For some strange reason, I’ve read Pankaj Mishra’s books in reverse order..well, almost. I read The Romantics first, a long time before, and it remains a book I’m very attached to. Its a good book, but I’ve never figured out the exact reason for this strange bond, in spite of making a rare exception and reading it a second time. Maybe it was the time I first read it (a stage of life) or its characters or its title, someday I hope to know, it will tell me a bit more about myself, perhaps. But meanwhile, from The Romantics, I was lured straight to ‘Temptations of the West‘. A few months later, I read ‘An End to Suffering‘, which served as a kind of introduction to Buddhism for me, as Mishra mapped it on to his own spiritual evolution. I finally completed his first book, ‘Butter Chicken in Ludhiana: Travels in small town India’ more recently. Though its title would indicate so, calling it a travelogue would be a gross injustice, as it also manages to recreate the India of the 90′s. So, yes, it is a travelogue, but like many of its ilk, it works in space and time. No, this is not really a review.
I’m quite glad that I read his books in the order I did. If I read it earlier, I might have been irritated by the cynicism in the book. But having read his later books, I felt almost as though I was with him, as his thoughts and personality evolved. The book gives you loads of nostalgia triggers – from Baba Sehgal’s ‘Main bhi Madonna’ (i still remember the Magnasound casette cover ) to mentions of Nonie and Mamta Kulkarni, it draws upon tiny incidents of those forgotten days.
Many of you may not be able to associate at all with those three people mentioned above, for me, they bring back an era, their importance is relative. I even wondered whether, in future, we will have nostalgia townships, like we have the amusement parks now. The 70s, 80s, 90s re-created in terms of people, music, movies, fashion and all the elements of pop culture that can be attributed to an era. So, when you have those nostalgia pangs, you can call a few friends and take a vacation to bring back a period in your life.
A common theme struck me as I ‘moved’ through the book’s pages. Mishra mentions Murshidabad looking towards Calcutta in hope, for job prospects and a better life in general. In many people’s perception, Kolkata is perhaps the worst of the metros on those terms. He writes about the ‘immense cultural vacuum of North india’, and ‘looking towards Bengal for instruction’, and the decline of Allahabad and Benaras. But I realised that for me, those two places were perhaps teeming with culture and history. Again, in Murshidabad, he talks to a person who considers the Babri Masjid as just another mosque, while a nation still burns at regular intervals – the repercussions of an act long ago. The common theme is the relative nature of these things – they means different things to different people, all relative versions of the same thing equally real, when considered from each point of view.
I remember thinking about progress during my Andaman visit. I saw it in its current state, and can visualise it in the years to come, as tourism becomes a larger factor in the scheme of things, and the changes it will invariably bring in, into a way of life. To quote from the book we’ve been discussing
Civilisation, however, is on the move, and as E.M.Cioran remarks, nothing more characterises the civilised man than the zeal to impose his discontents on those so far exempt from them.
When the tourist money flows into the system, it will help the locals afford many things that they perhaps didn’t have access to. But even those who do not wish to change might be sucked into this new way of life because it would be a question of survival. Were they better off and happier before all this happens to them? I don’t know, because after all, even happiness is so relative now.
Objectivity - based on observable phenomena and uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices, and not the result of any judgments made by a conscious entity. But everything is relative. Things not seen from one’s own perspective don’t seem to matter, and objectivity’s definition would suggest “no one’s perspective”. Maybe that’s why we don’t care for it much anymore?
until next time, time, space and relativism