A Comparative Study about the Representations of the British Empire and the Hindu Culture in the Works of Nirad C. Choudhury and Shashi Tharoor
Introduction: If we look at the contemporary political discourses, a lot of discussions have been going on about the former empires, and whether these empires owe any kind of apology to their former colonies or not. In this regard, we find two divided sections. Whereas historians and critics like Niall Fergusson and Lawrence James have given a romanticised view of the project of colonialism and referred to the project as a kind of ‘exported modernity’, various postcolonial critics and historians like Jon Wilson, Denis Judd and Dipesh Chakroborty have criticised the project and referred to the exploitation and atrocities that the colonisers have committed during the colonial period. This paper has chosen two writers from the Indian English literary field, who will be the representatives of these two groups of critics and writers. In the Indian English literary field, there is no bigger apologist for the British Empire than Nirad C. Choudhury.His pro-colonial writings and criticism of the Hindu culture have created huge controversy both on the national and international levels. On the other hand, Shashi Tharoor’s criticism of the colonial project and his defence of the Hindu culture have got him huge popularity all over the world.
The present study of the thesis entitled ‘A Comparative Study about the Representations of the British Empire and the Hindu Culture in the Works of Nirad C. Choudhury and Shashi Tharoor is highly imperative and is the need of the hour. This thesis makes use of the ideas and concepts from New Historicism, Post Colonialism, Marxism and Psychology. Both Nirad C Choudhury and Shashi Tharoor have dealt with the concerned issues in their writings, and there are huge contrasts in their representations of both the British empire and the Hindu culture. The plan of the present paper is to unveil some of the prejudices which led them to make such contrasting representations.
The present paper is planned to have five chapters. The first chapter will be in the form of an introduction, which will trace the place of both N. C. Choudhury and Shashi Tharoor in the field of Indian English Literature. The second chapter entitled ‘An Analysis of the Representations of the British Empire and the Hindu Culture in the works of N. C. Choudhury’ will examine N. C. Choudhury’s thoughts and opinions regarding the British Empire in India and the Hindu Culture. In his book The Continent of Circe, Choudhury views the highly tradition bound Indian society from a very critical angle. A Passage to England is the result of Choudhury’s visit to England. This visit enables him not only to compare Hindu society with the Western one but also to praise everything English. His book Hinduism: A Religion to Live By, is meant to interpret the religious psychology and behaviour of the Hindus.
The third chapter ‘An Analysis of Shashi Tharoor’s views on the British Empire and the Hindu Culture’ will depict Shashi Tharoor’s arguments against the British Empire and his defence of the Hindu culture. Shashi Tharoor stands in total juxtaposition with N. C. Choudhury regarding the representations of the British Empire and the Hindu Culture. His book An Era of Darkness is a thorough analysis of the exploitation and the atrocities committed by the British in India. The book shows how India became the poorest country from the richest one within the 200 years of British rule in India. His book Why I Am A Hindu is an analysis of the very essence and spirit of Hinduism.
The fourth chapter namely ‘The Contrasting Positions of N.C. Choudhury and Shashi Tharoor regarding the Representations of the British Empire and the Hindu Culture’ will disclose the contrasts that are found in their works regarding the representations of the concerned issues. The fifth chapter called ‘Countering some of the Arguments of N.C. Choudhury and Shashi Tharoor’ will try to give a balanced view regarding the representations of the British Empire and the Hindu culture by countering some of their arguments with historical facts. This chapter will also analyse some of the prejudices which led them to make such representations. It should be stressed that the purpose of this paper is not to argue in favour of one writer against another. Neither this paper will try to discard their arguments completely. Rather, the purpose of this paper is to synthesise the arguments of both the writers and present a balanced view by countering some of their arguments.
1. What are the contrasts that are found in the works of N. C. Choudhury and Shashi Tharoor regarding the representations of the British Empire and the Hindu culture?
2. Why are there such huge contrasts in their representations?
3. Have they been led by some kind of prejudices in their approaches?
4. What is the relevance of their thoughts in the current Indian context?
1. New Historicism
2. Post Colonialism
4. Archive study
5. Close reading of texts
Review of Literature: Separately few works have been done on both N.C. Choudhury and Shashi Tharoor. A post-colonial interpretation of N.C. Choudhury’s works has been done, and the paper has compared the views of N.C. Choudhury with the viewpoints of several post-colonial critics. Unlike Fanon, Choudhury was not concerned about the prevalent of racism in the colonised countries. According to him, European comments about identity are not always racial, but merely mistaken identity. According to Said, orientalism served to strengthen West’s control over the East. To Choudhury, Orientalism reinvigorated country’s nationalism by excavating country’s past (Indus valley civilisation). Indian nationalism has Western origin. Choudhury, opposed to the opinion of Said, did not think that western writers always hyped the so-called differences between the people of the East and those of the West. To Choudhury, they point out the similarities between the two cultures. He gives the example of Rudyard Kipling. Choudhury agrees with Said’s views that Orientalism has created a complex Orient suitable for study. Both N.C. Choudhury and Gayatri Spivak have recognised the existence of subaltern sections. Choudhury views that Indian lower classes (subaltern classes) realise that Indian middle class is not their friends, but enemies. These lower classes want the continuation of the British rule because they believe that they will be subdued by the middle classes. Similar to the views of Aizaz Ahmed, N.C. Choudhury believes that Aryans were the first colonisers of India.
Another paper entitled ‘Nirad C Choudhury’s critical vision: A Study of His Major Works’ is mainly focussed on presenting the Indian society through the eyes of N.C. Choudhury. The work is presenting N.C. Choudhury as the product of the intellectual awakening of the 19th century India. N.C. Choudhury’s comparision of the Indian society with the Western one is also portrayed in this paper. England was an intangible and exotic element in the ecology of Choudhury’s life. A research paper namely ‘Contemporary Human Predicaments in the Selected Novels of Shashi Tharoor’ analyses various socio-political aspects of the Indian society.
The opinions of various critics differ regarding the thoughts and ideas of both Nirad C. Choudhury and Shashi Tharoor. Salman Rushdie praised The Autobiography of An Unknown Indian as the ‘masterpiece’ of an ‘erudite, contrary and mischievous presence’; Khushwant Singh called him ‘the most outstanding intellectual I had the privilege of befriending’. Even an otherwise critical observer like the great novelist Mulk Raj Anand acknowledged the ‘brilliant style’ of an ‘odd genius’. Contemporary writers such as Pankaj Mishra and Amit Choudhury call him ‘a connoisseur of cultures and civilisations’ and an ‘astonishing and intractable writer’. Historians and sociologists averse to his works grudgingly acknowledge the contours of his shore. Partha Chatterjee begins his Present History of West Bengal by distancing himself from Nirad Choudhury’s ‘decline of Bengal’ thesis ; in his classic work The Intimate Enemy, Ashis Nandy castigates ‘the Nirad C. Choudhuris and the V.S. Naipauls’ for being ‘inverted modern gurus’.; at several points throughout his Provincializing Europe,Dipesh Chakrabarty uses Chaudhuri as an example of the semi-repressed ‘colonial Victorian prejudices’ lurking within Bengal’s babu culture.If we include the Indo-Caribbean figure of V.S. Naipaul in this category of Indian writers, then his oft-quoted description of the Autobiography as ‘the one great book to come out of the Indo-British encounter’ supplies the very apex of recognition, grudging or not’.
Here Tharoor’s arguments claims clearly falls within the category of what Kashmiri historian Idrees Kanth calls ‘response mode historiography’ , which, as Kanth says ‘usually operates through three tropes: difference, negation and nostalgia”. Tharoor’s arguments fall in line with the opinions of Dipesh Chakroborty who referred to the pre- Independence Indian culture ‘as timeless and continuous, disrupted only by colonialism’
When it comes to the representations of the British Empire and the Hindu culture in their works, both Nirad Choudhury and Shashi Tharoor stand poles apart. The dedication to N.C. Choudhury’s Autobiography of An Unknown Indian clearly shows his fondness for the British Empire. Here he writes “... because all that was good and living within us was made, shaped, and quickened by the same British rule”. In The Continent of Circe , N.C. Choudhury has argued that the very idea of India as a nation emerged because of the British rule in India. Before the arrival of the British, India was divided into different provinces, which were constantly engaged in war against each other. Choudhury has pointed out the cultural difference between the northern and the southern parts of India. If, according to Choudhury, these two parts were not under the British rule, it would not have been possible to unite these two parts. He has also praised the education system that the British have brought to India. To him, the initiation of western education has made the emergence of Indian Renaissance possible. According to Choudhury, our judiciary, our legal system, our police and all our great institutions are derived from the British Indian administration and they have all served our country exceedingly well. Before the arrival of the British, the Indian society was full of various kinds of superstitions and prejudices. To Choudhury, our notions of the rule of law, of a constitutional government, of a free press, of a professional civil service, of modern universities, and research laboratories have all been fashioned in the crucible where an age-old civilisation of India met the dominant Empire of the day. The British Empire has done more benefits than harms in the Indian society.
Shasi Tharoor, on the other hand, stands in total juxtaposition with N .C. Choudhury when it comes to the representation of the British Empire. In the book An Era of Darkness, he aggregates all the arguments required to establish that the British colonial rule was an awful experience for Indians and he does so with a consummate debtor’s skill. According to Tharoor, there was nothing redeeming in British rule of our country. What India had to endure under them was outrageous humiliation on a humongous scale and sustained violence of kind it had never experienced before. In short, British rule was, to Tharoor , an era of darkness for India, throughout which it suffered several manmade famines, wars, racism, maladministration, deportation of its people to distant lands and economic exploitation on an unprecedented scale. Everything the British did in India, Tharoor asserts, was for their own benefit and never for that of India. Besides the deaths of Indians, British rule impoverished India economically. When the East India Company took control of the country, India’s share of world GDP was 23 percent. But, when they left, it was merely just 3 percent. Besides examining the many ways in which the colonisers exploited India, he shows how they have destroyed the blooming Indian textile, ship-making and steel industries. He demolishes the arguments of Western and Indian apologists for Empire on the supposed benefits of British rule, including democracy and political freedom, the rule of law, and its railways.
Choudhury’s Hinduism:A Religion to Live By is meant to interpret the religious psychology and behaviour of the Hindus.Choudhury argues that Hinduism as a religion has failed to integrate the whole nation because Hinduism, unlike Christianity and Islam, has no foundational base. We do not find the existence of a particular prophet or a particular religious scripture in Hinduism. Choudhury is also critical of the fact that Hindu scriptures differ in their preaching from each other. The preaching of Bhagabad Gita differs from the Vedic ritualistic tradition. According to Choudhury, the worship of different gods among different communities has divided the Indian nation into different sects. He does not magnify the greater heterogeneity in the Vedic corpus and hastens to add that no religion is quite logical and as close to the original as Islam is. Choudhury digs at the Hindus for their contradictory principles and practices. The presence of caste system, gender discrimination and the existence of superstition and prejudices have been severely criticised by Choudhury.
In the last few decades, a lot of discussions have been going on Hinduism as a religion. Tharoor’s book Why I Am A Hindu is an analysis of the very essence and spirit of Hinduism. The book is also an answer to the intolerant and often violent forms of Hindutva that began to impose themselves on the public consciousness of the Indians in the 1980s.Tharoor differentiates Hinduism with other religions like Islam or Christianity. Unlike other religions, Hinduism does not have particular codified belief-systems. He stresses on the fact that Hinduism has no doctrinal absolutism; which is what makes it such a delightfully democratic faith. He impresses upon his reader that Hinduism is experienced and interpreted subjectively. The writer touches upon the ideas of many Indian gods and their multifarious Puranic stories, but also how they have united by the principle of supreme Brahman. He is also taken on the point that most of the Hindus are not aware of their scriptures. Tharoor argues that a Hindu has been raised in the tradition of its assumptions and doctrines, even when these have not been explained to him/her. His Hinduism may be a Hinduism of habit rather than a Hinduism of learning, but it is a lived Hinduism for all that. Tharoor has praised the fact that Hinduism has taught the world the virtues of tolerance and acceptance. The unjust social system of caste and excessive beliefs in signs and omens, are not just rooted in the Hindu religion, but are also Unfortunate corollaries of a poverty- ridden and directionless society.
Choudhury got his moorings in the liberal tradition which came into vogue with the introduction of Macaulay‘s education system in the same century. His visit to England enables him to compare the western society with the Hindu one in A Passage to England. In the book, he has pointed out that the Hindus are greedier in nature compared to the English people. But, he is not acknowledging the amount of money and natural resources the British have extracted from India. Their extraction of money and natural resources has made India the poorest nation from the richest country in the world. He has praised the beautiful infrastructure of the city of London. But, it would not have been possible for the British to make such beautiful infrastructure without the money they have extracted from the colonies. He refers to the English people as humble and modest gentlemen. Talking about the atrocities that the British have committed in India, he said that it was the hot and humid climate of India which made them cruel in nature. He relies more on the evidence of Alberuni, the Muslim scholar, Babur, the Muslim ruler and Rudyard Kipling, the bigoted Englishman for his distasteful and unsavoury comments on the Hindu character. In The Continent of Circe, he draws a comparison between the Hindus with the Englishmen and refers to the former as the most violent people on Earth. But, he forgets the fact that the centre of two world wars was Europe. His inability to appreciate the plurality of Indian culture is clearly seen in The Continent of Circe., where he points out how this plural culture is making India incapable of organising itself into a federation of articulated units. Choudhury unjustifiably brands the Hindus as warmongers forgetting the historical facts that the world wars are the witness of European militarism. The atrocitious behaviour of the English imperialists towards the innocent Indians during the time of British rule is justified by Choudhury on the pretext of the enervating Indian climate baffles our understanding. He not only defends their understanding but even justifies it as a result of horrifying climate. It is in fact their taste for power, glory, and above all the racial price which made them indulge in all the unappreciable qualities . Choudhury’s bias for the British makes them justify their attitude.
Choudhury warns the Hinduising occidentals against the practice of ‘Yoga’ and ‘Vaishnavism. He forgets the fact that the materialistic west has miserably failed to recover the lost happiness. There is no doubt that Hinduism offers them comfort, without converting them to its faith. He proves himself wrong when he says that salvation is never the object of the religious observances and worship of the Hindus. Choudhury criticises Hinduism for having no foundational base like Islam or Christianity. But he forgets that in Hinduism, there are no rigid rules. A person can be Hindu without reading the Hindu scriptures or following a particular lord. The existence of various principles in Hindu scriptures offer a man greater choice of life. Choudhury tries to confuse religion with mythologies when he explains the principles of Siva and Kali, as God and Goddess of welfare and mercy respectively. Not only Hinduism, but all the religions of the world do not have much to eulogise about their mythology. Mythologies are later day addition and they are meant for merely ordinary people. Choudhury views Hinduism from intellectual angles and hence he fails to be practical but poses to be highly objective.
Kartar Lalwani’s very well-researched book The Making of India-The Untold Story of British Enterprise is a compelling account of the great infrastructure the British created in India-the railways being one of the important ones. Many people in India including our former prime minister Manmohan Singh has acknowledged that the British Empire had beneficial consequences too, Our notions of the rule of law, of a Constitutional Government, of a free press, of a professional civil service, of modern universities and research laboratories have all been fashioned in the crucible when the age-old civilisation of India met the dominant Empire of today. Our judiciary, legal system, our beurocracy and our police are all great institutions derived from the British Indian administration. Shashi Tharoor’s argument that India would have been a nation without the British Empire in India because the Maurya, the Gupta , the Mughal dynasties have tried to integrate all the provinces and create a state. But we need to remember that they have failed, and the British successfully did that. We must not forget that by the time the British rule cease in India, the country had one of the most extensive railway networks in the world, a thoroughly professional army and an administrative system that has endured to this day. It was the British who made us aware of our rich cultural and linguistic heritage. Before the arrival of the British, India was always in a vulnerable state. For this reason, we had some more than thousand years history of foreign invasion. Now, we have such a strong, well-administered army that no foreigner would dare to attack India. Indian army was structured following the British model.
Tharoor’s defence of Hinduism weakens when he tackles caste discrimination. He resolves the dilemma by suggesting that oppression is not sanctioned by sacred texts. Yet today, our tolerant and inclusive Hindu society silently watches the public humiliation of the vulnerable sections of our society. The priviledging of a highly metaphysical tradition as the public philosophy of India has led us away from acknowledgement of social oppressions and power.
A new historical analysis of the works of N.C. Choudhury and Shashi Tharoor can be done. For the traditional historians, history is a record of objective and coherent facts which can sometimes reveal the spirit of the age, that is, the world view held by the culture to which those facts refer. For the New Historians, history is not a record of objective, coherent facts. Rather, history is a narrative, a representation, which is influenced by the interplay of different discourses working at that particular time. The representations of both N.C. Choudhury and Shashi Tharoor clearly illustrate the arguments of the New Historicists. Both N.C. Choudhury and Shashi Tharoor have dealt with the same kind of issues in their writings, but we find poles apart contrasts in their representations.
New Historicists also believe that history is not a linear progression of events. While events certainly have causes, new historicists argue that these causes are usually multiple, complex and difficult to analyse. Shashi Tharoor has argued that the British have categorically destroyed the Indian textile industry by putting extra taxes and destroying the Indian handloom factories. But, he is not considering the facts that the machine-made clothes are cheap and their productions are less time-consuming.
Their works can be analysed from the post-colonial perspective also. The colonisers see themselves at the centre of the world; the colonised were at the margins. The colonisers see themselves as the embodiment of what a human being should be, the proper’ self’; native people were considered as ‘other’, different. Today, this attitude-the use of European culture as the standard to which all other cultures are negatively contrasted- is called Euro centrism. The colonialist ideology, which is inherently Eurocentric, was a pervasive force in the British schools established in the colonies to inculcate British culture and values in the indigenous people and thereby forestall rebellion. The plan was extremely useful, and resulted in the creation of colonial subjects, colonised persons who did not resist colonial subjugation because they were taught to believe in British superiority, and therefore in their own inferiority. Many of these individuals tried to imitate their colonisers, as much as possible, in dress, speech, behaviour and lifestyle. Post colonial critics refer to this phenomenon as mimicry, and it reflects both the desire of the colonised individuals to be accepted by colonising culture and the shame experienced by colonised individuals concerning their own culture, which they were programmed to see as inferior.
Among the tasks formerly colonised people face is the rejection of colonialist ideology, which defined them as inferior, and the reclamation of their pre-colonial past. It is clear that both N.C. Choudhury and Shashi Tharoor’s vision and thoughts have been affected by these two discourses. Choudhury’s thoughts and vision have been fashioned by his reading of the Western writers like Ibn Khaldun, Benda, Gibbon and Pascal.
Tharoor’s claims clearly fall within the category of what Kashmiri historian Idrees Kanth calls ‘response mode historiography’, which, as Kanth says , ‘usually operates through three tropes :difference , negation and nostalgia. To him through nostalgia , some Indian historians attempt to construct some sort of an ‘ original sense of Indian self-hood’ and fashion an Indian nation by referring to a supposed chain of an indigenous Indian tradition, which is valorised and projected as Dipesh Chakroborty does, ‘as timeless and continuous , disrupted only by colonialism’.
Another reason for Choudhury’s aversion towards the Hindu culture was his inability to fit himself in the Hindu society. Choudhury belonged to a well-to-do Hindu family , and all his brothers got good governmental posts. But Choudhury failed to secure good job because he could not complete his M.A. As a result, he lived a life of poverty for the major part of his life. He was constantly teased by his family and friends. For this reason, he felt ‘unhomed’ within his own Hindu culture and society. His wide reading about the Western culture gave him a psychological shelter from the insult he has suffered in the Hindu society. Western culture became more endearing to him than his own Hindu society. He became a psychological refugee.
BRIDGING THE KNOWLEDGE GAPS: Separately few works have been done on both Nirad C Choudhury and Shashi Tharoor. But this paper is unique in the sense that this paper is doing a comparative study between two prominent Indian English writers, who have dealt with the same kind of issues in their writings. This paper will try to analyse some of the major non-fictional works of Shashi Tharoor. So far, no major work has been done on the non-fictions of Shashi Tharoor. This paper has also taken into consideration a post colonial and new historical analysis of both N.C. Choudhury and Shashi Tharoor’s works. These approaches have not been taken on the analysis of their works yet.
2. An Analysis of the Representations of the British Empire and Hindu culture in the Works of Nirad C Choudhury.
3. An Analysis of Shashi Tharoor’s Views on the British Empire and Hindu Culture.
4. An Analysis of the Contrasts that are found in the Works of N.C. Choudhury and Shashi Tharoor.
5. Countering Some of the Arguments of Nirad C Choudhury and Shashi Tharoor.
1. Selected Texts.
2. Lack of biographical information.
3. Lack of finding authentic Government documents.
TIME DURATION AND BUDGET: The completion of the present paper will take approximately 3-5 years. As I am a JRF scholar, no extra cause from the department will be necessary.
Nirad C. Choudhury And Shashi Tharoor’s Works:
1) The Continent of Circe (1965)
2) Hinduism: A Religion to Live By (1979)
3) A Passage to England (1959)
4) Culture in the Vanity Bag (1976)
5) An Era of Darkness (2016)
6) Why I Am a Hindu (2018)
7) India: From Midnight to The Millennium the Faction of a Nation (1997)
Partha Chatterjee, The Present History of West Bengal: Essays in Political Criticism (Oxford University Press, 1997) p. 7.
Ashis Nandy, The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism (Oxford University Press, 1983) p.83.
Dipesh Chakroborty, Provincialising Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton University Press, 2000) pp. 35-6, 183-5.
V.S. Naipaul, The Overcrowded Barracoon and Other Articles (Andre Deutsch, 1972) p. 59.
Salman Rushdie and Elizabeth West (eds.), Vintage Book of Indian Writing 1947-97 (Vintage, 1997) p. Xvii.
Mulk Raj Anand and R.K. Dhawan (eds.), Nirad C. Choudhuri: The Scholar Extraordinary (Prestige, 2000) pp 249, 251.
Pankaj Mishra, ‘Nirad C. Choudhuri’, Outlook (16 August 1999); Amit Choudhuri, Clearing a Space: Reflections on India, Literature and Culture (Peter Lang, 2008) p. 53.
Kartar Lalwani’s The Making of India-The Untold Story of British Enterprise.
Idrees Kanth’s The Untold Story of the People of Azad Kashmir: Politics, Religion and Ideology.
Niall Fergusson’s Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World.
Lawrence James’ The Rise and Fall of the British Empire.
Paul Scott’s The Jewel in the Crown.