Outlook reviews Prince of Ayodhya with mildly raised eyebrows: “In the third year of the third millennium, Ashok Banker, with two ‘adult’ novels and an extra ‘K’ to his name, tosses a bit of lust into a pot brimming over with ‘childish abridged versions and stiff-mouthed analyses’…. Admittedly, these are just paragraphs in an otherwise magnificently rendered labour of love. And the Ramayana is ‘neither history nor biography’ but a part of mythology—each reteller puts in his own bit, some even differ on key issues. In Kamban’s Ramayana, Ravana does not physically seize and carry off Sita as Valmiki describes in his. But, surely, a 21st century effort could have done better than reinforcing existing sexist stereotypes?”

Krishna Prasad might have been kinder–Banker has come a long way since the long lost days when he could open a novel (Bad Karma) with this wince-making pun: “Rashmi Brar wouldn’t take off her bra.” Now he works harder on his timing, even if subtlety remains elusive, as in this passage where Lakshman taunts Rama: “You’ll marry Sita when she comes of age! Don’t deny it, bhai. You’ve always had a soft spot for Maharaja Janak’s eldest. Or should I say, a hard spot!”

The Babu, as should be apparent from his name, has his own problems with Orientalism. But he read Hitchens on Edward Said with growing irritation. “There’s no quarrel with the view that “events” occurred on September 11, 2001; but that the military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq were wars “against” either country is subject to debate. A professor of English appreciates the distinction, does he not? Or does he, like some puerile recent “activists” (and some less youthful essayists, including Gore Vidal), think that the United States could not wait for a chance to invade Afghanistan in order to build a pipeline across it? American Orientalism doesn’t seem that restless from where I sit; it asks only that Afghans leave it alone.” Could Hitch be more blinkered or sound more tired as he bangs on the same old drum? It’s not available online, unfortunately, but for a more searching critique of Orientalism and Said, read Vijay Nambisan on the subject in Language as an Ethic.

Hmm. Notes from an Oriental Occidentalist?What matters is that in turning our back on the British Empire, contemporary India also turned its back on the institution of Empire. It is this rejection of an idea that is proving costly today. At the root of the problem is the equation of Empire with economic exploitation and political subordination. Yes, there were abhorrent features of the imperial experience but they did not constitute the whole story. Standing side by side with the disagreeable was the philosophy that lay behind the words Civis Britannicus Sum. There was a universal vision that defined the British Empire, a vision that brought India and South Africa, Trinidad and Canada, under a common umbrella. It was an enterprise propelled by a deep sense of mission and it didn’t leave Indians unaffected.”

“I cannot remember the first time I met Dom Moraes. I know that he was a part of my growing up. My father recommended his prose ‘to clean your palate’. And so in some distant way, I knew a lot about him before I ever heard him call me fucker in rich, soft, plum-cake tones.” Jerry Pinto on the quiet man, the unquiet man. More…

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