coromandal


simplicity and otherworldliness

What’s society built on? It’s built on trust. It’s built on bluff. – Stereolab 

In revolution at first there is a general unhappiness around the status quo power in a given state, then a consensus builds up around the idea that the power is undesirable and should be removed, then the offending power is removed whether by violence or by peace, and finally a new political structure is established which of course is in danger of becoming a new intolerable status quo.

Historians and quants journal the entire process and measure the delta improvement from before the event to after. What’s exhausting is the cycle of history, how one insufferable social state can be revolutionized and replaced by an equally intolerable state. To break the cycle, a smart revolutionary carefully plans to remove the abuses of the old status quo and implant measures to guarantee better affairs in the new.

Gandhi was one such revolutionary. He saw and understood the abuses of the British Raj and realized India could throw them out of the country but end up keeping their rotten ideas. It was both the pervasive presence of the Raj and the insidious nature of their governing philosophy that kept the Indian subcontinent in its state of subservience and lockdown.

The prevailing philosophy of the British occupiers was of course Western – a mix of liberalism, imperialism, economic growth, Marxism, nihilism, industrial capitalism, the dominance of power, profit and capital. The genius of the occupiers was to convince Indians that this modern, western, instrumental philosophy benefited them. Gandhi realized that to be successful he would have to fight off the Western philosophy and the nativist Hindu nationalism which had adopted most of the precepts of the western ideas.

And so the question was asked: what do we build society on that is uniquely Indian? In his Hind Swaraj, Indian Home Rule he prescribed this vision based on the Indian virtues of simplicity, patience, frugality, and otherworldliness. He rightly saw that science and industrial capitalism had overturned spiritual authority and that this had to be corrected. The British quit India 73 years ago.

So was there success in Gandhi’s revolution? Modern India is the world’s largest democracy, it was founded on principles of secularism, and for many years after independence had a protectionist economy and during the cold war often chose to trade with the USSR instead of the West. Up until recently Indians have effectively kept modern multinational corporations out of their communities. Although not explicitly Indian principles, they show a tendency to resist western political culture as defined by the Hind Swaraj.

However, more recently the forces of nationalism and global neoliberal capital have ravaged the world including the Indian subcontinent. But the Hind Swaraj’s indictment of Western civilization was written to return Indians to the root of their identity and a root is deeper than a storm.

From The Inner Voice:

The terms of Gandhi’s critique, however, were remarkably original. He set out his views in “Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule,” a book written feverishly, in nine days, in November, 1909. Gandhi opposed those of his revolutionary Indian peers who—inspired by Marx, Herbert Spencer, Russian nihilists, and nationalists in Italy and Ireland—saw salvation in large-scale emulation of the West. Many of these were Hindu nationalists, intellectual ancestors of Gandhi’s assassin, determined to unite India around a monolithic Hinduism. Gandhi saw that these nationalists would merely replace one set of deluded rulers in India with another: “English rule,” as he termed it, “without the Englishman.”

Gandhi’s indictment of modern civilization went further. According to him, the industrial revolution, by turning human labor into a source of power, profit, and capital, had made economic prosperity the central goal of politics, enthroning machinery over men and relegating religion and ethics to irrelevance. As Gandhi saw it, Western political philosophy obediently validated the world of industrial capitalism. If liberalism vindicated the preoccupation with economic growth at home, liberal imperialism abroad made British rule over India appear beneficial for Indians—a view many Indians themselves subscribed to. Europeans who saw civilization as their unique possession denigrated the traditional virtues of Indians—simplicity, patience, frugality, otherworldliness—as backwardness.

The Inner Voice, Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker



Rameshwaram station

Railway Station

Railway station in Rameshwaram TN India by mycamerashots.com

 

 

 

 



the argumentative Indian

BANGALORE HANUMAN0001Nationalism is on the rise in India; Modi – India’s big new hope for Prime Ministership – is a Hindu fundamentalist set to sweep away the longstanding tolerant Congress. I remember India in the 1970s – admittedly from child’s eyes – as being genteel and tolerant. Not any more. It feels coarser, on the edge, aggressive and desperate.

Following is a passage from a review of a book (The Hindus: An Alternate History, Wendy Doniger) that has been, in classic fundamentalist fashion, pulled from circulation. Some of the article’s observations in chart form:

the argumentative Indian > the offended Indian
the tolerant Indian > the intolerant mob
the reflective citizen > the hurt communal mobiliser
the courageous Indian > the cowardly thug

Here is the passage from Mehta’s review:

India is a democracy, but its reputation as a bastion of liberal values is dimming by the day. The argumentative Indian is being replaced by the offended Indian, the tolerant Indian by the intolerant mob, the reflective citizen by the hurt communal mobiliser, the courageous Indian by the cowardly thug who needs the state to protect it against every argument, the pious Indian by the ultimate blasphemer who thinks he needs to protect the gods rather than the gods being there to protect him. Whether this is a tiny minority or represents the majority is beside the point. The point is that the assault on free expression is winning. How is liberal India being silenced?

Silencing of liberal India, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, The Indian Express



Coromandel Express
June 10, 2011, 8:42 pm
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Koromangala shops
February 20, 2011, 9:08 pm
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rich inner lives

I was sitting with three camping friends at a fire, good buzz on, upstate New York, talking about the state of India now that 60 years has passed since her independence from the British.  They were saying it was good; I was saying it wasn’t.  They are Indian born and raised now over here, I’m an Indian born and raised North American.  It turns out we were quoting different indicators, they the GDP and the number of new millionaires, me the persistence of poverty.  They’re both good indicators, but should probably be put together to make a bigger and better picture.  They won’t be.  Anyway, good buzz quickly turned bad.

Sometime during the melee – it got quite fierce – my status was called into question:  how would you know, you’re a white guy.  I said I’m third culture, which was probably too eggheaded, and one friend snarled, how pretentious.  Yup, too eggheaded.  But it’s just a definition that helps people to understand themselves and their lives.

Third culture simply means someone grew up between worlds – like say India and Canada – and takes on a lot of identifiable character qualities based on this increasingly common, rich and complicated way of living.  For instance, you feel like you belong to both worlds; and you feel alien from both worlds.  You feel judgmental of  people who grew up ‘rooted’ and without a cross cultural experience of living; and you crave rootedness. There are lots of other qualities common to the Third Culture.

I still haven’t forgiven my elementary school friend with whom I camp every summer for calling me pretentious.  I think she’s wrong.  Apparently, this experience has identifiable results which are increasingly common in the globalizing world as more and more people grow up between places.  Dismissing the nature of their upbringings seems wrong headed to me.  They may have something of use to say as the rest of the world gets increasingly nationalistic and tribal.

The following day – after the fight, and everyone sheepishly beginning their morning ablutions and routines and breakfastings – I was drawn away on a walk by a European spouse, perhaps to make the camp site more friendly and bearable.  He’d been filled in by his wife, my classmate.  His bottom line was that poor people like it that way, which he shared with me at the start of our walk, and we were both happy to drop the topic.

Here is a good article on what it means to be third culture, by Chris Lenton in Janera.  The observations are piercing if you have lived third culture but have had trouble understanding the implication for your life.

From the article:

“They are the most interesting people because their rich inner lives belie their often bland… and sometimes wary, presentation of themselves to others.” TCKs are also, studies now show, bright, and courted by employers.

/…/

On the flipside, argues Professor Useem, these same qualities may lead to what psychologists call a “prolonged adolescence.” Over 90% of the people surveyed report being out of step with people of their age group. TCKs change jobs frequently and marry and have children far later than the average North American. They continue to move around a lot. They have trouble identifying what they want to do with their lives and most attest to having changed their course of study numerous times.

Third Culture Club, By Chris Lenton in Janera



pilgrims
May 4, 2009, 11:45 pm
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pilgrims-swiatoslaw-wojtkowiak

Pilgrims in India from SwiatoSlaw WojTkowiak on flickr.



itinerants of mumbai

daviddesouza-bulldaviddesouza-shiva

Photographs from David & Charmayne de Souza’s book “Itinerants, the Nomads of Mumbai.”

From airoots.



the emptiness of one’s luggage
February 21, 2008, 4:36 pm
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The reason people don’t like immigrants is that they seem to have done the impossible – defied gravity and flown; flown from the things that tether us to the ground, especially love for birthplace.  It’s envy.

Escaping the myth of rootedness gives the immigrant hope; however, it is not only birthplace that we have lost, but also history and memory and even time itself.  The metaphor is of an empty suitcase.

“I, too, know something of this immigrant business. I am an emigrant from one country (India) and a newcomer in two (England, where I live, and Pakistan, to which my family moved against my will). And I have a theory that the resentments we mohajirs engender have something to do with our conquest of the force of gravity. We have performed the act of which all men anciently dream, the thing for which they envy the birds; that is to say, we have flown.

“I am comparing gravity with belonging. Both phenomena observably exist: my feet stay on the ground, and I have never been angrier than on the day my father told me he had sold my childhood home in Bombay. But neither is understood. We know the force of gravity, but not its origins; and to explain why we become attached to our birthplaces we pretend that we are trees and speak of roots. Look under your feet. You will not find gnarled growths spouting through the soles. Roots, I sometimes think, are a conservative myth, designed to keep us in our places.

“When individuals come unstuck from their native land, they are called migrants. When nations do the same (Bangladesh), the act is called secession. What is the best thing about migrant peoples and seceded nations? I think it is their hopefulness. . . . And what’s the worst thing? It is the emptiness of one’s luggage. I’m speaking of invisible suitcases, not the physical, perhaps cardboard, variety containing a few meaning-drained mementoes: we have come unstuck from more than land. We have floated upwards from history from memory, from Time.”

~From Shame (New York: Aventura/Vintage, 1984), 90, 91. Salman Rushdie