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This constant obsession about attaining a ghostly pallor and observing our behemothic interest in the Duke’s every move and the Duchess’s every outfit makes me think that the British may have been forced out of our country a long time ago but perhaps they still haven’t been entirely forced out of our heads.

Either observing our behemothic interest is the new phrase or the about also applies to observing.I mean to say, is it
This constant obsession about
1 attaining a ghostly pallor and
2 observing our behemothic interest in the ... ?

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    Since makes is singular, if we follow strict agreement in number, the singular subject would be obsession, and the two phrases headed by gerunds would both be governed by about, modifying obsession. That said, "constant obsession about...observing our...interest in..." doesn't fly, so I think we should not follow strict number agreement but treat the phrase headed by observing as not governed by about; rather we have a compound subject and imperfect number agreement, which is fairly common. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 6 '16 at 10:02
  • Is it 'obsession' that 'makes' her think? – Anubhav Singh Jul 6 '16 at 10:06
  • That two conditions obtain "makes" the author think: (1) the obsession with pallor and (2) the behemothic interest in the Duke's every move and the Duchess's every outfit. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 6 '16 at 10:09
  • Shouldn't it be 'make' then? – Anubhav Singh Jul 6 '16 at 10:13
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    This lack of number agreement is very common, so some grammarians would leave it as is. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 6 '16 at 10:18
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It's a badly written sentence.

The syntactic parallelism between the two gerund clauses lead the reader to parse this as you have done:

This constant obsession about
  attaining ...
  and
  observing ...

But in fact "Constant obsession about observing our behemothic interest" makes no sense. The public is not obsessed with observing its own interest; it is, rather, the writer who is observing the public interest. This implies that the correct parse is:

This constant obsession ...
and observing ...

However: as soon as you sort this out, you come up (as TRomano points out) against the sentence's main verb makes, which requires a singular subject—and that thrusts you back on your original parse.

The only way I can see to rescue this is to assume that the conjoined piece about observing is intended as a parenthetical participle clause:

This constant obsession (and observing ...)
makes me think ...

But that makes the observing piece a dangling modifier, since its subject (presumably I) is not the subject of the clause to which it is attached.

This is hasty writing which has not been corrected.

  • behemothically bad – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 6 '16 at 10:22
  • All in all, it should've 'make'.Right? – Anubhav Singh Jul 6 '16 at 10:24
  • "To observe" doesn't always mean to perceive. The sentence makes more sense if you consider the observance as a compliance or participation. – Gary Botnovcan Jul 6 '16 at 13:40
  • @GaryBotnovcan Complying with or participating in an "interest" doesn't feel idiomatic to me - though to be sure, this is an Indian writer. – StoneyB on hiatus Jul 6 '16 at 22:16
  • To my ear, observing a local convention or observing a social norm seems as idiomatic as observing a law or observing a holiday. – Gary Botnovcan Jul 6 '16 at 22:24
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Regardless how bad the sentence may be written and actually reads, there still is one grammar point worth mentioning, even without changing the original:

"This constant obsession … and … interest … that makes me think that ..." is the subject, followed by the verb in the third person because it, the subject, relates to the idea of "what makes me think that … is X and Y".

And in the sentence, this subject consists of both the constant obsession and observing the interest, each being a separate trait but here regarded together with the other as one characteristic of the natives of India.

Had it been supposed to look at them separately, the "both" might have appeared:

Both this ... and ... make me think that ....

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