Friday, April 09, 2010

The Dimensions of India Experience: Duality

Duality, as in Dualism, is an essential part of the India experience. I said before, whatever you find in India, you will also find the opposite. It is the coexistence that both of opposing, chaotic and diverse world views is the only thing that is truly Indian. India is not an EITHER-OR country, it is mostly an AND country.

This is not to say there are no conflicts in India; those tales are just too well known. But the idea that opposites can coexist, non-violently, is an important idea which remained at the core of the idea of India. I have talked about this again and again while talking about democracy and diversity, but the dualism, coexistence, is quite central to Indian cultural ideas as well.

But duality is different from diversity, which we already discussed. India's huge diversity brings the idea of reconciliation to the fore all the time, but it is still not the variations of caste, class, religion and language which makes you see two Indias at the same time. Rather, it is the tension of the modern versus ancient, an ideological divide at the heart of modern India, which represents the two parallel visions of India, both equally true and none complete by itself, that brings out the duality in the Indian experience.

India had seen many invasion, but all invaders, as an observer mentioned, got enveloped by India. Aryans came from the West (possibly) with their ideas of a single God and finally accepted the animic belief of the native Indians, and ascribed godliness to many elements of nature; the combined religion became the institutional Hinduism as we know it now. The Pathans came in the Middle years and settled in India, gifting it a new variation in its culture, architecture, philosophy and science. Then, it was the turn of the Mongols, who, with the name Mughal, ruled India for three centuries, and brought a political identity of the land; they never left too and became as Indian as anyone else. In history's latest episode, it was the turn of the British, to dominate and colonize India, and to create an unifying economic entity. The British, uniquely, left India about 60 years back, and left their ideas behind too. India, as of this moment, displays this duality, therefore, where certain parts of India have absorbed the English language and are open to the Western ideas, whereas the other parts are much untouched and still unchanged.

The modern Indian history can be seen as the dialectical encounter of these two. A number of observers moaned this divide: Arundhati Roy saw one India leaving in a bus leaving the other India behind. That is a common post-colonial experience in many countries, and Latin America, in its maturity, displays many fissures such a divide create in the society, ultimately undermining the democratic rule and economic stability. However, one can argue that India may be able to take a different route, and is possibly on the road already, because of its usual success with duality. Besides, one can also argue this duality is a transitory phase, and as it happened before, India will be able to absorb and shape modernity in its own image in the decades to come.

It is on this last idea I would wish to spend time on. One can argue that even the Muslim interregnum in India did not end well, and ended up creating a separate nation of Pakistan. So, the story of integration is a myth. This is a valid argument, considering that the proponents of Pakistan have argued on the basis of a 'two nation' theory, and our own believers of hinduvta have accepted such a theory by reflex, arguing Hindus were the original residents of India. Hence, it is worthwhile to stop a moment to discuss the creation of Pakistan in the context of the duality that we see in India today.

Pakistan was a political creation. It is a thoroughly colonial construct, no less than Israel. Its roots are less in the irreconcilable conflicts in India, than within an obsolete sphere-of-influence world view which the late colonial British administrators bestowed on the world. Once they reconciled to the fact that it will be impossible for Britain to hold on to its colonial assets in India in the aftermath of the war, not least because the sublime Anglo-American competition for world influence and access to markets, the British administrators were desperate to cling on to Indian north-west, uniquely strategic whose importance is being felt today. That point of time, though, the considerations were not Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia or Middle East; the main considerations were to contain the Communist Russia, and keep strategic bases near the Persian Oil reserves [Persia, Iran, was world's largest oil producing country then]. The idea of Pakistan came out of an obscure Cambridge student, therefore, and only during Lord Linlithgow's regime, the Muslim League under Jinnah were encouraged to push forward with the demand[and all other League leaders who sounded slightly divergent from Pakistan demand, like Sikander Hyat Khan or Fazlul Haq, were ignored]. Thus, it was colonial policy creating a political divide, and pushing it forward, rather than the other way round, as it was made to look like. That way, Jinnah was History's greatest poodle, a man consumed in his own ambitions and insecurities, someone, despite his sharp mind and intellect, lost a personal battle to a man much less charismatic, and to extract his revenge and to quell his ego, caused untold miseries and death for millions of people.

This is an instructive story for India. Of course, Jinnah was not alone in this. Congress leaders, with the exception of Gandhi, failed to see the design and accepted quick handover of a partitioned country. They facilitated Lord Mountbatten, who was anyway eager to complete the job and return to London as soon as he can to facilitate the marriage between his nephew, Prince Phillip, and the future queen of England, Elizabeth Windsor. In their eagerness, they overlooked the disconnect that the scheme of partition, a dinner table plan made by the political class, had from the thoughts and ideas of the people of India. In the end, the partition created an artificial country, and expectedly, the political class of Pakistan were never in control over the country they created.

On the other hand, India changed little. Most muslims in India continued to live as they were, oblivious of the two nation theory. If the two nation theory is even remembered today, it lives on in the minds of neo-Nazi Hindus like Narendra Modi. Though he is sure to be ready to destroy the concept of India and ascend into Jinnah's throne for being the second greatest poodle of colonialism in history, unfortunately, the old colonial thinking is in full retreat at this time. What to do with Pakistan is the biggest question that haunts Western capitals today; it is their own Frankenstein and something that is set to consume its own masters at the time of writing.

So, in essence, the creation of Pakistan is not a negation of Indian idea of duality, it actually is an artificial policy proved unsustainable over time. And, so are all the political reflexes in India on Hinduvta lines, which propound the theory of one India. It is against the grain of Indian personality; it will never succeed.

Coming back to the question of Modern versus Ancient contest in India, it feels much like two nations. The ideological divide between the two sides is no less severe, and the possibility of this dividing the country no less remote than the events leading to the creation of Pakistan. But, if recent experiences are any guide, this divide is in retreat and India is winning. India, not its modern or ancient self, but the whole India, which absorbs everything and leave nothing. The key to this duality was in English language, but it seems India is absorbing that: Not just English language is being absorbed in Indian languages, Indian cultural strands are emerging based on English subculture. It takes time, but modernity and Indianness is on a reconciliation path.

So, I shall be an optimist and wait for the emergence of the modern India. It will not be modern as we know it; all English, all urban, all sleek and glory. It will be Indian, Hinglish, Benglish, Teglish; it will be more communitarian than individualistic, more Asian than anything we imagine, more chaotic than we dream of. But, it will still be that unique progressive civilization, based on the idea of tolerance and coexistence, of human dignity regardless of achievement or wealth, of dedication of knowledge and ideas rather than to luxury and consumption. This may sound Utopian and out of place in today's world, but as we move forward and enter into a world where our intellects will be our greatest asset and the scarcity of natural resources will force us to stop our wastefulness, India may be able to offer an alternative civilization model.

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