Temptations of the West: How to be Modern in India, Pakistan and Beyond

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 April, 2007, 12:00am

Temptations of the West: How to be Modern in India, Pakistan and Beyond

by Pankaj Mishra

Picador, $144

This nine-essay anthology of travelogue, autobiography and journalism by Pankaj Mishra, mostly about India but journeying into Afghanistan, Tibet, Nepal, Kashmir and Pakistan, is a keenly observed and subtly argued analysis of modernity that tolls the hollowness of so-called western values. Mishra has a well-deserved reputation as a clever and insightful writer and critic, who has serious doubts about the wisdom or virtue of embracing a world cast in the American, or European, mould. Nor is he too sure of China's embrace of consumerism, although at least it's giving serious thought to how unsustainable these industrialised models are proving to be. Mishra is on his soundest footing with India, and delivers harsh criticism of the middle-class race for modernity at the expense of the other three-quarters of the population. His analysis of India's neighbours is thinner but no less provocative. Temptations of the West has as its theme the fluidity of cultural frontiers that better encompass infinitely complicated histories than fixed, national borders, within which an often selfish homogenisation takes place using religion as a weapon.