The 'cradle of human civilization' that Mark Twain spoke of is no longer the India we know today. I am sure the reasons for this appear obvious. We are plagued with problems- be it in gender inequality, crushing poverty or inter-community tensions. 'Bah!', one might scoff. It's all about looking at the glass half full instead of half empty.
After all, it isn't everyday that The Economist declares the arrival of 'India's hour'. Glance through economic statistics, or walk across any shopping mall in a metropolis, and the resurgent India will vividly unveil herself. It is 189 years since James Mill wrote his degrading History of India, and it's time to finally bury its ghost. Like Mill, today's commentators who have never visited India are today in 'volte-face' mode. The 'Indian century' ' they say ' has begun.
I couldn't agree more. In Western terminology, we are indeed 'doing well'. We are firmly set on the linear socio-economic path that was firmly entrenched in the global discourse ever since that little island in North-Western Europe took the plunge (at our expense) into the Industrial Revolution. This, to our capitalist-oriented friends, is the path to unending prosperity. To our Marxist brethren, it is the road which will ultimately deliver socialism to us. But progress has started either way.
Call me a pessimist my friends, but to me India deserves better- far better. The India I want was once a civilization, not merely a Westphalian nation-state which is a bastion of a Western ideology- Marxist or Liberal. We have lost the battle of ideas- something which mentally binds us to the Empire, even if physically we may have thrown it off. Every single idea uttered in the public space today is borrowed. It is ironic that we need a Roberto Calasso to remind us of 'the need for Vedic words'. Even then, we shrug our shoulders, call it outdated, and move on.
Why is the Indian urban scene looking no different from downtown London or New York? Why do sexual issues among young people resemble those in the West? Why- oh why on earth- has English acquired a superior status in the minds of the young people who cannot speak a line of their native tongue without inserting English words? Why do protests against the United States and globalization look exactly like those that are carried out in the West? Why is it 'cool' (and not insane) to wear a tight leather jacket and not a payjama-kurta on a hot and sweaty summer day in Kolkata? Getting drunk and puking on the roads or starting a fight happens outside Indian nightclubs (with ingenious names emulating their Western brethren) just as much as it happens in Britain.
All our theories are dead. All our mentalities are dying. Already a foreigner can talk about India with equal competence than us, since we all use the same figures and ideologies anyway. Soon there will be nothing (read again- nothing) that is distinguishable about Indians. Thanks to fairness creams, even our skin color might not be too different to an Occidental (or that's what we're told in adverts anyway).
Revert to the great men and their visions, and we should see how far we've digressed. Here are two of my favorites. Rabindranath Tagore once said '
'We have'been dragged by the prosperous West behind its chariot, choked by the dust, deafened by the noise, humbled by our own helplessness and overwhelmed by the speed '
However much we unfurl the tricolor and beat our chest during Republic Day, and get drunk on bhang during holi, that mental helplessness remains. You will find them in the most unlikely of individuals- the Hindutva ideologues. To me, the entire militant wing of Hinduism represents an Abrahamic avatar of a religion that is essentially non-essentialising, a faith that has no 'other', and a way of life that is certainly not homogeneous.
Then there was a 'great man' (or I should say- the great man) who pointed out the 'depth of the ditches lying in the chariot's path'. Here is what a certain Mohandas Gandhi had to say '
'I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. I refuse to live in other people's houses as an interloper, a beggar or a slave.'
Someone might say to me- 'For heaven's sake, stop ranting about these long dead souls. What does it matter whose ideas we follow anyway? We want an iPod- the time to wheel the charka is long gone. We are patriotic. We loved Rang de Basanti, didn't we?'
Ok, but can you tell me the meaning of the lines of Vande Mataram or Jana Gana Mana?
Enough of soul searching (still haven't found it, by the way). What do I suggest we do about it? I don't know. All I know is what I am going to do about it.
I will dedicate my academic life to studying Indian political philosophy, espoused classically in texts such as the Arthashastra and the Manusamhita, but also studying more recent thinkers such as Aurobindo, Gandhi and Vivekananda. What I hope to gain from this extensive study is a model of society, political economy and governance that ought to be the blueprint for a contemporary Indian society.
Yes, we will have modernity- but a modernity that we will define. I hope to generate scholarly debate in not only my field, but in others such as ancient history, Indian science, arts and religions. I seek an answer to our problems- an Indian answer. And that answer will not remain confined to an academic journal or a book that no one reads.
With that answer in my heart and mind, I shall return to India to join politics. India the nation matters not, and India the civilization matters little more. What matters to me is India the idea- an idea that will encompass the world to rid it of all its strife and miseries.
Will I be successful? As the Rig Veda said, 'He who surveys'the highest heavens, he alone knows-or perhaps does not know'. (10.129)