I grew up in small towns in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra - places like Akola, Betul, Wardha, Jhansi; I thought the rise of provincial India would be an interesting subject to tackle.
As the years passed in my village, I witnessed poorly educated young men leaving to seek the greater comforts and liberations of big cities. I would see them on my visits to Delhi.
The French Revolution actualised the Enlightenment's greatest intellectual breakthrough: detaching the political from the theocratic.
Life in a Chinese village is much more organised because the Chinese Communist Party has a presence even in the remotest Chinese village - a presence of the kind that no governmental or non-governmental organisation has in Indian villages.
Like the Britain of Beaverbrook and Kipling, Japan in the early twentieth century was a jingoistic nation, subduing weaker countries with the help of populist politicians and sensationalist journalism.
Though blessed with many able administrators, the British found India just too large and diverse to handle. Many of their decisions stoked Hindu-Muslim tensions, imposing sharp new religious-political identities on Indians.
I started out as a novelist and wrote several novels before deciding to publish one, and I fully intend to go back to the form.
It turns out that globalisation, while promising sameness through brand-name consumption, was fostering, through uneven economic growth, an intense feeling of difference.
German writers in the late 18th century were the first to uphold a prickly, literary nationalism, in reaction to the then dominance and prestige of French literature.
As in the early 20th century, the elemental forces of globalisation have unravelled broad solidarities and loyalties.
Gandhi, brought out of his semirural setting and given a Western-style education, initially attempted to become more English than the English.
A free and rooted society ought to consist of a web of moral obligations. We have the right to ignore them, but we ought to be actually obliged not to let other people starve or to let them lapse into destitution.
Ordinary Muslims in Europe, who suffer from the demoralisation caused by living as perennial objects of suspicion and contempt, are far from thinking of themselves as a politically powerful, or even cohesive, community, not to speak of conquerors of Europe.
In a democratic age, you can't buck demography - except through civil war.
In 1853, American warships bullied Japan out of centuries of virtual isolation and into the modern world. The threat of force compelled Japan, like India and China before it, to accept trade agreements that were economically ruinous and eroded national sovereignty.
'Islamism' itself is such a broad and nearly meaningless word as used by the mainstream Western press, including everything from Turkey's AKP party to al Qaeda.
The White House tapes, the recordings that Nixon made of his conversations in office, have long been recognized as a marvel of verbal incontinence.
Political elites look increasingly interchangeable: Blair, Brown, and Cameron have all tried to provide cover for the surrender of sovereignty to foreign investors with invocations of 'British' values, and, more opportunistically, anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Tenured professors are more prone than the rest of us to think that the university is the universe.
I think there is no reason for us to bring to Islamism or political Islam the fear and ignorance of Western commentators and their hysterical vocabulary.
I think subsuming political and economic conflicts into some grand 'clash of civilisations' theory or 'the West versus the rest' binary is a particularly insidious form of ideological deception.
Just as China achieved much more than India in the realm of public health and education under an austere Communist regime, so its economic growth under a capitalist-friendly government strikes a visitor from India as nothing less than spectacular.
As a writer, I tend to be drawn to marginal people - writers, poet-prophets, seers, eccentrics - who embody the deeper ambivalences of their societies and bear deeper witness to their world than the famous figures we are used to celebrating, or demonizing, in our histories.
Britain's unique success as an industrialised nation-state prompted strong imitative endeavours not only across Europe, but also in Asia. Now many people, who were once humiliated into a sense of nationality by British rule, loom larger than their former masters.
Happily, financial capitalism and free trade have not done away with national languages and literatures, as Marx rather too blithely hoped.
An enlarged global public society, with its many dissenting and corrective voices, can quickly call the bluff of lavishly credentialled and smug intellectual elites.
Policymakers can draw much from 'The Need for Roots': such clear prescriptions as that employers ought to provide an adequate vocational training for their employees, education should be compulsory and publicly funded, and include technical as well as elementary education.
The Arab Spring showed that people are not going to wait for an American president to make good on his big talk about democracy and human rights; they are going to fight for those rights themselves and overthrow pro-American dictators who stand in their way.
To Westerners, the students at Tiananmen may have given an impression of a solid and energetic consensus against dictatorship and for democracy, but they were an egotistical and fractious lot, riven by disagreements over tactics and money.
Economic disasters or foolish wars are hardly guaranteed to bring about large-scale individual self-examination or renew the appeal of truly participatory democracy.
I am often struck by the anxious inferiority many well-educated British people display towards the U.S., particularly Londoners dazzled by New York, when many postcolonials are accustomed to regarding Britain's old imperial cosmopolis as the true capital of the western world.
In 1919, at the Paris Peace Conference, Japan had put forward a proposal to guarantee racial equality at the League of Nations, but Woodrow Wilson overturned it in the face of majority support.
Basically, I think of fiction and non-fiction as different ways of engaging with the world. You reach a point where you feel you have said all you possibly can, in reportage or a review essay or a reflection on history, which 'From the Ruins of Empire' was.
Gandhi's ideas were rooted in a wide experience of a freshly globalized world.
After the oil crisis of 1973, many European countries tightened restrictions on immigrants. By then, millions of Muslims had decided to settle in Europe, preferring the social segregation and racial discrimination they found in the West to political and economic turmoil at home.
No Muslim country has ever done as much as Turkey to make itself over in the image of a European nation-state; the country's westernised elite brutally imposed secularism, among other things, on its devout population of peasants.
In December 2004, I travelled on the road from Uzbekistan across the Oxus River on which the first Soviet convoys had rolled into Afghanistan 25 years before.
The Korean War, which China entered on the side of North Korea, fixed Mao's image in the United States as another unappeasable Communist.
My life was made easy - I lived in a village, and by writing for some newspapers and magazines, had enough to live on. I was happy to be there and write.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 briefly disrupted celebrations of a world globalised by capital and consumption.
The advocates of retaliatory wars will continue to assume a much simpler reality with their hoary oppositions: Religious and secular, backward and enlightened, free and unfree. But if we are to admit how deeply and irrevocably interconnected our world is, then we must find new ways to break the cycle of counter-productive violence.
In 1980, shortly before my 11th birthday, I wrote my first essay in English.
It's strange to recall that America animated none of my youthful daydreams. I did not see a Hollywood film until my late teens.
Governments everywhere that are unable to guarantee equitable growth and social welfare have suffered a fatal decay of legitimacy.
Many writers from the suburbs of history, such as Ireland and Argentina, produced more original work than their counterparts in the United States; they still seem to.
If you think of India in the 1980s, there weren't many writers in English around. The ones that were there, Amitav Ghosh or Vikram Seth, were living abroad or publishing from abroad.
The idea that modernisation makes for enhanced national power and rapid progress and helps everyone achieve greater happiness has its origins in the astonishing political, economic and military successes of western Europe in the 19th century.
Though there are laws against blasphemy and insult to religion in many European countries, France has institutionalised its anti-clerical past by proscribing religion from public life.
Indonesia's diversity is formidable: some thirteen and a half thousand islands, two hundred and fifty million people, around three hundred and sixty ethnic groups, and more than seven hundred languages.