Indian literary star seeks new history of East versus West

Tue Sep 4, 2012 4:48pm EDT
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By Andrea Burzynski

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Indian writer Pankaj Mishra has never shied away from controversy in his native country or abroad, but he hopes that his latest book will bridge the gap between the East and West instead of merely inciting an intellectual brawl.

A respected voice in the Indian, British and American literary scenes, Mishra seeks to shed light on the eastern thinkers who influenced their regions during the period of western imperialism. "From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia" hits U.S. book shelves on Tuesday.

Mishra, 43, devotes the bulk of his chapters to names that have been absent from both Eastern and Western accounts of nineteenth and early twentieth century history - names he thinks people should know to understand the roots of contemporary events such as the Arab Spring and the rise of India and China.

"I thought both the nationalist histories I grew up with and these new imperialist histories were missing out," Mishra told Reuters in an interview, saying writers and historians were "sometimes actively suppressing a whole range of ideas, personalities and events that were very important to the formation of modern Asia."

He challenges the western narrative of imperialism - something he has made a name for himself doing.

After years of writing in-depth political and literary pieces for the New York Review of Books, the New York Times and others, in November 2011 Mishra wrote a scathing critique of conservative historian Niall Ferguson's book "Civilisation: The West and the Rest" in the London Review of Books.

Mishra's negative review led to a contentious and highly publicized series of exchanges between the two men, in which they clashed largely over the role imperialism played in the making of modern Asia.

"Imperialism was all about occupation, invasion, war, appropriation and constructing racial hierarchies in which darker-skinned peoples were treated abominably," Mishra said.   Continued...