The struggle against Anglo-centrism structures and symbols of world order led to Indo-German links in 19 and 20 centuries

Colonial experience had always been complex for the dominant and dominated alike, and so too were their responses to it. The familiar portrayal of incompatibility and conflict between the two – so eloquently projected in the nationalist discourse - is undeniable, but it often seems to out-shout several other impulses of uneasy admirations and clumsy imitations within it. At the same time it would also defy or spill out of its own enforced or indoctrinated universal of Anglocentrism to contextualise itself in the larger world of happenings and institute dialogues with them. Kris Manjapra’s Age of Entanglement explores, exhaustively and with felicitous confidence, such dialogues between German and Indian intellectuals, hoping to “inject a necessary dose of realpolitik into the study of transnational intellectual history, through a focus on alliance building, political rivalries and multilateralism.” It seeks to show them as symptomatic of an age when the ideals Enlightenment, Europe, and Empire broke down as hegemonic, unifying signifiers.

The ‘entanglement’ had its quirks, passions and u-turns, hypothecated as it was to the moods and realities of politics. In the early decades of the nineteenth century, the German and British Orientalist enthusiasm and labour had found resonance with each other, as when Friedrich Schlegel declared his faith in the linguistic and civilizational origin of Europe in India. But this search for the first origins yielded place to a study of comparative development of languages within the Indo-European language family, with Franz Bopp as its leader. Though Orientalism in India lost ground to ‘Anglicism’ of Macaulay and his ilk, it returned after 1857, relying on the “comparativist methods of insourced German scholarship…”

Max Muller, Bopp’s famous student and stationed at Oxford, was the symbol of the German Indological labours in the imperial metropole, while many Germans, some of them his recruits like Georg Buhler, Lorenz Kielhorn, Martin Haug, Eugen Hultzsch, Rudolf Hoernle, Heinrich Blochmann and others worked in India to pursue their Orientalist interests. Max Muller also trained Sanskritists like Georg Thibaut, Richard Garbe, Hermann Oldenberg, Heinrich Luders and others, who worked in various Central European institutions.

New view of ‘West’

The German interest in India during this period is also seen in the labour of scholar-adventurer, Aurel Stein, George Grierson and Sten Konow of the Linguistic Survey of India, Carl Diener and Carl Griesbach of Geological Survey, Ferdinand Stoliczka of the Botanical Survey and Dietrich Brandis of forest administration.

The Indian perception of the ‘West’ underwent a change, from ‘Britain as the aegis of Europe’ which the bhadralok representatives of the Bengal Renaissance clung to, to an anticolonial internationalism of the Swadeshi phase, mirrored so well in the writings of Aurobindo Ghosh or in the Germanophilic attitudes of Asutosh Mukherjee that looked up to German educational and intellectual models for import and imitation. The spectrum of German enthusiasm for India had in it the works of Schopenhauer, Max Weber, Keyserling and the new-found interest in Buddhism as Indian Protestantism. Many nationalist Indians like Virendranath Chattopadhyaya found the German soil congenial to their activities while Rabindranath Tagore’s cultural diplomacy, expressed in his three visits to Germany, “involved as much the donation of wisdom and Indian culture to Germany as solicitation of cultural gifts from Germans for the Indian nationalist cause.”

The entanglement also includes the post-Enlightenment science in which Indian scientists like C.V. Raman, Meghnad Saha, Satyendranath Bose, Jagadish Chandra Bose and others dialogued and rubbed shoulders with German physicists like Walther Nernst, Max Born and Einstein. While the Indian scientists had provided critical supplements to quantum physics, the German institutional model had clearly appealed to them.

In the field of economics Benoy Kumar Sarkar and Bernhard Harms sought to reinterpret world capitalism while Werner Sombart linked it to the cultural history of a people. Germany was also a site where the theory and praxis of Marxism was interrogated to link it with the larger world. If Rosa Luxemburg sought to connect the European and Asian toilers, her student, August Thalheimer, drawing upon the works of Max Weber and Theodor Lessing, had contributed to the making of Marxist Orientalism. The critical connect between Sigmund Freud and Girindrasekhar Bose had set up a very rewarding dialogue in the world of psychoanalysis. The latter, who wrote mostly in Bengali, had provided the ‘Hindu’ contexts for psychoanalytical understanding of people. Kris Manjapra elaborates on the scope of entanglement by noting the role of Stella Kramrisch, who came to India on Tagore’s invitation. Her Bauhaus exhibition in Calcutta, her association with Shantiniketan and Calcutta and with the artists there had a created quite a stir, providing an international dimension to the nationalist impulse. Even in movies the Indo-German alliance was meaningfully realized, as for instance, in the collaboration between Himanshu Rai and Franz Osten. As is well-known, in the Nazi phase of German history the notion of the Aryan was harnessed to the cause of rabid nationalism and racism. Although Indians as a race merely got their share of sneer and contempt, the Nazi ideology found enthusiastic takers in India, including some of the heroic, iconic progenitors of Hindu nationalism like Savarkar, Hedgewar and Golwalkar. Subhas Chandra Bose’s tryst with the Nazi Germany is too well-known to warrant description or defence, weirdly enmeshed as it was with national and international politics.

The Indo-German dialogues and connections in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are shown in this book as ‘struggle against Anglocentrist structures and symbols of world order’. There could be other dialogues and connections too. But, as the author reminds the readers, if entanglements tell us that a Manichaean view of history will hardly do, its experience “provides us with a sober reminder of the way attempts to overcome the monster of one hegemony can all too often give birth to new monstrosities.” Age of Entanglement is a superb and enriching work of intellectual history, presenting larger contexts, perceptions and connections to the understanding of European Germany and colonial-nationalist India.

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