Say Wha

Posted by sepoy on August 15, 2007 · 1 min read

I break my reverie to state, unequivocally, that Ramchandra Guha's oped in today's NYT, India's Internal Partition, is very, very strange. Seriously. Read it one sentence at a time.


Malvika | August 15, 2007

I agree! Guha's article made me uneasy and nauseous not because his hero is Nehru (who left a legacy of corruption and obtaining political power at every cost), but because he does not have any point. When I read the title of the article, I thought here is another article about some writer's personal, internal, literal partition into two beings: (1) the Indian who feels guilty about hating Muslims (but doesn't know why he hates them) or (2) the Indian who feels that India has two faces (public face that idealizes the Western sense of economy and the private face where we are taught to hate at home). Guah's article is a superficial, thoughtless monologue about some dream he had. What's more offensive is that it portrays educated, upper-class, privileged Hindus as being good and secular at heart, but the Muslims just don't know it because all the unconventionally thinking Hindus are in the West. Just what the hell is he saying!?! Is he saying that he had not met Tariq Banuri in the States, he would not have considered being friends with a Muslim? Even with all the technological development in India, the reality is that Indians must go abroad to form meaningful and lasting alliances with Muslims or Pakistanis. Is this progress for India? Guah's enlightening dream is out-of-date and unrelated to the 60 years of Indian independence; because Indians have yet to think independently of their social order, caste, class, and sexism. One would be a fool to think that Guah's article presents an idea at all. It is a goof! His article is a filler for the NYT. Shame on you NYT! Why couldn't you have asked Pankaj Mishra to write something? Or, me?

Ralph Luker | August 15, 2007

At bottom, though, isn't it the title of his piece that most offends you? That is, the line of demarcation that created Pakistan is assumed to be a division of India. Pakistan's existence is, somehow, an illegitimate compromise. It is remarkable that he acknowledges the discrimination against Muslims within India and, yet, believes that Pakistan is legitimately only a part of the larger India.

shiromoney | August 15, 2007

uh, yeah dude. Like an unerring cruise missile, I immediately went from the NYT page to here to see whether you'd posted anything about this. Thank you, sepoy, for being on the ball as always. that last sentence: aarruuhh? (a feeble attempt to represent my most confused, sub-semantic murmuring)

sepoy | August 15, 2007

My fifth thought was that this op-ed had been filed in 2001-02 [when Indian and Pakistani armies actually were in a stand-off] and NYT just found it in their files and ran it. My fourth thought was still pre-occupied with the "I dreamt of Tariq". My third thought was ... oh, I get it... but then, is this the first time a rant against landlords who steal electricity got onto NYT's oped page? My second thought was what did the Punjabis ever do to him? My first thought still is....aaaruuuhhhh? Ralph: I won't even go to my thoughts about the actual import of this op-ed.

Saadia | August 16, 2007

You're right - this is the weirdest thing I've read in a long time. It totally sounds like he's on drugs. and really, what does it say about secular india and its wonderful diversity that his first muslim friend was tariq banuri. The article should have been called 'i dream of tariq', really. at least that would have justified/explained its rambling incoherence a little ... And while we're on the subject of who gets to write these things, I'm really sick of reading the asinine analyses on all things Pakistan that Kamila Shamsie and Mohsin Hamid produce. It's as if these are the only English-speaking Pakistanis that the NYT and the Guardian can find.

biryanilady | August 16, 2007

What I find hard to believe is that this is the best the NYTimes can do for an op-ed this week?? I don't think they'd publish anything of this caliber on, say, US race relations, or gender relations. It also seemed to contrast the interesting story about the new high school poli sci curriculum that ran on p.4(ish) of the front section. In any case, their editorial judgement is clearly limited when it comes to S.Asia.

Desi Italiana | August 16, 2007

You know, I feel sort of uneasy about everyone attacking this piece. I DO agree with you folks who are wondering how in the world it got published in the NYT (Guha's piece seemed to be more appropriate for a blog post rather than a national newspaper). It would have been better if they had published a piece that was more critical and discussed things from a framework different from the one we come across all the time. However, the writer is being honest, he is highlighting the contradictions of an India that is a supposedly secular state, his OWN internal contradictions, and what I see as the internal partitions he has in his OWN head. I actually think it takes a lot to publicly admit your own prejudices and so on. This isn't too far from what Pankaj Mishra wrote in his essay "Jihadis"- that when he was in Pakistan, he felt like he was surrounded by a bunch of fundamentalists. Obviously, these prejudices and internal partitions are irrational, incorrect, and not true, but there are MILLIONS of people who think this way- people who are not assholes per se and may even be well intentioned. Because of this, I think it's good that we are exposed to these kinds of opinions, if only to know what the thoughts are like so that we can argue against them. I'd rather that a writer be honest about what he/she thinks rather than always putting up a "politically correct" front which doesn't always reflect/correspond to what they are thinking internally. I hope no one rolls their eyes when they read this and think, "Oh god, she's an apologist for Guha, the NYT, etc.."

Desi Italiana | August 16, 2007

Ralph: "That is, the line of demarcation that created Pakistan is assumed to be a division of India. Pakistan's existence is, somehow, an illegitimate compromise. It is remarkable that he acknowledges the discrimination against Muslims within India and, yet, believes that Pakistan is legitimately only a part of the larger India." Where on earth do you see this what you have stated above? Guha said: "Despite their shared culture, cuisine and love for the game of cricket, India and Pakistan have already fought four wars. And judging by the number of troops on their borders and the missiles and nuclear weapons to back them, they seem prepared to fight a fifth." India and Pakistan DO have some shared cultures, and to point that out is NOT "de-legitimizing" Pakistan's existence and claiming that Pakistan is part of a greater India. There are Punjabis on both sides of the border, Sindhis on both sides, Gujaratis on both sides, etc who share the same language, food, and so on. If we were to follow your logic, then that means there are Pakistanis themselves who do not see Pakistan's existence as "legitimate" and a part of greater India, such as Asma Jahangir from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan when she says: "Pakistan and India share a common culture and have been separated by politicians for their own private ends for too long." Guha pointing this out and then taking note of the fact that Pakistan and India have fought wars, are nuclear states, and will probably fight more wars in the future is not incorrect or imprecise.

Desi Italiana | August 16, 2007

Whoops, it's not specifically Asma Jahangir who says that- it's just HRCP, and it may or may not be her. My bad. Back to work.

Qalandar | August 16, 2007

I thought Guha's was a bizarre and rather pointless editorial; however I must confess that some of the reactions in this thread seem to me to border on hysteria. As far as I can tell he is holding up HIS OWN experience and feelings as a demonstration of the contradictions of secular India (or perhaps a contradiction between rhetoric and practice) -- Pakistan is actually quite incidental to his piece (the "divide", of course, isn't), I read him as more concerned with what it says "about" India. Ralph Luker: having read other works by Guha, I do think he is "anti-partition"; however, your comment seems to assume that the only reason for being anti-partition is because of an exaltation of "Greater India"/"Akhand Bharat". I resist that implicit assumption: my own reading of Guha's views is that he views "the idea of India" -- i.e. the Nehruvian idea of India -- as an inherently less problematic idea on which to found a polity than "the idea of Pakistan." That is, recognizing that all nationalisms are problematic, I read his claim being that not all are EQUALLY problematic, and thus one need not accept the "given-ness" of "Greater India" to be opposed to the "idea of Pakistan."

Qalandar | August 16, 2007

Re: "Guha's piece seemed to be more appropriate for a blog post rather than a national newspaper" HEY NOW! I can think of a lot of blog posts that are more thoughtful, more complete, than this op-ed :-)

Qalandar | August 16, 2007

PS-- for me, the offensive part of this editorial was in the following lines: "Yet they remained insecure; who knew when catastrophe might come again? And so they hoarded diamonds and maintained Swiss bank accounts. They also cheated their tenants. In six years in Delhi, my wife and I had four landlords, all refugees from the Pakistani part of Punjab. All four hooked their appliances to our electricity meter, and all kept our deposits when we left."

Desi Italiana | August 16, 2007

"for me, the offensive part of this editorial was in the following lines" Seriously. He takes examples of 4 Punjabis from Pakistan- out of the MILLIONS of Punjabis in Delhi- as an example of dishonesty. Re: “Guha's piece seemed to be more appropriate for a blog post rather than a national newspaper,”,= I had in mind the dream part when I wrote that. I don't usually expect reading about dreams in the NYT...but then again, the NYT has a habit of publishing things that boggle me (ie a piece by a British commander on the British colonial empire and India; giving Henry Kissinger too much exposure. But again, I guess we should be thankful that we at least get to hear wtf these people are thinking).

Qalandar | August 16, 2007

And let's not forget Niall Ferguson, who seemed to be ubiquitous for a few years after 9/11, reminding us of all that was so great about the British Empire. For all the talk of political correctness, it couldn't have been more than skin deep if such naked imperialism found such ready acceptance... btw, I just got the new Guha book ("India After Gandhi"); haven't read it yet, but was wondering if anyone here has? Thoughts? It seems like a larger(more ambitious?) book than the usual one-volumer on India. [For me the benchmark for this sort os book remains Sunil Khilnani's The Idea of India]...

Qalandar | August 16, 2007

Speaking of what the NYT will or will not publish, an English Lit professor of mine once told me that back in the mid-1980s he submitted a book review to the NYT, of one of Foucault's books (actually might have been some sort of retrospective piece after his death), and was told that the paper did not deem pieces on Foucault acceptable...apparently the New York Review of Books was the same way until the 1990s...

Qalandar | August 16, 2007

Re: "I don't think they'd publish anything of this caliber on, say, US race relations, or gender relations." Actually, I think they publish even worse on gender relations routinely, and not as an "op-ed" but as news pieces.

Desi Italiana | August 17, 2007

"[For me the benchmark for this sort os book remains Sunil Khilnani's The Idea of India]…" Oh, you too? I quite liked, although I think he focuses too much on Nehru (but he was also working on a Nehru biography at the same time, if I'm not wrong). Actually, I'm sort of tired of reading about the lives of the "fathers of the nation," which brings me to the next point: "I just got the new Guha book (”India After Gandhi”); haven't read it yet, but was wondering if anyone here has? Thoughts?" Nope, but if Gandhi's discussed generously in there, then I probably won't read it. I've been Gandhi'ed out all my life, and I stopped after I read his autobiography, which was in 2004. Do tell us if Guha's book discusses Gandhi at length. Hey, has anybody read Eqbal Ahmed's selected writings book? I've been wanting to read it, but I haven't gotten around to it.

SP | August 23, 2007

Ram Guha's article was certainly rambling and didn't have a clear point, but I wasn't bothered by the sorts of things he said. What he says about Delhi Punjabi "refugees" is pretty true (and I come from a family that is ALL Punjabi refugees from Lahore) - and it's fair enough to point to the ways in which partition left Indians screwed up. If only he had done so more coherently. I just got his India after Gandhi book as well, and though he used to go on and on about how Indian history needs to tackle more recent issues and not be so obsessed with the colonial era, a good chunk of the book actually deals with the immediate aftermath of independence. Thus far I find it well researched and written smoothly enough (though he's not a talented, lyrical writer), but what really disappoints me is that he seems to have a fairly conventional nationalist angle on history and historiography (though mercifully doesn't get on the whole Mahatma-worship track). I expected more of him.

Aatish | August 24, 2007

We all expect the Indian secular upper middle class to be fairly self involved and incoherent when it comes to these issues. Sometimes I think that drunk civil-servant uncles and op-ed pieces on 'communalism' are just reflections of each other. Then again, this type of "i love them, i hate them, omg will they discover my hinduness and behead me in front of badshahi masjid, oh no they wont because im secular" schizophrenia must have something to do with partition. Though i prefer my landlord's version: raised in pre-partition amritsar, though not panjabi, on my first day in the flat told me i have a 'muhammadan beard'(i dont), that my 'muhammadan girlfriend' must be very attractive and then went on some rant about how Lahore was a beautiful city when the hindus owned it, but now it must be very dirty. then told me some charming 1947 Earth type story about Ali bhai, his college best friend who fled during partition and whose stuff he safeguarded, who i must find when i go to lahore. This is at least a reflection of a man who experienced these events, whose life and relationships were torn apart by partition, in whatever way. Guha's however, is the reason why those fighting against hindu nationalism are termed "pseudo secular."

Aatish | August 24, 2007

More importantly, "India's Internal Partition," though alluded too in the article, deserves at least as much prominence as his experience with panju landlords. Every major city in India is partitioned, mixed neighbourhoods are largely a thing of the past. Every riot is like a mini-partition, separating people further into radically different spheres of habitation and commerce. This has very important consequences, particularly on the Muslim sections of the city, which especially in north India, have become little more than ghettos. Its stupid to expect the secular elite to care about these things, they'd rather pat themselves on the back or wonder why we cant all get along.

Eunomia · Strange | August 25, 2007

[...] like Ramachandra Guha’s new book, so what would he make of his utterly bizarre op-ed (via Chapati Mystery) from a couple weeks ago? His op-ed told me that Mr. Guha does not much care for Punjabis [...]

Jax | September 18, 2007

Awesome blog... Someone please do tell me... Besides the mediocrity of the article... what exactly was offensive about the article?