G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

W H Auden: "But in my arms till break of day / Let the living creature lie. / Mortal, guilty, but to me/ The entirely beautiful."

Will Self: “To attempt to write seriously is always, I feel, to fail – the disjunction between my beautifully sonorous, accurate and painfully affecting mental content, and the leaden, halting sentences on the page always seems a dreadful falling short. It is this failure – a ceaseless threnody keening through the writing mind – that dominates my working life, just as an overweening sense of not having loved with enough depth or recklessness or tenderness dominates my personal one.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Art Spiegelman: "You know words in a way are hitting you on the left side of your brain, music and visual arts hit on the right side of the brain, so the idea is to pummel you, to send you from left brain to right brain and back until you're as unbalanced as I am."

विलास सारंग: "संदर्भ कुठलेही असोत, संस्कृत, इंग्रजी, बुद्धिवादी, तांत्रिक, इतिहासाचे, खगोलशास्त्राचे, आधुनिक पदार्थविज्ञानाचे, शिवकालीन व पेशवाईतील बखरीचे, अगणित ज्ञानक्षेत्रांचे, अशा वैविध्यपूर्ण ज्ञानावर लेखन- विशेषत: कवितालेखन- उभं राहत."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Is Bengali Cosmopolitanism a Bengali Parochialism?

Pradip Das in Asian Age Dec 16 2009 on the state of West Bengal:

"...Frustration, fear, insecurity and mindless violence have overtaken a state which, at one point, touted its intellectual and cultural superiority over its counterparts across India..."


Reviewing Indian bestseller "The Hindus: An Alternative History" by Wendy Doniger, A K Bhattacharya writes in Business Standard October 29 2009:

"...Swami Vivekananda’s role in the revival of Hinduism is dismissed in one page. While Rammohun Roy gets some mention for having worked towards abolishing the Sati system, there is no mention of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, who not only helped Roy in his reform movement, but also influenced the British to allow remarriage of Hindu widows..."

Perhaps not fair to the great trio.

However, Bhattacharya does not say if the book does justice to the work of other great Indian reformers like Jotiba Phule (ज्योतीराव फुले), B R Ambedkar (भी रा आंबेडकर) and reformers from other parts of India, particularly from the South.

Phule and Ambedkar are probably the two most important names from the history of Hinduism of last two hundred years.

Kancha Illaiah says: "Hinduism is in a state of crisis, facing a kind of civil war within. The primary reason for this is the stranglehold of the varnashram system which keeps 750 million Hindus subjugated and humiliated.

These are the Dalits, tribals and the backward classes. Hinduism has failed to convince them that they are part of it, despite the fact that they were the carriers of all science and technology for centuries.

Hinduism is the only religion that has failed to negotiate and engage with reason and science.

No social reformer, except Phule and Ambedkar, challenged the caste system. Other religions are now competing to win over these people hence there is an imminent explosive crisis..."

When I recently acquired Doniger's tome, I looked up the index to see how many pages mentioned Phule and Ambedkar.

Out of seven fifty three pages, Ambedkar gets three and Phule gets one.

(M S Golwalkar too gets three pages and is mentioned ahead of Phule, Ambedkar in the book. I hope Golwalkar's Hinduism does not prevail over that of Phule-Ambedkar in future. Although Phule-Ambedkar lead Golwalkar 4-3 in this contest, looking at the current environment of intolerance in urban middle-class Maharashtra, I am not sure what will happen!)

Doniger talks about just one work of Phule while her treatment of Ambedkar doesn't do justice to his impact on the past of Hinduism and the likely impact on its future.

While I will talk about Doniger's work later- currently I am quite enjoying reading it- I can't hide my irritation with Bhattacharya's approach.

When one writes for a national newspaper, one is expected to take a larger view, national if not global.

But this shouldn't have bothered me because earlier I had read this:

Ramachandra Guha reviewing "The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity" by Amartya Sen wrote in 'The Economic and Political Weekly':

"...All works of history must necessarily be selective; still, reading Sen’s book, a younger reader may come away thinking that, apart from the splendid aberration of Rabindranath Tagore, there were no Indian intellectuals or arguers between the age of Akbar and the age of Hindutva.

I wonder – is Sen’s neglect of what I have called the proximate argumentative tradition linked somewhat to the characteristic insularity of the Bengali intellectual? The typical “bhadralok” scholar travels a straight line between Kolkata and some point to the west: this might be London or, by way of variation, Paris or Moscow or Havana or New York.

But his interest in other parts of India is pretty nearly non-existent. In this respect his Bengali cosmopolitanism is also a Bengali parochialism.

Thus one member of the species has written that “Bengal was the site of the most profound response to the colonial encounter”, and that the province’s capital city, Calcutta, “was the crucible of Indian nationalist politics, and the home…of modern Indian liberal consciousness itself”.

Writing from neutral Bangalore, I would instead award the honour to the state of Maharashtra (as is now is).

Consider a few names: Ranade, Gokhale, Phule, Agarkar, Ambedkar.

Now consider a few more: Tarabai Shinde, V R Shinde, D D Karve, Shahu Maharaj.

If one sees “liberal consciousness” as being composed of individual rights, caste reform, and gender equality, then I think the contributions of these Marathi-speakers rate rather higher than those of their (admittedly more loquacious) Bengali counterparts..."

Have such loquacious Bengalis gathered in the picture below?

(By the way, there is no mention of Dnyaneshwar, Namdev, Eknath, Tukaram in Sen's book while Kabir is mentioned more than ten times!)


Artist: Robert Kraus, The New Yorker, 5 March 1955