Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Monday, November 28, 2005
Dr. Chitta R. Goswami Where does humanity stand at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first? Full-fledged man, Homo Sapiens, appeared on earth a little over one hundred thousand years ago. However, we get to know of man’s life, that also scantily, from what happened during the last cycle of his existence, that is, after the end of the last Ice Ace. In fact, our knowledge of human civilization does not go beyond eight thousand years.The civilizations of Egypt and Sumeria are considered by many archaeologists as the most ancient. However, there is no agreement among the authorities with regard to the sequence of time among the contending ancient civilizations, namely, Cretan, Greek, Mesopotamian, Babylonian, Assirian, Iranian, Indus Valley, Aryan Indian, Chinese and so on. Certain institutions are found to be common to these ancient cultures. Political system was almost invariably Monarchy; religion was Polytheistic; relation between the political and religious institution was by and large harmonious, but not always so. Similarities in social laws are also found. Most of the ancient societies were dominated by the male; the position of women was rather subservient, polygamy being a common feature. War among neighboring states was common if not frequent. With regard to technology, Bronze Age was superseded by the Iron Age. As a result, advancement in agricultural and manufacturing tools and weaponry was manifest. Mining was known; but the main source of power were: domesticated animals, water, sunlight, different kinds of oil and wind. As for standard of living, a small number of people in every society enjoyed certain luxury, with labor coming from slaves or domestic servants; majority of the population lived a very modest life. Through which preliminary steps civilizations reached the stage indicated above is difficult to delineate. In fact, it is well nigh impossible to establish a hierarchy of progress among the ancient civilizations noted above. On the other hand, we have specimen of truly primitive societies available in different continents. Aborigines of Australia, tribes of people living in distant jungles, hills and islands of India and many other Asian countries, Eskimos living near the North pole, American Indians available from the Northern tip of North America to the southern tip of South America, innumerable tribes spread over large areas of Black Africa are examples of primitive society. By and large these societies are egalitarian in character, monarchy being extremely rare. Technologically they are ill-developed; they have no written language or literature. They have, however, religion with a belief system in multiple divinities and a store of myths. The existence of these primitive societies is being threatened by the expansion of modern societies and the latter’s encroachment into the life and the society of the primitive people. The big question is how did the most of the ancient civilizations die out? Actually, only the Chinese and the Vedic civilization of India have withstood death. The rest are dead for all practical purposes, though not without some relevance to modern life and thought. Causes of destruction could be either natural like, flood, earthquake, volcanic eruption, drought etc. or man-made, like, war. There were wars between Egypt and Greece, between Greece and Iran; this did not result in the ruination of any of these civilizations. Middle eastern civilizations of Sumeria, Babylon, Assyria etc. fought with one another, one defeated the other, one dynasty was replaced by another. These also cannot be made responsible for total elimination of any of these cultures. With regard to Indus Valley civilization, some scholars have conjectured that flood was the cause. Others guess that Indus Valley people did not know the use of horses; the Aryans came on horse back and could easily wipe out the Indus Valley people. There is hardly any proof that the Aryans came from the North as invaders. Some scholars draw attention to certain common elements connecting the Indus Valley with the Vedic culture; In the Indus Valley the head of a piece of sculpture looks like that of Shiva; another piece looks like a mother goddess. Indus Valley has two components: one is Mahenjo Daro and the other Harappa. Both are urban cultures and in that way somewhat different from the earlier pastoral Vedic culture. Some scholars think Indus Valley is truly Dravidian culture akin to that of South India. In any case, despite the disappearance of the Indus Valley, it remains in spirit a part of the Indian culture which has shown a remarkable continuity and vigor.
I have come up with an idea that the emergence of Monotheism as an aggressive religion has gone a long way in destroying most of the ancient civilizations.
Sunday, November 27, 2005
Friday, November 25, 2005
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Sometimes I marvel at the existentialist dilemma of the thinking Indian. By definition he is a worrier, particularly if he does not have to worry about where his next meal is coming from. Instead, he or she worries about the great unwashed who do have to worry about survival in general. He worries about where this country is headed. And if he is creative, he can often make a nice enough living doing so, and feel somewhat morally superior to the non-worriers who do not let poverty or unrest get in the way of going about making money, spending it, and rearing a brood of angst-free pappus. All of us who pay periodic and collective homage to the notion of public service broadcasting belong to this category of angst-ridden worriers, and we've been at it for decades. The Hindu Sunday, Sep 01, 2002
Marks can't be the sole indicator of meritThe Academic as hit-and-run artist leaves behind a host of bleeding victims who do not know where to turn for succour and help. Such victims would indeed be lucky if in the faculty there survives an old-fashioned Educator.
- There is the inordinate emphasis on acquiring skills and information with the corresponding inability to find measures to translate these skills and information into knowledge and wisdom.
- There is the obsession with marks as being the sole indicator of merit. And this, in the face of the fact that the wide-ranging social and economic disparities in our country militate against any such simplistic connotation of the term merit.
- Due to such a blinkered approach to education there is no scope for developing a mechanism that addresses some basic issues about what constitutes good education and what place such constituents could have in our appraisal systems.
- First, let them see the deeper meaning of failure. Failure is by no means the end of one’s life-project. Failure is a turning-point, a new beginning. Failure is a moment of rigorous self-introspection. Ironically, the privilege and arrogance of success makes it difficult for the ‘toppers’ to undergo such a self-reflexive exercise. Failure softens and humanises the person.
- Second, failure is also the beginning of a quest for a new possibility. One has failed in the exam strategy; one has failed in what is being taught as physics, mathematics or history. But one has not failed in life. Because no young person can fail in life; life has just begun. One who has failed in the Board exam is possibly a good poet, a good singer, a good mechanic, a good nurse, a good farmer, a good social activist or a good worker. That is why, for all those who have failed, it is an opportunity to rediscover their hidden potential — something they have repressed because of the examination pressure, because of the social stereoptype that good guys are those who became either engineers or doctors.
Yes, those who have failed ought to be told that they have not really failed. But who would tell them this alternative story? The success-oriented/ middle class/ competitive/ consumerist society abhors failure. Yet, there are dissenting voices. Maybe, a true educationist is feeling restless, and trying to evolve an alternative pattern of learning. Maybe, a parent is waiting eagerly to find a companion who too has a similar quest for new education. Maybe, there are potential rebels even among those who have failed. Perhaps one day all of them would come together, and alter the prevalent system of life-negating education.
Paisa vasool. The ultimate Indian idea of good value; not to be confused with miserliness.
Our compulsive need to re-cycle things is a pointer to this need. Long before eco-trendism placed the idea of re-cycling on its current pedestal, the Indian has recycled. Not only re-cycled bur re-soled, re-collared and refilled disposable lighters with an injection. Selling raddi is an art form with the price as well as getting the raddiwalla to weigh accurately being high skills. Old clothes are exchanged for utensils, old bottles are sold, with scotch bottles commanding a wholly explainable premium. Old shoes used to be re-soled and all trousers had margins that could accommodate growing children.
A common sight in smaller towns is a handkerchief worn to protect the collar as is the ubiquitous purane kapdon ka doctor who specialises in coaxing a few more years of life from a recalcitrant garment flagging in spirits.
A corollary is our inability to throw anything away. Lift any mattress inside any home in India and you will see a proud collection of plastic bags lovingly gathered over a period of time. We hoard plastic spoons, grow plants in ice-cream tubs and buy insatiably large quantities of Pet jars in promotions. When we buy a TV set, we are actually buying a TV set, the thermocole that it comes packed in, the outer carton and any miscellaneous clips or pins or plastic pouches that accompany it.
A necessary skill for every housewife is that of bargaining because that ability is the most tangible way in which she converts her almost visceral need for value into everyday reality. She has that unique ability to have saved up that crucial little while having tended to her family's needs with very little to start with.
The skill lies in economising on the right thing and displaying largesse on a few critical occasions. It can be argued that this picture is changing as middle class India moves towards greater affluence. While this is true to some extent, it is important to recognise that the mindset governing consumption is not changing all that much.
Take the example of the way housewives buy vegetables. Regardless of whether she stays in an affluent neighbourhood or in crowded flats, she must get her dhania and hari mirch free. It has nothing to do with affordability; it is about sneaking in additional value helping make the transaction fulfilling.
Getting the right value then becomes an issue of fairness: of being asked for the theek daam, of knowing that one has not been taken for a ride. Of feeling re-assured that no consumption juice remains in the discarded object.
This ability to see utility in all its dimensions in any object and to not rest till every ounce of it is exhausted, has perhaps more to do with the ingrained cultural memory of scarcity, than with a real need for economy. We may not mind paying more, but our paisa must always be vasool. [Santosh Desai Times of India, June 12, 2004 Fly...]
CITY CITY BANG BANG Weekly Column Remembering the swing January 27, 2014
Who amongst us has had enough of the playground swing? Among the smaller pleasures of life which one coveted and never quite got enough of when growing up, was time at the swing. Of course, you could make do with the slide, the see saw and if you were desperate, the jungle gym but what…Read more » Also posted in Columns Read More About the Book
- First, the content of the curriculum in order to redefine the character of the nation in religious terms. Privileging the indigenous system and knowledge are its defining characteristics. It appears to be a part of a revivalist agenda, which essentially seeks to indigenise the system by foregrounding the knowledge linked with Hindu religious tradition, which though historically important may not have much relevance in contemporary times. The indigenisation, however, is not the same as incorporation of indigenous knowledge, which is necessary and desirable.
- The second feature of the changes is enclavisation, which is an inevitable legacy of colonialism. There is an overwhelming section of the population that is deprived of higher education for social and economic reasons. In a country like India only the state can provide them the opportunity. Most Indian universities have become stagnant pools, starved of funds and facilities and are unable to keep abreast with the explosion in knowledge taking place in almost all fields.
An enclavised, commercialised and communalised system of education, rapidly gaining currency, can be countered only by strengthening the public system, the revitalisation of which depends upon a variety of issues, more important among them being quality assurance, democratisation and autonomy. None of them is on the agenda of the state, even if they form the themes of officially sponsored seminars. The ground reality obtaining in most institutions, however, is totally inadequate to ensure even minimum quality.
- On the one hand, the BJP and its allies presented themselves as great champions of science, as long as it could be absorbed into ‘the Vedas’, of course.
- On the other hand, they aggressively condemned the secular and naturalistic worldview of science — the disenchantment of nature — as ‘reductionist’, ‘Western’ or even ‘Semitic’ and therefore un–Hindu and un–Indian. Science yes, and technology yes, but a rational–materialist critique of Vedic idealism no — that became the mantra of Hindutva.
Why this over–eagerness to claim the support of science? There is a modernising impulse in all religions to make the supposedly timeless truths of theology acceptable to the modern minds raised on a scientific sensibility. Contemporary Hindu nationalists are carrying on with the neo–Hindu tradition of proclaiming Hinduism as the universal religion of the future because of its superior ‘holistic science’ (as compared to the ‘reductionist science’ of the West.) Besides, it is easier to sell traditions and rituals, especially to urban, upwardly mobile men, if they have the blessings of English–speaking ‘scientific’ gurus.Granted, this business of Vedic science had been going on before anyone had ever heard the word ‘postmodern’. But this Hindu nationalist appropriation of science has found new sources of intellectual respectability from the postmodernist, anti–Enlightenment turn taken by intellectuals, most radically in American universities, but also in India. What do I mean by postmodernism and how did it play out in India?
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
- First, by following breathlessly, the events and the characters without stopping to notice the details, the quickening pace of reading sometimes hurtling the story beyond the last page — as when I read Vonnegut, Maugham, O'Henry or Salinger.
- Secondly, by careful exploration, scrutinising the text to understand its ravelled meaning, finding pleasure in merely the sound of the words or the clues, which the words did not wish to reveal, or which I suspected was hidden deep in the story itself, something too terrible or too marvellous to be looked at.
The second kind of reading — which had something of the quality of reading stories — I discovered in Lewis Carroll, Vikram Seth, Vassanji, Tagore and Nabokov. Reading, to me, set one free, it gave one a freedom to explore thoughts and the world outside the context they lived in. This has its retributions in the political world we live in, from the banning of writers like Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen to the censorship of countless authors ranging from Neruda to Gorky over the years. But not only totalitarian governments fear reading. Readers are bullied in school yards and in colleges as much as in government offices and prisons.
Sunday, November 20, 2005
Even after conceding that Gandhi fathered the nation, Swagato Ganguly has blamed the Mahatma (The God That Failed, Oct 1) for much of India's ills. Yet, in the admission of his fatherhood lies the key to understand the Man of the Millennium. A basic feature of Gandhi's life and politics was that he was not just a freedom fighter like Nelson Mandela. Even as he opposed the British, Gandhi wanted to ensure that the Indians were ready for their freedom. It has to be remembered that the most harmful effect of colonialism was not economic exploitation, but cultural subjugation. Gandhi's first battle was against this conviction of inferiority which enabled a few Britishers to rule over many Indians. His objective was to instil a sense of self-respect among Indians by making them feel proud of their Indianness. As William Shirer, the author of the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich writes in his book on Gandhi, when he called on the Mahatma, he found him sitting on the floor plying the charkha. Gandhi asked Shirer whether a chair should be brought for him, but Shirer declined and sat on the floor. The episode is symptomatic of Gandhi's politics. He wanted to demonstrate that Indians sat on the floor (and ate with their fingers and had their own dress codes) and were not ashamed of their customs. If the whites wanted to join them, they would have to do so on these terms, and not the other way round. It is this attitude which made him discard western clothes and tell journalists, who asked him how he felt meeting the King in Buckingham Palace in his meagre attire, that the monarch was wearing enough for both of us. Arguably, in his endeavour to emphasise the distinctive Indian personality, Gandhi took his anti-western stance too far, to the dismay of Tagore and Nehru. But, then, the Mahatma was not a man of compromises. It has to be remembered also that, to him, the fight with the British must have seemed an endless struggle. Gandhi, therefore, fought on two fronts against foreigners and the natives. And the latter had not only to be taught to be self-reliant and worthy of respect by weaving his own clothes but also by cleaning the latrines, a lesson which the country doesn't seem to have learnt even now.Gandhi may have also calculated that to make his non-traditional attitude towards untouchabi-lity acceptable, he would have to identify himself closely with eternal India through his dress, religiosity and austere lifestyle. An obviously anglicised person such as Nehru wouldn't have been able to do this. In the process, Gandhi had no alternative but to turn his face against western civilisation, a yet to be attained good idea. Had he praised industrialisation and preferred allopathic medicine, he would have been a charlatan to the masses. His was a canny strategy to topple an empire, leaving the future to take care of itself. The writer is a political commentator
Saturday, November 19, 2005
Religion is not talk, or doctrines or theories, nor is it sectarianism. Religion cannot live in sects and societies. It is the relation between the soul and God; how can it be made into a society? ... Further, all religions, with the sole exception of Hinduism, depended on the historical veracity of their founders or prophets. This invariably led to conflict. Tearing apart the prophetic tradition, he debunks the very motives of all prophets (with the exception of the Buddha). All prophets were moved by external motives to expect reward from the outside, meaning the material world. Their actions were not unselfish. Their language may have been highly evolved but their intentions were highly suspect...
Vivekananda derived the idea of a common universal faith from Sri Ramakrishna. In a speech delivered in New York, and subsequently published under the title, My Master, Vivekananda speaks of Sri Ramakrishna's attempt to know the truth of all other faiths ... ... Vivekananda did not experience this oneness of faiths like Sri Ramakrishna. His attempt remained confined to the intellectual plane and lacked the intensity of living another man's faith with one's `whole heart'. Between Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, the disparity in method to arrive at the same conclusion made all the difference. Like Jesus, Sri Ramakrishna was after all the pure sort, unencumbered by history or context, but immensely rich in experience. Vivekananda was like Paul, the thundering sort, who had to spread the light quickly and effectively. He understood well that religion was not an intellectual activity but an act of realisation. But he was often impatient. Hinduism as a tolerant and all-embracing faith remained for him an aspiration, never an experience. Excerpted from Hindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu Nationalism, Jyotirmaya Sharma, Penguin Books India, Viking, Rs. 350.