By the time I was an adult, the urban elites and the “heart of the nation” had
lost the means to communicate. The elites lived in a state of gated comfort,
oblivious to the hard realities of Indian life—poverty and unemployment, of
course, but also urban ruin and environmental degradation. The schools their
children went to set them at a great remove from India, on the levels of
language, religion, and culture. Every feature of their life was designed, to
quote Robert Byron on the English in India, to blunt their “natural interest
in the country and sympathy with its people.” Their life was, culturally
speaking, an adjunct to Western Europe and America; their values were a
hybrid, in which India was served nominally while the West was reduced to a
source of permissiveness and materialism. They thought they lived in a world
where the “idea of India” reigned supreme—but all the while, the constituency
for this idea was being steadily eroded. It was Bharat that was ascendant.
India’s leaders today speak with contempt of the principles on which this
young nation was founded. They look back instead to the timeless glories of
the Hindu past. They scorn the “Khan Market gang”—a reference to a fashionable
market near where I grew up that has become a metonym for the Indian elite.
Hindu nationalists trace a direct line between the foreign occupiers who
destroyed the Hindu past—first Muslims, then the British—and India’s
Westernized elite (and India’s Muslims), whom they see as heirs to foreign
occupation, still enjoying the privileges of plunder.