I wrote and posted this more than four years ago, about the English scholar of Bengali temples, David McCutchion, who witnessed the war by Pakistan to prevent the independence of what was then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). His judgment about Pakistan then will strike many as perhaps even truer now than it was when he delivered it, nearly forty years ago.
Picked up at a book sale a copy of "The Miscellany," edited by P. Lal, and published in Calcutta. Issue #51 (June 1972), one of three devoted to the then recently-deceased, at age 41, of David McCutchion. An Englishman, David McCutchion was a lover of India, not of the william-dalrympish sort, that is the kind who loves the luxe of the Moghul court and its love intrigues, nor the kind of Englishman (also william-dalrympish) of the walking-across-half-a-continent-when-young sort, making use of local color of the human interest kind, often grizzled or wizened or wizenedly grizzled picturesque Muslims, to do the work for him (downmarket Byrons and Newbys, not to menton the now-unfashionable, because bookish, traveller Gide in "Le Retour du Tchad"), but a true scholar, an Indophile who studied brick temples in Bengal, and Indian writing, was a friend of Satyajit Ray and all sorts of interesting people in Calcutta who never get the attention in the West that all those anti-Western islamisant arundhati-roys manage to get.
I read through The Miscellany #52 – and discovered a tribute from the Sanskrit (and Buddhism) scholar Richard Gombrich (son of E. H.), who opened his essay, titled “His Work Is Unrepeatable,” with this: “The recent death of Mr. David McCutchion in Calcutta at the age of 41 is a catastrophe for oriental studies.” Gombrich describes McCutchion as a scholar who “devoted all his time, his money, and his exceptional energy and enthusiasm, to the study of arts and monuments which are fast disappearing. He tramped all over Bengal, both West and East, taking notes and photographs; his knowledge of the countryside was famous. A self-taught photographer, he spared no pains to take the perfect shot; and he leaves well over ten thousand colour slides and as many black and white photographs of high professional quality…..His greatest specialities were Bengali temple architecture and terra-cotta sculpture, the latter a lost skill of whose monuments little is known to the wider world; he also studied and collected Bengali scroll paintings. He explored many other parts of India too, and recorded even Gupta temples previously unknown.”
And a little more, taken from a website:
“David McCutchion (1930-1972), English-born scholar, Indophile and early critic of Raja Rao, was an authentic pioneer: in his short lifetime...made a major contribution to the study of Bengali temples...one of the first scholars to write on the now much commented subject of Indian Writing in English....Born in Coventry, David attended that city's King Henry VIII Grammar School. He made it to Cambridge University the hard way, on intellectual merit alone. He read Modern Languages (French and German) at Jesus College. After graduating in 1953, he taught English for two years in southern France. He went to India in 1957. He worked there first as an English teacher...and later, as Professor and then Reader in Comparative Literature at Jadavpur University, Calcutta.... David's ground-breaking study of Bengali brick temples, The Temples of Bankura District, was published by Writers Workshop in 1972.”
David McCutchion lived through the war made by West Pakistan (now Pakistan) on East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in 1970-71, a war in which Muslim fanatics in East Pakistan, locally called razakars, joined forces with the raping and murdering army of West Pakistan, accepting the argument that what was good for Pakistan – that is, staying one country – was necessarily good for Islam, and what was good for Islam was all that mattered.
Here is how, in a letter from England to a friend, McCutchion described the behavior of Pakistan:
“…We are raising funds, and hope to see the Minister of Overseas Development. What do I think of it all? Appalling…Pakistan should never have existed – it has cost more lives then the whole of the British Empire in 200 years. What should I think of a culture that burns down the British Council library in Lahore because an English publisher printed a picture of Mahomet? Fanaticism plus Machiavellianism plus brutality equals Islamic Pakistan.”
Intelligent and learned and passionate, was David McCutchion. What more can you ask of anyone?