India: A Wounded Civilization by V. S Naipaul

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Naipaul’s India and Wounded Civilization

by – T H Basvaraj (published in February 2017, Vol.III Issue.XXV)


Naipaul’s second travelogue on India, India : A Wounded Civilization (1979) is nothing but the larger and more representational and sensible version of the first travelogue An Area of Darkness. Here too, he calls the land ‘an old equilibruim’ but still considers it to be a ‘shattered’ one. It is once again a semi-autobiographical account as he gives us the details of his ancestors and depicts his own experience of visiting several places and meeting people either by chance or by choice. Though this may be considered to be a more serious attempt, for his search for the identity of his own, he still retains his negative and pessimistic attitude towards India. Historically, Naipaul divides India between the old India and the modern India. Naipaul as all his respect and love for the human values and tradition upheld by the older generation. In contrast to the old India, he finds the unhealable wound in the modern India in terms of ignorance, illiteracy, wide-spread poverty, corruption, low standard of living, unhygienic conditions and the fall of the old values. That is the reason why he calls this land a ‘wounded civilization’.


The book India : A Wounded Civilization is handy and it is divided into three parts, namely. ‘A Wounded Civilization’, ‘A New Claim on the Land’ and ‘Not Ideas, but Obsessions’. There are two chapters in each of the first two parts and four chapters in the third part.

In the very first lines of his foreword to the book Naipaul writes about the extreme climatic conditions. He opines by seeing the fellow visitors at the airport that India is again at the periphery of Gulf or Arabian world as it had been in the 8th century. He even feels that India has shrunk since the Arab incursion. But in reality India has neither shrunk nor it is in the verge of shrinking, it has continuously sailed and sailed ignoring all the obstacles and it will in future sail and sail. He gives stress to the point of the advent of the foreigners and the Indian failure to answer those conquests.

No civilization was so little equipped to cope with the outside world; no country was so easily raided and plundered, and learned so little from its disasters. (IWC-7)

Further, he exposes his intentions to lay emphasis on the facts responsible for the present Indian situation and their consequences. He in his precise and artistic language gives the description of the men and sights he at first sees immediately after landing in India (Bombay). He gives us the description of a Muslim whose surname being Qureshi had entered the Indian Administrative Services. This seems unique to Naipaul, but Indian readers feel that it is unnecessary to mention and Naipaul foolishly has made it worth mentioning.

At the very outset, as if frankly, he writes that;

India is for me a difficult country. It isn’t my home and cannot be my home; and yet I cannot reject it or be indifferent to it; I cannot travel only for the sights. I am at once too close and too far. (IWC-8)

Naipaul’s confusion is exposed here in his own words. He is in dilemma and is not able to decide anything certainly and whether to consider India to be his home or not. But C.D.Narasirnhaiah remarks; “Presumably, on re-reading his own type script before publication he may have told himself that in the interest of artistic truth he would do well to throw in a complimentary remark here and there, as for example, ‘India is not my country. And yet I can’t be indifferent’. The reluctance to be indifferent is dictated not by sentimental or altruistic considerations but wholly by unashamed opportunism – without … Areas of Darkness, Wounded Civilization … Mr. Naipaul’s occupation is gone. What, if not this, are the overwhelming compulsions behind his writing? Most assuredly, not to apply the healing touch to the ills of contemporary society, a writer’s responsibility to his fellowmen – the entire corpus of Naipaul’s work gives the life to it”.2

What makes one feel itching is his feeling that:

A hundred years had been enough to wash me clean of many Indian religious attitudes; and without these attitudes the distress of India was – and is – almost insupportable. (IWC-9)


One feels that Naipaul has failed to recognize the sacredness and the virtues of the Indian religion and thus he has considered Indian religion to be trivial. C.D.Narasimhaiah reacting to this attitude of Naipaul says; “I had not thought that religion was such a filthy thing that he could dismiss it with relief while what he really needs to do is to expiate a pettiness. He is not in need of reminding that washing will not clean memories anymore than it did poor Lady Macbeth. Was he unaware of the irony of such a remark what with its unmistakably Shakespearean overtones the images of ‘wash’ and ‘clean’ convey?”3 Naipaul, being a stranger in India, calls the customs and traditions of India as strange and says that these things have raised many difficulties to him. It was very hard for him to get rid of these things even after his return to England. Here he refers to his first visit to India. Yet he agrees that the things were changing rapidly.

While writing about the Emergency declared by Mrs.Gandhi the then Prime Minister of India, he states that his book is not only –

An inquiry about India – even an inquiry about the Emergency -has quickly to go beyond the political. It has to be an inquiry about Indian attitudes; it has to be an inquiry about the civilization itself, as it is.(IWC-9)


This may be considered to be the objective of the book. He ironically speaks about the Aryan system of sacrifice and mentions about the rituals followed in his own household, though it had been already a century since their migration. In the concluding lines to his foreword he asserts that though he is a stranger in India, still the Indian memories are like trapdoors into his bottomless past. Here one can smell his sense of relating the present to his past as a means to his quest for the identity of his own.

Naipaul switches on to the topic of industrialisation. He says that, now because of the rapid industrialisation, development in science and technology and the steps taken under the Five Year Plans have made India the fourth largest producer of grains in the world. Till the end of this chapter, he discusses about the concept of ‘Dharma’. Once again he misinterprets it, the concept of Dharma is reality teaches one to be devoted to his duty and he must worship his duty. One must not interfere in other man’s duty until it is forcefully necessary. But Naipaul never catches hold of this concept.

In the concluding lines of the book he pessimistically writes:


                                        The crisis of India is not political: this is only the view from Delhi. Dictatorship or rule by the army will change nothing. Nor is the crisis only economic. These are only aspects of the larger crisis, which is that of a decaying civilization, where only hope lies in further swift decay. (IWC 174-175)

He writes all this as if India will seize to exist within a short span of time from now. As an artist he must not have grown so pessimistic. Of course, India is a wounded civilization, but Naipaul instead of trying to assume the healing of this wound through his writing tries to harm even more to the already wounded civilization. He tries to pursue everything negatively and writes negatively as some writers write negative as they believe that by writing negatively and by creating controversies they can gain popularity. About Naipaul, C.D.Narasimhaiah opines that; “He seems to me to write for the same reason that many ossified academics publish are else they must perish”.4

Regarding Naipaul’s statement ‘only hope lies in further swift decay’, Darshan Singh Maini says: “So far as India is concerned, Naipaul seems entirely to forget that though humiliated in arms, ravaged and torn, over and over again it has managed to remain afloat in the teeth of all assaults on her dignity and entity. This is because its spiritual buffers are strong enough to absorb all such shocks … otherwise, the Indian civilization should have by now gone the way of the death-oriented Mayan civilization, a Dinosaur of history. On the contrary we find in the post-independent India a willed and determined effort to modernise her dream”.5

However, Naipaul’s delineation of India is not accepted by Indians in toto. His depiction of India, either as an ‘area of darkness’ or ‘wounded civilization’ is imperfect. In a sense it is unrealistic. The reasons are crystal clear. Naipaul, an unhappy Trinidad-Indian, visits India with a Western eye. He comes to India almost in a mood of irreverence and belligerency. He arrives here with a payload of prejudice and a freight of complexes. True in his article “The Complex Fate of V.S.Naipaul”, D.S.Maini asserts that; “Naipaul appears to have little respect for, and less understanding of, the vast sociological and psychic changes now under way in India”.6

Indian critics state that it is, due to his lost identity and double alienation, Naipaul writes negatively about India and his own confusion regarding his confused identity has contributed a lot to his negativity.

Nevertheless, it must be said that what Naipaul writes about India is not wholly untrue. His assertion that India is oppressed by yoke of foreign rule and its own limitations are acceptable.



  1. D. Narasimhaiah, “Naipauls Indian Experience Again”, in Contemporary Indian Fiction in English, ed., Ayyappa Panikar, Kerala University Press, Trivandram, 1981. p.98.
  1. p. 99
  1. p.106
  1. D.Narasimhaiah, “Naipaul’s Indian Experience Again”, in Contemporary Indian Fiction in English, ed., Ayyappa Panikar, Kerala University Press, Trivandrum, 1981, p. 99
  1. Darshan Singh   Maini,   “The   Complex   Fate   of   S.Naipaul”,   in   Colonial       Consciousness in Commonwealth Literature, ed., C.D.Narasimhaiah, Mysore 1981, p.105
  2. Ibid.

Introduction to the Author: 

T. H. Basavaraj is an assistant professor at S.S.A.S.G.F.G College, Hosapete, Karnataka. He has been producing quality research papers regularly.

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