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Not Just A Remembrance of Things Past

Aasim Khan

By Saeed Akhtar Mirza
Fourth Estate , HarperCollins, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 247, Rs.450.00


Orientalism is thriving in 2012, albeit in a more subtle and refined form. The proverbial ‘white man’s burden’ is no more about a civilizing mission, but instead to fulfill a ‘responsibility to protect’, from the terror of the irrational other. In fact, Edward Said in his monumental study of the interdependence between Orientalist discourse and imperial policy making, had suggested that apart from its philosophical significance, Orientalism at the psychological level is also ‘a form of paranoia’. In today’s age of ‘humanitarian’ interventions, the imperial hack of yesteryears has been replaced by the global media outlets, that manufacture a constant paranoia among its vast audiences. And often aiding them in this project is an ever acquiescent civil society, ‘NATO, Keep the Progress Going’ reads a public advertisement released by none other than the Amnesty International at a recent summit of the military alliance to discuss the future of Afghanistan. Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose. Given such widespread consensus, how does one counter this hegemonic narrative without alienating the media audiences particularly in the West? Surely only a maverick would risk challenging the status quo. For it would have to be a Herculean effort, just possessing a scholar’s dexterity will not be enough; it would also require a superhuman ability to remain intellectually insouciant. The Monk, The Moor & Moses bin Jalloun is the work of just such a maverick intellectual. The man who gave us Albert Pinto ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai has handed us a book that would certainly make Lord Macaulay’s sideburns curl. Not only does it resolutely reject the Eurocentric historical framework within which much of the contemporary public (and the media) debates operate, it also offers an alternative vision, a radically new perspective to evaluate the course of human civilization over the last one thousand years. To be sure, it is not Mirza’s prose that does the trick; one could hardly call his writing extraordinary and it is quite unlikely that this book will win any nominations let alone awards for its ‘literary’ merits. The three stories in the book are not exceptional either, nor is the way in which the book itself is laid out. There is disappointment galore for those looking for exotic tales of murder and mayhem, in The Monk there are no burning retorts of a ‘reluctant fundamentalist’, nor any diasporic nostalgia of a ‘kite ...

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