Patrick French in Outlook India:
I write as someone who has long admired Pankaj Mishra’s literary aspirations. I first met him in 1996, when he asked me to lunch at the Gaylord restaurant in Connaught Place so as to give me a copy of his Bill Bryson-style travel book Butter Chicken in Ludhiana. It was funny and entertaining, and remains his best book. His journalism has been interesting: no fellow writer could fail to be impressed by his rendition of the story of Ngodup, a Tibetan man who died in a protest in Delhi. It is a pity Pankaj did not pursue his burgeoning career as a novelist, or produce the promised short history of modern India. Instead, he has ranged widely, sitting on eminent literary prize committees, popping up as a visiting fellow at assorted foreign universities and jetting about denouncing “business-class lounges” and their elite inhabitants. It is not clear whether Pankaj—travelling the globe for high-paying western publications, while busily condemning “late capitalist society”—ever uses these lounges himself, or whether he prefers to take a downgrade to cattle class. For a long time I have appreciated his chutzpah most of all, though he remains a writer of promise. He has been successful in imparting his “authentic” take on India to the West, and one American intellectual even adjudged our reviewer to be “the young Siddhartha Gautama himself: a scholar-sophisticate” after meeting him at “the lower Manhattan holiday party of a stylish magazine”.
Pankaj has obviously been on a long journey from his self-described origins—in what he calls a “new, very poor and relatively inchoate Asian society”—to his present position at the heart of the British establishment, married to a cousin of the prime minister David Cameron. But he seems oddly resentful of the idea of social mobility for other Indians.