Is Indian Culture Obsolete? – Part 4
Fourth and Last Part of Keynote address presented at the Vivekananda Jayanthi Lecture for Youth organized by the Bharateeya Vichara Kendram at Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) on 12 January 2000
That, in summary, was India’s condition at Independence. But there is no point blaming Muslim or British invaders when the country has had a full fifty years to rebuild and revitalize itself. India’s tragedy was the direction imposed upon it after Independence with a blind faith in a Soviet-type socialistic system, a corresponding monstrous bureaucracy grafted over an already mammoth colonial administration, a rigid five-year planning with a huge and ruinous public sector, an absurd degree of centralization and nationalization, and a constant interference in every field of life which gave people the impression that the government would do everything for them—which, of course, meant in practice that it did nothing except grow ever more unwieldy, inefficient, self-contained, arrogant, corrupt, unaccountable, oblivious and contemptuous of the man-in-the-street or the man-in-the-village. Thus have Indians come to surrender to this new and worse monster all sense of initiative, all courage to protest, their proverbial tolerance stretched to the extreme, their no less proverbial lethargy remaining their sole refuge. Thus have the many “good, honest, capable, cultured people” whom I mentioned at the beginning come to shun Indian politics as the dirty field it has indeed become, a “goonda-raj”.
Blaming India’s present degradation on her ancient culture or civilization is not merely ignorant, it is dishonest. And it is plain to see that those who are fond of such self-deprecation are usually the very ones who profit from the present system. They will criticize village superstitions but will overlook the far worse superstitions of our perverted “socialism,” “secularism,” and other high-sounding isms. They will throw a fit at the least mention of sati but will not mind if thousands of young Indians commit suicide every year out of desperation. They will deplore the bane of poverty but will suggest no concrete action to stop the looting of the country at the hands of the ruling elite.
What has all this degeneration to do with Indian culture or tradition ? Indian culture is largely about dharma, which is doing one’s duty sincerely and with all one’s strength. Is that a crime ? Ancient scriptures have thousands of pages on a ruler’s duties towards his subjects—and what do our modern rulers do ?
Step 1 : perversely equate dharma and religion ;
Step 2 : declare that secularism demands that religion must be kept separate from politics ;
Step 3 : therefore, dharma must be carefully kept out of politics !
And not only out of politics, but out of education and public life as well—out of our brains, out of our lives. And indeed, that is exactly what has happened over the years : dharma has been uprooted. So it is no surprise if countless Indians have developed a mixture of disgust and hatred for all symbols of authority.
The only way to rebuild India is to reverse the tide and get men and women of quality to reconquer the battlefield instead of running away from it. Quality means substance, it means “culture” in the true sense of the term. Indian culture has always been concerned with the quality of the human being, because it has always taught that life is not as it appears, that we have a divine something within us, that we essentially are that divine something. That is why, with all its faults, the Indian substance remains among the best in the world—early European travellers to India said it, and the slightest opportunity can still show it to the eye that looks deeper than the surface. This was Rabindranath Tagore’s advice to his fellow Indians :
Let me state clearly that I have no distrust of any culture because of its foreign character. On the contrary, I believe that the shock of such forces is necessary for the vitality of our intellectual nature. . . . What I object to is the artificial arrangement by which this foreign education tends to occupy all the space of our national mind and thus kills, or hampers, the great opportunity for the creation of a new thought power by a new combination of truths. It is this which makes me urge that all the elements in our own culture have to be strengthened, not to resist the Western culture, but truly to accept and assimilate it, and use it for our food and not as our burden. . . .
But before we are in a position to stand a comparison with the other cultures of the world, or truly to co-operate with them, we must base our own structure on a synthesis of all the different cultures we have. When, taking our stand at such a centre, we turn towards the West, our gaze shall no longer be timid and dazed ; our heads shall remain erect, safe from insult. For then we shall be able to take our own views of Truth, from the standpoint of our own vantage ground, thus opening out a new vista of thought before the grateful world.
So if you want to revitalize the country, tap the real source of life and strength in yourself to start with. Keep the essence of this country’s long journey through time, keep the core of its experience ; give it as many new forms, as many new expressions as you wish. No one says we should bring back the bygone past ; that would be a foolish and fruitless attempt. Then, if you find some aspects of Indian culture outdated, first understand them, then get rid of them—chop off the deadwood. If you want a prosperous country, tackle the root causes instead of being brainwashed by the slogans of the moment —remove the weeds and creepers. If you want to imitate the West, imitate its hard work, its energy and self-discipline, not its crude greed and tragic lack of direction—don’t fell the tree. Preserve it, water it, nourish it, care for it—it is a magic tree, a life-giving tree, and its most important fruit is yet to come.
“Out of this decay is coming the India of the future,” said Vivekananda, “it is sprouting, its first leaves are already out ; and a mighty, gigantic tree is here, already beginning to appear.”
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