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In Light of India


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About the Author

Octavio Paz was born in 1914 and died in 1998. The author of eighteen books, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990.


Nobel laureate Paz was first posted to the Mexican embassy in New Delhi in 1951, returning in 1962 for six years as ambassador. Now, more than 30 years later, he has written four masterful essays that explore both his own feelings about India and the complex realities of that turbulent land. "The Antipodes of Coming and Going" gives a quintessential description of India's initial impact on the foreigner's senses. Walking the teeming streets, Paz sees "skeletal cows with no owners, beggars, creaking carts drawn by enervated oxen, rivers of bicycles" and catches "gusts of stench, decomposing matter, whiffs of pure and fresh perfumes." "Religions, Castes, Languages" highlights rifts in Indian society, particularly the conflict between Islam and Hinduism. "A Project of Nationhood" covers political difficulties India faces as a modern nation. Finally, "The Full and the Empty" delves into philosophical and artistic matters, from classical Sanskrit poetry to the Hindu worldview and conception of time. Paz speaks as a Westerner, but without danger of being accused of neo-imperialist or first-world bias. Memories of his childhood in Mexico and frequent comparisons of India to Latin America provide original and fresh counterpoints to well-known facts. Modest in his claims to authority, Paz calls his book "the child not of knowledge, but of love" and notes that it is not a book for experts. The experts, with all due respect, may disagree. (Mar.)

Nobel laureate Paz, well known both as a poet and essayist in the arts, history, and culture of Latin America (The Double Flame, LJ 11/15/94), served as Mexico's ambassador to India from 1962 to 1968. He reflects on his experience in this work, a collection of three essays with a biographical preface. The first essay, "Religions, Castes, Languages," discusses the Indian past, with emphasis on the caste system and the centuries-long conflict between Hinduism and Islam. It leads naturally into a second essay, "A Project of Nationhood," on India's present, and the specifically Indian problems of nation-building in the context of religious, ethnic, and caste conflict. What Paz tells us about India in these two essays will be familiar to even casual readers of history. What is new, however, is the perceptive comparison he makes throughout between India and his native Mexico. The third essay, "The Full and the Empty," is more informative than the other two. It discusses Indian literature, paying special attention to the large corpus of ancient Sanskrit poetry with its forthright eroticism. A fascinating book; for academic libraries and larger public libraries.‘James F. DeRoche, Alexandria, Va.

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