Stop putting India down…..(An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions, by Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen, review Despite its much-vaunted economic success, India is still held back by poverty, argues Alex von Tunzelmann)

I haven’t read the book reviewed by von Tunzelmann. My views emerge from a reading of the review itself, and my arguments are those of a person brought up, and living, in England for the past five decades. My psyche is English. But I have the advantage too of natural attunement to my ancestral genetics and to (north, rather than south) Indianism.

I articulate Englishness with an internal Indian eye.

European writers, well-intentioned and cognisant of warding off accusations of ignorance about India, sometimes have an Indian in tow. Indian writers, meanwhile, lack the English quality of giving offence, and are unable to confront the master race’s value-laden discourse – and self-congratulatory tone – about the imperative of material advancement while conveniently forgetting about the psychopathic annihilation of indigenous peoples and their cultures, and the subjugation of those who escaped genocide or who were enslaved.

This unsavoury and despotic European past continues at best to be a blind spot in European-self analysis and at worst to incite impatience and anger towards those who will not let go of the past. That whole, ‘I am not responsible for the actions of my forefathers’ thing.

Well, here’s some news for those ‘leave the past in the past’ rhetoricians. The past is very much alive and kicking here in the present. The methods and banner ads may have changed; the labels too: but the global imperative of democracy is just a newly packaged version of what came before (and don’t think that democracy as defined by the west represents the end of history; it’s a catchy word that entails a worthy ideal, but standing alone it does not, cannot, represent the apex of human social-political achievement).

Freedom is another watchword packaged up alongside democracy and farmed out as a global imperative. Arab Springs abound to demonstrate that the non-west wants freedom…oops, wait, did I hear you whisper that actually the Arab Spring isn’t quite so straightforward, and isn’t a revolution in the relationship between politics and society so much as a cyclical dynamic?

Let’s be honest. Nobody is under the illusion that the European psychopathic, bloodletting past has magically disappeared. Freedom, democracy etc – these are just European greed for power by another name. And the non-west meanwhile sits and waits, knowing that for all the democracy and freedom it’s currently being sold, the European bloodletting needs only the flimsiest of excuses to be unleashed.

Psychopathy does not beget sainthood. And when it sets out to value another culture, it doesn’t do so from an emic perspective, but from within the parameters set by its own psychopathic bio-signature. Poor India, that it must be assailed by such gross misunderstanding and incomprehension, that it’s bio-signature, its unique emotional and psychical equations should be sullied by being judged from a psychopathic-steeped perspective.

Defecation in the open? It’s rife in India and much less practiced elsewhere in the world. Thanks von Tunzelmann for this insight, which is implicated in a whole set of assumptions about the civilisational backwardness of defecating in a squatting position in the open air. Far more civilised by far to defecate, and then smudge and paste the stuff all over one’s backside, pull up one’s underpants and go away to eat with the same hand. Funny how defecating in the open comes attached with value-judgements, but we rarely hear – from the time of Naipaul down through the decades – of the hygienic action of washing one’s backside that accompanies this.

And while we’re on the subject, how super-civilisationally advanced it is to contort one’s body into an unnatural position to accomplish the act of defecation – on a  porcelain bowl, no less – whereby the majority of one’s waste remains shored up inside one’s body causing accelerating disease within. Damn those people who defecate in a position that is naturally and most efficiently conducive to eliminating the body’s waste.

I wonder which is the more intelligent culture? Which the more civilisationally advanced? And why, in a test of intelligence, advancement and refinement is the method and means of eliminating body waste a stronger indicator than, say, one’s predilection for waging war and genocide and triggering one race-hate war after another?

We all know the long-held European thing about how the brown stuff is the same colour as the fully-developed skin tone of the non-Europeans. What a bedrock of race-supremacy that in-joke has been and no doubt continues to be.

Right, so we have porcelain bowls to defecate in – let’s forget the eating with the same hand that you clean your backside with, that’s really beside the point. Now, let’s see, what other great wonders of advanced civilisation and consciousness has the rest of the world received from the Europeans? All those original inhabitants of North and South America, Australia, New Zealand who have been near annihilated….

I’m sure anybody who reads the Dreze/Sen book will learn a lot about western superiority, if van Tunzelmann’s review is anything to go by. And they will undoubtedly glory in it in a more befitting manner than the new Chinese Ambassador to the United States recently did, when in his inaugural speech he let slip (?!) that India dominated China for over a thousand years, yet not a single Indian soldier set foot on Chinese territory in all that time. Bit of a slap in the face of European civilisational supremacy…

To return to India and her unique features, it’s a pity that van Tunzelmann’s review didn’t scratch the surface of these beyond the ‘they defecate in the open’ sensationalism (the prevalence of which, by the way, I challenge a current visitor to record in a little notebook as they make their way around the country).

Last year, I revisited India for the first time in three decades. I didn’t find it polarised and mired in contradiction. In fact, I found a template, a model, for others to emulate and value. Here is a country in which sophisticated and tolerant drivers exhibit not an iota of road rage, granting and receiving passage in turn as they negotiate the road system with relish and commonsense and an innate understanding that it is everybody’s right to access and use.

The car horns may blare, the cars themselves may skim through the flimsiest gaps – but to regard these things as dangerous, as somehow uncivilised, is to assess them from a European psychopathic bio-signature perspective, and misses the maturity and negotiation and non-psychotic values that underpin the Indian bio-signature. No floppy-bellied drivers there going red in the face and starting seriously meant middle-finger debates about rights of way.

The shop assistants don’t demand your gratitude that they are on the shopfloor, and shock-horror, there to serve you. The generosity and hospitality of strangers is humbling, reconnecting me to a sense of shame about how much of a clone I am of English rudeness and self-centredness. The deprived smile openheartedly, refuse wads of rupees and accept in their integrity only the token few rupees that will see them through. Nobody seeks bribes, and railway baggage handlers return excessive tips.

So, let’s leave the romantic cynicism beguiled as discreet narrative hysteria, wrapped in selective analysis and centuries-old anecdotes to one side. And let’s focus on the madness that needs amending on this continent before we venture to lecture a mature advanced continent about her sensibilities and sensitivities – the like of which we can frankly never match.

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