Breakfast with Evil and Other Risky Ventures: The Non-Essential Ashis Nandy is a collection of columns, essays, forewords to books, interviews, and lectures by Ashis Nandy originally published between 1975 and 2018. The book contains thirty-six chapters and is divided into five parts. In these texts, Nandy comments on a range of issues pertaining to contemporary India and the world.
Transgressing disciplinary boundaries, Nandy unravels the complex layers of the everyday and the commonplace to reveal how deeply enmeshed human emotions and individual subjectivity are with the political and the social. He insists that the ideals of the European Enlightenment are implicated in the effects of European colonialism in Asia and Africa. The damage done by this insidious domination is not yet fully known due to the extermination of entire communities, which has eliminated any witness for posterity. He compels us to wonder whether ‘postcolonial’ is an apt term to designate the countries of the Third World, because colonialism has not ended with the transfer of political power.
Book I has ten chapters, and is titled ‘This, Our Time’. In the first essay here, ‘The Idea of South Asia: The Origins of Post-Bandung Blues’, Nandy sees the idea of South Asia as a bureaucratic contrivance and affirms that state formation in 20th century South Asia has been disjointed from the cultural, social, and moral frameworks of the region. For Nandy, Indic civilization is not a fossilization of Ancient India. It is a continual evolution over time with fuzzy borders, distinctive notions of tolerance and philosophical anarchism. The interweaving of cultures and religions within the Indic civilization is so deep that none is comprehensible without reference to the other. These characteristics of the Indic civilization serve as the locus of resistance to the state’s attempts to muzzle democracy and institute surveillance and censorship.
The two following essays, ‘The Gift of Partition: The Career of an Idea’ and ‘Is Australia a Victim of the Ethical Limits of the Enlightenment? A Note on the Culture of a State’ allude to the establishment of Israel and Australia, and their attempts at emulating themselves as European colonial powers, though subordinate. Nandy points to the use of territorial partition as a quick-fix tool to resolve intractable political problems in culturally diverse societies by colonial powers thereby creating persistent volatile conflict zones. In ‘Living and Dying in Kashmir’, he writes of the loss of a social ethic, and of a distinctive androgyny, and the ubiquity of the suffering of individuals and communities, disregarded and subordinated to realpolitik by officialdom of both the countries, as well as by militant organizations. The essay explores the possibility of conversations among cultures as an antidote to the nation-states in the region.
In ‘Despair, the Missing Rasa’, ‘From the Age of Anxiety to the Age of Fear’, ‘Uprooting the Landscape of Clandestine Selves’ and ‘The Peasant’, Nandy notes how urban industrial development has led to the dissolution and fragmentation of communities, the gradual abrogation and annihilation of a way of life associated with the peasant, resulting in despair, utter hopelessness, anxiety, alienation and loneliness. This has led India to become ‘a country of the psychologically uprooted’. This psychological uprooting often manifests itself in society through heightened aggressiveness and distrust, fundamentalism and rapacious nationalism that offer ‘psychological security’ and ‘therapeutic solace’.