Anuradha Kunda

On the European Shores of India and Istambul

Going through Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground,  Orhan Pamuk tries to find out why Dostoyevsky resented European thought that came to Russia second hand. This analysis is very close to the tradition of Western thoughts coming second hand to India and creating a group of intellectuals who seize upon the ideas, believing themselves to be the ‘privy of all the secrets of the world’ and ‘of their own country’, thus alieanating the rest of the people from this coterie. Pamuk asserts that Dostoyevsky, though he hated the Western liberals and materialists, accepted their reasonings, that Dostoyevsky did not oppose the content of the Western ideas and was worried about their necessity and legitimacy, he hated the ‘modernizing intellectuals of the country’ who use the Western ideas to legitimize their own pride. In Dostoyevsky’s lexicon, pride was the greatest sin and he was ‘fond of castigating Westernizing Russian intellectuals for being cut off from people’. N.C.Chowdhuri  in ‘My Views of the Real East-West Conflict’ refers to Julien Benda saying that we do not hate somebody because he is bad but because we hate him. Hatred, like the heart,  has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing.’[1] Dostoyevsky certainly had reasons for disliking the Westernised Russian intellectuals  inspite  of the fact that his own mind was shaped by Western thoughts, he grew up with the Western ideas, his view of individualism had a western source. But then  he linked up all the evils of Western individualism like addiction to wealth, bourgeois materialism with conceit and pride, condemned the English priests as proud and rich, termed the French as conceited.
Pamuk, in his Paris Review Interview, confesses that he is a Westernizer and he is pleased that the process of Westernization has taken place in Turkey. But he too, following almost the thought line of  Dostoyevsky, is critical of the limited way in which the ruling elite which consists of the bureaucracy and the new rich use Westernization, ‘They did not strive to create an Istanbul culture that would be an organic combination of East and West, they just put Western and Eastern things together. There was,  of course, a strong local Ottoman culture, but that was fading away little by little. What they had to do, and could not possibly do  enough, was invent a strong local culture, which would be a combination-not an imitation-of the Eastern past and the Western present. I try to do the same kind of things in my books. Probably the new generations will do it...’[2]
What is striking in Pamuk is the view that he is not at all worried about Turkey having two spirits, two souls as he believes that schizophrenia makes one intelligent! This is a real post modern global realization! He does not believe in having one consistent soul and finds that monistic outlook dull. His works testify his comments as we find it in The Black Book or The White Castle that there is a simultaneous flow of the two cultures, East and West.  Pamuk’s  area of interest is not in isolation from the Lifeworld. What I find fascinating is that though Turkey was never a colony and India was, the deep scar of losing the values of culture are discerned in both the places, maybe in different ways.  Pamuk himself is analytical about it as he knows that the scars of Istanbul are not so deep as those of the nations suppressed by the Western powers and he feels that Turkey was not humiliated in the way the Arab world or India was. But the element of  ‘self-inflicted suppresson’ is somehow found in an India too-aspiring to become Westernized which results in the anxiety of getting influenced. It is in the same way an Indian or an Istambullu would think as Pamuk talks about the few ways in which those who live in Istanbul assert their European selves.
1‘An expression I’ve heard in my upper-middleclass Westernized family since childhood: 'This is how they do it in Europe'. If they’re drafting a new law on fishing, if you’re choosing new curtains for your home, or hatching an evil plan against your enemies, utter these mysterious words, and you can bring any discussion of method, color, style, or content to an abrupt end.'

2.‘Europe is a sexual paradise. Relative to Istanbul, this is a pretty accurate guess. As with many bookish compatriots, my first sight of a naked woman was an illustration in a magazine imported from Europe. This is surely my first and most striking memory of Europe.’

3.‘'If a European saw this, what would he think?' This is both a fear and a desire. We are all afraid that when they see how we do not resemble them, they will castigate us. This is why we want there to be less torture in prisons, or at least torture that leaves no trace. Sometimes we want to take pleasure in showing them just how different we are from them; as when we want to meet an Islamist terrorist, or when we want the first person to shoot the Pope to be a Turk.’
4.‘After saying 'Europeans are very courteous, refined, cultured ,and elegant' people will often add, 'But when they don’t get what they want...' and the example they offer will reflect the degree of their nationalist anger...’[3]

Nirod.C.Chowdhuri has talked about the sterile intelligentsia and found the failure of India in the shortcomings of its dominant minority, the whole of the intelligentsia who have succumbed to the circumstances, and he puts the blame on the defeatism of the class due to which public affairs have become moneymaking rackets for adventurers.
As for an Istanbullu Europe is a dream, so it is for an Indian… ‘an apparition at times desired and at times  feared; a goal to achieve or a danger. A future – never a memory.’
Pamuk  fondly calls himself ‘one of the many intellectuals on the edge of Europe’ and N.C.Chowdhury  calls them the sterile intellectuals whose reluctance and arrogance are remarkable. Europe’s long history in Turkey is much different from the British rule in India but the reluctance of the intelligentsia is similar and the words of Dostoyevsky could be applied to them: ‘Of Russians who read magazines and newspapers, who does not know twice as much about Europe as about Russia?
Pamuk prefers to use the West as an instrument in the civilizing process. His thoughts regarding the average man’s aspiration is very similar to that of an average Indian –  ‘We aspire to something that does not exist in our own history and culture because we see it in Europe, and we legitimize our demands with Europe’s prestige. In our own country, the concept of Europe justifies the use of force, radical political change, the ruthless severing of tradition.’ ‘From improvement of women’s rights to violation of human rights, from democracy to military dictatorship, many things are justified by an idea of the West that stresses the concept of Europe and reflects a positivist utilitarianism. Throughout my life I’ve heard all our daily habits, from table manners to sexual ethics, criticized and changed because ‘that’s how they do it in Europe.’[4] This obsession with Europe is Turkey’s common factor with India and the other thing that Pamuk points out is equally significant and similar – the Westernized intellectuals can only criticize their own culture and their creative modernity clings to a fairy tale ideal of Europe!
Pamuk refers to Kamal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic and father of the nation whose first reforms was the statutory adoption of Western dress in 1925, that obliged everyone to dress up like a European. Ataturk shared Andre Gide’s low opinion of Turkish national dress and they viewed dress as a measure of civilization. Ataturk identified Europe with civilization and Pamuk analyses that he felt that the national costume misrepresented the nation. In ‘My Views of the Real East-West conflict’,  N.C.Chowdhuri recollects how Pandit Nehru scolded two young men for calling him ‘Panditji’ and speaking English with a Bengali accent. He even kicked at those who wanted to touch his feet in Hindu obeisance. Mahatma Gandhi said of him, ‘Indeed, he is more English than Indian in his thought and makeup. He is more at home with Englishmen than with his countrymen’. N.C.Chowdhuri recollects how Nehru resented wearing a DHOTI and yet started wearing it in three tucks as without wearing a dhoti he could never be the leader of a Hindu nationalism. The moment India became free he went back to the ancestral sherwani and pajama. Chowdhuri prefers to say that Nehru was in a quarter of his personality an Indian Muslim, and for the rest he was an Englishman.

When the two great names of the world theatre, Pinter and Miller came to Istanbul, Pamuk acted as their guide and after taking them through the traffic of Istanbul, discussing the streetvendors, the horses-carts, the cinema posters, the scarfless  and scarf wearing women, he found that they were fascinated by the distinction. At the end of the day, back to the hotel, Pamuk and his friend were whispering with agitation at one side of the corridor and Miller and Pinter were doing the same on the other end! The thinkers with whom they met throughout the day were mostly influenced by the concept of freedom held by Western liberal democracies  but twenty years later those very people aligned themselves with a nationalism that was at odds with Westernization!
Pamuk feels that regardless of national circumstances, freedom of thought and expression are universal human rights, it has nothing to do in particular with Eastern and Western. Yet when he writes, he is accused of writing about Turkish love and not simply love itself. He himself does not believe in emphasizing his political judgments with emphatical clarity as he knows that in this world, in a very short time, someone who has been a victim of tyranny and oppression can suddenly become one of the oppressors. So he believes that most of the people entertain contradictory thoughts simultaneously and much of his pleasures of writing a novel comes from this modern problem  or we can say advantage of self contradiction.
An INDIAN gentleman asked Pamuk,  ‘Mr.Pamuk,  what is going on in your country that you would like to explore in your novels but shy away from, for fear of persecution?’ Pamuk thought over it for a long long time and realised that things remained unsaid about the country’s taboos, legal prohibitions, oppressive policies. Pamuk spoke against these issues vociferously outside his novels and fantasized writing about them as they happened to be forbidden. Thus he establishes the link of pride and human dignity with the freedom of expression. He finds his Turkey a world leader in state-sponsored murder by unknown assailants, systematic torture, trammels on the freedom of expression, merciless abuse of human rights.  Anna Hazare, too, feels the same in India.

The East-West conflict and combo take an organic growth in the works of Pamuk. It is the charm of being the other which he compares with opening up a refrigerator, seeing pots and tomatoes that make us jealous of another life. Non-Europeans are interested in the European aspects of lives and would like to be in those lives, dream of being like those people. He says with great gusto that everybody is sometimes a Westerner and sometimes an Easterner. This statement helps us to get into his world. The White Castle has the East-West divide as its subject. But the divide is basically an illusion that has been made through centuries. The Hegelian master-slave relationship is based on Pamuk’s competitive relationship with his brother who was successful in school, and as a boy, Orhan was jealous of him. He was worried about being influenced by his brother and this may also be interpreted as what Turkey felt when confronted with Western culture. The brother, whom Pamuk calls his Freudian father, his alterego, shared a very complicated relation with him and the novel explores the anxieties about being influenced by somebody else, aspiring to become somebody else and then accused of not being authentic enough. This is Turkey’s position when it looks to the West and maybe it is the same when India looks to the West too.
The most positive aspect in Pamuk’s vision is that one should not worry about having two spirits or belonging to two different cultures. In The Black Book, he combines a nostalgic Proustian world with Islamic allegories, stories, tricks. Pamuk opines, ‘The formula for originality is very simple –  put together two things that were not together before.’[5] His Istanbul discusses how Flaubert, Nerval, Gautier viewed the city and influenced the Turkish writers, and the romantic autobiography is put with it.
Turkey has adopted the Latin alphabet in the early years of the Republic and people hardly buy books written in Turkish or in Arabic script. 
Pamuk confesses most plainly that when Proust writes about something, it is universal but when he writes about something, it is essentially Turkish. And even in Turkey initially he was appreciated but later the Turks became suspicious of him, they were worried about what he said to the outside world, like a Muslim making love before marriage or a girl even doing so.
That is how Pamuk relates history to art as he believes that literature has both demons and angels. In My Name IS Red  he writes about how Western influence changed things in Istanbul. There was the Islamic tradition of miniature painting that prohibited painting from sides and corners. This kind of painting was appreciated by the sultans, shahs, princes and pashas and gradually it was supplanted by Western Post- Renaissance ways of painting because that was more attractive. The murder mystery is born out of this conflict that has a great sense of loss. The sense of loss is a recurrent theme in Pamuk, with its sense of deep melancholy and queer pleasure... ‘in the middle of the night, when you are fast asleep, your bus enters a small town. The town’s lights are pale, its buildings shabby. There was no one in the streets. But through the high windows of the bus you can see a house whose curtains are open. Perhaps that is where the bus stops for a traffic light. And in the midst of all these activities, you suddenly find yourself looking through the open curtains of a house on a side street in a small town where you know no one, where you see people smoking in their pajamas, reading newspapers, or watching the late news before turning off the television. Everyone who has taken the night bus through Turkey has experienced this. Sometimes we come eye to eye with these people in the privacy of their homes. In an instant, you go from sixty miles an hour to a full stop, to view the most awkward and most intimate details of their slowmoving  lives. These are unequal moments, when life shows you, in such a mysterious way, that the world is made up of so many different lives, so many different people.’[6]
This sensation  is born out of the East-West conflict and amalgamation. Pamuk is interested in Sufism as a literary source. Reason is the center of his existence but he reads the Sufi texts with great pleasure, keeps himself open to all other books. What he has learnt from life is immense –  that by ridding themselves from hierarchy, people can embrace the whole world and all the cultures of life.
Pamuk says that he does not believe in any center but believes that literature is a journey. ‘Though I believe in the journey, I do not believe that there is a center waiting to be discovered in a faraway land.’[7] Thus he dismisses the traditional concept of the center and further makes us aware: ‘But it can also be cause for fear and confusion, prompting us to narrate less, to push the centers of our stories from the center to the margin.’ He goes back to the story of the Eastern story tellers who told us the story of the Chineses artists. They painted a mirror that reflects, expands, multiplies, makes us aware of our lackings. It makes one feel that he is not the whole. And then the journey starts, it is like the journey of Husrev and Sirin. ‘we each seek that the other will complete us.’ This journey takes one to the depths, beyond the surface, beyond the debate of the East and the West. That is how and why Pamuk asserts, ‘Now we are discovering what we already know.’[8] Pamuk’s textual scholarship goes beyond mere pedantry and proceeds towards humanistic scholarship. He does not make a vertical journey towards the center, he explores the vastness of the world, explores the possibilities. He takes up the story of Husrev and Sirin which is a very popular story in Islamic and Middle East culture. The Persian and Ottoman artists illustrated the painting within the painting which caused Sirin to fall in love with Husrev. But as Pamuk has critically analysed the painting, he felt a disquiet. The portrait of Husrev in the painting was so small that Husrev could not be seen. He remained unrecognized, undistinguishable.  So how could Sirin fall in love by seeing such an image? Pamuk is well aware of the defeats of the central point of Husrev’s and Sirin’s love story but he adores the technical simplicity of the Ottoman artists who could do so because they were unaware of the Western techniques. ‘This simplicity evokes the fragile, naïve world whose stories and fragments I mean to integrate, proposing for it a new center.’[9] The Westernizing drive can be dealt with if the possibilities are kept open. Pamuk takes up the stories which take new meaning with each telling:  Gazzali, Ilhya-ul-Uhun, Enveri, Nizami, Ibni Arabi, Rumi or Mesnevi.
His knowledge of each story helps to the better understanding of the text and that is why he can regulate them well. Like Cetin Altan, he remains optimistic towards Westernization and modernization and does not become loveless and pessimistic like Naipal.  As Turkey was never colonized, for him it is possible to see the West as a center that can be approached. Inspite of being colonised, India can do that as well, as the hangover seems to have gone. The different cultural and historical climate grants opportunity to gain originality. It is like Technology, as  Prof. Sukanta Chaudhuri has explained in The Metaphysics of Text. ‘The revolutionary technology of the silicon chip poses a still greater need to apprise ourselves of the endlessly promising, endlessly seductive possibilities of the new medium. To achieve this, we must first master all that the new medium can reveal of the object of enquiry – in our case, textuality.[10]


1.Pamuk,Orhan. Other Colours, p.25
3.Pamuk,Orhan. Other Colours, p192 
4.Ibid., p.210
5.Pamuk,Orhan. Other Colours, p.377
6 Ibid., p.261
7.Pamuk,Orhan. Other Colours, p287
8.Ibid., p.287
9.Ibid., p.289
10.Chaudhuri Sukanta.The Metaphysics of Text, p.139
When N.C.Chowdhuri feels that the East-West conflict will never come to an end because the Third world is deficient in military power and the West will not have the will to tackle the hatred of the East, Pamuk dwells in both of these worlds, often enjoying the best and often encountering the inevitable worst. He simply offers the Eastern stories to the West, making theories out of them as if to show that without the Eastern Other the West remains incomplete, too! That is his kind of counter imperialism about which N.C.Chowdhuri could have made his celebrated comment, ‘ARE WE COLONIZING BRITAIN?’

1.Pamuk, Orhan,Other Colours,Essays and a Story,Faber and Faber,2007
2.Chaudhuri,Sukanta,The Metaphysics of Text,Cambridge University Press,2011

Anuradha Kunda is an Associate Professor in English, at Malda College. Born in Kolkata, she studied English literature in Jadavpur University and obtained a Ph.D. on T.S.Eliot, women in poems and plays. She is a regular contributor in little magazines. Published works: Bishay Naari, a book on feminism; Bnashir naam Taanaai, stories for children;  Manobas, an anthology of Bengali poems. Works on Orhan Pamuk and Saadaat Hassan Manto. Published in Divaratrir Kavya.
Founder director of Phoenix, the experimental theatre group.


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