In Light of India


Octavio Paz (1997). In Light of India. Translated from the Spanish by Eliot Weinberger. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company

The Antipodes of Coming and Going


(pp.3) [Paris] is probably the most beautiful example of the genius of our civilization: solid without heaviness, huge without gigantism, tied to the earth but with a desire for flight. A city where moderation rules the excesses of both the body and the head with the same gentle and unyielding authority… Paris for me is a city that, more than invented, is reconstructed by memory and the imagination… In Paris, as in other Latin cities, one lives more in the streets than at home. [would the same go for Bombay?!]

(pp.5) Mexican government did not have relations with Franco- quite the opposite: it was the only country in the world that had an official ambassador to the Spanish Republic in Exile.

(pp.12) I sat at the foot of a huge tree, a statue of the night, and tried to make an inventory of all I had seen, heard, smelled, and felt: dizziness, horror, stupor, astonishment, joy, enthusiasm, nausea, inescapable attraction. What had attracted me? It was difficult to say: Human kind cannot bear much reality. Yes, the excess of reality had become an unreality, but that unreality had turned suddenly into a balcony from which I peered into- what? Into that which is beyond and still has no name…

In retrospect, my immediate fascination doesn’t strike me as strange: in those days I was a young barbarian poet. Youth, poetry, and barbarism are not opposed to one another: in the gaze of a barbarian there is innocence; in that of a young man, an appetite for life; and in a poet’s gaze, astonishment.


(pp.15) The strangeness of India brought to mind that other strangeness: my own country. [indeed! be it Mexico or China…]

(pp.16) New Delhi was conceived as a garden city. I was shocked, at my last visit in 1985, at its deterioration. The excessive growth of the population, the traffic with its smog, and the new districts built with cheap materials in a vulgar style had made New Delhi ugly. [T.T]

(pp.19) I did not have the imageless vision,
I did not see forms whirl until they vanished
in unmoving clarity,
the being without substance of the Sufis.
I did not drink the plentitude of the void […]
I saw a blue sky and all the blues,
from white to green,
the spread fan of the poplars,
and on a pine, more air than bird,
a black and white mynah.
I saw the world resting on itself.
I saw the appearances.
And I named that half hour:
The Perfection of the Finite.


(pp.21) Peshawar was an important city in the history of Buddhism. Many stupas and architectural traces remain in the area, but the religion has dissapeared, supplanted by Islam.

(pp.23) I have mentioned these names [Neruda, Ceylon fort…] as though they were talismans that, upon being rubbed, bring to life images, faces, landscapes, moments. And they are like certificates: a testimony that my education in India lasted for years and was not confined to books. Although it is far from complete and will remain forever rudimentary, it has marked me deeply.

(pp.23) fable: After the final battle foretold by the holy books, among the corpses and the rubble, two men appear, the only survivors. One is a Hindu, a follower of Vendata; the other a Christian, a Thomist. No sooner do they discover each other than they begin to debate. The Christian says: The world is an accident; it was born from the divine fiat lux; it was created, and like everything that has a beginning, it will have an end; salvation is beyond time. The Hindu answers: The world had no beginning and will have no end; it is necessary and self-sufficient; change doesn’t change it; it is, has been, and will always be identical to itself. And the dialogue continues, the debate never ends…

(pp.28) [Nehru] never learned Hindi, but spoke Urdu and colloquial Hindustani. In 1931, Gandhi had written about him: “He is more English than Indian in his manner of thinking and of dress; he often feels more at ease among the English than among his own countrymen.”
(an explanation on pp.69) Unlike Urdu and Hindi, Hindustani does not have a written literature, but it has been the spoken language of the majority of Indians in the north of the country.

(pp.30) The centrifugal forces of India are old and powerful: they have not destroyed the country because, without intending to, they have neutralized one another.

(pp.33) This book is not for the experts. It is the child not of knowledge but of love.

Extended Readings:

In Light of India- II: Religions, Castes and Languages

In Light of India- III: A Project of Nationhood

In Light of India- IV: The Full and The Empty


4 responses »

  1. Pingback: In Light of India- II | Bria Yifei Yan

  2. Pingback: In Light of India- III | Bria Yifei Yan

  3. Pingback: In Light of India- IV | Bria Yifei Yan

  4. Pingback: A Light Called India | Bria Yifei Yan

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