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Reviewing the Book' The Continent of Circe; by Nirad Chaudhury, India's Finest Writer in English
Master of Historical interpretation
Nirad C Chaudhury is generally recognized as the original Indian great writer in English. Now we have Kushwant Singh and Salman Rushdie who are Indian writers to the core, but the original master of the English language is Nirad C Chaudhuri.
Many claim that Nirad was an anglophile, this is I am afraid an untruth. Nirad for anything was a true Hindu, a man who had an acerbic pen and he put it to good use. One book by Nirad written in 1965 titled ‘The continent of Circe’ has generated enough controversy. The book itself is acclaimed having won the Duff Cooper award in 1966. He is the only Indian ever to bag this prize. The book ‘Continent of Circe’ however remains an enigma and very few in India can understand it.
Circe as we all know is the Greek witch in Iliad’s Odyssey who casts a magical spell on the sailors of Ulysses. Nirad uses the metaphor of Circe to describe a similar magical spell on all inhabitants of the sub continent.
To start with the prose is difficult and Nirad quotes passages and sayings from Latin and French that very few readers will understand. In addition his style is slightly archaic, but over all the books opens a hornet’s nest about Hindu thought and philosophy as seen by Nirad.
A reading o the book brings out that what Nirad feels about Hinduism. As per him Hinduism is not a religion but is a name for all inhabitants of the sub continent. He however concedes that Hindus and Muslims are entirely different people who just cannot assimilate with each other.
Nirad further says that the Hindu way of life is a contradiction. They extol ahimsa and non violence but the history of Hinduism is a history of death and destruction. His view is that the caste system was a method of amalgamating the locals with the Aryans who came from Central Asia.
Nirad also comes out with a theory that the climate of the sub continent moulds Hindu thought and leads to what it is today.
You may or may not agree with Nirad but one thing stands out that he has a sharp brain and he puts forth his theory as something original. That is a fact and very few writers have the originality of Nirad.
Nirad was not an anglophile, but the fact he settled in England must go against him. As far as the Continent of Circe is concerned I recommend it to serious students of history and philosophy. They will find it a rewarding experience.