The United Colors of India

…..I am a Hindu, but that is an absurd thing to say….there is
nothing like a Hindu…..I am a Brahmin….that doesn’t describe me either…..I am a Hindu in a broad way….Ganga is sacred, Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Upanishads
have deep spiritual insights….All this I believe…..I believe what my
ancestors believed, that is, there is not one God…. Hinduism is also
difficult because it is based on hierarchies…..

We are largely in agreement with UR Ananthamurthy – hero of the left-liberals and a (Brahmin) disciple of (Shudra Socialist) Ram Manohar Lohia – that India should find a common path forward based on harmonizing Gandhian and Ambedkarite principles. Except that the true devil is in the details…Gandhi disliked Western societal mores…Ambedkar was passionate about the American way.

We would like to expand the pantheon by borrowing a liberal lion from the West, such as John Stuart Mill or Thomas Paine. If there is a demand for a C20 inspirational figure then we propose Vaclav Havel…because of his life experiences under a non-liberal regime. Next, a humanist/atheist like Richard Dawkins (or Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens,…) because we would like India (and Indians) to move away from religion and towards humanism.  

Finally as one of the great Indians (re: Ramchandra Guha, see details below) and as a woman, we would recommend Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay (or Sarojini Naidu), the freedom fighter and social reformer.
Earlier this year, Udipi Rajago­pa­la­charya Ananthamurthy
(URA), the Jnanpith award-winning Kannada novelist, educationist and
public intellectual, had declared that he would not live in an India run
by Narendra Modi. This had provoked lacerating responses from
right-wing Hindutva supporters. URA breathed his last on August 22,
2014, before the Modi government completed 100 days in office. ….

Chandan Gowda
of the Azim Premji University had interviewed the litterateur for an
eight-part Doordarshan series, telecast in June and July. It is possibly
URA’s last major interview. Excerpts:

What parts of the Gandhian legacy are important for you?

His suspicion of the modern world system is one. The modern world
system will destroy the earth, will destroy the sky, will destroy the
balance bet­ween nature and man because it is very greedy. Gandhi’s
rejection was sometimes extreme. But extremes can open the gate of
heaven, that’s what they have said. 

So Gandhi exaggerated at times, but
in the main you know that. He used trains all the time. But he said we
could live without trains. He rightly feared centralisation. Gandhi was
also friendly towards nature. There are many valuable Gandhian ideas.
The whole idea that small is beautiful comes from Gandhi. So he wanted
such ideas to govern the whole country. He didn’t like big buildings.

How do you view Nehru’s legacy?

I can still say primary education should  be nationalised and that
the healthcare system should also be nationalised. Where do I get these
ideas from? I get them from Nehru and, later, Indira Gandhi. We get
something very wholesome from the Nehruvian tradition.

What has Ambedkar meant for India’s politics in the 20th century?

I think nobody can help the Dalits reg­ain their self-respect as much
as Ambedkar can. Gandhi makes them regain their self-respect, but when
they regain it, you know, they will be softer than what they are. But
with Ambedkar, they can be themselves and still get self-respect. 

Ambedkar was a socialist and had a legal mind. His becoming a Buddhist
is very important for me. It’s not merely a political act. It’s a deep
act of self-purification. So Gandhi and Ambedkar began with two
different directions but they meet at one point, wanting spiritually
enhanced visions.

Lohia has meant a lot for you as a writer and thinker. How do you evaluate Lohia’s criticism of tradition?
I learnt a great deal from Lohia—to become what I have always called a
critical insider. Lohia was a very great critical insider. He absorbed a
lot from India’s spiritual traditions. He has written a great book, Interval During Politics, which has essays on Valmiki, on Vyasa, on Rama, Krishna, Shiva. They are great. 

Another great essay called Lessons in Yoga
shows he was deeply rooted in tradition. He knew his Shankaracharya
too. But he was very critical of the Brahminical element, which becomes
more and more important as Indian civilisation evolves. He was also
critical of the Shudras behaving in Brahmin ways. His opposition to
English as a language of knowledge was important to me.

Lohia was able to produce more pol­itical leaders than Nehru did.
Nehru inherited his friends from his party, but Lohia created a new
leadership. You find it in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Mulayam Singh Yadav
and Laloo Prasad Yadav, for example, are products of Lohia’s movement.
And Karnataka too has seen many fine socialist leaders. Unfortunately,
the socialist leadership became populist in some places. Lohia himself
was critical of these trends. He wanted some anarchy so that India kept
thinking of alternatives.

How have you understood your relation with the Hindu dharma?

I am a Hindu, but that is an absurd thing to say. I mean, there is
nothing like a Hindu. I should say I am a Brahmin, to be very exact. But
that doesn’t describe me either, because I have given up the
ritualistic part of the Brahmin religion. 

I am a Hindu in a broad way,
in the sense that all of us believe that the Ganga is sacred, that the
Ramayana and the Mahabharata, our two great epics, and the Upanishads
have deep spiritual insights. All this I believe. I believe what my
ancestors believed, that is, there is not one God but we can imagine
several gods and describe them in different ways…. Hinduism is also
difficult because it is based on hierarchies.

Has anything about Indian politics struck you as mysterious?

The fact that if you are an ascetic and if you have given up
everything, you can go beyond language, religion, caste, and appeal to
the whole country. You know when Gandhi emerged, it was a mysterious
thing, because he was neither a Bengali nor a Maharashtrian. All great
leaders until then had come from eit­her Bengal or Maharashtra.

How do you understand the need for swaraj in thought in India today?

I an not too passionately involved in what they call the desi,
because you will not find the pure desi when you search for it. It is
based on Sanskrit; it is mixed with Persian; it’s linked with different
rulers at different times.  There is nothing pure even in our folklore.
Therefore, I am more a follo­wer of Pampa (the 10th century Kan­­­nada
Jain poet), who wanted to combine the desi with the marga.

All my writing is a combination of the desi and the marga. I have
perhaps more marga in me than desi. But there is something like swaraj
in ideas. I have a feeling that we have become second-rate imitators of
the West. There was absolutely no original thought in India, except for
Gandhi, over the last two centuries. He was the only original thinker
and he had the courage to imag­ine a world without railways, without
technology, without whatever Britain brought to India. He could conceive
of a world without these and hence some kind of swadeshi chintana was
possible for him, that we can survive without the aid of the West. That
we can be intellectual without depending heavily on western thinkers.

What are the challenges facing someone who chooses to write about India in English?

Anyone who writes in English should be deeply knowledgeable about at
least one Indian language. I say this for all journalists too. You
cannot be an English journalist in Karnataka unless you know Kannada.
Similarly, for anthropological, sociological and other kinds of
writing.  I think it is very necessary to know how people think, how
people feel. You should be able to grasp that. And an ins­tinctive grasp
becomes possible if you know the language of the people.

Does it matter very much to you that people like you?

I enjoy being liked. Though I am ill, I forget I am ill because of
the affection and warmth I get from people who read me, who remember
what I write, who write me letters. I like it very much.

Could you tell us how you would like to be rem­embered?

As a Kannada writer. For having made a contribution to Kannada
through my works…that there are many younger writers who will get
something from me, because I have brought whatever I could from my own
past, from my Brahminical past, from the European world, from my various
experiences, and from my probing of my own self into the Kannada
language. It might be a threatened language in the modern world, but I
have worked against the threat and that is an achievement. I would like
to be remembered as a teacher, as a writer.


Consider, in this regard, the current invisibility from
the national discourse of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya. Married to a man
chosen by her family, she was widowed early, and then married a
left-wing actor from another part of India. She joined the freedom
movement, persuading Gandhi to allow women to court arrest during the
Salt March and after.

After coming out of jail,
Kamaladevi became active in trade union work, and travelled to the
United States, where she explained the relevance of civil disobedience
to black activists (her turn in the South is compellingly described in
Nico Slate’s recent book Colored Cosmopolitanism). 

Independence and Partition, Kamaladevi supervised the resettlement of
refugees; still later, she set up an all-India network of artisanal
cooperatives, and established a national crafts museum as well as a
national academy for music and dance. 

Tragically, because her work
cannot be seen through an exclusively political lens, and because her
versatility cannot be captured by a sect or special interest, Kamaladevi
is a forgotten figure today. Yet, from this historian’s point of view,
she has strong claims to being regarded as the greatest Indian woman of
modern times.



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Brown Pundits