Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond

Pankaj Mishra

Language: English

Pages: 336

ISBN: 0312426410

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

In Temptations of the West, Pankaj Mishra brings literary authority and political insight to bear on journeys through South Asia, and considers the pressures of Western-style modernity and prosperity on the region. Beginning in India, his examination takes him from the realities of Bollywood stardom, to the history of Jawaharlal Nehru's post-independence politics. In Kashmir, he reports on the brutal massacre of thirty-five Sikhs, and its intriguing local aftermath. And in Tibet, he exquisitely parses the situation whereby the atheist Chinese government has discovered that Tibetan Buddhism can be "packaged and sold to tourists." Temptations of the West is essential reading about a conflicted and rapidly changing region of the world.

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The land slopes down steeply from here to the valley; as a military position, it is close to invincible. Nevertheless, it was here, according to both the army and the police, that the five “foreign mercenaries” were trapped and killed and vast quantities of arms and ammunition discovered in an operation that lasted four hours, and from which soldiers and police emerged unscathed. In a previous “encounter,” not far from Panchalthan, the army had bullied the villagers into acting as human shields as they attacked a guerrilla hideout; in remote places on the valley, you did what the men with guns instructed.

A producer had given him money to write and direct a thriller set in London. If all went well, he would start shooting later in the year. He wanted to wipe out the “stigma of a flop. ” This stigma of failure seemed to weigh slightly more heavily on J. P. Dutta, the maker of LOC Kargil. He seemed surprised when I rang him from Mahesh’s office and told him that I would like to meet him. “Can you come right now? ” he asked. Mahesh said, “He is probably surprised anyone wants to see him. ” Mahesh had told me earlier that his daughter’s film had done badly.

Mahesh said, in Hindi, “But why did you tell me that you had killed your uncle? ” Pritam wiped his mouth and leaned forward on his chair. “It is true, sir. I wanted to tell you that I can be very serious about anything, even murder. I only have to put my mind to it. ” He described how he had been provoked into murdering his uncle. He seemed to have worked on the story, which came out smoothly. His father had died when he was very young. Soon afterward, his uncles had appropriated his mother’s land and house.

But the separation of issues from elections had occurred long before. Elections, held almost yearly, had become a national drama, preceded and followed by even greater dramas of betrayals, defections, buying and selling legislators, no-confidence motions, coalition collapses, new ministries, speculations about who was in and who was out, etc. The drama, created this time by questions like “Is Sonia an agent of the Vatican? ” and “Did our soldiers die in vain in Kashmir? ,” helped suppress the real issues and also brought about a temporary cohesion and passion among a fragmented, apathetic population.

Most damagingly, Zia-ul-Haq revived the idea of an Islamic society in order to postpone the transition to civilian rule he had promised soon after his coup against Bhutto. The state funds available to Islamic organizations went into raising armed outfits that attacked Muslim minorities such as the Shiites and the Ahmediyas, and violent conflict within rival Islamic groups broke out in many parts of the country. Of the three million Afghans who came as refugees to Pakistan, many went to the province of Sind, where local opposition to their presence developed into a particularly savage civil war in Karachi, the largest city.

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