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Why Su-prose? "Su" in Sanskrit is a prefix for "good". This is a place where we will discuss and analyze prose (with a South Asian Connection) - that which is good, awesome, excellent, and maybe rant about prose that could be better.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

The Lure Of The West and How to be Modern in South Asia

“The societies, culture, and traditions of countries like Tibet, Pakistan, India and others are becoming diluted by western influences,” this has long been the grievance of many patriots and thinkers. Echoing this reflection, the mutability of cultural boundaries is a familiar theme in Pankaj Mishra’s works, as in his latest book “Temptations of the West: How To Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet and Beyond,” which raises several questions about the cultural, political and social upheavals currently taking place in Southern Asia.
Mishra, an erudite intellectual in this book, his fifth one to date, identifies the more important issues that have risen out of such intense cultural change. From the pressures and temptations presented by Western style modernity, the lure of prosperity, and the paradoxical nature of globalization, as both an agent for change and an eraser of cultural history, Mishra astutely juggles the ever increasing number of problems currently facing the people of Southern Asia.
From Bollywood stardom it’s mafia and it’s financiers, to India’s post-independence politics, to the troubled state of Kashmir, to packaging Tibetan Buddhism to tourists, Mishra furnishes a vivid picture of modern India and it’s counterparts, that is straightforward and candid while at the same time describing the real life human beings who struggle to understand their constantly changing way of life.
His references to Muslim insurgency, his declaration that Hinduism in the hands of these Indians has never looked more like the Christianity and Islam of popes and mullahs and less like the multiplicity of unselfconsciously tolerant faiths it still is for most Indians, might infuriate many Indian readers, not to mention those of the middle class that seek Western endorsement.
The toughest of critics though have been captivated by Mishra’s latest book, which is partly autobiographical in nature. John Gray of the “Guardian” encapsulates Mishra’s latest book perfectly, “Like his study of the Buddha this is a genre-bending book. It begins autobiographically with an account of Mishra's time as an unofficial student, reading voraciously in the decaying libraries of a run-down Indian university, and continues with his adventurous travels throughout India, Kashmir, Pakistan and Tibet.” Ben Macintyre of the New York Times is all praise as well, “Mishra has a talent for discovering such extraordinary, even lurid characters to illuminate his account of dashed dreams, clashing religions, huge wealth, crushing poverty, corruption, oppression and, almost unbelievably, hope.”
While one may argue that Mishra, since he lives in India part of the time and in London for the other art, is not really an insider, his writing has always been inspiring and thought provoking. Temptations of the West, though angry and passionate, is insightful and eloquent. His vivid and lyrical language, make his experiences all the more rich and exotic. This is a book about history in the making and about a conflicted world, which is explained lucidly by a writer with an analytic mind and the skills of a journalist.

Reviewed by Visi Tilak

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