Notes On Culture
When we pause for a moment…just for a moment and think, it becomes clear that most things in life are really simple… things like our daily routine, the weather, our city, society, customs, traditions, and something as fundamental as the innate love for the country…all these are really simple because they are rooted in fundamental human impulses like the inexplicable love of a mother for her infant. It is these simple things that have given order and sustainability to human life across space and time. A child will instinctively, intuitively recognise them. Yes it is that simple.
Unless you step into places like JNU and start believing in the toxic stuff such places spew out.
I have deliberately used the phrase, “love for the country” because that is one of the clearest definitions of the term “nationalism.” We can use the Indian freedom struggle as a historical backdrop of sorts. The one common element, the quintessential strand that fused and animated the freedom struggle was nationalism. This nationalism was not merely expressed in its outward, physical manifestations like political rallies, demonstrations, violent and non-violent resistance, it informed and revealed itself for example, in the paintings of Abanindranath Tagore, in the poetry of Subramania Bharati, in the novels of Bankim, in Kannada songs written for schoolchildren extolling India…the list is nearly endless. The fact that India produced perhaps the most prolific and best output in almost all fields during—roughly—the century of freedom struggle is not at all coincidental. While the Islamic incursions and the subsequent, protracted Muslim rule had battered the body, the soul of Bharata had more or less remained intact—Hindus never rested, never stopped resisting.
But the freedom struggle, apart from securing political freedom, was also a two-pronged struggle of a far profound nature: to stop the corrosion of the cultural soul of India as also to simultaneously recover it. This wasn’t nationalism in theory or a topic of vacuous debates that has become sickeningly commonplace of late. It was something that was acted out on a daily basis, lived live on the theatre of an ancient civilisation’s destiny. It is a true story which has never been told in full. It’s a story that moved a towering scholar like Will Durant so deeply that on his visit to India for collecting material for his monumental Story of Civilisation, he decided to take a break from that work and decided to stay back here to learn more. What he discovered appalled and depressed him, and led him to write the forgotten classic, The Case for India. In his own words,
I saw such things in India as made me feel that study and writing were frivolous things in the presence of…one-fifth of the human race—suffering poverty and oppression bitterer than any to be found elsewhere on the earth…the more I read the more I was filled with astonishment and indignation at the…deliberate bleeding of India by England throughout a hundred and fifty years. I began to feel that I had come upon the greatest crime in all history. The British conquest of India was the…destruction of a high civilisation by a trading company utterly without scruple or principle, careless of art and greedy of gain, overrunning with fire and sword a country temporarily disordered and helpless…the present plunder has now gone beyond bearing, year by year, it is destroying one of the greatest and gentlest peoples of history. [Emphasis added]
The fact that The Case for India hasn’t been a prescribed text—or even some excerpts from it—after seventy long years after our nominal liberation from colonial rule should make us introspect deeper on the true meaning of freedom and independence.
The Era of Indian Renaissance
In fact, from another perspective, the period of our freedom struggle can also be truly called the Era of Indian Renaissance, a phrase that the iconic history scholar R C Majumdar uses repeatedly. It is highly instructive to read his three-volume magnum opus, History of the Freedom Movement in this connection.
Then there’s the familiar and stale argument that the British for the first time united India politically until which time India was a disjointed mass of kingdoms warring with one another, etc. Yet, how did the people of these same warring regions come together to fight the same British? The answer again lies in this nationalism. It is a nationalism of a different kind, best encapsulated in the words of Prof S Srikanta Sastri:
The culture of India, like the country itself, is indivisible and timeless. Just like its indivisible geography that stretches from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Vishweshwara to Rameshwara, from Bindu Madhava to Sethu Madhava, Indian culture too represents this indivisible continuum from the Rishis of the Vedas all the way up to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. [Bharatiya Samskruti]
This cardinal feature of cultural unity was recognized as the chief obstacle by the British who unleashed their soulless and deracinating education system to destroy it. This is precisely where a deep and exhaustive study of the selfsame Indian Renaissance becomes so invaluable. A sizeable number of truly extraordinary Indians hit back with surgical precision by tapping precisely into this cultural and civilizational unity. They used its symbolism, deities, message and value, and shaped and honed a deeper brand of freedom struggle. Even today, a foreigner like Diana Eck astutely realizes this unity when she titles her book, India: A Sacred Geography. She could have used any other title. That is something Hindus should learn how to do.
Long story short: Indian nationalism cannot be separated from Indian culture. I use the word “culture” in an all-encompassing fashion.
Yet, it appears that once we gained Independence, we not only abandoned nationalism but made it an obscenity. As numerous scholars and others have pointed out, the reason is that we threw off our colonizer but retained the mental and psychological fetters of our colonisers. This is a weakness of the national spirit we’ve still been unable to shake off. Here’s a quote:
Honourable Members…I ask you, Members, to stand in your places to pay our tribute of respect to Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who by his grim determination and stead fast devotion was able to carve out and found Pakistan and whose passing away at this moment is an irreparable loss to all.
That was the Honourable President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad addressing the Constituent Assembly of India on Thursday, 4 November 1948. If this is not weakness of spirit, I don’t know what else is. It is the same weakness of spirit that characterised the Congress party beginning with Gandhi and Nehru and downwards. It is the same weakness of spirit that made Nehru mourn the death of the genocidal Communist Stalin as “Marshal Stalin” and adjourn the Indian Parliament for a day. Small wonder that today, the last gasping vestiges of the Congress party makes us wonder if it is the national party of Pakistan fighting elections on Indian soil.
But there’s also another, pragmatic perspective to this. One of the towering statesmen, scholars, and litterateurs of India, D V Gundappa who participated in and contributed to the freedom movement in various ways wrote the following over 60 years ago:
But the key [element] in the demand for ‘Swarajya’ was the ejection of foreigners. But it wasn’t clear in anybody’s mind as to the sort of people who would take the place of these foreigners…Why has what appeared as an attractive political system become so abhorrent in practical experience? To state the truth, it’s we who cheated ourselves…back then, we didn’t have an estimate of how wretched human nature will become when confronted with the treasure called power. Our zeal for freedom concealed the basic and natural human weaknesses from us…just as a person who has gone hungry for years begins to gorge when he’s assured of unlimited food supply, so did our political leaders indulge when they took the place of the foreigner.
And so, if a “free” India was quick to discard nationalism, one shouldn’t be surprised. It was as if nationalism had an expiry date—it had no use after the British left. But what was truly bizarre is that nationalism was replaced by something called secularism. We know where that continues to lead us to.
Analysing the Constitution sometime in the 1960s, the brilliant and encyclopaedic scholar Bharat Ratna P V Kane says:
The Constitution engenders a feeling among common people that they have rights and no obligations whatever and that the masses have the right to impose their will and to give the force of law…to their own ideas and norms formed in their own cottages and tea shops.
Think about this. Think about the kind of writing published on The Wire, Scroll, Caravan, etc? While 99 percent of it is just plain shilling for the Congress-Communist combine, their “opinion” and “analyses” are formed in their own cottages, teashops or to use today’s lingo, in their cafeterias, and swanky pubs and nightclubs.
The Indian Renaissance threw up scores of P V Kanes. The post-independence era has created these reprobate rags manned by rogues.
The Constitution has no chapter on the duties of the people to the country or to the people as a whole…another criticism is that there are too many amendments…The very first amendment was made within less than a year and a half from the day the Constitution came into force…One fails to understand the meaning of the words ‘fundamental rights’ in a Constitution which took over two years of deliberations, if they could be changed within a year and a half. [Emphasis added]
P V Kane was extraordinarily clairvoyant to say the least, and it is here, at such fundamental levels that our nation needs to engage in soul-searching if we’re serious about things like “next superpower,” “Vishwaguru,” etc. These are nice slogans but empty and fruitless unless supported by a solid philosophical and spiritual edifice. We turn to P V Kane again:
It is remarkable that the directive principles…mostly contain provisions on the economic system for raising people’s standard of living…the directive principles should also have put equal or greater emphasis on moral and spiritual values and should have called upon the state to promote among the people high moral standards, self-discipline, cooperation, sense of responsibility, kindliness, high endeavour…A secular state should not mean a godless state or a state that has nothing to do with moral and spiritual values. [Emphasis added]
So what kind of an Indian state and people has secularism created in these last 70 years? A class of intellectuals, academics, journalists, etc who resort to and encourage vulgar name-calling, slander, personal abuse, and sexual innuendoes against people occupying high constitutional posts. A vast swathe of people who continue to feed off taxpayer money to abuse India abroad. Indeed, someone who talks of such things as restraint, national responsibility, compassion, etc are dismissed as old-fashioned.
Seventy years of Secularism has created an India within India whose ruling credo is this: decency is a superstition, gratitude is unfashionable.
Unfortunately, we as a nation are so far gone that it takes a Prime Minister to get on the streets with a broom in his hand to remind his own people that India belongs to them: this is also nationalism. We find a powerful echo in Will Durant to this when he says that to be dirty is to be unfree. It maybe symbolic but the sheer amount of public filth and squalor that we see across India is an outward manifestation of the inner corruption of the national soul which continues to be infected by the Congress virus of what post-independence colonialism.
So when we’ve made nationalism a term of obscenity, are we still surprised that 1947 onwards, India has produced at least four generations of people who believe that there’s no noble ideal worth practising? It is this calculated and state-sponsored abuse of nationalism that in turn produces toxic textbooks designed to make a child hate himself and his country…so why blame your child if he or she takes the first ticket to the US never to return?
So we see how all these seemingly insignificant, minor, and isolated factors are so powerfully interconnected that even a slight rupture in the strand of nationalism will slowly make everything come apart? In fact, we don’t need to actually search for it. We already have the logical outcome, the exact specimen that will emerge if we denigrate nationalism for decades upon decades. His name is Kanhaiya Kumar: Bharat tere tukde honge inshallah!
Why is nationalism even a topic for debate? It is a given, an intrinsic good in itself. How European or other countries used nationalism for devious purposes is none of our concern given our lived and glorious experience of nationalism outlined earlier. The negative experience of the nationalisms of those countries at best should serve us as a warning.
Like we noted in the beginning of this essay, these are all simple things that everyone knows intuitively but it’s a truism that the simplest things are the hardest to do. Like nationalism, which fundamentally is a sense of deep gratitude towards the country that sustains us, helps us achieve our dreams and goals with others who inhabit the same land, share the same culture and values. In the case of Bharatavarsha, nationalism is our cultural inheritance encrusted beautifully in just one simple but profound word: Rna.
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