Sanjay Subrahmanyam

Sanjay Subrahmanyam teaches at UCLA. Three Ways to Be Alien is published by the University Press of New England.

The View from the Top: Upland Anarchists

Sanjay Subrahmanyam, 2 December 2010

The researcher starts out with fieldwork data from a village or set of villages, or material from a set of archives, or even a set of conversations between friends in a pub, and then proceeds to weave these into a convincing set of hypotheses which with luck will stand the test, either of a vertical transformation in scale or a horizontal movement in space (some economists like to call such...

Who were they? ‘Thuggee’

Sanjay Subrahmanyam, 3 December 2009

In the early 1980s, Ismail Merchant set out to make The Deceivers. He was without his usual collaborator, James Ivory, who was not enthusiastic about the project. The film eventually appeared in 1988, and was met by a near unanimous lack of critical acclaim. The screenplay was based on a novel by John Masters (1914-83), who had served in the British army in India before and during the Second...

Maaaeeestro! Gabriel García Márquez

Sanjay Subrahmanyam, 27 August 2009

When Luis Miguel Dominguín, the celebrated torero, died at the age of 69 in May 1996, the obituaries were many and generous. They recalled his curious relationship with Ernest Hemingway, his love affairs with the likes of Ava Gardner, and that he was the father of the famous singer Miguel Bosé. They made much of his close friendship with Picasso, and Le Monde quoted from his brief...

The Rule of the Road: What is an empire?

Sanjay Subrahmanyam, 12 February 2009

In the year 1283 of the Hegiran era, or 1866 of the Common Era, the Ottoman traveller Abdur Rahman bin Abdullah al-Baghdádi al-Dimashqi arrived in Brazil on the imperial corvette Bursa to begin a three-year visit. He later published an account of his experiences, entitled Maslihat al-gharib bi-kull-i amr ‘ajib (‘The delight of the traveller concerning all that is...

Diary: Another Booker Flop

Sanjay Subrahmanyam, 6 November 2008

It is very hard to define or measure class in India, where data on personal income and assets are extremely hard to come by. It is even harder to know for certain what has happened in the past two decades since economic liberalisation was proclaimed. But there are clearly very rich people in the cities now with fancy imported cars, expensive watches and clothes, and showy lifestyles, and they live side by side with slum-dwellers and those who sleep on pavements. There are urban and suburban developments that boast such names as Malibu Towers, Beverly Hills Residence and Bel-Air Estate. This is growth all right, but of a sort that can induce vertigo. It is what Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker Prize-winning The White Tiger is ostensibly about.

Where Does He Come From? Placing V.S. Naipaul

Sanjay Subrahmanyam, 1 November 2007

Many people have strong opinions about [V.S. Naipaul], including the reviewers and interviewers he regularly deals with. The dividing line is essentially political, a fact that might be disquieting for a creative writer. In this respect Naipaul is more like Solzhenitsyn than, say, Joyce, whose appeal can transcend (or confound) traditional political divides. In the case of Naipaul, those on the left, especially defenders of the ‘Third World’ and its hopes, from C.L.R. James and Edward Said to Michael Gilsenan, more or less uniformly find him and his attitudes troubling and sometimes bigoted. He is portrayed as a self-hater and Uncle Tom, a product of the sorts of complex that Frantz Fanon diagnosed. On the other side are the conservative writers – those who might see Ayaan Hirsi Ali as a major intellectual figure – who celebrate Naipaul as an original voice, a writer who provides a searing, politically incorrect indictment of all that is wrong in the modern world: Islam in its various manifestations, the grotesque dictatorships of Africa, the squalor and self-inflicted misery of much of the Third World, the failure everywhere of projects of métissage between the West and non-West.

How to Write It: India after Independence

Sanjay Subrahmanyam, 20 September 2007

It may seem perverse to begin an essay on India by invoking a historian of France: Eugen Weber, who died this year, a colleague of mine and a formidable presence at UCLA. He wrote a book in 1976 on how France became a proper nation by transforming ‘peasants into Frenchmen’. But the Weber I knew, and bantered with during the last years of his life, also had an Indian past of which...

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