeting with Mr. Barotia, I thought of a particular incident from my childhood and wondered whether he, too, had similar memories, linking him and me, all of us, to all the bigots of the world.

My memory concerned a dead lizard. I must have been five or six at that time. The lizards, the girgit , were everywhere. In the small garden outside our home in Patna, they would creep out of the hedge and sun themselves on the metal gate. Many years later, in a mall near Washington, I saw the lizards being sold as pets, and was reminded of my childhood fear of them. These lizards were yellow or brown, their thin bodies scaly, and many of them had bloated red sacs under their chins.

Although I was scared of the lizards, I also wanted to kill them. I would try to imagine what its pale exposed belly would look like when it fell through the air, from the gate to the ground. A boy who was a year ahead of me in school actually killed one of them, bringing it to me a plastic bag.

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