Robert C. Priddy

Writings on diverse themes from philosophy, psychology to literature and criticism

  • Robert Priddy

    In this blog I post information and critical views concerning ideologies, belief systems and related scientific materials etc. I am a retired philosophy lecturer and researcher, born 1936.

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Nirad C. Chaudhuri – India watcher

Posted by robertpriddy on February 26, 2010

Nirad C. Chaudhuri was one of the most prolific Indian writers, especially in English. He was from Bengal and became famous with the first Indian autobiography ‘Autobiography of an Unknown Indian’. After his immigration to U.K. late in life, he received a CBE from the Queen (Commander of the British Empire).  He was a polymath and master of many languages, including Latin and Classical Greek, Sanskrit, French, German, not least of course English and Bengali. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Oxford University. The unconventional writer maintained in his writings in the late 20th century that “the world’s knowledge about India today is obtained overwhelmingly at one remove from people belonging to the urban upper middle-class, who have become the heirs to British rule.” As a class, their views and attitudes are predominantly those of the rulers and exploiters of the remaining nine-tenths.”

However, the rulers are now more strongly Hindu-dominated and is clearly not the case to the same extent today. Moreover, there is the rise of some “lower” caste politicians into political power positions and slowly increasing social mobility in India, despite the persistence of many very rigid and discriminative caste rules. Still, though, the vast rural population of India is most definitely not adequately represented in news and opinion available about India in the 21st century so far. We have to look no further than the existence – under dire threat from the Hindu-dominated government – of the Dongria Kondh of Orissa (see Arundathi Roy’s warning about the destruction of indigenous inhabitants)

Nirad Chaudhuri also pointed out most tellingly a ‘dual-accounting’ tendency by most official Indians in telling others about their nation. One gives a beautified account for outside public consumption while knowing that the unadorned truth is quite different. According to him, a subtle kind of double-speak exists almost universally in India… on the one hand what one presents to foreigners and on the other an unspoken knowledge of certain realities shared by all those who know at least one major Indian tongue, but which is very seldom expressed by English-speakers or writers. Chaudhuri himself obviously represents a very definitive break with that norm and he has had to pay the price of being eschewed by the majority of Indians. His voluminous and extremely frank and very learned writings about India virtually shook the nation. Not least, he let the cat out of the bag and some when he wrote: “An Indian’s faith in bribes is infinite and unshakeable. Not only is bribing believed to be an infallible remedy for all workaday inconveniences – a belief justified by experience – it is also regarded as an equally effective means of managing high affairs of state…” (Autobiography of an Unknown Indian p. 117).

He wrote about The Vedas: “According to scholars of history, the (four chief) Vedas were a set of prayers and hymns to God – never originally being God-revealed scripture at all. Though possible revised, their language is dead, but even today the rituals are recited by priests at marriages, funerals and the like and not least at many official (even governmental) functions. The later doctrine introduced about the Vedas that they exist ‘eternally’ and were saved from a world-enveloping deluge is sheer myth, of course.” from ‘The Continent of Circe’ p. 184-5

“Fair complexion is preferred by a majority of Indians to darker skin tones. The lighter the better and the more prosperous in marriage. Much has been written about the origin and persistence of this degradation of people in India (the discriminated Dalits – once called ‘untouchables’ or sudras – and most of the pre-Hindu tribes that have survived are notably dark-skinned). The British rulers were very fair and greatly colour prejudiced, but the ‘white sahibs’ had to be obeyed by Indians who otherwise despised them but themselves failed to correct the colour mote in their own eyes.” ibid p. 188

River cultism: “The veneration of rivers in religion and cyclical bathing festivals are still visited at auspicious times even by presidents and prime ministers. When the Prime Minister and President visited the Kumbha Mela at Allahabad in 1954 – thus diverting police away from crowd control – the result was a major tragedy with hundreds of deaths. The supposed amazing qualities of the Ganges and its water is but one of many extremes of the river cult. Chaudhuri traces river worship back to pre-religious times and considers that the identification of Indian rivers with Gods and Godesses happened because of the popularity of rivers in that otherwise dry, parched and – above all – dust ridden country… not the other way round. ” ibid 197-8

“Cow worship is still prevalent everywhere among Hindus in the shape of a non-beef diet and regular worship of cows at festivals and in religious literature. It is still also being most dangerous to harm or kill a cow that roams the streets where Hindus are prevalent. Killing of cows was normal in Vedic times when guests visited and for sacrifices… so non-violence against animals has no Vedic authority. That evolved later.”

Since Independence, Indian authorities have mostly been extremely cagey about letting the world see the dark side of India, even banning Western documentary and feature film makers who wanted to show the slums and exposed the corruption and uncontrolled police brutality everywhere. The fewest Indian films show anything like the realities of India, with the exception of ‘Salaam Bombay’ and a few earlier documentaries. Bollywood glosses over the real problems of discrimination, rape, brutality, wife-burning, infanticide, vast prostitution networks with underage girls and boys and and the most heinous practices of the underworld where babies and children are maimed most horribly so as to beg for these mafias. The country is presented in as positive a light as possible by its leaders, with constant talk of Indian values as morally superior etc. even more than is usual in other countries. This widespread reliance on double-standards in recording facts is supported by the existence of records of Indian life which often present the harsher realities of India in a stark way, having been recorded in memoirs such as by Nirad Chaudhuri and in other writings by those British who had mastered several Indian languages and spent their lives in the thick of life in the provinces as colonial administrators, judges and so forth.


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