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The Continent of Circe-II

Kiran Doshi

By Nirad C. Chaudhuri
Barrie and Jenkins ,Distributed in India by Oxford University Press , 1975, 446, 7.50

VOLUME I NUMBER 2 April - June 1976

Nirad Chaudhuri has been quiet of late. A new book from him is, therefore, a welcome sight, for a remarkable control of the English language has given Chaudhuri a position in Indo-English literature similar to that of Mohammed Ali in international boxing. He is the greatest, especially at telling the rest of us all about it. In his recent book entitled Clive of India—do you know of any other Clive?—Chaudhuri goes a long way, well over 400 pages in all, to prove that of all Indian writers in English, he alone can do with the language what pleases him, and in the process throw up for his Indian readers a bundle of outrageous ideas to quote, misquote or contradict in the years to come. But why write a book on Clive today? And why Chaudhuri to do it? A number of excellent or at least exhaustive books on Clive have been available to generations of readers. Chaudhuri has not and does not claim to have discovered any startling new information about Clive's life and his struggles. In any case to an Indian reader Clive's relevance is limited to his role as a, perhaps the, founder of the Raj. The rest of Clive's life is not a particularly rewarding study to the general Indian reader who will pick up the book not because he is anxious to know the trivia of Clive's life but because he is curious to read Chaudhuri. Nor has Chaudhuri been able to add to the data already available with us on the course of Indian history in the days of Clive. The 18th century, as we all know, was not a particularly agreeable time to be an Indian, for the collapsing Mogul empire had set in motion throughout the country a turbulence and an anarchy which had produced outrageous norms of behaviour. The rest was inevitable, at least in retro­spect. Some new order had to evolve. As it happened we got the Raj. So we come back to the question: Why must we have a new book on those times and on Clive's great and petty struggles if the author does not even pretend to have indulged in any original research? To claim that the idea came to him as a chance encounter is frivolous. One must, therefore, read the book in the light of Chaudhuri's second reason, that he has 'for many years ...

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