I Imagined the World Differently
Urgent, discerning and challenging essays that take up arms against the rise of populism
Anil Ramdas was a cosmopolitan intellectual, an essayist and above all a storyteller. He wrote about subjects such as identity and civilization, in personal stories full of colourful details about the cut of clothes, or the scent of coconut oil, always reserving roles for his intellectual heroes: V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Stuart Hall.
‘I needn’t know who I was, I could be whoever I liked.’ As a student Anil Ramdas found this a liberating insight: ‘Let’s go for cosmopolitan, and then add a dash of something: Brahman, Hindustani, Surinamer, migrant, Dutch, Indonesian, lover of Flaubert, Naipaul and Bellow, of film and Indian music, of French wine and Italian pasta.’
After the attacks of 11 September 2001, Ramdas realized that in Europe there was an increasing desire for a fixed identity - among Muslim fundamentalists but also among people who yearned for a sense of nationhood. It suddenly placed him in ‘the camp of the outsiders’, despite the praise he had always expressed for civilization and the Western tradition of self-criticism.
Ramdas found the loss of the traditionally so tolerant Netherlands almost impossible to bear. In his work he tried to make clear how hard we need to fight for freedom in a society that cultivates stereotypes and sticks labels on people like ‘of non-Western extraction’.
Ramdas explored the subtle ways in which people make differences tangible, but he also exposed harsh exclusion. He wrote about the migrant experience, about his childhood in Surinam, about the misplaced nostalgia of the emigrant and his own love of the Bollywood films that he watched as a boy. In the current political and social climate his work is more topical than ever, and therefore a prominent literary publishing house in the Netherlands has decided to publish a collection of his best work.