Random Thoughts

The Illusion of Freedom

Between early to mid-August every year, British television obliges the conscience of the ever so minimally apologetic and rampantly nostalgic generation of Brits who bother to remember who Jawaharlal Nehru was. Apart from the naked fakir whose name simply refuses to be rendered irrelevant to the dynamics of the post-modern Westernized urban lifestyle, gone are the motley crew of the gaffe-prone 60+ pub honchos who used to fascinatingly remember the names of the London-educated demagogues who dared to threaten the King Emperor to strip him of the most prized jewel in the largest empire ever known to man.

While Channel 4 in Britain dishes out generous doses of the ever so gentlemanly Sir Mark Tully, schoolchildren as usual sit bored to death listening to the sermons of our studious Prime Minister as he addresses the nation from the podium at the Red Fort. Personalities far more charismatic than Dr Singh have adorned that podium, yet where they have led the nation to and indeed where they are leading it to remains far from clear even though custodians of the new India believe- and have us believe- that we are en route to superpower status.

Belief-.It stems from rational deductions calculated by the human brain after juggling a number of factors and possibilities in a given situation. Or does it? Does the environment around us really allow free will to exist? Can there ever be such a thing as 'free will'? The language we speak in, the forms of popular culture we emulate, our family structure, attitudes towards norms, the social, political, economic and indeed moral situation we grow up in- all of these factors subconsciously automate our understanding of this world.

India thinks she is free. Is she? Our history is described and understood in definitions developed and used initially by brilliant Western historians. Our institutions have developed out of the minds of Western political theorists, down to the minute details of accounting practices all the way to the separation of powers. Our religion is increasingly driving a wedge between communities, as it has so often done in other parts of the world but played a more or less inclusive role in India.

This India may try to brush aside these observations by appealing to its youth to maintain its proud heritage. A certain Dr A P J Abdul Kalam personally told me so. But do we know what our heritage is? Remember that what we read in books about our past is written via Western ideological spectrums. Few notice the straitjacketing limitations imposed on vocabulary, intellectual expression and comprehension by the language that we choose to speak, think and write in. What are our values? What did our ancestors think our lifestyle ought to be? How should we see the world around us? No one knows the answers, because they are so deeply seeped in alien discourses that the original meaning may well have been fudged centuries ago- the lost knowledge of India , so to speak.

Can this India show the world what sets it apart from other emulators of Western lifestyle and culture? This is the India of drunken brawls outside city nightclubs, the India of sexual experimentation, the India of promiscuity, the India that ridicules the villager who can't manage English, the India that finds salsa cool and Bharatnatyam an oxymoron. This is the India of teenage pregnancies and abortions, the India of college going drug addicts, the India of faulty goods that continue to sell because of their foreign brands, the India of shopping malls being deemed superior to open air, the India of fair-skin products, the India of rip off television programmes, the India that does but does not think.

Oh India , what have you become? Have the warnings of Tagore fallen on deaf ears? What will you lead the world with if the clothes on your body, the tools in your hand and the brains in your skull are borrowed? The Victorian empire-mongers may be jumping in joy in their grave, for the nation they wished to forge out of the uncivilized barbarians has finally started to take shape.

What on earth are we celebrating? Our eagerness to get a better sovereign rating from international agencies has led us to sacrifice our intellectual ingenuity. In reality, we never really saw the light for much long after the 15th of August 1947, since we disposed off the light bearer the following January. Mohandas Gandhi taught us to keep our windows open but at the same time warned us not to be swept off our feet. Well, we aren't even in our own house now- so far we've been blown. There is nothing that sets an Indian apart from a Westerner, since everything stretching from our education to our language has converged.

This is the India whose mind is overthrown- in so far as it probably isn't even India anymore. What is India ? I don't know. A mere geographical location perhaps? What sets me apart as an Indian? I read the same book as my Welsh flat-mate did. Go figure.            

10-Feb-2008

More by :  Aruni Mukherjee

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