Saturday, November 30, 2013

Macaulays Children

A month or so, I bumped into an old gentleman, who has now taken to appreciating Hinduism. His story is the common story of many of us.

He was speaking about some aspects of Hindu culture and I ended up sharing a few things I knew. He admitted that he did not know that much. Considering how little I know, that was a bit of a surprise and I expressed it.

 “I was a rebel” he said. “I disliked every practice of ours that my parents followed at home and rebelled against them. It is only now that I realized that there is much good to be had there.”

When I grew up, everybody around me was a ‘rebel’ in this sense. We did not like anything traditional. Traditional clothes, traditional food, traditional learning, traditional practices. It was cool to be a rebel, while it was uncool to be traditional.

It was uncool to attend Bhajans, but cool to sit and watch movies. It was uncool to stay up all night for Shivaratri, but very cool to stay up all night to watch a cricket match.

Think and think again why that is so. It is your own indoctrination. Think why both cannot be equally cool.
So, what gives?

This is what Arun Shourie takes us through in the next few chapters of his book “A Secular Agenda”. We all are, what he calls, Macaulays children. Educated as per Macaulays hand me down dictums, we know very little about anything about our tradition.

He talks about how the Islamic rule followed by the British rule has led to what he calls ‘political tutelage bred inferiority among us, a feeling that our culture was inferior as it had led us to enslavement. Such acquaintance that educated Indians came to have with our tradition was what they learnt from western books and missionaries. How pervasive the effects of this system were and how they have endured to our very day will be evident from a single consideration: although each is among the simplest of the hundreds upon hundreds that can be set out, eery single example cited above, descriptions of our land in the Vedas, Puranas and epics, Shankara’s epic journeys, the Granth Sahib, the linkages between tempes and pilgrimages – will be a surprise to most of us, educated Indians today.”

When I went to the Kumbh Mela earlier this year, most people around me, the so called advanced educated types, actually looked at me in disdain as to why would I want to go to Kumbh Mela – which is essentially a ‘crowded, dirty place’.

So, on the one hand, our schools, inspired by Macaulay spread scientific temper and the like – which includes a complete ignorance of our epics and our practices – leave alone learning about Chanakya and Shankaracharya or the Bhakti movement – tell us nothing good about our practices. And whatever cultural aspect we are taught at home seems so remote from all the ‘education’ that we receive. We course, learn in history about Shivaji, but in a completely antiseptic way and we learn about the reformers of Hindu religion who worked hard to reduce casteism, superstition etc, but almost nothing is called out as good – with the result, that we think that there is little, if any good, in the Hindu way of life.

This results in what I call that the equivalent of the Maslowes Hierarchy – the Macaulay Hierarchy (note to myself, please write about this) if you will – with the highest level being self-loathing. Look around you and you will see many proponents of this – they place themselves above all Hindu belief systems (pilgrimages, festivals, temples, practices) and loathe that they were born a Hindu.

There are many variants of this and I heard this last from a gentleman who told me that corruption is way of life in India because over centuries this has existed and the only way for Indians to be ethically and morally upright is if they break off their traditional practices – that of course, means converting to a western system (hint). Forgetting that this same dharmic system gave us people like Rama and Krishna and many many saints who inspired us.

We as Hindus, educated Hindus, lack pride in our practices, partly because we don’t know enough to be proud. And that pride does not mean chest thumping, jingoistic pride that excludes everything else – but a simple acceptance of what we are.

All it means is a simple thought – expressed as  “I am ok, You are ok.” And that in our way of life, there are good aspects to live by and paths by great mean to be followed.

Because around you, everyone is instilling pride in what they are – and if you don’t feel proud of yourself and confident and comfortable with yourself – someone is bound to make you feel small – sooner and later.

And that is when I realized how the VHP slogan of yesteryears Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain, was so right about building pride in our psyche.

But coming back to the book chapters 3, 4 and 5 are all about this and it really made me sit up and think…and I am still thinking…I cannot read or write my mother tongue. Cannot read any Indian classic in the original language – not the Thirukural, not any works of the saints – unless translated in English.

Perhaps I should thank Amar Chitra Katha or the internet.

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