One of my inspirations is a friend who keeps motivating me to write but when I do write a proper essay he is never impressed, except for some of my latest works such as this and this. He finds my essays ‘dense and academic’ and does not feel ‘any excitement upon reading it’. But he claims that the issues I sometimes write about in our email exchanges would ‘interest every thinking human being, every thinking Indian.’ He insists: ‘you need to bring the informal and powerful writing style of your e-mails to your formal essays. Not just the style but also the content.’
The following includes some passages that he has collated from the emails I have sent him as examples of the way in which he thinks I should write:
1) I don’t think anything will change in India unless our debates and discussions, the way we frame our problems, change. The main problem with the noisiness of our TV debates is that it causes us to focus our attention on it as if it was a problem. It is not – even if everyone argued like gentlemen – we would still not be getting anywhere because I think we keep missing the points that matter. Consider this Hindi-English debate for example. As you mentioned in a previous mail, the real issue is that we are articulating a Western discourse that we can barely cognise. So how does it matter if it is done in Hindi or English? Does manava-adhikara make any more sense to us than human rights? On the other hand, if samanya dharma does then we can start using that term in English. Or consider the Tamil opposition to Hindi. It is not going to go away unless the Western linguistic theory that classifies languages into Indo-Aryan and Dravidian is rejected – rejected not because it is wrong but because it is not a perspective that we have historically shared. Indian linguistic theory has always classified languages into Sanskrit and Prakrits of which Tamil is one. The crux of the issue as I see it is which linguistic theory are we going to go with – the Western or the Indian? Instead of arguing about national language or link language, we should be making effort to rejuvenate the Indian linguistic theories at an intellectual level and many of the political problems of language will be solved.
2) In the West, processes are more important than people. It is held that processes fashion people. People are not good and evil. Processes are good and evil. Good processes create good people and evil processes create evil people. In India, the converse is true. Processes are neutral. It is held that the same process will be deployed to a wicked end by a wicked person and to a good end by a good person. A Western teacher will ask what should I teach and what should I not teach – the good I will teach to all and the evil I will teach to none. The Indian guru will ask who should I teach and who should I not teach – the good pupil I will teach everything and the bad pupil I will teach nothing.
3) Traditional Indian culture does not see inequality as a problem to be solved. That does not mean it allows the oppression of the weak by the strong. But it tries to fix the problem by teaching dharma to the strong or niti to the weak and so on. It believes in change through negotiation rather than revolution. It makes no effort to weaken the strong or make the strong feel guilty about their strength or to strengthen the weak and teach them that they have the same rights as the strong. This, in the Western and modern Indian view, is the unforgivable crime of Indian tradition. This is morally unacceptable to them because they think that such a response actually reinforces inequality by naturalising it. Much of Western scholarship about Hindu Brahmanical culture, to this day, belabours on this issue. The problems of Hinduism are therefore depicted as lying at the very core of it and not a failure of implementation of noble ideals, as the faults of Western culture are usually explained away.
4) The Hindu response so far has been to either admit the inferiority of its thought or to reproduce the Western justification – that the problems of Hindu society too are the result of failure of implementation of noble ideals. Both are equally forms of self-deprecation and seek to imitate the West in different ways. But there is no easy way of getting out of this because we are no longer willing to swallow the bitter pills that Indian culture prescribes when the West has offered us candy. The only difference, if I may drag the metaphor further, is that the leftists are happy with the peppermint variety while the Hindutvavadis would like it paan-flavored. The only reason why I think we should care about this situation is not because we are Hindus and so it is our duty to uphold Hindu culture and so on but because, first of all, we have failed miserably in emulating the West, and secondly, we have been deceived in undertaking this pursuit. Neither has Western scholarship understood and explained the Indian standpoint correctly nor has it told us the complete truth about its own culture. Maybe it is wrong to call it deceit because I think it is more a case of ignorance on the part of the West than intentional fraud. But challenging the status quo means at its core questioning the fundamentals of political liberty, social equality and economic freedom – the three principles on which the world stands today. Indian culture is not against them but I think it is indifferent to them – it will say quite frankly that they do not lead to human happiness. Proving its truth will be a big ask in itself, but an even bigger one will be preparing the world for the mere possibility of its truth.