- The family is held together by hierarchy.
- There’s no room for equality in a traditional family set-up.
- The “higher” and “lower” is determined by seniority, or by the proximity of relationship.
- The entire cosmos is kept functional by the way each member knows his/her position in relation to the others.
- There can be no serious challenge to authority because traditionally authority is determined by extraneous factors, such as age, gender, and kinship, or sometimes by ritual authority, but not by such vague concepts as knowledge, experience, or wisdom.
- The assumption is that with age, knowledge, skill and wisdom increase as well.
- The hierarchy and non-equality of the Indian family is, I wish to emphasise, mostly a comfortable one.
- Couldn’t there be a dialogue between pre-modernity and modernity in India?
- Is a dialogue conceivable which aims at a merging of these two divergent concepts of life? That is, a merging of the positive, constructive, dignified, deeply humanistic elements of these two stages in the evolvement of our human potential?
- Is this an entirely utopian construct?
Living with one foot each in Indian and European cultures, I feel pained when I see my mother turn 89 in the hands of an Old Age Home nurses when she should be taken care of by loving family members. I feel equally pained when I see the campus of Santiniketan, where I live, littered with plastic bags and garbage without any of its highly educated members protesting and starting a cleaning drive. Both are shameful imbalances. If Indian family values prevailed, my mother would live in her own home in more comfort, and be in the care of an extended family. But that would have clipped my wings: I would have had to return to Germany. and would not have been able to do serve totally “alien” people of Indian society.
- First, can we imagine a modernity which is not Western-oriented but evolves from the matrix of Indian culture itself?
- Second, can we imagine a merging of pre-modern and modern values into a new entity? Do we see perhaps such an entity already practiced somewhere?
Traditional Indian ethos has a deeply idealistic strain. It begins with the Upanishads, continues with Buddhism and Jainism, flows into the Vaishnava mysticism of the Middle Ages and floods the writings of Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and Tagore. The herculean attempt to overcome a colonial ruler by non-violent means is inconceivable without such idealistic promptings. Much in the epics is imbued with such idealism, although Hindu mythology has very diverse strands, many of which are of an un-idealistic nature. Such idealism constitutes a spiritual and emotional energy which is manifest in the luminous face of the Buddha, in the eroticism of the Radha-Krishna narrative, in the countenance of Sri Ramakrishna. This same idealistic energy courses in the blood of young Indians too, although – alas! – it is rarely tapped for their own good and the good of society. But I’m optimistic that their idealism can give affirmative replies to my two questions.
This idealism is, in its very character, not adverse to modernism. Indeed, it operates above the pre-modern/modern duality by embracing everything that is noble and good. This idealism transcends family, rejects caste and other artificial dissections, and yearns for an ever-widening and more-embracing intellectual understanding and social convergence. It must be at the base of a congenially Indian modernity. Some modern age gurus have been preaching it in the West, thus translating this idealism into a Western social idiom. Unfortunately, such attempts have mostly failed. Either they preached a much-watered down version of Indian idealism to please their clientele, or they were unable to really strike roots in the souls of Western people.
Yet marginally, the New Man is visible at ashram communities in India – the laboratories of the fusion of old and new. This way of living together is ancient, yet flexible enough to adjust to new definitions of community life. The ashram describes the family ethos anew by broadening the definition of family and kinship. This fusion happens for example in the Pondicherry ashram and in Auroville as well as in Gandhian and Christian ashrams in India. The Santiniketan ashram, too, was meant to be an experiment of bringing pre-modern and modern India together under the guidance of an inspired poet. This answers my second question too. Obviously, such deeply Indian modernity would be the most appropriate merger of pre-modern and modern approaches to life. It will certainly preserve what is valuable and forward-looking in the Indian ethos, and at the same time absorb Western cultural characteristics wherever they complement the Indian ethos and can amalgamate with it.