Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra’s books include Age of Anger: A History of the Present, From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia and two novels, the more recent of which is Run and Hide.

Diary: India’s New Class

Pankaj Mishra, 19 June 1997

As I write, India is about to have its third prime minister in less than eleven months, but such apparent instability seems to concern New Delhi’s chattering classes only in so far as they worry about what the rest of the world might think. Evidently, or so the popular belief goes, in this 50th year of independence, the world’s eyes are trained on India. Accordingly, we must do nothing that shows the country in ‘a bad light’. The suggestion that if the world does spare a glance at India, it may notice some not very attractive features, is deeply resented. But then the self-esteem of the metropolitan bourgeoisie is a fragile thing. ‘Don’t talk to me about poverty and all that, please,’ the bright young trainee at the Indian Express admonishes me. ‘Every country has that. After all, India has survived as a democracy. Isn’t that great? Even Time magazine said so.’

We sat in a rooftop café in Thamel, Kathmandu’s tourist centre, a few hundred feet from the royal palace. March, the businessman said, was a good season for tourists in Nepal. ‘But look,’ he continued, pointing to the alleys below us, where the bookshops, trekking agencies, cybercafés, bakeries, malls and restaurants were empty. In recent years, the tourist industry has been damaged by news in the international press about the Maoist guerrillas, who model themselves on the Shining Path in Peru, and whose ‘people’s war’ has claimed more than 11,000 lives since 1996. Even fewer tourists have ventured to Nepal since 1 February this year, when King Gyanendra, citing the threat presented by the Maoists, grounded all flights, cut off phone and internet lines, arrested opposition politicians and imposed censorship on the media.

Getting Rich: in Shanghai

Pankaj Mishra, 30 November 2006

The ruins of Shanghai come as a surprise in a city so defiantly modern. Demolished low-rise houses lie in downtown streets next to luxury condominiums with names such as ‘Rich Gate’, the wreckage reflected in the glass façades of tall office buildings. In Dongjiadu, Shanghai’s oldest quarter, bulldozers were expected within the fortnight, the old women squatting silently in the cramped alleys helpless before them. But you can’t get too sentimental about Shanghai, a place built, like Bombay, in the 19th century on the back of the opium trade.

Ordained as a Nation: Exporting Democracy

Pankaj Mishra, 21 February 2008

Early in The Wilsonian Moment, Erez Manela tells a story about Ho Chi Minh that I often heard in student Communist circles in India. Ho was an indigent worker in Paris when Woodrow Wilson arrived in the city in 1919 with a plan to make the world ‘safe for democracy’. Inspired by Wilson’s advocacy of national self-determination, Ho sought an audience with the US president, hoping to persuade him to use his new influence to restore Vietnamese rule in French Indo-China. He carefully quoted from the US Declaration of Independence in his petition. In Manela’s more poignant version, he also rented a morning suit. Needless to say, Ho got nowhere near Wilson or any other Western leader; he found a sympathetic audience only among French Communists.

Rise of the Rest: After America

Pankaj Mishra, 6 November 2008

In 1946, George Kennan, then the deputy head of the US mission in Moscow, sent a 5300-word telegram to Washington, hoping to alert his superiors to the threat of Soviet expansionism. Kennan had complained repeatedly and fruitlessly about what he saw as America’s indulgent attitude towards the Soviet Union, but for a crucial moment in 1946 his idea that the US should strike an alliance with Western Europe in order to contain Soviet Communism found listeners in Washington. The so-called Long Telegram, subsequently turned into an article in Foreign Affairs, became the basis of the Truman Doctrine, which proclaimed America’s willingness to fight the spread of Communism, militarily as well as economically.

In​ The Passions and the Interests, published in 1977, Albert Hirschman revisited the 18th-century argument that the pursuit of worldly self-interest might be the most effective way of...

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