Though Pankaj Mishra has several books to his credit and is an active essayist, he was lately in the news for a controversy that followed his critical review of Niall Ferguson's book on Western imperial history.
Interestingly, Pankaj’s latest book takes a stand against imperialism and how! With some of the finest thinkers who shaped modern Asia as its backbone, his work is an attempt to “engage them into our conversations”. CS caught up with him for a chat:
On a time machine
There are so many historical figures from Asia whose contributions get largely excluded from mainstream history. We don’t know enough about them. So, my book is basically an attempt to present their perspectives, how they looked at European powers and formulated the challenge to Western imperialism. Of course, they were deeply ambivalent. In fact, those who came after them were clean-cut. But they were the first to ask the right questions.
The Asian trio
Personalities like Tagore, Liang Qichao and Al-Afghani played a huge role in the birth of the idea of a modern Asia. And their beliefs are relevant even today. For instance, Tagore was worried about how India would emerge and given what recently happened to North-Easterners, perhaps he wasn’t mistaken.
A Nigerian novelist asked me why am I talking about Western imperialism in my book when India and China are repeating the same mistakes in Africa. In their quest to be superpowers, they are disregarding safety rules in that continent, not to mention the harsh ways in which they treat the local labour there and pay them poorly. Globalisation has become a euphemism for imperialism.