- The Hand, Great Anarch! India 1921-1952 by Nirad Chaudhuri
Chatto, 979 pp, £25.00, November 1987, ISBN 0 7011 2476 8
- The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian by Nirad Chaudhuri
Hogarth, 506 pp, £7.95, November 1987, ISBN 0 7012 0800 7
Power stalks the corridors as it has always done, and operates in the same ways, but it increasingly prefers to do so in a mean privacy. Shakespeare today would no longer have the feel of what happens there. The media have taken over the forecourt; and art, in the true sense, no longer has the entrée. Even the Russian novel cannot get in, as it was able to do without effort in the days of War and Peace and Resurrection, following the novels of Balzac and Scott. A contemporary novel like Rybakov’s Children of the Arbat uses the old tradition, alternating domestic and family matters with scenes in the Kremlin and among the Soviet bigwigs. But the result is unconvincing, with no naturalness about it, and the reason seems to be that art can no longer convey the association of power with style. Or perhaps style no longer goes with power, except in terms of making people up for the TV cameras?
Vol. 10 No. 11 · 2 June 1988
I must protest against John Bayley’s assertion, in his review of Nirad Chaudhuri’s autobiography (LRB, 5 May), that ‘with their knowledge of English literature, educated Bengalis could see that [Tagore’s poetry] was no good in English and began to wonder if it could therefore be any good in Bengali either.’ This is neither an accurate statement of Chaudhuri’s analysis of Tagore, nor true. It quite misses the fact that there were many educated Bengalis in the period in which Tagore established his reputation as a poet in Bengal (from 1880 onwards) whose confidence in their own language (as well as their remarkable ability in English) left them in no doubt of Tagore’s greatness. They did not need the recognition given him in the West from 1912 onwards to confirm this impression for them. Unfortunately, they do not fit comfortably into Chaudhuri’s entertaining but partial theme of Bengali decline, and so Professor Bayley is probably unaware of their existence. They include the remarkable grandfather and father of the film-director Satyajit Ray, the second of whom was the first Bengali to publish an essay on Tagore in the West, before the award of the Nobel Prize to him in November 1913.