Thought book: contradictions are part of life in India


Contradictions shape life in India. Opposites tarnish any satisfaction that we derive from our achievements, our strengths and things we can be proud of.

This is a sad truth. It’s an old truth too. Can that – the old age of our contradictions – ease our sadness about them? Does the fact that the ironic imbalances in our ancient culture make it less of a moral dilemma?

No, on the contrary, they are becoming all the more blatant, all the more atoning, and in need of reform.

Mahavira and the Buddha, who knew from their inner light the ugliness of violence, the wickedness of selfish life, taught us new ways to live a more balanced life. Just before our time, Gandhi tried to do the same. None of them had it easy. Gandhi, who showed us the way of ahimsa or non-violence, took the blow of violence on his chest.

“In the midst of violence, non-violence takes on its deepest meaning.”

This quietly moving sentence comes from the eminent historian of ancient India, Upinder Singh, in her fascinatingly written new book Ancient India: Culture of Contradictions.

The work shows how the contradictions India lives with have always been there, right there, right among us, to use that old cliché. And have been a problem for the sensitive among us, those who have an active conscience, from the same “unthinkable time”. But not for everyone. Many others were not alarmed by them. You remain unaffected by this – another contradiction.

This is a historical truth.

She lists the following among the contradictions between:

I. The age-old celebration of sensual love or “desire” in art and literature and the equally old idealization of detachment. What to look for – Maithuna (intercourse) and Kamasutra, Khajuraho and Konarak or Brahmacharya (celibacy)?

ii. The glorification of goddesses and women who have exercised political influence or power in writings, epic treatises and art on the one hand and the systematic impoverishment of women by the male population of India on the other. Who is “real” – Kali, UgraTara, the angry Kaikeyi, the angry Draupadi or the Sita-like daughter, wife and daughter-in-law?

iii. The upholding of non-violence or ahimsa as a virtue and ideal and the incessant presence of appalling violence in our society, accompanied by the appreciation of war. Are the battles of Rama and Arjuna, the latter overcoming his doubts about futility, the real guides for us, or is it in the way of battles and slaughter and a balanced life as taught by Asoka? Are these brave patriots who hurled bombs or bullets at British officials and hanged for their deeds our real role models or the nonviolent, heroic satyagrahis who followed Gandhi by the thousands to prison and suffering?

NS. The persistent presence of inequality in our society from times as old as the cities of Indus Valley civilization, “sustained”, as Upinder Singh says, “by countless workers who built the structures, cleaned the drains and sewers, and manpower Providing services to keep cities running ”. What is the reality about us – the tacit and complicit acceptance of inequality by perpetrators and victims or the refusal to accept this inequality, which is most impressive in our time through the vision of Sree Narayana Guru, the “Harijan work” of Gandhi, illustrated, Babasaheb Ambedkar’s defiant role challenging Varna, Caste and Untouchability, and from the Dravidian Movement under the leadership of Periyar EV Ramasamy?

v. The simultaneous presence of orthodoxy and adjustments to the faith traditions of India, with intolerance and tolerance, illiberal and liberal feelings, with simultaneous, if not the same game. Who is the true Hindu – the caste-affirming Sanatani or the caste-damaging Vivekananda? Who is the true Hindu – the Muslim-hating and Christian inflammatory fundamentalist or the believer in the same goal of all religions?

This book is about ancient and contemporary contradictions in India, past and present, the shadows of which stretch into the future, and so I couldn’t help thinking as I turned the pages and saw his stunning illustrations from museum collections and kitsch art about others Contradictions that make life in India so incredibly complicated, frustrating and agonizing for those affected.

I immediately think of five.

I. Our national motto “Satyameva Jayate”, which comes from the Mundaka Upanishad, tells us clearly and categorically: “Truth alone triumphs”. This is both confirmation and insurance. But ask any investigation into India’s prisons whether he or she finds this convincing and whether he or she believes the truth will triumph. In one of our elections, ask any honest candidate who has been defeated by white lies, black money, and vote bank politics, especially the religious vote bank, whether truth alone will triumph. Your wordless expression will give you the answer.

ii. Article 25 of our constitution states: “All people have the same right to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and disseminate a religion that is governed by public order, morals and health.” But ask any Kashmiri pundit, who is obliged to leave the valley in which his home is and start somewhere else from a painful scratch, ask the relatives of the honest and trusting teacher and director of a school in Srinagar that was shot by terrorists in Srinagar called Islam , the grieving relatives of the Sikh driver who was charred in his vehicle in Delhi in 1984, ask the widow of the Australian missionary and mother of her children, who were burned alive in Orissa in 1999, whether she thinks India treats all religions equally. Ask the Muslim who was lynched because he was found herding cattle while his fellow believer was beaten black and blue for saying “Jai Shri Ram”. Your answer could be “He Ram”.

iii. Our great national song – “Vande Mataram” – sings uplifting of su-jalaam, su-phalaam, malayaja-sheetalaam … But are purity, juiciness, safety of water, air and the environment the reality of life in our cities and communities? Who pollutes the rivers of India, who lets in pollutants, who buries toxins in the soil of India? Who clears forests, even centenarian trees on the side of the road, to widen or grease roads? In whose name and for what reason? If the answer is development, what is being developed, who is growing?

NS. Atithi Devo Bhava – The visitor is God – is not an official proclamation, but has been adopted by our tourism department as an unofficial motto. When it comes to five-star hotels that greet paying customers in the foyer with a tilak, then we are loyal to them. But who or when or why is a distinction made between a visitor and a refugee and within the refugee category between a refugee of one ethnic group and another of another kind?

v. Swachh Bharat is a program that I have welcomed and responded to with gratitude, for the kindness and hygiene know that God and cleanliness, who are considered close allies, require such a program in our country. But how does the country react – how do we react? By paying a fee, yes. But what about the thingness about it? Is the manual tidying up really over? Is open stool really a thing of the past? You are not. Especially because the caste is not about the past. We throw, we throw like we always have. We spit and do worse things on what we say is sacred ground.

Writing to expose or boast, destroy or justify is common. It is common to write to criticize a section of society or to “accept” the state. Asking society to introspect is not common. And to do so with history as a witness is utterly unusual.

Upinder Singh’s new book is about history. But it’s also about sociology, politics and above all about civilization. Our civilization. It’s about us. It is us.

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