Pankaj Mishra lives in London and India. He is the author of The Romantics, winner of the Los Angeles Times’s Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, and An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and The Guardian. Mishra’s recent books include Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond and From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia.

Which India Matters?

A man hammering inks and dyes rejected from nearby factories into powder that can then be resold, Mumbai, India, 2006
Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya claim that India has been transformed “from a basket case into a powerful engine of growth.” They are convinced that faster growth and freer markets remain the best remedy for poverty, inequality, pollution, and ill-health. A contrasting view—that “there is something defective in India’s ‘path to development’”—and a very different list of priorities appear in Amartya Sen and Jean Drèze’s An Uncertain Glory: India and Its Contradictions.

Asia: ‘The Explosive Transformation’

Mohsin Hamid, London, 2011
“Let some people get rich first,” the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping proclaimed a generation ago, inaugurating a strange new phase in his country’s—and the world’s—history. It now seems clear that nowhere has capitalism’s promise to create wealth been affirmed more forcefully than in post–World War II Asia. Three new novels examine the deeper perils and fantasies of an economic system that Asians themselves deem mandatory across the continent.

Indians Against Democracy

A horse and cart outside the Taj Hotel, Mumbai, India, 2010

Growing up in India in the 1970s and 80s, I often heard people in upper-caste middle class circles say that parliamentary democracy was ill-suited to the country. Recoiling from populist politicians who pandered to the poor, many Indians solemnly invoked the example of Singapore’s leader Lee Kuan Yew. Here was a suitably enlightened autocrat whose success in transforming a city-state into a major economic power was apparent to all: clean, shiny, efficient, and prosperous Singapore, the very antithesis of squalor-prone India. Such yearnings for technocratic utopia may seem to have little in common with the middle class protests against “corruption” that recently gained much attention before abruptly losing steam at the end of the year. In fact, all along, there was little about Anna Hazare and his conspicuously middle class followers that suggested support for greater democracy.

Pakistan’s Writers: Living in a Minefield

Daniyal Mueenuddin, New Delhi, India, April 2010
Lyric poetry has long been the most popular literary form in South Asia and the Middle East; poets rather than novelists became the unacknowledged legislators of the new nations that emerged after the breakup of European empires in the mid-twentieth century. As late as the 1970s and 1980s, thousands of …

A New Cold War in Asia?

A worker removes the US and Indian national flags after the departure of US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle from New Delhi, November 9, 2010

Is Asia about to enter a new cold war? Accusing the United States of undervaluing the dollar, China has, after its mainly “peaceful” rise, recently assumed an aggressive posture toward its neighbors. In recent visits both to longstanding American allies (Korea, Japan) and to erstwhile enemies (Vietnam, Cambodia), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has proposed the US as a counterpoint to China. Seeking to match the Bush administration’s landmark nuclear agreement with India in 2005, Barack Obama is also supporting India’s case for permanent membership on the UN Security Council. The columnist Thomas Friedman interprets such moves as “containment-lite,” invoking George Kennan’s proposal in 1947 that Soviet expansionism “be contained by the adroit and vigilant application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points.” Apparently, such counter-force against China is already being applied. An Indonesian political scientist told the New York Times last week that his government feels the US is putting “too much pressure” on Indonesia and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) “to choose sides.”

Kashmir: “The World’s Most Dangerous Place”

In New Delhi last week the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan met for the first time since the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November 2008; the official talks concluded with both sides arguing over what they should talk about. India demanded that Islamabad prosecute the Pakistani militants responsible for the Mumbai attacks more vigorously. Pakistan insisted that the core issue between the two countries remains the India-held Muslim majority valley of Kashmir, where, out of a population of some 7.6 million people, more than 80,000 people have died since an insurgency supported by Pakistan began in 1989.

Afghanistan: The India & Kashmir Connection

A member of the Indian Central Reserve Police Force protecting himself against tear gas during riots in Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir, July 16, 2009
Obama’s long speech on Afghanistan on December 1 did not refer even once to India or Kashmir. Yet India has a large and growing presence in Afghanistan, and impoverished young Pakistanis, such as those who led the terrorist attack against Mumbai last November, continue to be indoctrinated by watching videos …

Afghanistan: The Forgotten Conflict in Kashmir

Obama’s long speech on Afghanistan did not refer even once to India or Kashmir. Yet India has a large and growing presence in Afghanistan, and impoverished young Pakistanis, such as those who led the terrorist attack on Mumbai last November, continue to be indoctrinated by watching videos of Indian atrocities on Muslims in Kashmir. (Not much exaggeration is needed here: an Indian human rights group last week offered evidence of mass graves of nearly 3000 Muslims allegedly executed over the last decade by Indian security forces near the border with Pakistan.) Another terrorist assault on India is very likely; it will further stoke tensions between India and Pakistan, enfeebling America’s already faltering campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda.

The Palestinian Poet Who Came Back

Taha Muhammad Ali at his souvenir shop, Nazareth, 1950s; photograph from Adina Hoffman’s My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness
Describing a watercolor by Paul Klee, Angelus Novus, which depicts a wide-eyed angel with hands raised as though in shock, Walter Benjamin once speculated that “this is how the angel of history must look” as the storm of progress that smashes everything in its way drives him relentlessly into the …

From a Mansion Near Tora Bora

All great events—wars, revolutions, economic disasters—impose a new conception of reality on their survivors, and it was clear soon after the attack on the twin towers in New York in 2001 that the abrupt and radical reconfiguration of social and political forces would also challenge novelists, exerting new pressure on …

Sentimental Education in Shanghai

In April 1924 Rabindranath Tagore arrived in Shanghai for a lecture tour of China. Soon after receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, Tagore had become an international literary celebrity, lecturing to packed audiences from Japan to Argentina. His message—that modern civilization, built upon the cult of money and …

The Revolt of the Monks

Downtown Rangoon is a largely British creation, built on an east–west grid after Burma was subjugated by Britain in the late nineteenth century. The Japanese occupation and the British counterattack during World War II, which devastated large parts of Burma, did relatively little damage to Rangoon, the country’s former capital …

The Quiet Heroes of Tibet

Earlier this year, shortly before boarding the new Chinese train from Beijing to Lhasa, I met Woeser, a Tibetan poet and essayist (she uses only one name). Unusual among Tibetans in China, who tend to avoid talking to foreigners, she spoke frankly about Chinese rule over Tibet. Denouncing the recently …

Impasse in India

Last summer Foreign Affairs, Time, Newsweek, and The Economist highlighted a major shift in American perceptions of India when, in cover stories that appeared almost simultaneously, they described the country as a rising economic power and a likely “strategic ally” of the United States. In 1991, India partly opened its …

Muslims in the Dark

Early in Hisham Matar’s first novel, In the Country of Men, its narrator Suleiman, a nine-year-old child in Libya, describes a statue of the Roman emperor Septimius Severus in Tripoli’s Martyrs’ Square. The Libya-born Severus stands with one arm pointing toward the sea, as though “urging Libya to look toward …

Barbara Epstein (1928–2006)

Barbara Epstein, my friend and fellow editor for forty-three years, died on June 16. She did much to create The New York Review and she brought her remarkable intelligence and editorial skill to bear on everything that appeared in these pages. We publish here memoirs by some of the writers …

The Unquiet American

In May 1945, Edmund Wilson called upon George Santayana at the Hospital of the Blue Nuns in Rome. The meeting did not begin well. Before leaving America earlier that year to report on the “wreckage” of the war for The New Yorker, Wilson had received an inscribed copy of the …

The Misunderstood Muslims

In the fall of 1978, Michel Foucault traveled to Iran for Corriere della Sera to write about growing mass protests against Reza Shah Pahlavi’s regime. Famous for his theoretical analyses of European attitudes toward madness, hospitals, and prisons, Foucault knew little, by his own admission, about Persian or Islamic history; …

Massacre in Arcadia

Early in Salman Rushdie’s new novel, a former US ambassador to India called Max Ophuls appears on a television talk show in Los Angeles. Ophuls, “a man of movie-star good looks,” grew up in “a family of highly cultured Askenazi Jews” in Strasbourg. Unlike his namesake, the director of such …

The Wilderness of Solitude

Religion, a young Muslim character in Nadeem Aslam’s extraordinary novel observes, is often another source of torment for millions of deprived peoples. This is certainly true of the main characters of Maps for Lost Lovers, which spans a troubled year in the life of a Pakistani immigrant community in a …

A Cautionary Tale for Americans

In the early 1920s, during the first of his long spells in prison, Mohandas Gandhi read The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Many of his British friends had recommended it to him; they probably thought it a useful book for Gandhi to read while confronting …

The Real Afghanistan

Much of Kabul is built of mud. And when it rained before last Christmas—relieving a long and severe drought—the whole city seemed to melt. The piles of sludge on its unpaved lanes rose, as though in a slow-moving tide, until it spattered everything: the big white Land Cruisers of aid …

Bombay: The Lower Depths

In 1998, Suketu Mehta, a writer based in New York, returned to Bombay, where he had spent much of his childhood, in order to research a book on the city. Built by the British, Bombay remains India’s financial and commercial capital, and, despite being inhabited by 14 million people, most …

India: The Neglected Majority Wins!

In the fall of 1999, a year after the Hindu nationalist BJP (Indian People’s Party) and its allies formed the federal government in New Delhi, I met some Indian Christian missionaries at a small church near Simla. They seemed full of despair. Hindu extremists had attacked Christians in the western …

The Empire Under Siege

In 1857, the eighth Earl of Elgin was on his way to punish the Manchu rulers of China for daring to close the city of Canton to British opium traders when he heard about the Indian Mutiny. The anti-British insurrections were confined to North India, especially the Gangetic Plain, from …

‘The First Citizen of India’

In January 1900, Rudyard Kipling wrote to Charles Eliot Norton, “I’ve done a long leisured Asiatic yarn in which there are hardly any Englishmen. It has been a labor of great love and I think it is a bit more temperate and wiser than much of my stuff.” This was …

Enigmas of Arrival

In Jhumpa Lahiri’s first novel, a Bengali immigrant in America called Ashoke Ganguli is a fan of Gogol. When he was a student in India, his grandfather had told him to “read all the Russians, and then reread them.” Ashoke was particularly held by “The Overcoat,” the story of Akaky …

The Way to the Middle Way

In 1922, when he was thirty-one years old, Osip Mandelstam published “The Nineteenth Century,” an essay in which he deplored what he saw as widespread Buddhist influence on European culture then and called for a return to the robust intellectual rationality of the eighteenth-century French Encyclopedists. This may sound odd …

The Man, or the Tiger?

Halfway through Yann Martel’s first novel, Self (1996), the young first-person narrator abruptly decides to write a novel that will “address this matter of God.” This sounds a bit whimsical at first. It appears to be part of the same impulse to startle the reader that makes Martel leave some …