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Conclusion: Provincialised Cosmopolitanisms?

To what extent do Sykes and Patel reflect examples of provincialised and aspirational cosmopolitanisms? To what extent are they local and vernacular?

Sykes’ boundary crossing and her commitment to Swaraj is constructed out of her local knowledge of the transformational struggle against poverty and class performed in her father’s ethical practice. It is given a spiritual cast in the Cambridge of the 1920s, scarred by the first world war, as she responds to an intellectual push away from an imperial evangelism to an ecumenical Christianity capable of building a new world in practical partnership with other peoples and faiths. Religion is her way into a shared space in its most universalist sense: the meeting of people committed to humanness as inextricably material and spiritual. She quotes Gandhi to explain her profession of Quakerism at the point at which she moves out of the Christian and into the ‘Indian’ context:

Mankind is one and I’m a servant of mankind. I’m born an Indian; I try to be a good Indian in order that I may be a good member of the human race. I’m also born Hindu, and as a loyal Hindu, I claim my passport, so that I may move freely and in friendship among people of every religion.71

To Sykes this illustrated how faith and nation could come together in universal comity and cosmopolitan amity. Sykes’ spiritual passport takes literal shape, however, in her assumption of Indian citizenship in 1948, tangling the universalist and the particularistic in ways unimagined by European political thought on cosmopolitanism that presumes an inherent particularism in nationalism.72 She spent the next 20 years intertwining efforts to train teachers in Gandhian Basic Education at Sevagram, with activism in the international peace movement, including a 3-year stint in Nagaland,73 north-east India, as an observer in a peace keeping effort initiated by Jayaprakash Narayan,74 a leading Indian political thinker and activist. Interestingly, Narayan convinced Sykes she had a unique role to play there because, on the one hand, the national government knew her as a ‘pre-Independence friend’ and would give her the necessary permit, while the Naga leaders would ‘accept you as a fellow Christian, and not an Indian by birth’.75 Here Sykes’s ‘rootless’ cosmopolitanism constructs her political utility as the ideal Gandhian observer. Until late old age, she spent the rest of her life living in India, running small peace training camps, researching and writing books on the Quakers in India amongst other topics, and speaking on the importance of Gandhian values for an anti-violence way of life. After ill health increasingly restricted her activities, she finally retired to Swarthmore, a Quaker retirement community in the English Cotswolds, in January 1991.

Patel’s story is superficially less cosmopolitan; he has to shuck off the glamour of Englishness and view of England as his second home and ‘decolonize’ his mind through re-nationalising himself. Encountering rural India’s poverty for the first time, at least emotionally, when he holds the dying road worker in his arms, and inspired by his fellow elite friends, Patel gradually immerses himself in the Indian struggle to be an independent nation. Gandhi’s exhortations urging him to learn his own vernaculars hint at the struggles this involved for Patel, expressing how displaced he felt in ‘Indian India’. In a letter to Patel dated 16 January 1946, Gandhi wrote: ‘I have your letter dictated in chaste Gujerati. I am delighted. However,... I shall certainly write in English if that helps us better.’76 Towards the end of the book, Patel recounts his experience on a trade mission to Japan in 1947 that he undertook at the urging of Gandhi despite his own fears of partition and his desire to remain in India to fight against such a possibility, a fear pooh-poohed by Gandhi. For Gandhi it was an opportunity to present ‘the claims of non-violence’ to General MacArthur.77 Whether he had this opportunity is not revealed by Patel; instead, his focus is on his sadness at seeing the Japanese brought so low by their American conquerors and the devastation of Hiroshima. A meeting with two Japanese nuclear scientists, personally horrified ‘by the prostitution of scientific discovery to military uses’ is couched in terms of a talk with ‘fellow-Asians, interested in the welfare of all Asia’s people equally’.78 The brown Englishman is now a panAsian through his identification with the particularities of nation and people. It is his sense of Indian-ness, fostered over the years after his return from Cambridge, that brings him to Japan and a sense of a shared identity with ‘fellow Asians’, rather than a ‘brown gentleman’s’ sense of community with a British elite. This is precisely what Bose suggests is at the core of ‘colourful cosmopolitanisms’: a ‘universalist patriotism’ forged in a colonized world that ‘refuses to recognize any false binary’.79

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