Saturday, February 16, 2008

India: Definitions and Clarifications (new book by Reginald Massey)

Mr Massey's new book, with the title above, crossed my horizon a short while ago, and it is written with passion, displaying incredibly wide historical and geographical knowledge of people, history, culture and politics to do with the peoples of South Asia (though India is of course in the foreground).

He likes to say that he is "a Pakistani by birth" (he was born in Lahore) but, because his family chose India at the time of Partition, he is "an Indian by choice".

Bred therefore in Simla and Delhi, he has been based in the UK for some decades now, for professional reasons. Mr Massey's appearance belies his age (he is MUCH older than I am, so I have to treat him with due respect! From henceforth he is therefore "Masseyji").

I must confess that I have one regret about the book. It is published by such a small publisher (Hansib, UK)! When I ask Masseyji about this, he argues that it is better to be published by an activist publisher which will do its best for you rather than by a large publishing house if they won't exert themselves for you. There is a trace of truth in this assertion but, from my perspective, only a trace: most big publishers, even if they do not particularly exert themselves for you, will outperform a small publisher which does exert itself, because of the difference in the respective weight of the publishers in the market.

In any case, the book is Masseyji's cry from the heart to the rising generation of India's young people, a plea for them to reject the various forms of political correctness (or, rather, historical falsification) with which they have been indoctrinated by their elders, discover the key truths about their history (however uncomfortable the process and the results may be), so as to be able to work for true liberation and a genuinely better future for our peoples and for the world.

Well, I don't agree that historical falsification is the principal reason for the ills of the subcontinent. My view is that the historical falsifications arose from more fundamental definciencies or ills in our respective cultures (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Burmese, Nepalese). In other words, Masseyji's book addresses a major symptom rather than the basic cause. But it is easy to see why Masseyji makes this mistake. He is a large-hearted, generous, alarmingly honest man who does not trim his sails even when that results in his distinct disadvantage - and he romantically imagines that everyone else (particularly from the subcontinent) is like him or is prepared to be like him. At the very least he seems to believe that if a large number of Indians (and South Asians) *were* like that, then the problems of the subcontinent would disappear. Actually, with the last statement, I do agree: if our people were so transformed, our problems would certainly start shrinking - and, because our people are not being so transformed, our problems are expanding at present.

However, I welcome the book and have enjoyed reading it (even where I do not agree with it), just as I enjoy Masseyji's poetry and fiction. His thoroughly authoritative books on Indian music and on Indian dance (written with his lovely wife, the actress Jamila Massey) are definitely worth keeping in one's personal library and using for reference - because one simply can't take them in at one sitting.

I greatly look forward to Masseyji's next book, on which he tells me he has started working, tentatively titled: INDIA: THE 21ST CENTURY AND THE FUTURE.

Dear Masseyji, do make sure that THAT book goes to the biggest possible publisher! Sphere: Related Content

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