V Sundaram reviews Bharat Gupt’s new book “India: A Cultural Decline or Revival?”
By: V Sundaram, IAS, Retd.
I have just finished reading masterpiece of a book titled “INDIA: A Cultural Decline or Revival”? by Bharat Gupt. The so-called educated people in India-usually pseudo-secular Indians with Western Education-take it for granted that Independence from the British Rule also ushered an era of cultural and social freedom in India. Bharat Gupt in this beautifully conceived and written book has carefully examined as to whether this is true or whether a dark age of cultural decline and barbarism descended on India after Independence.
To quote the brilliant words of Bharat Gupt from his preface: “It is further imagined that in spite of its poverty, India is admired by the richer nations of the West as a culturally evolved nation. This self-congratulation, lingering from the euphoric days of our freedom struggle, sounds now like the thunder on distant mountains shedding not a glimmer of hope on our present lives. For most of us our memory is enough to be a lived-through account of the cultural decline that set in barely within a decade after freedom. Any analysis is sufficient to counter the smug belief, still fostered in schools and political speeches about the superiority of our culture, once voiced in Iqbal”s song, “Saare Jahaan se acchaa Hindustan hamaaraa”. Very insidiously this rhyme nurses a misplaced conviction that while many other ancient civilizations were wiped out in time, India alone is indestructible…. The song takes special pride in stating that while the Greek and Roman civilizations, the so-called predecessors of the West, lost to ravages of time, Indian civilization alone remains immortal”.
According to Bharat Gupt such headiness was excusable during the struggle for freedom but is hardly justified after half a century of self-misrule. Our name and significance (naam-o-nishaan) are now “under gradual but marked erosion, fading faster than anything witnessed in the last millennium”. The ravages of technology are greater than even those perpetrated by Islamic misrule for more than thousand years. Bharat Gupt argues and proves with force that in every sphere of life it is now obvious that India has not been able “to internalise European technology to march its own civilization concepts, the foreign techno-kaayaa into its traditional dharma-kaayaa”.
In a breezy manner, in his preface, Bharat Gupt has traced the process of cultural and spiritual decline of India after Independence from decade to decade. He argues that after Independence, each passing decade, excepting perhaps the first (1947-1957), ushered in an uncomfortable, dislocating and deranging change. Only the decade of the 1950s was characterised by hope and optimism, within India, and as well in the minds of her well wishers in India and abroad. She was expected to perform by leaps as a developing nation by the international community. The optimism of this decade was symbolised by our first Prime Minister, called “Chaachaa Nehru” by his sycophants who spent his every Birthday, November 14, with school children as a State ritual. He projected the expectation that the nation was going to grow big and strong like its children. To quote the caustic words of Bharat Gupt “Every year in the capital of the reborn nation, international exhibitions connected its people to the big and small nations of the world. Perhaps in the fifties only the country like its kids and their Chaachaa could smile hopefully”.
In the sixties, things continued to take some shape as schools and colleges expanded. “Temples of modern India” – a term coined by Nehru to describe the New Factories and Dams-gave employment to many. Yet the less lucky but more enterprising started moving away to far off lands in large numbers. The present prosperous lot of the Indian diaspora in North America and Europe left the country at this time. By now the stagnation in the economic growth of Socialist Order imposed upon the country in a dictatorial manner began to extract its price. Nevertheless, on account of strong nationalism, in spite of strong bullying by China in 1962 and a grievous injury by Pakistan in 1965, India was able to defend most of its territory and reaffirm its identity.
The seventies, in their first half, witnessed another triumph of nationalism when “Indira Gandhi played midwife to the birth of Bangladesh terminating a horrendous genocide of the Bangla Muslims and Hindus by the Punjabi Muslim army of West Pakistan. But giddy from her success, Indira Gandhi unheedingly consolidated the Socialist agenda to prune it of all liberal intellectual and democratic vitality that Nehru would not have liked to disappear”. By the mid seventies, darker days set in. Indira Gandhi introduced emergency. External support to terrorism and internal regional factionalism cast their net around the nation. As Bharat Gupt puts it, “Both were promoted under many garbs by a pernicious propaganda masterminded in the bastions of Western subversive agencies and academics as well. To contain the politically centrifugal forces, Indira Gandhi, flushed with her earlier success, made the pendulum of State governance swing from the dictatorial Socialism at the Centre to conspiratorial manipulations in the regions, thus seriously eroding democracy”.
The period from 1970 to 1980 was marked by a great illusion of all at the Left of Centre. They imagined that Socialism could be poured from the top like flowing river waters and that changes at the grassroots would automatically follow. This kind of make-believe Socialism created a class of corrupt and unscrupulous politicians who acquired total control over national wealth and perpetuated a licence-permit-control-quota Raj that killed personal enterprise and initiative, while very little from the State percolated to the poor.
Bharat Gupt rightly concludes that on the cultural front, in the name of Secularism, religious regression was promoted not only among minorities, but more so in the Hindu majority. Under the shadow of nurturing parochial minions for Centrist manipulations, regional outfits were promoted to such an extent that they went out of control. By the end of the decade in 1980, both the Socialist State and Nationalism came to be discredited.
The period from 1980 to 1990 was marked by the escalation of terrorist wars, caste polarisation and withering of Socialist State that revealed the himalayan corruption operating beneath. A proxy war against us was started by Pakistan in Punjab and Kashmir. A section of Indian policy-makers from Tamilnadu, started sympathising with the terrorist and separatist outfit of LTTE in Sri Lanka. But the final blunder of sending the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to eliminate LTTE was beyond belief and gave a severe blow to nationalism. The consolidation of the middle castes, which had acquired enough economic muscle to translate their cultural identity into a political clout, was subverted by cheap politicians like V P Singh, “under the impact of Western notions of ethnicity and compensatory discrimination under the garb of affirmative action for the so called OTHER BACKWARD CLASSES”. Thus V P Singh gave a deathblow to the process of integration of Hindu society. The slogan of “social justice” has become another name for Social stagnation riding rough on the backs of the lowest castes. Reiteration of the caste identities has subverted Indian Nationalism. Every political party, for a handful of votes or a momentary alliance, pampers the regional, religious, or caste identities.
Thus Bharat Gupt rightly concludes that the new millennium has opened with glaring entropy in the Indian political system and social institutions. The ruling elite of legislators and bureaucrats is unable to handle even every day governance let alone crisis situations that are routine as sunrise. National interest seems to have been totally sacrificed at the altar of power struggle and corruption. In such a scenario there is a temptation to throw cultural matters into the background and focus on enforcement of law and defence of national territory. As Bharat Gupt brilliantly puts it: “But this is not an age of territorial invasions. It is the age of cultural invasion and subversion. Political territories are altered after the cultural landscape has been reordered from within. There are three distinct forces that have at present laid a strong siege of India after the Cold War and the fall of her politically supportive though hardly economically beneficial ally, namely the Soviet Union. They are, COMMERCIAL GLOBALISM, JEHADI ISLAM AND EVANLEGICAL CHRISTIANITY. India needs a new leadership to counter these three. This requires strategies born of a cool and analytical mind and least of all an emotional retaliation of the momentary kind that seems to be the fashion of the day”.
Bharat Gupt is indeed a renaissance man in every sense of the word. He clearly brings out the fact that the levelling down of the first rate, the excellent, and the noble has been a very crucial part of the destruction of our national life after our Independence. Destruction of cultural history has proceeded, step by step, with the destruction of all the traditional, social, cultural and familial institutions in our ancient country. Bharat Gupt”s brilliant book brings to my mind the following words of Matthew Arnold (1822-1888): “Culture is nothing but sweetness and light. Culture, the acquainting ourselves with the best that as been known and said in the world, and thus with the history of the human sprit”.
In the Mahabharata there is a shloka, which was perhaps incorporated into later day classical texts. The meaning and message of the shloka can be summarised as follows: “Give up the individual for the family, the family for the habitat, the habitat for land. But for the Aatman, give up the whole earth”. According to Bharat Gupt this shloka offers a Neeti or practical ethics for organising a humane social order that provides as much for the single person as for its larger units. In the above shloka, Eka, Kula, Graama, Janapada, Prithvee and Aatman make up the mental and terrestrial shelves for the inner and outer being of an individual in the cultural context in Indian terms. Bharat Gupt brilliantly observes that the changes that have taken place in these areas can and do index the decline or revival in cultural life.
The same conceptual framework can also be seen in a verse in the Panchatantra. The Panchatantra, was originally a canonical collection of Sanskrit (Hindu) as well as Pali (Buddhist) animal fables in verse and prose. The original Sanskrit text, now long lost, and which some scholars believe was composed in the 3rd century BC, is attributed to Vishnu Sarma. However, based as it is on older oral traditions, it illustrates, for the benefit of princes who may succeed to a throne, the central Hindu principles of Raja niti (political science) through an inter-woven series of colorful animal tales.
Based on the framework of a verse in the Panchatantra, Bharat Gupt”s book has been divided into six parts: Eka (person), Kula (family), Graama (habitat), Janapada (land), Prithvee (earth), and Aatman (self). Eka is the individual, male or female that makes up the unit of cultural consciousness and the fulcrum of creative ability. Bharat Gupt says that if the Eka breaks either due to a hostile social environment or due to lack of inner ethical or moral strength, the social order that depends upon individuals will also collapse. The same disastrous result will follow if the individual is unable to give up one”s selfish interest for the larger unit of kula (family), the kula (family) for Graama (habitat), the Graama (habitat) for Janapaada (regional kingdom/political unit/nation) and the Janapaada (land) for Prithvee (earth) and all material interests of the earth for the Aatman (self). According to Bharat Gupt the mode of this non-selfish action varies with time and place but as a principle of action it is none other than what Socrates called the Supreme Good (ton agathon) and what the Indian philosophers have called DHARMA.
Bharat Gupt has divided his book into six sections based on the Panchatantra framework referred to above. He says that he has chosen the six terms in the Panchatantra as they “not only define the Indian cultural experience more accurately than the Western categories like the “individual”, “society”, “nation” and the “global order”. The ancient Janapaada was neither synonymous with the modern nation state or raashtra, nor with the present day provinces of a nation state. It was a local cultural space with community governance that enforced a moral and financial discipline that mattered much more for a person than the distant court of a de jure Emperor or the de facto Emperor. In the age of nationalism and globalisation in India, it has been virtually replaced for the time being by the nation state and will be further replaced by a newer entity”.
Bharat Gupt states with conviction that beneath the present “regional states” and the nation state of India, the Janapaada is still very much alive as a cultural force that has a pervasive influence on the behaviour of the rural India. With telling effect, Bharat Gupt observes that Janapaada as a cultural force offers eventoday the rural Indian a sustenance through festivals, dress and cuisine, colour and designs that are more rewarding than the “week-end” is to metro-Indian. The six categories – Eka, kula, Graama, Janapaada, Prithvee and Aatma-seem more natural not only to understand the Indian identity of the past, but also to develop a healthier framework for personal, social and cosmic organisation for the future. As Bharat Gupt puts it “More than anything else, as indicated in the verse from the Mahabharata, they provide a well tested way (marga/pantha) to progress from the PERSONAL TO THE UNIVERSAL”.
In Part I of his book Bharat Gupt deals with Eka: The Uprooted Individual in five chapters. After August 15, 1947, modernity came to be concretised in India as “print culture managed space in which the symbolic and imaginative were replaced by functional reality”. A great change of attitude towards the very value of ancient and sacred ritual set in after Independence. In the State manipulated intellectually enervating climate that prevailed during Nehru”s rule, reality and truth came to be defined in Newtonian terms of European Physical Sciences. Rationality was reduced to a sterile scientific positivism which in its turn was hyped as “scientific temperament”. Bharat Gupt declares that this state sponsored scientific temperament was privileged as a curative for the earlier “non scientific Hindu vision” of the Universe. Bharat Gupt laments the fact that this fascination for “scientific temperament” did not take into account the post-classical developments in Physics and their profound implications for philosophy and Hindu vedanta. Thus not only were some of the most rigorous and original Hindu traditions of native reasoning disregarded, even the latest views of modern science were blatantly ignored. Nehru was the leader of this anti-Hindu movement.
Thus Bharat Gupt gives a very just estimate of the petrified adolescence of Nehru in these words: “As a result, modernity in India, to this day remains a 19th century construct weighed down by notions that Nehru imbibed in his days in Eaton and Cambridge ossified in his adulthood into a Fabian atheism that he foisted upon the Indian educational system being the First Prime Minister”.
In the name of development of a “scientific temperament” and “scientific temper”, that the whole of India was de-Hinduised in a systematic manner by government after Independence. Bharat Gupt highlights the following facts to illustrate this point of view:
(a) Replacement of the Vedic Model of Purusha as Angin with Angas by the Guttenberg-Newtonian Model of objectivity. All Hindu ritual was conceived as a sacred way of asserting a complete unity of the individual with the Universe. There is a great difference between this age-old Vedic method of performing an act before the Universe which is witnessed by the community, the Gods and the demi-Gods alike and the modern method of doing an act as a private action not witnessed by anybody. The first is ritual (Savana/Anushtaaanalsatra) while the second is personal consumption or “eating” alone (bhukthi). The first was the prescribed (Vaidha)way of life in traditional India and the second a forbidden (Nishidda) way. With the rise of Western individualism, the second has become esteemed and normal while the first is viewed as backward, abnormal and even suspect.
(b) Replacement of Orality with Writing Philosophies and beliefs of a society depend on its educational system and the technology of their transmission and dissemination. Right from the dawn of history India used the aural as the main mode of knowledge preservation, although plastic, graphic and symbolic methods were not lacking. Right from the days of Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization, writing was kept subsidiary to oral composition. Now-a-days, there is an irrational and wrong presumption that Indian elevation of orality was caused by ignorance of writing.
As Bharat Gupt puts it “This is again based on the prejudice that graphicity once achieved can never allow orality to dominate. Hence the presumption that the Sarasvati-Sindhu script once lost, the very concept of a script was forgotten till reintroduced into India by the Greek and the Phoenician influences. The truth seems otherwise. ORALITY, which was comprehensive enough to be a combination of speech (vaacika), gesture (angika), mental concentration (saattvika) and symbolic dress (ahaarya) was preferred to other technologies of preservation as a cultural choice. This kind of orality keeps thought, speech and action in a unity for performance in education, arts, rituals and life in general. Whatever is to be done may thus be done by mind, speech and body (manasaa, vaacaa, karmanaa) together”.
This paradigm has operated on all aspects of Indian life. Hence the role of writing was made supportive not performative in our culture. This paradigm also patterned India”s educational systems. These systems have been destroyed in a systematic manner by Government and Nehru acting together in post-Independent India.
In my view, after Indian Independence, Jawaharlal Nehru promoted his concept of false nationhood under the label of “secularism”. According to this concept, all the people who happen to reside on the soil of India form a nation, whether he follows the culture of this country or not, whether he is loyal to this country or not. It does not matter if the state-aided minorities dismiss the time-honoured culture of this country “Sanatana Dharma” as abominable and as a path of the Devil. Thus in a mischievous way Nehru turned the concept of nationhood into a soulless geographic entity and bade good-bye to the established principles of nationhood founded on emotional unity and all that it implies. According to this Nehru”s notion (a dead substitute for a live Hindu nation), Hindus of India in absolute majority have to lose the inheritance of their traditional homeland. Nehru used his political might to propagate this soulless philosophy and this became the corner stone of all his policies that proved to be disastrous for the Hindus of India.
Bharat Gupt seems to tell us that the seat of knowledge is in the head; of wisdom, in the heart. We are sure to judge wrong if we do not feel right. Reading his highly sensitive and revealing book with never sagging zest and delight, I am reminded of what the great Greek Poet and Writer Aeschylus (524-454 BC) said in his Agamemnon in 458 BC: “Wisdom Comes alone through suffering.” Bharat Gupt vividly brings out the saga of suffering undergone by him in the context of cultural degradation that is taking place in a ruthless manner in the disgusting India of today.
With the advent of British Rule, they ushered in the new technology of print that played havoc with the systems of oral transmission, which was the basis of Indian (Hindu) culture. Two fundamental prejudices were established by the Europeans and the colonial State in British India while assessing the value of Indian cultural products. One was that as a technology of communication, orality was inferior, inaccurate and untruthful. The second was that the content of the Indian cultural messages of oral traditions was heathen and erroneous. Thus for the print oriented English vision of the Universe, orality was synonymous with pagan ritual. This wrong perception became more pronounced under the anti-Hindu and anti-national secular educational system established by Nehru and his Congress party in post-Independent India. As Bharat Gupt puts it, “…the best way to declare one”s Indian modernity is still to condemn ritual as deceit. This censure pervades not only the speeches of chest thumping social reformers, writers, poets, academics and journalists but just about anybody who is anxious to be called a citizen of his times. The habit stays strong”.
In this context he quotes the “adolescent” (my perception!) and “infantile” (my assessment!) observations of Khushwant Singh about Kumbha Mela of 2001 “I fear crowds…. I have met people who had been to such pilgrimages: they looked very pleased with themselves. But I did not notice any changes for the better in them. If they were prone to lying, cheating, back biting, scandal-mongering, using bad language before they left for their holy cities or reverse, they came back and resumed lying, cheating, back biting, scandal-mongering and using bad language”. Bharat Gupt dismisses this assessment of Khushwant Singh by saying that this is the stock response of the ENLIGHTENMENT FANATICS of the NEHRUVIAN GENERATION.
I cannot help quoting the rapier-like words of Bharat Gupt here: “They are out to denigrate ritual of any kind in the style of the British Utilitarians and Fabian Socialists. The malady is not restricted to the English medium expression but pervades a good deal of writing in Indian languages. Tomes can be found on elevating Kabir”s verses against Saguna upaasanaa and sundry cultural bureaucrats have lavishly rewarded musicians singing such showpiece bhajans (pseudo-secular songs-these words mine!) thronging to which is a hallmark of progressive spirituality”.
Then Bharat Gupt goes on to expose the layer upon layer fraud and hypocrisy of the so-called progressives. While they condemn the rituals of Hindu religion (though they choose to remain silent on the rituals of Islam and Christianity!), they celebrate the rituals of a secular State like Parades, Prizes, Ceremonies and Celebrity parties with untiring addiction. Nehru set the example for this “progressive hypocrisy” by willing in his Last Testament that his ashes be not consigned to the Ganges after a traditional Hindu cremation but to be taken in air and released all over India. Bharat Gupt concludes in the manner of a Bernard Shaw (1856-1950): “It is doubtful if what Nehru lost in the poetry of Mantras was gained by that grandiose ritual…. Nothing reveals the duplicity of “scientific temper” devotees shared and promoted by the government of India than the show of ritual obsequity at the “samaadhis” or memorial shrines for the Indian Prime Ministers that stand in a long line at the banks of Yamuna in Delhi. Samadhi burial sites have been made for Hindu saints or Muslim Sufis in India but never for KINGS…. The Indian ritual of cremation, unlike for other Indo-European ancients, contradicts the creation of a memorial building”.
Bharat Gupt scientifically argues and proves that ritual is transformation and not repetition. The rightly conducted traditional ritual brings about a change in the doer”s mental state, which is predictable, well tried, and permanent and not merely an autosuggestion or a hallucination. Right from Vedic times, controlling the mind in the entirety of its thoughts and feelings has been demonstrated and regularly applied in India in various fields like the Arts, Inter-personal Relationships, Social work and spiritual pursuits. Very unfortunately, modern consumerism infesting Capitalist Societies or Marxist States, use the same principles of mind control for serving the commercial interests of greedy business corporations or tyrannical bureaucracies. Bharat Gupt argues that under the cultural onslaught of Islam and Christianity, Hinduism has undergone a special phenomenon, which he calls as the “COMMANDMENT-ALISATION OF HINDUISM”. In India this trend continues even today because of the fact that the Anglophonic ruling class has stayed under the sway of Neo-colonialism. Most of the deep rooted prejudices against Hinduism that were in the fore-front among the Islamic and Christian peoples when they first came into contact with Hinduism centuries ago, continue to prevail to this day. Against this background Bharat Gupt states with clarity that: “Hinduism now needs to strongly resist this commandment-alisation of Hinduism in order to save its original genius. It also means restoration of the unity of thought, speech and action which was broken by the other-worldly religiosity (loka-paraangamukha Bhakti), Euro-modernity, Protestant, Catholic and Islamic iconoclasm, and Gandhian dryness/rasaheenataa, but is found as the ambrosiac kernel in the universe of pagan rituals”.
What needs to be done is to revive the activity of the informed and conscious rituals and karma yogas. The modern illiterate average urban Hindu is often heard saying, “I believe in God, but I don”t go to temples, I don”t believe in rituals”. He is also under the mistaken impression and even delusion that all that old stuff called Dhyaana, bhajan, daana, sevaa etc. is all part and parcel of ritual to be duly discarded! According to Bharat Gupt this is the illusion fostered by the print culture and the bookish education of the Macaulay-Nehru era!
In my view, the chapter on Education without Art must be prescribed as a compulsory text for the first year students in all our Teacher Training Colleges in India. Bharat Gupt makes a frontal attack on the Sahitya Academy, the Lalit Kala Academy and the Sangeet Natak Academy and their boorish, pusillanimous and niggardly approach towards the recognition and promotion of Literature, Art and Fine Arts. Our business corporations are no better as they have not woken up to the idea that the mercantile world has a duty towards arts. They are not even aware that the Vaishyas of yore were no less patrons of the arts than the Kings.
I fully endorse the view of Bharat Gupt: “The biggest prejudice against the arts in India has been generated by its modern educational system that inculcates a diametrically opposite attitude to their worth as posited in the traditional Indian psyche. So-called makers of modern India assiduously preserved the schooling system left by the British even after August 15, 1947 and only allowed the American educational jargon (propagated mostly by P L 480 money financed Professors!) to modify the shape and size of text books leaving the content untouched. They have also maintained the hegemony of the printed word, the paper exercise book and the written examination over all other means of instruction and evaluation. Reading print and reproducing it in examinations remains the hallmark of our educational methodology”.
Our modernists have been so enamoured of it that they are scared to consider another method, such as vocal expression, capacity to conduct reliable work projects, teaching of junior students by senior students and so forth. Consequently in our traditional educational system and great ancient culture where the spoken word, intonation and gesture, signs, symbols and rituals had been developed as superb media of communication for thousands of years, we now have mere reading, cramming and reproducing as the only method of passing routine examination from nursery classes to the IAS. Bharat Gupt gives this biting verdict: “If the arts, except for music that still rests upon traditional training and Hindu ethos, have not touched great heights in free India, the sin lies at the doors of our Education Ministers”.
The following are the important points made by Bharat Gupt on the decadent system of education we are having in India today:
1. Under the impact of Nehruvian scientific rationalism, the government agencies responsible for making policy, curriculum as well as textbooks, like the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) have been promoting a wooden version of science. There is an excessive emphasis on mugging “objective facts” about the physical world instead of imparting the skill of inductive logic. Consequently our allopathic Doctors have generally no dialogue with Ayurvedic or Unani Practioners, very few legal luminaries have any acquaintance with ancient codified or customary laws, and very few physicists have studied ancient astronomy or music. Thus the dichotomy between art and science, ancient and modern, is made complete.
2. The challenge before the Indian Policy Makers is how to create educational TV channels that provide attractive alternatives to crass commercialism. So far there is no thinking about it as the Indian political and intellectual elite is too colonised to depart from Western models of development.
3. A concerted effort needs to be made to re-instate the arts as a creative, therapeutic and moral force in our educational system, print and electronic media. In our schools, the arts should be among the main subjects of study and not mere extra-curricular activities.
I fully agree with the view of Bharat Gupt: “When will we stop thinking of art as a handmaid of business, diplomacy, or infotainment and recognise it as an elevating experience that distinguishes humans from animals?”
“Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it”, so wrote Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) in his famous novel “Siddhartha” in 1923. Bharat Gupt is endeavouring to show that wisdom can also be communicated with telling effect. “Wisdom is to the mind what health is to the body”. -Rochefoucauld (1613-1680).
Bharat Gupt in a Chapter titled “Shelving a Heritage, Sanskrit from Macaulay to M-TV” quotes the great Sanskrit poet Bhartrihari who nearly 2000 years ago commented on the Indian scene: “Intellectuals are engaged in envious quarrels, rulers are intoxicated by arrogance, the people are burdened with lack of education and so Good Speech is weak and emaciated” (boddhaaro matsaragrstaah prabhavah smayadooshitaal Abodhopahataashcanye jeernamange subhaashtitam ).Of course there have been repeated moments of darkness in our history. Vexatious mornings of needless and fruitless debates in the shameful Indian Parliament over the pseudo-secular riddle whether it is secular or communal to perform sarasvati vandana, are not the first such spells of darkness.
Bharat Gupt brilliantly sums up “Else the lines of Bhartrihari as given above would not seem to be so contemporary”. Bhartrihari could make do with the word subhaashtitam, which means “Good Speech”. Good Speech was accepted in his time as a synonym for “learning”, “knowledge”, “vani”, “vak”, or even “sarasvati”. In Bhartrihari”s India, there obtained enough poetic taste to personify or deify speech, music or wealth. Many centuries after Bhartrihari, Turkish, Mongol, Afghan and Mogul Rulers enthralled themselves by patronising court musicians singing Sanskrit and brijabhasha songs in praises of Sarsavati, Naad or Shabda. But all this was before the 19th century when “Enlightenment” came to us and we were bitten by the bug of secularist iconoclasm.
A great uproar was created a few years ago when in a conference of Education Ministers of the various provinces, an invocation song in praise of Sarasvati was sung. This was viewed as a preferential treatment to a Hindu Goddess. I agree with Bharat Gupt when he declares that Indian Secularism has taken the form of turning away from one”s own heritage and disregarding the spiritual and ethical commitments that ancient and medieval vehicles of all religions and cultures symbolize. Sanskrit is the biggest casualty under secularist milieu. In actual practice, secularism now means wallowing in easy consumerism of the day and neglecting religious and cultural values. That is why we have the disruptive and not additive protests by the secularists. Unfortunately, the anti-religious approach of the State Policy has resulted in hurting us deeper.
Saxon English or Norman English is not belittled in England. Ancient French is not belittled in France. Latin is not belittled in Italy. Hebrew is not belittled in Israel. India alone excels in belittling its classical heritage and classical Sanskrit language as both are codified as belonging to a dead “Hindu past”. This classification began during the British colonial period and very unfortunately this tradition was not only continued but also enriched by Jawaharlal Nehru and his Congress successors in Office for 60 years after Independence till today.
There is no doubt that a few English and European Orientalists of British India contributed to the discovery of the East by the West. At the same time Macaulay forged for India an education system which had little place, not only for Sanskrit literature, but for all the traditional arts and sciences like music, poetry, dance, theatre and painting, Ayurveda, Rasaayan, Jyothisha, Metrics etc. This dichotomy continues even today. On the one hand we have Indologists, South Asian Experts, Asian Anthropologists, (White, Brown, Black and Yellow, native and foreign) who would like a special treatment, almost protectionist, to be given to Indian native cultures; and on the other hand we have the socialists, rationalists, scientificists, pluralists and globalists assured of the auto-built resilience and auto-generative capacity of native Indian cultures. Bharat Gupt observes with sardonic wit and wisdom: “But neither side thinks that a formal educative system should have any role to play in the formation of culture. For them, as for Macaulay, culture can be extra-curricular. Indeed, it could be so for the English colonisers who did not require culture for clerical/babu-work”. Nehru and his anti-Hindu successors of Independent India also wanted only clerks and babus for their administration and governance in post Independent India.
We have to give Sanskrit its due place in Indian education. It is not just a matter of giving concession to a particular language. It is the task of using 5000 years of all the textual wealth produced in this sub-continent. I endorse the view of Bharat Gupt that all who believe that these texts, the bulk being in Sanskrit, are not required for maintenance of cultural identity have little knowledge of civilizational rise and decline in history. Is it not a matter of national disgrace that the fundamentally anti-Hindu Jawaharlal Nehru University did not have a Sanskrit Department till 2002 although it boasted of having known Marxists and Islamic Historians on its faculty?
Bharat Gupt says that Sanskrit can happily be revived by enhancing the present day utility of ancient and medieval texts. The aim should be of bringing them in original and translation into the curriculum at all levels from school to college. This means a revision of the present curriculum and expansion of resources for inter-disciplinary participation.
The Chapter titled “Conversion: Sin or Sincerity?” is a fascinating chapter which brings out the ground level truths rooted in reality about conversion and evangelical agenda. Many clichés about conversion are kept alive by vested interests that prevent a proper evaluation of the evangelical agenda. The foremost cliché being that conversion controversy is not a religious issue but a vote-catching device. It is projected as a Hindu Conservative Right versus Progressive Left confrontation. As Bharat Gupt puts it in a clinching manner: “But the whole of India today knows that proselytisation is not a battle for votes, but a battle for souls with a long history of cultural beliefs and behaviour patterns that goes far beyond the smaller fortunes of the Nehru or the Sangh Parivar”.
Bharat Gupt also demolishes the theory that conversion is the shortest, sweetest and surest way of achieving social equality. He makes it clear that caste has little to do with conversion. No Muslim or Christian convert of low caste forgoes his caste and gains a status of even workable equality with upper caste Christians or Muslims. If it were so, Churches of all denominations would not be demanding reservation for Christians on caste basis. The truth is that the motive to become Muslim or Christian was seldom freedom from caste hierarchy. For vast populations it is always either force or allurement of economic uplift. In a caustic manner, Bharat Gupt observes: “For stray individuals, it has been anything from philosophy to sex”.
The most important chapter is titled “Bring Back the Teacher”. Bharat Gupt rightly states that for almost a millennium, India maintained a system of higher education, which was availed of by many neighbouring civilizations, including China. This traditional system, of Guru and Gurukul,centered entirely on the teacher and his direct relationship with his disciples. It was rigourous and demanding and yet flexible. It used emotional ties to create long-term obligations and accountability. In spite of its hierarchy, it had an admiration for the individual excellence (pratibhaa) on the basis of which sometimes very young persons were elevated as Head-Teachers or Acharyas. Recognition of merit and talent is a phenomenon that seems to have disappeared in modern India. In the traditional system, the teacher was a free decision maker in his realm. He was trusted and left alone.
Western pedagogy brought in two major changes. It not only brought in print technology to replace the oral Indian tradition (method), it also removed the teacher from the centre and brought in the academic administrator. This colonial tradition has been institutionalized after our Independence. From appointments of Vice Chancellors and promotions of teachers, setting admission policies and student fees, the functioning of the Universities have fallen exclusively into the hands of political lobbies.
Against this dirty background, Bharat Gupt makes out a strong case for decontrolling education. To quote his beautiful words in this context: “The first step towards freeing higher education is to establish that the State is obliged to support but not to define education. Neither legislators nor administrators are trained to select and appoint educators or to prescribe the content of education. The powers of mass persuasion, once the domain of the intellectual class, are being used in the name of democracy by the legislature. The intellectual class must now free value and opinion making institutions from the clutches of legislators. The philosopher must check the King”.
The sensitiveness, the range, the acuity, the profundity of perception and intuition that we see in Bharat Gupt”s book puts him quite apart from, if not, above all the writers of today. The extraordinary gifts-large and varied-displayed by Bharat Gupt makes him a great literary artist. By “artist” I do not mean that he is a laborious planner and polisher. What I mean is that he is greatly gifted as an artist, that he possesses a most delicate and most passionate sensibility allied to a native power of written eloquence and living vivid language-a faculty that has become a rare phenomenon today. His is essentially an art of spontaneity, of fresh quick-flowing untiring creativeness. His most eloquent and faultless pages in this book seem to come as easily to him as those, which are most careless. The most precious thing about this book is that Bharat Gupt gives his unique vital experience.
India today presents a general picture of cultural, ethical and spiritual malnutrition if not starvation. Vast sections of our population have lost all touch with the strengthening, invigorating and purifying spiritual traditions of our timeless culture. This is bad enough. This is sad enough. But what is worse and sadder still is that we have also failed to get ourselves ethically and spiritually re-nourished and re-strengthened by our own consciously chosen socio-political actions, consequent upon the attainment of our Independence as a free nation during the last five decades. The current malady in our society, if allowed to grow unchecked and uncontrolled, will only lead this country to an irretrievable chaos, turmoil and confusion.