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The Burden of Past on our Backs
|by H.N. Bali|
The Languishing Republic – II
W H Auden made a sardonic observation in one of his essays in The Dyer’s Hand: “Man is a history-making creature who can neither repeat his past nor leave it behind”. The past continues to haunt until we come at least to some sort of terms with it. The scars of history never cease to stare at us. The collective memories of our past include deep remorse on account of our oft-bruised self-esteem. And that past has significantly influenced our perceptions of the present. We can neither wish it away nor live with it easily. “We do not live in the past, but the past is in us”, is another way to put this ever-continuing past-present interaction.
One After Another
As a matter of fact, it is a humiliating past − a past of conquests by those who were, militarily, stronger than we were. The Muslim invaders came in one wave after another over-running the land, leaving behind a trail of misery and terror. Hardly had one set of conquerors settled down and been assimilated, another arrived: the Slaves, the Khiljis, the Tughlaks, the Lodhis, and the Mughals. Each bequeathed a mixed legacy that invariably included an exploitative system of administration created primarily to prop up their tyrannical rule.
The English were no different. In fact, they were much worse. We were occasionally mesmerized by the laudatory utterances of stray Indophiles (like William Jones who founded the Asiatic Society and discovered the treasure troves of rich Indian heritage). Inwardly, they never thought much of us other than “dirt under their feet”. Their true feelings and impressions were not recorded; and if recorded, never assigned to the archives. The files containing the real perceptions of the British rulers of India will perhaps never see the light of the day. We, in our profound naiveté, are tickled by a few flattering statements issued for purposes of public record. Let’s not forget that the English language was introduced in India primarily to educate some Indians to help the British rule India and not to expose Indians to the intellectual influences of Renaissance Europe. While introducing the Indian Education Bill in the British Parliament, Lord Macaulay − its author − is on record to have said:
What a pity the great seers of this land who gave the world the most invaluable gems of insight into ultimate truth and reality through the legacy of the Upanishads, did not have the benefit of learning Queen’s English and writing therein. Of course, our rulers waited − and waited patiently for over a century − to find in Nehru (and some others like him) “persons, Indian in blood and color but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect” to hand back the reins of power.
Victims of Distortions
Wars of conquest − not only in the Indian subcontinent but everywhere else in the world too − distort the social mores, the moral ethos and the economic relationships of the conquered people. These distortions have to be seriously addressed to and rectified. That we miserably failed to deal with them, explains in large measure our dismal record in nation-building in the last half century.
Devayani and Kacha
The answer perhaps lies in the story of Devayani and Kacha in the Mahabharta. It goes something like this.
The long-ranging war between the forces of good and evil has been going on, and will continue − perhaps forever. The evil has the unique trait of surfacing and resurfacing. The good has the capacity to respond which is more reactive than swift and relentless.
What impressed me about the devas-asuras conflict was the profound insight of Rishi Vyas in the affairs of the world. The forces of evil in human history always seem to have an upper hand insofar as they have an almost inexhaustible potential for repeated wrong-doing and self-renewal. What we have seen in the last fifty years is a replay of Shukracharya’s miraculous power of revitalizing the forces of evil in one round after another. One wrong-doing unearthed, one corrupt politician exposed, one scam exposed, has not brought about the end of the conflict. The asuras of our polity possess the secret of Sanjivini. Ultimately, the devas will win but it is always a long-drawn battle, fought in almost ever-continuing rounds.
Our British Connection
Perhaps our most momentous − but certainly not the last or last but one − round was with the Western imperialism. In the introduction to his magnum opus, The British Conquest And Dominion Of India, Sir Penderel Moon raises the inconvenient question that we Indians should have done on our own − and repeatedly − asking of ourselves:
The conclusion is simple, but it hurts. The Mughal Empire had decayed and was ready to collapse in the first half of the eighteenth century. Militarily, we were no match to the Western hardware and organizational skills. Above all, it was the disunity among Indian rulers accompanied by a lack of the all-important nationalist feeling that facilitated the British take-over. As Moon puts it:
The British conquered the country with the assistance and connivance of Indians themselves and then ruled over it for a century with their collaboration and tacit consent. The empire was from start to finish far more of a joint Anglo-Indian enterprise and partnership than either party has been inclined to admit. (Italics added)
The question I wish to pose is: isn’t there now another joint enterprise at work: this time between the privileged top crust of our society and the customary brokerage collectors of India. (I’m using the term brokerage collectors for the self-serving middle class of India which has always been too ready to extend a helping hand for a suitable remuneration to any invader who chose to impose his rule on India. They helped the Mughals with the same self-serving diligence which they extended to the British Raj. The term brokerage was used by Gandhi in his historic statement before the judge who tried him in March 1922, to which I made a detailed reference last week in the first piece in the present series.) Meanwhile, the masses continue to sink to intolerable levels of deprivation. Simultaneously, our enemies are busily at work to bring about the disintegration of the Republic.
Belmont and Fishtown
Looking around Mr. Murray sees America as a country increasingly polarized into two culturally and geographically isolated demographics. In Belmont, the fictional name Mr. Murray gives to the part of America where the top 20 percent live, divorce is low, the work ethic is strong, religious observance is high, and out-of-wedlock births are all but unheard of. Meanwhile in Fishtown, where the bottom 30 percent live, what Mr. Murray calls America’s four “founding virtues” − marriage, industriousness, community and faith − have all but collapsed.
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09/10/2013 16:36 PM
Daniel Rey M.
09/10/2013 13:36 PM
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