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India’s anti-diplomat

This is the most unflattering portrayal of a people ever written by one of its own image management specialists, and its author has been promoted for it

By Cheryll Barron   March 2006

Being Indian by Pavan Varma (Heinemann, £17.99)

Pavan Varma announces at the start of Being Indian that his book is intended as a “new and dramatically different inquiry” into Indian identity. That is a claim he does not quite live up to. But his book is, for other reasons, vital reading for followers of south Asian geopolitics. It updates earlier warts-and-all portraits of subcontinental society—notably the Indian travelogues of VS Naipaul and several works by Nirad Chaudhuri. Unlike those two, Varma is neither a literary stylist nor in any sense an outsider. Chaudhuri wrote as a wind-up artist, infuriating his…

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