'William Dalrymple's partisanship : His recent attacks on VS Naipaul'

Discussion in 'Politics & Society' started by Das ka das, Nov 27, 2012.

  1. Das ka das

    Das ka das Tihar Jail Banned

    Oct 21, 2012
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    'William Dalrymple's partisanship : His recent attacks on VS Naipaul'
    09/11/2012 13:46:16

    Dr. Vijaya Rajiva

    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.

    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 after the fall of Vijayanagar in 1565 !

    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 UKGuardian 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.

    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). 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.'

    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 :

    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.

    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 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 Goyal 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 in 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 destruction of the Somnath temple, Gujarat, in 1024.

    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 has also been now documented. 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.

    (The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university).

    HaindavaKeralam - 'William Dalrymple's partisanship : His recent attacks on VS Naipaul'
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  3. VatsaOfBhrigus

    VatsaOfBhrigus Tihar Jail Banned

    Nov 15, 2012
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    Re: 'William Dalrymple's partisanship : His recent attacks on VS Naipa

    Obviously he attacked naipaul he be a british.
  4. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

    Apr 17, 2009
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    Re: 'William Dalrymple's partisanship : His recent attacks on VS Naipa

    William Dalrymple is the son of the 10th Baronet of of North Berwick in the County of Haddington of so I learn.

    The typical nob.

    He is a historian of sorts and his interest is in Indian history, with special interest with the Mughal times.

    The usual British Raj Joe who cannot quite help by revel in the days of the Raj and give new interpretations to Indian history.

    His critics claim that he is one of the British writers writing about India and feel that they are inheritors of "a Raj that still lingers".

    There is this article in Open, written by political editor Hartosh Singh Bal, focussed on foreign writers based in India, particularly those from Britain, who he says report a specific vision of the country, adding that yet such people are given credit for Indian literary establishments.

    Lot of writers find Naipaul a thorn in their side since he is rather brazen about his opinion like Ram Jethmalani.

    Interestingly Naipaul's wife is a Muslim, who was a Pakistani journalist, (Nadira Khannum Alvi). Nadira is the sister of Maj Gen (Retd) Amir Faisal Alvi, a former chief of the Special Service Group – Pakistan Army, who was later assassinated during the War in North-West Pakistan.
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2012
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  5. parijataka

    parijataka Senior Member Senior Member

    Oct 15, 2011
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    Re: 'William Dalrymple's partisanship : His recent attacks on VS Naipa

    Here is the article in Guardian that Dalrymple wrote in 2004.

    Trapped in the ruins

    There was some surprise last month when Sir Vidia and Lady Naipaul turned up at the office of India's ruling Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and gave what many in the Indian press took to be a pre-election endorsement not just of the party but of the entire far right-wing Hindu revivalist programme. India was indeed surging forward under the BJP, the Nobel Laureate was quoted as saying, and, yes, he was quite happy being "appropriated" by the party.

    More striking still was the quote attributed to Naipaul about the destruction of the Babri Masjid, Babur's mosque, in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, a decade ago: "Ayodhya is a sort of passion," he said. "Any passion is to be encouraged. Passion leads to creativity." For a man whose work contains many eloquent warnings of the dangers of misplaced political passions - the Islamic Revolution in Iran to take just one example - this might appear to be a surprising volte face, especially when one considers the horrific anti-Muslim pogroms that followed Ayodhya, when BJP mobs went on the rampage across India and Muslims were hunted down by armed thugs, burned alive in their homes, scalded by acid bombs or knifed in the streets. By the time the army was brought in, at least 1,400 people had been slaughtered in Bombay alone.

    It might seem unlikely that a Nobel Laureate would put himself in a position of apparently endorsing an act that spawned mass murder - or commend a party that has often been seen as virulently anti-intellectual. Indeed, one commentator in the Times of India wondered if Naipaul had not been misunderstood. The paper pointed out that Naipaul told his hosts at the BJP in Delhi: "You cannot carry the past with you or you will not progress. Leave this behind in history books and move on."

    Yet Naipaul's earlier statements, especially his remarks that the first Mughal emperor Babur's invasion of India "left a deep wound", are consistent with ideas Naipaul has been airing for many years now. In 1998, for example, he told the Hindu newspaper: "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 those invasions ... The Old World is destroyed. That has to be understood. Ancient Hindu India was destroyed." Such attitudes form a consistent line of thought in Naipaul's writing from An Area of Darkness in 1964 through to the present.

    Few would dispute Naipaul's status as probably the greatest living writer of Indian origin; indeed some would go further and argue that he is the greatest living writer of English prose. For good reason his views are taken very seriously. He is a writer whose fiction and non-fiction written over half a century forms a body of work of great brilliance, something the Nobel committee recognised in 2001 when it awarded him literature's highest honour, and singled out his analysis of the Islamic world in his prize citation .

    Naipaul's credentials as a historian are, however, less secure.

    There is a celebrated opening sequence to Naipaul's masterpiece, India: A Wounded Civilization. It is 1975 - a full quarter century before he won the Nobel - and Naipaul is surveying the shattered ruins of the great medieval Hindu capital of Vijayanagar, the City of Victory.

    Naipaul leads the reader through the remains of the once mighty city, its 24 miles of walls winding through the "brown plateau of rock and gigantic boulders". These days, he explains, this part of south India is just "a peasant wilderness", but look carefully and you can see scattered everywhere the crumbling wreck age of former greatness: "Palaces and stables, a royal bath ... the leaning granite pillars of what must have been a bridge across the river." Over the bridge, there is more: "A long and very wide avenue, with a great statue of the bull of Shiva at one end, and at the other end a miracle: a temple that for some reason was spared destruction, and is still used for worship."

    Naipaul goes on to lament the fall of this "great centre of Hindu civilisation", "then one of the greatest [cities] in the world". It was pillaged in 1565 "by an alliance of Muslim principalities - and the work of destruction took five months; some people say a year." It fell, according to Naipaul, because already the Hindu world it embodied had become backward looking and stagnant: it had failed to develop, and in particular had failed to develop the military means to challenge the aggressive Muslim sultanates that surrounded it. Instead, Vijayanagar was "committed from the start to the preservation of a Hinduism that had already been violated, and culturally and artistically it [only] preserved and repeated; it hardly innovated ... The Hinduism Vijayanagar proclaimed had already reached a dead end."

    For Naipaul, the fall of Vijayanagar is a paradigmatic wound on the psyche of India, part of a long series of failures that he believes still bruises the country's self-confidence. The wound was created by a fatal combination of Islamic aggression and Hindu weakness - the tendency to "retreat", to withdraw in the face of defeat.

    Naipaul first developed the theme in An Area of Darkness. The great Hindu ruins of the south, he writes there, represent "the continuity and flow of Hindu India, ever shrinking". But the ruins of the north - the monuments of the Great Mughals - only "speak of waste and failure". Even the Taj and the magnificent garden tombs of the Mughal emperors are to Naipaul symbols of oppression: "Europe has its monuments of sun kings, its Louvres and Versailles.

    But they are part of the development of the country's spirit; they express the refining of a nation's sensibility." In contrast, the monuments of the Mughals speak only of "personal plunder, and a country with an infinite capacity for being plundered". In a recent interview, Naipaul maintained that "the Taj is so wasteful, so decadent and in the end so cruel that it is painful to be there for very long. This is an extravagance that speaks of the blood of the people."

    Not many other observers have seen the Taj Mahal - built by the emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his wife, and usually perceived as the world's greatest monument to love ("a tear on the face of eternity", according to Tagore, an earlier Indian Nobel Laureate) - in quite such jaundiced terms. Nevertheless, Naipaul's entirely negative understanding of India's Islamic history has its roots firmly in the mainstream imperial historiography of Victorian Britain.

    The Muslim invasions of India tended to be seen by historians of the Raj as a long, brutal sequence of pillage, in stark contrast - so 19th-century British historians liked to believe - to the law and order selflessly brought by their own "civilising mission". In this context, the fall of Vijayanagar was written up in elegiac terms by Robert Sewell, whose 1900 book Vijayanagar: A Forgotten Empire , first characterised the kingdom as "a Hindu bulwark against Muhammadan conquests", a single brave but doomed attempt at resistance to Islamic aggression. This idea was eagerly elaborated by Hindu nationalists, who wrote of Vijayanagar as a Hindu state dedicated to the preservation of the traditional, peaceful and "pure" Hindu culture of southern India.

    It is a simple and seductive vision, and one that at first sight looks plausible. The problem is that such ideas rest on a set of mistaken and Islamophobic assumptions that recent scholarship has done much to undermine.

    A brilliant essay published in 1996 by the respected American Sanskrit scholar, Philip B Wagoner, was an important landmark in this process. Entitled "A Sultan Among Hindu Kings" - a reference to the title by which the kings of Vijayanagar referred to themselves - pointed out the degree to which the elite culture of Vijayanagar was heavily Islamicised by the 16th century, its civilisation "deeply transformed through nearly two centuries of intense and creative interaction with the Islamic world".

    By this period, for example, the Hindu kings of Vijayanagar appeared in public audience, not bare-chested, as had been the tradition in Hindu India, but dressed in quasi-Islamic court costume - the Islamic inspired kabayi, a long-sleeved tunic derived from the Arabic qaba, symbolic, according to Wagoner, of "their participation in the more universal culture of Islam".

    Far from being the stagnant, backward-looking bastion of Hindu resistance imagined by Naipaul, Vijayanagar had in fact developed in all sorts of unexpected ways, adapting many of the administrative, tax collecting and military methods of the Muslim sultanates that surrounded it - notably stirrups, horse-shoes, horse armour and a new type of saddle, all of which allowed Vijayanagar to put into the field an army of horse archers who could hold at bay the Delhi Sultanate, then the most powerful force in India.

    A comprehensive survey of Vijayanagar's monuments and archaeology by George Michell over the past 20 years has come to the same conclusion as Wagoner. The survey has emphasised the degree to which the buildings of 16th-century Vijayanagar were inspired by the architecture of the nearby Muslim sultanates, mixing the traditional trabeate architecture of the Hindu south with the arch and dome of the Islamicate north. Indeed some of the most famous buildings at Vijayanagar, such as the gorgeous 15th-century Lotus Mahal, are almost entirely Islamic in style.

    Moreover, this fruitful interaction between Hindu - and Muslim-ruled states was very much a two-way process. Just as Hindu Vijayanagar was absorbing Islamic influences, so a similar process of hybridity was transforming the nominally Islamic Sultanate of Bijapur. This was a city dominated by an atmosphere of heterodox inquiry, whose libraries swelled with esoteric texts produced on the philosophical frontier between Islam and Hinduism. One Bijapuri production of the period, for example, was the Bangab Nama , or the Book of the Pot Smoker: written by Mahmud Bahri - a sort of medieval Indian Allen Ginsberg - it is a long panegyric to the joys of cannabis:

    "Smoke your pot and be happy -
    Be a dervish and put your heart at peace.
    Lose your life imbibing this exhilaration."

    In the course of this book, Bahri writes: "God's knowledge has no limit ... and there is not just one path to him. Anyone from any community can find him." This certainly seems to have been the view of Bijapur's ruler, Ibrahim Adil Shahi II. Early in his reign Ibrahim gave up wearing jewels and adopted instead the rudraksha rosary of the sadhu. In his songs he used highly Sanskritised language to shower equal praise upon Sarasvati, the Hindu goddess of learning, the Prophet Muhammed, and the Sufi saint Gesudaraz.

    Perhaps the most surprising passage occurs in the 56th song where the Sultan more or less describes himself as a Hindu god: "He is robed in saffron dress, his teeth are black, the nails are red ... and he loves all. Ibrahim, whose father is Ganesh, whose mother is Sarasvati, has a rosary of crystal round his neck ... and an elephant as his vehicle." According to the art historian Mark Zebrowski: "It is hard to label Ibrahim either a Muslim or a Hindu; rather he had an aesthete's admiration for the beauty of both cultures." The same spirit also animates Bijapuri art, whose nominally Islamic miniature portraits show "girls as voluptuous as the nudes of south Indian sculpture".

    This creative coexistence finally fell victim, not to a concerted communal campaign by Muslim states intent on eradicating Hinduism, but to the shifting alliances of Deccani diplomacy. In 1558, only seven years before the Deccani sultanates turned on Vijayanagar, the empire had been a prominent part of an alliance of mainly Muslim armies that had sacked the Sultanate of Ahmadnagar. That year, Vijayanagar's armies stabled their horses in the mosques of the plundered city. It was only in 1562, when Rama Raya plundered and seized not just districts belonging to Ahmadnagar and its ally Golconda, but also those belonging to his own ally Bijapur, that the different sultanates finally united against their unruly neighbour.

    The fall of Vijayanagar is a subject Naipaul keeps returning to: in an interview shortly after being awarded the Nobel Prize in 2001, he talked about how the destruction of the city meant an end to its traditions: "When Vijayanagar was laid low, all the creative talent would also have been destroyed. The current has been broken."

    Yet there is considerable documentary and artistic evidence that the very opposite was true, and that while some of the city's craftsmen went on to to work at the Meenakshi temple of Madurai, others transferred to the patronage of the sultans of Bijapur where the result was a significant artistic renaissance.

    The remarkable fusion of styles that resulted from this rebirth can still be seen in the tomb of Ibrahim II, completed in 1626. From afar it looks uncompromisingly Islamic; yet for all its domes and arches, the closer you draw the more you realise that few Muslim buildings are so Hindu in spirit. The usually austere walls of Islamic architecture in the Deccan here give way to a petrified scrollwork indistinguishable from Vijayanagaran decoration, the bleak black volcanic granite of Bijapur manipulated as if it were as soft as plaster, as delicate as a lace ruff. All around minars suddenly bud into bloom, walls dissolve into bundles of pillars; fantastically sculptural lotus-bud domes and cupola drums are almost suffocated by great starbursts of Indic deco ration which curl down from the pendetives like pepper vines.

    This picture of Hindu-Muslim hybridity, of Indo-Islamic intellectual and artistic fecundity, is important, for it comes in such stark contrast to the Naipaulian or BJP view of Indian medieval history as one long tale of defeat and destruction. Today most serious historians tend instead to emphasise the perhaps surprising degree to which Hinduism and Islam creatively intermingled and "chutnified" (to use Salman Rushdie's nice term); and an important book has been published that goes a long way to develop these ideas.

    Anyone wishing to understand the complexities and fusions of medieval India would be well advised to look at Beyond Turk and Hindu, edited by David Gilmartin and Bruce Lawrence, (University Press of Florida, 2000). A collection of articles by all the leading international scholars of the period, it shows the degree to which the extraordinary richness of medieval Indian civilisation was the direct result of its multi-ethnic, multi-religious character, and the inspired interplay and cross-fertilisation of Hindu and Islamic civilisations that thereby took place.

    The historians do not see the two religions as in any way irreconcilable; instead they tend to take the view that "the actual history of religious exchange suggests that there have never been clearly fixed groups, one labelled 'Hindu' and the other - both its opposite and rival - labelled 'Muslim'." Indeed, as one author points out, there is not a single medieval Sanskrit inscription that identifies "Indo-Muslim invaders in terms of their religion, as Muslims", but instead they refer more generally in terms of "linguistic affiliation, most typically as Turk, 'Turushka'". The import of this is clear: the political groupings we today identify as "Muslim" were then "construed as but one ethnic community in India amidst many others".

    Of course this approach is not entirely new. From the early 1960s until only a few years ago, Indian history textbooks emphasised the creation in medieval India of what was referred to as the "composite culture".

    This cultural synthesis took many forms. In Urdu and Hindi were born languages of great beauty that to different extents mixed Persian and Arabic words with the Sanskrit-derived vernaculars of north India. Similarly, just as the cuisine of north India combined the vegetarian dal and rice of India with the kebab and roti of central Asia, so in music the long-necked Persian lute was combined with the Indian vina to form the sitar, now the Indian instrument most widely known in the west. In architecture there was a similar process of hybridity as the great monuments of the Mughals reconciled the styles of the Hin dus with those of Islam, to produce a fusion more beautiful than either.

    These Nehruvian-era textbooks were the work of left-leaning but nonetheless internationally regarded scholars such as professors Romila Thapar, Satish Chandra and Nurul Hasan - of whom Naipaul does not appear to think much. In the same 1993 Times of India interview in which he defended the destruction of the Ayodhya mosque, he remarked that "Romila Thapar's book on Indian history is a Marxist attitude to history, which in substance says: there is a higher truth behind the invasions, feudalism and all that. The correct truth is the way the invaders looked at their actions. They were conquering, they were subjugating." The new set of far right-wing history textbooks recently commissioned by India's National Council of Educational Research and Training at the behest of the BJP government - such as that on medieval India with its picture of the period as one long Muslim-led orgy of mass-murder and temple destruction - are no doubt more to Naipaul's taste.

    Thanks partly to the influence of the earlier textbooks on generations of students, there is still a widespread awareness in India of the positive aspects of medieval Islam - aspects noticeable by their absence in Naipaul's oeuvre. It is widely known, for example, that Islam in India was spread much less by the sword than by the Sufis. After all, Sufism, with its holy men, visions and miracles, and its emphasis on the individual's search for union with God, has always borne remarkable similarities to the mystical side of Hinduism. Under Sufi influence it was particularly at the level of village folk worship that the two religions fused into one, with many ordinary Hindus visiting the graves of Sufi pirs - some of whom are still considered to be incarnations of Hindu deities - while Muslim villagers would leave offerings at temples to ensure the birth of children and good harvests. To this day, Sufi dargahs still attract as many Hindu, Sikh and Christian pilgrims as they do Muslims.

    Yet Sufism, clearly central to any discussion of medieval India, barely makes an appearance in Naipaul's work. "Islam is a religion of fixed laws," he told Outlook magazine. "There can be no reconciliation [with other religions]". In this one sentence he dismissed Indian Islam's rich 800-year history of syncretism, intellectual heterodoxy and pluralism. The history of Indian Sufism in particular abounds with attempts by mystics to overcome the gap between the two great religions and to seek God not through sectarian rituals but through the wider gateway of the human heart. These attempts were championed by some of south Asia's most popular mystics, such as Bulleh Shah of Lahore:

    Neither Hindu nor Muslim
    I sit with all on a whim
    Having no caste, sect or creed,
    I am different indeed.
    I am not a sinner or saint,
    Knowing no sin nor restraint.
    Bulleh tries hard to shirk
    The exclusive embrace
    of either Hindu or Turk.

    In Beyond Belief (1998) Naipaul writes of Indian Muslims as slaves to an imported religion, looking abroad to Arabia for the focus of their devotions, which they are forced to practise in a foreign language - Arabic - they rarely understand. He seems to be unaware of the existence of such hugely popular Indian pilgrimage shrines such as Nizamuddin or Ajmer Sharif, the centrality of such shrines to the faith of Indian Muslims or the vast body of vernacular devotional literature in Indian Islam, much of it dedicated to the mystical cults of indigenous saints.

    Also notably absent in Naipaul's work is any mention of the remarkable religious tolerance of the Mughals: neither Akbar nor Dara Shukoh makes any sort of appearance in Naipaul's writing, and his readers will learn nothing of the former's enthusiastic patronage of Hindu temples or the latter's work translating the Gita into Persian, or writing The Mingling of Two Oceans, a study of Hinduism and Islam which emphasises the compatibility of the two faiths and speculates that the Upanishads were the source of monotheism. Such views were far from exceptional and most Mughal writers show similar syncretic tendencies: the greatest of Urdu poets, Ghalib, for example, wrote praising Benares as the Mecca of India, saying that he sometimes wished he could "renounce the faith, take the Hindu rosary in hand, and tie a sacred thread round my waist".

    Yet Naipaul continues to envisage medieval India solely in terms of Islamic vandalism. Likewise, he continues to talk of Mughal architecture as entirely "foreign ... a carry-over from the architecture of Isfahan", ignoring all the fused Hindu elements that do so much to define its profound Indianness: the jalis, chajjas and chattris, quite apart from the fabulous Gujerati-Hindu decorative sculpture that is most spectacularly seen at Akbar's capital, Fatehpur Sikri. Yet while architectural historians see a remarkable fusing of civilisations in Mughal buildings, Naipaul thinks "only of everything that was flattened to enable them to come up".

    That destruction of Hindu monuments did take place is undeniable; but in what circumstances, and on what scale, is a matter of intense scholarly debate. Perhaps the single most important essay in Beyond Turk and Hindu is Richard Eaton's fascinating account of temple destruction. It is of course a central nostrum of the Hindu far right that between the 13th and 18th centuries, Indo-Muslim states, driven by a combination of greed, intolerance and a fanatical iconoclasm, desecrated as many as 60,000 Hindu temples. This claim is examined in detail by Eaton, who concludes that "such a picture [simply] cannot be sustained by evidence from original sources".

    Eaton writes that he can find evidence for around only 80 desecrations "whose historicity appears reasonably certain", and that these demolitions tended to take place in very particular circumstances: that is, in the context of outright military defeats of Hindu rulers by one of the Indian sultanates, or when "Hindu patrons of prominent temples committed acts of disloyalty to the Indo-Muslim states they served. Otherwise, temples lying within Indo-Muslim sovereign domains, viewed as protected state property, were left unmolested."

    Indeed Indo-Islamic states involved themselves directly in the running of their Hindu temples, so that, for example, "between 1590 and 1735, Mughal officials oversaw the renewal of Orissa's state cult, that of Jagannath in Puri. By sitting on a canopied chariot while accompanying the cult's annual festival, Shah Jehan's officials ritually demonstrated that it was the Mughal emperor who was the temple's - and hence the god's - ultimate protector."

    None of this should be read in any way as challenging Naipaul's importance as a writer: his non-fiction about India is arguably the most brilliant body of writing about the region in modern times, and it is precisely because of this that it is important to challenge his errors.

    In the current climate, after the pogroms of Gujerat and the inaccurate rewriting of textbooks, Naipaul's misleading take on medieval Indian history must not go uncorrected. To quote Professor Neeladri Bhattacharya of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, writing recently about the new BJP history textbooks: "When history is mobilised for specific political projects and sectarian conflicts; when political and community sentiments of the present begin to define how the past has to be represented; when history is fabricated to constitute a communal sensibility, and a politics of hatred and violence, then we [historians] need to sit up and protest. If we do not then the long night of Gujerat will never end. Its history will reappear again and again, not just as nightmare but as relived experience, re-enacted in endless cycles of retribution and revenge, in gory spectacles of blood and death."

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