Tag Archives: Pankaj Mishra

Contemporary fiction and radical politics

Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra and Jennifer Szalai discuss the representation of extreme political ideas in fiction in the NYT

Writing as the clamorous protests of the 1960s faded away, Philip Roth seemed almost envious of writers in Communist Eastern Europe, who had gained moral prestige and authority through their perilous defiance of repressive governments: “There,” he wrote, “nothing goes and everything matters; here everything goes and nothing matters.” Read more

Unholy Alliances

Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra

Nixon, Kissinger and the Bangladesh genocide… Pankaj Mishra reviews The Blood Telegram in The New Yorker

“Did you read today about what America is doing?” one of the Indian characters in Rohinton Mistry’s “Such a Long Journey” asks. “CIA bastards are up to their usual anus-fingering tactics.” The novel is set in 1971, the year that India intervened in Pakistan’s civil war and helped create a new nation-state—Bangladesh—from the Bengali-speaking province of East Pakistan. Like Mistry’s characters, Indians were confused and incensed by President Richard Nixon’s support for Pakistan’s military rulers and by his hostility toward India.

After all, Pakistan had launched a murderous campaign against the Bengalis, leaving India’s impoverished and volatile border states to cope with ultimately some ten million refugees fleeing the carnage. The total number of the dead is unknown, but Bangladesh’s official estimate is three million. (Pakistan’s clearly understated figure is twenty-six thousand.)”

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Eastern Promises

pankaj_mishraTo understand contemporary Asia as a whole, one has to understand China—now more so than ever, argues PANKAJ MISHRA in his new book, A Great Clamour

One afternoon in the summer of 1992, I was talking to my landlord and found myself asking him what lay beyond the snow-capped mountains I could see from my veranda. “Tibbat,” Mr Sharma said, pronouncing Tibet the north Indian way. I was startled. Was it really that close? I had only recently moved to this small village in Himachal Pradesh to see if I could be a writer; the physical isolation seemed to constantly fuel my sense of inadequacy. Now, in my imagination, that vast territory stretching from Lhasa to Hokkaido and Surabaya, an Asia even then being imprinted by the politics and economy of China, suddenly reared up as an oppressive blank—another reminder of my ignorance about the world.

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Catherine Boo, Pankaj Mishra among the 2013 Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Book Award finalists

Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra

Five Finalists Chosen for the 2013 Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Book Award

Five books recognized for their outstanding contributions to the understanding of Asia have been chosen as finalists for the 2013 Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Book Award. The finalists were selected from over 100 nominations submitted by U.S. and Asia-based publishers for books published in 2012. The books are:

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Orhan Pamuk on Why the Future of the Novel Is in the East

Orhan Pamuk

Orhan Pamuk

Pankaj Mishra: Is the economic success of countries like Turkey or India or China going to breathe new life into the novel?

Orhan Pamuk: I think so. I strongly believe that. The novel is a middle-class art. And we see the proliferation of middle classes in India, China, definitely in Turkey, so everyone is writing novels. If you want to predict the future, I can predict that in Europe, in the West, the importance of literary novels will decrease, while in China, India, popular literature will continue. Innovation will come from there, because the populations are large, there will be a lot of production.

I’m writing a novel now about immigration to Istanbul. Starting in the late-’50s, especially in the ’60s, immigration to Istanbul from the poorest parts of Turkey began. And then Turkish shantytowns were beginning to be built in the mid-’50s, but in the ’60s, they flourished. This is not a middle-class changing of cultures. This is the proletariat, the most dispossessed.

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Pankaj Mishra on Asia’s ‘Explosive Transformation’

hamid“Let some people get rich first,” the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping proclaimed a generation ago, inaugurating a strange new phase in his country’s—and the world’s—history. It now seems clear that nowhere has capitalism’s promise to create wealth been affirmed more forcefully than in post–World War II Asia. By now we have all heard about the rise of China and India as economic powers. But as early as the late 1960s, the rates of economic growth in South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and even Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia were double the rate in European and American countries.

In most of these nations, collaborations between the military or authoritarian-minded governments and businessmen ensured the rise of big, often monopoly, conglomerates, such as the South Korean chaebols. Most ordinary people suffered from a long denial of democracy and then, following free elections, the subversion of democratic institutions; after decades of uneven economic growth they now try to cope with the irreversible contamination of air, soil, and water. Long working hours, low wages, limited mobility, and perennial job insecurity are the lot of most toilers in Asian economies, especially women. Nevertheless, some people have gotten extremely rich in Asia’s own Gilded Age: for instance, in “rising” India, the number of malnourished children, nearly 50 percent, has barely altered while a handful of Indian billionaires increased their share of national income from less than 1 percent in 1996 to 22 percent in 2008.

Such concentrations of private wealth are now common across Asia, which accordingly has produced several Horatio Alger–type legends of its own. Born in 1928, Hong Kong’s Li Ka-shing, today Asia’s richest man with an estimated wealth of $31 billion, started out as a poor immigrant from China hawking plastic combs. Another kind of morality tale is illuminated by the career of the Indonesian Mochtar Riady, who worked in a bicycle shop before he turned his modest enterprise, with the help of the Indonesian strongman Suharto and the “bamboo network” of overseas Chinese businessmen—the greatest Asian economic power outside of Japan—into a family business empire drawing on global resources.

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Pankaj Mishra: why Salman Rushdie should pause before condemning Mo Yan on censorship

Mo Yan

Mo Yan: no dissident. Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

Mo Yan, China’s first Nobel laureate for literature, has been greeted with some extraordinary hostility in the west. This week Salman Rushdie described him as a “patsy” for the Chinese government. According to the distinguished sinologist Perry Link, “Chinese writers today, whether ‘inside the system’ or not, all must choose how they will relate to their country’s authoritarian government.” And, clearly, Mo Yan has not made the right choice, which is to range himself as an outspoken “dissident” against his country’s authoritarian regime.

But doesn’t the “writer’s imagination” also conflict with the “imagination of the state” in a liberal capitalist democracy? This was broadly the subject that John Updike was asked to speak on at a PEN conference in New York in 1986. Updike delivered – to what Rushdie, also in attendance, described as a “considerably bewildered audience of world writers” – a paean to the blue mailboxes of the US Postal Service, which, he marvelled, took away his writings with miraculous regularity and brought him cheques and prizes in return.

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New Book in Battle Over East vs. West

In 1988 Pankaj Mishra was a recent university graduate in the northern Indian city of Benares with big literary ambitions he had little idea how to fulfill. But when he heard that a local library was going to be auctioning back issues of The New York Review of Books as waste paper, he knew exactly what to do.

“I convinced a friend of mine who was a student to pose as a paper recycler,” Mr. Mishra recalled recently. “He put in a very high bid and brought a whole bunch of stuff over in a rickshaw.”

It’s an anecdote that might seem plucked from the pages of a novel by Balzac by way of V. S. Naipaul — or, for that matter, from the essays and reportage that, in the years since, have made Mr. Mishra, 43, a regular presence in the pages of not just The New York Review, but also The New Yorker, The London Review of Books, The Guardian and seemingly every other prestigious publication in the Anglo-American literary world.

Mr. Mishra’s flair for the grace note is matched by a sometimes ferocious instinct for the jugular. In 1999 a denunciation of Salman Rushdie’s novel “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” as “an alarming new kind of anti-literature” helped establish him as a force to be reckoned with in India’s fractious literary scene. More recently, a blistering takedown of the historian Niall Ferguson in The London Review last November prompted extensive coverage in the British news media — and threats of a libel suit from Mr. Ferguson.

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How To Be Modern

SPEAKING TO Pankaj Mishra on the phone, about his new book From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia, I hear his soft, fastidious voice tighten with irritation. I have asked him if his book, as is being widely said in newspaper reviews and lit-chat in England (where he now lives), is a salvo in his spat with the revisionist historian Niall Ferguson. “The book was conceived,” he says, “long before I had read a word of Ferguson.” He is making an effort to rein in his scorn, but soon gives up: “This kind of discussion always positions the non-Western writer as the person who reacts. He doesn’t have his original history or an original thought. He is being a polemicist, as if nostalgia for the glories of empire isn’t polemical.”

Mishra opens From the Ruins of Empire with scenes of pan-Asian rejoicing in 1905, when Japan bloodies Russia’s nose in the Battle of Tsushima. Gandhi, then an “unknown lawyer in South Africa”, predicts that “so far and wide have the roots of Japanese victory spread that we cannot now visualize all the fruit it will put forth.” Mishra describes how a young Mustafa Kemal, just a soldier, not yet the Atatürk, “was ecstatic”; how the news of Japanese victory put a 16-year-old Nehru, “on a train from Dover to his English public school, Harrow”, immediately in a “high good humour”. “Excited speculation”, Mishra writes, “about the implications of Japan’s success filled Turkish, Egyptian, Vietnamese, Persian and Chinese newspapers.” A case is being drawn here for Asian solidarity, for the fellow feeling of very different peoples squirming alike under the Western thumb.

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A Poet Unwelcome

On April 12, 1924, Rabindranath Tagore arrived in Shanghai for a lecture tour of China arranged by Liang Qichao, China’s foremost modern intellectual. Soon after receiving the Nobel prize for literature in 1913, Tagore had become an international literary celebrity; he was also the lone voice from Asia in an intellectual milieu that was almost entirely dominated by Western institutions and individuals. As Lu Xun pointed out in 1927, “Let us see which are the mute nations. Can we hear the voice of Egypt? Can we hear the voice of Annam (modern-day Vietnam) and Korea? Except Tagore, what other voice of India can we hear?”

The Japanese novelist Yasunari Kawabata once recalled

“the features and appearance of this sage-like poet, with his long bushy  hair, long moustache and beard, standing tall in loose-flowing Indian garments, and with deep, piercing eyes. His white hair flowed softly down both sides of his forehead; the tufts of hair under the temples also were like two beards and linking up with the hair on his cheeks, continued into his beard, so that he gave an impression, to the boy that I was then, of some ancient Oriental wizard.”

Packed lecture-halls awaited Tagore around the world, from Japan to Argentina. President Herbert Hoover received him at the White House when he visited the United States in 1930, and the New York Times ran twenty-one reports on the Indian poet, including two interviews. This enthusiasm seems especially remarkable considering the sort of prophecy from the East that Tagore would deliver to his Western hosts: that their modern civilisation, built upon the cult of money and power, was inherently destructive and needed to be tempered by the spiritual wisdom of the East.

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