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Life Arts    H4'ed 5/10/19

The Club

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Dr. Veraswami says: "'My friend, my friend, you are forgetting the Oriental character. How is it possible to have developed us, with our apathy and superstition? At least you have brought to us law and order. The unswerving British Justice and the Pax Britannica.'" For 'Pax Britannica' substitute today 'Pax Americana', and you have the total picture of The Club.

After the Cold War, America reduced its military expenditure massively: you don't need weapons to control people's minds. Our admiration for America and American values sprang automatically, even though we were, and are still 'the n-word'. Nothing has changed.

Take the number of people here who still believe in democracy, for instance; even the war against Iraq, which should be so fresh in our memory as to obliterate all respect for Americans and American ideas, has hardly made an impression on the hardened tabula rasa on which deference for things occidental has been so deeply etched since early childhood. Nothing has changed.

After the first world war, Indians, returning from the killing-fields of Europe lost their awe of the white folk - they realised that these people were nothing better than savages, not so superior to us after all. Even a man like Dr. Veraswami, no doubt, would have abandoned his admiration for the noble Englishman. It didn't, as we have seen, last long: he was soon kowtowing again.

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Then came the Second World War, when again we lost our respect for the west: the author's relatives recount how they refused sweets distributed in school after the Japanese surrender. To refuse sweets is one thing, to refuse a scholarship to a prestigious American university or an intellectual shindig in New England quite another. Nothing changed.

When Gandhi was asked, "What do you think of western civilisation?", he replied: "That would be a good idea". We forgot these words after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Algeria and the Vietnam War: nothing changed.

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Our highest aspiration is still to join the Club.

Who does, finally, join the Club in Burmese Days? Not the benevolent Dr. Veraswami, but the scoundrel U Po Kyin. The latter incites a 'rebellion' of three people, then squashes it himself and takes the credit. His standing with the white people rises. But Flory also proves himself a hero by dispersing a riotous crowd of 2,000, and, his stock having gone up, asks that the doctor be allowed into The Club. But U Po Kyin destroys Flory: he sends Flory's mistress into the Church during prayer, screaming for money from Flory, before the Europeans, and, especially, before Elizabeth. Elizabeth refuses to forgive him, and he shoots himself. His patron dead, the doctor is finished. U Po Kyin joins the club, and acquires numerous other rewards.

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Iftekhar Sayeed teaches English and economics. He was born and lives in Dhaka, "ŽBangladesh. He has contributed to AXIS OF LOGIC, ENTER TEXT, POSTCOLONIAL "ŽTEXT, LEFT CURVE, MOBIUS, ERBACCE, THE JOURNAL, and other publications. "ŽHe is also a (more...)
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