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A Dissenting Perspective


G.J.V. Prasad

OF CRICKET, GUINNESS AND GANDHI: ESSAYS ON INDIAN HISTORY AND CULTURE
By Vinay Lal
Seagull Books, Kolkata, 2004, pp. 223, Rs. 525.00

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 1 January 2004

This is a book that raises interesting ques- tions. As for example, why do so many Indians try to enter the eccentric world of the Guinness Book of Records? It is after all an intriguing and bewildering fact that so many Indians try to establish world records in the zaniest of categories every year – the longest nails, the longest moustache, the longest time standing on one leg, to name a few. Why do we do this? What does it say about us as a nation that we are willing to do the most useless of things in order to enter the seemingly haloed pages of the Guinness Book? Vinay Lal’s explanation may not convince you but it is based on the fact that these attempts have increased in great numbers after India’s brave attempt to pose as a world power began in the last decade and a half of the twentieth century. These attempts then have to be read in tandem with post-Rajiv Gandhi India’s desire to be read as a nation on the make, a nation that wants to be taken seriously in contemporary world politics.   In a complex argument that situates Indian attempts at inscribing their names into the record books as having roots in the inferiority complex engendered by colonialism which forever marked Indian civilization with a lack of manliness, Lal goes on to say that perhaps this is also an Indian riposte to the call of modernity, an answer to the western need for progress, their pride in the utilitarian. So even when Indians indulge in acts of manliness, setting records, they choose to do so in what are seen as womanly activities like threading needles or typing. Even as the Indian fascination for numbers finds reflection in this strange quest for bizarre records, and Indians try to establish their superiority over the rest of the world, to assert the position of the nation in the modern world, they do so in completely and patently non-utility activities!   This polemical essay sets the tone for the book—it aims to provoke and is at times self contradictory and makes sweeping generalizations and speaks with certainty even when being wildly speculative. For instance why do we Indians feel so bad when we fail to win Olympic medals—is it because it shows we are a failure as a political or even civilizational power or because ...


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