Wednesday, November 14, 2012



Dalrymple joins Karnad’s ‘Hate Naipaul' Campaign
Girish Karnad cannot hold a candle to V.S. Naipaul as a writer. His attacking Naipaul at a major literary event is an attempt to step out of obscurity and gain some limelight that his talent does not merit. Dalrymple seems to have joined him for his own reasons.
Guest column by Dr. Vijaya Rajiva

Editor’s introduction: V.S. Naipaul is one of the world’s most distinguished writers, and arguably the greatest living master of English prose. His two books on Islam— Among the Believers and Beyond Belief analyze the effect of Islamic conditioning on individuals and societies. While one may disagree with Naipaul’s conclusions and analysis, there is nodenying his brilliance as a writer. By no stretch of the imagination can Girish Karnad, at best a fringe figure in Kannada, never mind world literature, be placed anywhere close to Naipaul.
Girish Karnad
Girish Karnad
Karnad owes his recognition less to literary skills than government sponsorship. He has displayed much more skill at cultivating the right people than creating literature or drama. His theatrics at the meet were better than anything he has presented on the stage. Karnad used Naipaul’s presence at the event to step out of obscurity and bask in Naipaul’s reflected light by attacking him on non-literary grounds.

His charge that Naipaul is insensitive to Muslim contribution to music is irrelevant. Germans from Johann Sebastian Bach to Richard Strauss have made a stupendous contribution to music, but that cannot be used as a pretext to erase the Nazi record. William Dalrymple, while a more substantial writer and scholar than Karnad, has joined him for reasons thoroughly analyzed by Dr. Vijaya Rajiva in her article below. [NSR]

Karnad, the literary mouse that roared

In the heated debate on NDTV on playwright Girish Karnad’s virulent attack on VS Naipaul, (‘Was Girish Karnad’s attack on VS Naipaul unfair? NDTV, Nov. 5,2012) and a further discussion on Times Now (with Arnab Goswami) both men, William Dalrymple and Girish Karnad displayed an unfortunate personal animosity towards Naipaul for what they called his anti Muslim sentiments (whatever that phrase means!).

While Karnad said some silly things such as Naipaul is not an Indian (in Trinidad there is a large Indian community and the present PM there is a woman of Indian origin!) it is the sauve talented art historian Dalrymple’s arguments that need to be reflected upon. His animus towards Naipaul came out clearly in his exaggerated comparison of Naipaul with Ezra Pound’s fascism. Unlike Karnad’s diatribe this has some deep roots. [Sic: Meaning Karnad’s was just a publicity stunt? NSR]

At the Times Now discussion Farook Dhondhy (writer and friend of Naipaul) called the comparison disingenuous. Indeed this was a charitable way of putting it. Despite his sauve manner it was a vicious comment from Dalrymple. At the television debates Dalrymple went on to briefly enumerate his long standing criticism of what he saw as Naipaul’s dismissal of the contributions of Indian Muslims to the syncretic culture of India. Here again, Dhondy pointed out that Naipaul was referring to the invading barbarian marauders who came to India starting from the 8th century until the final invasion by Babur in 1525. Babur, as we all know, was the descendant of Genghiz Khan. Dhondy should have added: the barbarism of the Deccan Sultanate(s) after the fall of Vijayanagar in 1565!
William Darlymple
William Darlymple
It should be pointed out that Naipaul in his pronouncements mourned the passing of Hindu civilisation with the defeat of the Vijayanagara Empire. It was the last of the great Hindu kingdoms in the south, a bastion of Hindu civilisation. His observations were made to The Hindu: ” I think when you see so many Hindu temples of the 10th century or earlier disfigured, defaced, you realise that something terrible happened. I feel that the civilisation of that closed world was mortally wounded by these invasions . . . The Old World is destroyed. That has to be understood. Ancient Hindu India was destroyed.”

Dalrymple quotes this in his UK Guardian article ‘ Trapped in the ruins’ (2004). Likewise, he quotes at the same site, Naipaul’s earlier statement that the first Mughal emperor Babur’s invasion of India “left a deep wound” on the Hindu psyche.

Dalrymple’s whitewashing of Islamic rule

This cry from the heart irks Dalrymple, precisely because he is not a Hindu, whereas Naipaul is of Hindu descent (Karnad’s inane comment notwithstanding). [Sic: Unlike Karnad, Hindus in Trinidad have not turned against their ancestral culture to become spiritual slaves and worshippers of their colonizers. NSR]

Why does an Englishman, now living in India, and writing about India, take umbrage at this? The answer is twofold. Journalist Sheila Reddy writing for Outlookindia, spoke of Dalrymple’s abiding love, the Mughals. What this means is that Dalrymple must needs set up his own binary oppositions, Hindu-Muslim (a legacy from the Raj) and an innate bias towards one community or other and which expresses itself in the downplaying, if not downgrading of Hindu sentiment. What is a normal response to the fall of Vijayanagara from a Hindu is immediately distorted to mean ‘anti Muslim.’
V S Naipaul
V S Naipaul
Dalrymple’s partisanship can best be seen in the article he wrote for the UK Guardian. Here, while acknowledging Naipaul’s greatness as a writer, he dismisses Naipaul’s account of Indian history, notably that of the Vijayanagar empire. (Ironically, Dalrymple himself is less than accurate.) His reasons:

1. He states that Naipaul’s sources were early British accounts which spoke unfavourably of the Muslim presence in India in order to show how they, the British by comparison, brought law and order. He cites R. Sewell’s Forgotten Empire (1900) but in fact these were not Naipaul’s sources, which were from travellers prior to the British Occupation such as Ibn Battuta (14th century) who recorded the glories of the city of Vijayanagara. [Sic: To be fair, the British did create order out of anarchy by suppressing both Hindu and Muslim bandits like the Pindaris and the Thugs. NSR]

2. Dalrymple airily states that there were ‘shifting’ political configurations in the Deccan, which presumably had nothing to do with Hindu Muslim conflict at the time. On the other hand, the scholar S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar who departs from British and European historiography, has pointed out in two works that it was the Hindu Muslim conflict that motivated not only the Vijayanagara kingdom, but also that of the Hoyasalas (Ancient India 1911 and South India and her Mohammedan Invaders 1921). When the Hoyasala kings fell they handed the torch over to Vijayanagara, which in turn handed it over to Shivaji and the Marathas. At all times, the aim was to drive out the Muslim sultans who were considered aliens and outsiders to Hindu India. The former in turn were motivated at all times by their hostility to the Hindu rulers, even though they themselves engaged in internecine warfare amongst themselves and were eventually overcome.

At the famous Battle of Raichur (1520) the illustrious Krishnadevaraya of the Vijayanagara empire defeated the Bijapur sultan Adil Shah and recaptured Raichur. At the height of his career Krishnadevaraya fell ill and died. He was succeeded by Rama Raya. The five kings of the Deccan Sultanate (Bijapur,Golkonda, Ahmednagar, Bidar and Berar) joined forces to attack Vijayanagara. They defeated Rama Raya after a heroic battle owing to a ruse. Adil Shah sent a note to Rama Raya saying that he was neutral, even while his armies were planning to attack. Further, a secret arrangement was made between the sultans and the two defecting Muslim commanders of Rama Raya’s army who at a critical moment attacked from the rear. Rama Raya fell from his elephant and was captured by Sultan Nizam Shah.

The story then goes as follows: the sultan asks Rama Raya to acknowledge Allah as the only god. Rama Raya refuses. Instead he cries out : Narayana, Krishna Bhagavanta! His throat is slit and the head is mounted on a pole and displayed.

With this the Battle of Talikota ends (1565). What followed was the plunder, ransacking and pillage of Vijayanagara, which went on for months and almost a year. The capture and murder of Rama Raya is reminiscent of the similar fate of Prithviraj Chauhan in the 12th century at the hands of Mohamed Ghori. Here too there was a similar deception and the rules of war faithfully followed by Prithviraj were violated.

For the next hundred years the successors of Rama Raya and his brother Tirumala Raya (who had fled south after the fall of Vijayanagara) offered resistance to the Muslim rulers and prevented the Islamisation of south India. After this Shivaji and the Marathas took over the task of the defence of Hindu India and the spread of the Maratha Empire.

Hence, the Hindu Muslim conflict was not an incidental matter, but was central to the politics of the time.

3. Dalrymple admits that the first barbarian invasions produced some destruction but he claims it was not on the large scale that Hindus claim it was. Here, he goes against the accounts by Hindu [Sic: and Muslim NSR] writers. He does not produce any serious evidence from scholars other than Richard M. Eaton who wrote the book Temple Destruction and Muslim States in Medieval India (2004). This was also a response to Hindu writers such as Sita Ram Goel and his colleagues (Hindu Temples- What Happened to Them, 1990). Belgian scholar Koenraad Elst had already written his Negationism in India- Concealing the Record of Islam (1992). Here he compares this denial to the holocaust denial. In 2009 Elst responded again to his numerous critics in his book Ayodhya:The Case against the Temple (2009). Romila Thapar whom Dalrymple quotes has been roundly criticised for her inaccurate representations of the Mohammed Ghazni's destruction of the Somnath temple, Gujarat, in 1024.

[Sic: Dalrymple showed poor judgment in using Romila Thapar as authority for the medieval period. She knows neither Sanskrit nor Persian. Richard Eaton also, in his earlier book Sufis of Bijapur sang in a different tune. NSR]

4. But what most draws Dalrymple’s ire is that Naipaul does not acknowledge the contributions of Islam to the ‘syncretic’ culture of India. On Vijayanagara he quotes from Phillip Wagoner and describes him as a well known Sanskrit scholar. This is clearly inaccurate because Phillip Wagoner is a professor of Art History, at the Wesleyan College, USA, not a Sanskritist. His work focuses primarily on the Islamic component of some of Vijayanagara’s architecture. Neither he nor Dalrymple have anything much to say about the great Hindu temple architecture that dotted the Vijayanagara landscape, mainly because of their lack of knowledge of Vastu Shastra and the elaborate traditions of the Hindu artisans. They are also not very sensitive to Hindu temple architecture.

While the Lotus Mahal may include arched gateways and vaulted ceilings, to call it purely Islamic in style (as Dalrymple does), is something of a stretch. And Dalrymple as noted above has nothing to say about the many Hindu temples that are clearly derived from Hindu vastu shastra and embody Hindu temple architecture and were numerous in the Vijaynagara kingdom, although as a nod to his thesis of syncretism working in both directions, he admits that in spite of the islamic flourishes the architecture in general is Hindu in spirit.

Naipaul rightly calls Vijaynagara an example par excellence of Hindu civilisation. The entire ethos was Hindu. The kings were Hindu. And the battles fought against the neighbouring sultans were indeed a fight against an alien, invading occupying enemy. The brief account of the two famous battles against the Bahmani sultans is testimony to the fact that the Vijaynagara rulers saw themselves as defenders of Hindu dharma and its upholders, until the final defeat in 1565 and the torch was passed on to the Marathas.

The question of syncretism no doubt did not pass through Naipaul’s mind since the overwhelming underlying base of all things Indian, whether it was music or the arts or the sciences was Hindu in origin. Since the time of the Sarasvati Sindhu civilisation and the Vedic Agama tradition the civilisational flow was predominantly Hindu, and the Islamic interim was a relatively short and recent interlude in that flow of thousands of years. Many invaders had come and gone and left their small footprints (one can call them syncretic) and the same applied to the Islamic intervention. This must surely have impressed itself deeply on Naipaul’s mind and he most surely saw it as ongoing, despite the setbacks now and then, whether it was the fall of Vijayanagara or any other Hindu kingdom. It was in India alone too that Islam was unable to impose its religious domination, despite the death and destruction of the early barbarian invasions and the imposition of Mughal rule, whereas elsewhere in the Middle East within two decades the indigenous religions were destroyed. Iran is a classic case. This too cannot have escaped Naipaul’s attention.

This may not be to the liking of apologists of the Islamic intervention. Nor can it be denied by them that recent scholarship has shown Shah Jahan to be anything but romantic towards his wife Mumtaz Mahal. And here too the 20 plus years of artisan death and suffering in building the Taj Mahal have also been documented now. While the Taj Mahal has a certain beauty, it does not sit as comfortably on the Indian landscape as for instance the Akshardham (in the capital neighbourhood) whose style and grandeur are rooted in the earth of what Hindus call the Punya Bhumi.

Aesthetic judgments on the Taj Mahal are individual ones and Naipaul does echo some of this in his own negative observations on the Taj Mahal, and which Dalrymple has quoted in his UK Guardian article of 2004.

The judgments on the misery caused by the building of the Taj Mahal and the alien nature of this monument are truthful ones, although politically incorrect statements to make. However, Naipaul is not noted for pulling his punches. In the end he does not seem to have said anything deliberately hateful or vindictive, whereas the diatribe of Karnad and Dalrymple’s personal attack are vindictive and churlish to the extreme.

It is not clear why Girish Karnad embarked on it, while Dalrymple’s partisanship is at the root of the problem.

[Sic: As previously observed, Karnad hoped to get some easy publicity. He also said Naipaul does not appreciate the Muslim contribution to music. But this was only in Hindu India. Musicians like the great Bade Ghulam Ali Khan who migrated to Pakistan soon returned. Islam is hostile to music and the arts. NSR]

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