Saturday, August 1, 2009

From ‘An Anthropologist Among the Marxists and other essays’ by Ramachandra Guha

…….The appeal of Marxism was enhanced by the fact that Indian scholars and activists have been overwhelmingly from the middle class. The guilt they felt about their own relative privilege could be best assuaged by adherence to a philosophy which assured them they were on the right side, and that soon they would not be so privileged anyway.

……….Thinking Indians were attracted to Gandhi, but not to all sides of him. They rejected his idiosyncratic views on sex and diet. They respected his religious tolerance but wondered why he made such a show of his own personal Hindu faith. And they sensed that his economics was largely irrelevant to the contemporary world. These limitations made them turn away from Gandhi – back, perhaps, to Marx.

The writing of sketches and portraits, long or short, does not come easily to Indians. Does this, I wonder, have something to do with our dominant religion? The historian David Cannadine has written that biography is ‘the only certain form of life after death’. Perhaps in Britain, but hardly so in a land where minutes after the heart stops beating the soul transmigrates to another life form. Why pay tribute to a dead man if he has already been reborn?

……..Samar Sen recently described a Bengali intellectual to me as one who ‘At fifteen has written his first poem. At seventeen has burnt his first tram. At nineteen has joined the [Communist] Party. At twenty-one has left the Party. At twenty-three has written his last poem. At twenty-five has joined the World Bank – and at thirty has left it to rejoin the Party’

…….the affinity of the Bengali intellectual with Marxism.

The first is the consistent denigration by the British of the lack of physical prowess among the bhadralok. The Bengali, a high colonial official once remarked, ‘has the intellect of a Greek and the grit of a rabbit’. This prejudice led to Bengalis being designated a ‘non-martial race’, a characterization keenly felt by its victims. A number of historians have shown that the Bengali response to this slight took the form, on the one hand, of extolling physical exercise – as in the famous gymnasium movement of the late nineteenth century – and more strikingly so, by an adherence to political radicalism. From the nationalist terrorists of the early years of this century to the Maoist revolutionaries of the present day, the cult of violence has had a pervasive political influence in Bengal.

………….The second factor is the sense of political marginality among the Bengali elite. This dates at least to the year 1911, when the capital of British India shifted from Calcutta to New Delhi. Thereafter, the locus of the Indian freedom struggle shifted from west to east, especially with the advent of Mahatma Gandhi, a man who has not yet been forgiven in Bengal for thwarting the late challenge to his leadership of the Congress party by the Calcutta firebrand Subhas Chandra Bose. The Bengali middle class cannot reconcile itself to this loss of political power; and the rise to power of the CPI(M) must be interpreted at least in part, as an assertion of regional feeling against the political centre.

Swaminathan remarks………….’that sensation-monger and wizard of the box office’ – Richard Attenborough. For ‘Attenborough’s Ben Kingsley disguised as Gandhi is a stuffed dummy set up for floral offerings, which could equally serve and has actually been used, for target practice by the opponents of non-violence who abound in America, Iran and elsewhere. There is no Rama without Sita, Lakshmana, Hanuman and so on. [But] Attenborough’s Gandhi is a Titan among dwarfs, an eagle among sparrows, a mere caricature unrelated to reality’

‘Charismatic leaders’, he writes, ‘momentary meteors like Hitler, Mussolini and Khomeini, gain followers and lead movements by making others feel week, helpless and dependant on those towering tyrants. But as V.S.Srinivasa Sastri, Gandhi’s life-long friend and frequent opponent, used to say, “Gandhi does not want blind or timid followers; he wants clear-eyed, courageous fellow travellers”

………………’Gandhi’s literary style’, he remarks,

is a natural expression of his democratic temper. There is no conscious ornamentation, no obtrusive trick of style calling attention to itself. The style is a blend of the modern manner of an individual sharing his ideas and experiences with his readers, and the impersonal manner of the Indian tradition in which the thought is more important than the person expounding it. The sense of equality with the common man is at the mark of Gandhi’s style and the burden of his teaching. To feel and appreciate this essence of Gandhi the man, in his writings and speeches, is the best education for true democracy.

In some ways the most intense, interesting and long-running of these debates was between Gandhi and Ambedkar. Gandhi wished to save Hinduism by abolishing untouchability, whereas Ambedkar saw a solution for his people outside the fold of the dominant religion of the Indian people. Gandhi was a rural romantic, who wished to make the self-governing village the bedrock of free India; Ambedkar an admirer of city life and modern technology who dismissed the Indian village as a den of social inequity. Gandhi was a crypto-anarchist who favoured non-violent protest while being suspicious of the state; Ambedkar a steadfast constitutionalist, who worked within the state and sought solutions to social problems with the aid of the state

………….Ambedkar came to represent a dangerously subversive threat to the authoritative, and sometimes authoritarian, equation: Gandhi = Congress = Nation.

Here then is the stuff of epic drama………Recent accounts represent it as a fight between a hero and a villain, the writer’s caste position generally determining who gets cast as hero, who as villain. In truth, both figures should be seen as heroes, albeit tragic ones.

The tragedy from Gandhi’s point of view, was that his colleagues in the national movement either did not understand his concern with untouchability or even actively deplored it…………Congressmen in general thought Harijan work came in the way of an all-out effort for national freedom………… meant that Gandhi had perforce to move slowly, and in stages.

The remarkable thing is that fifty years after independence, the only politician, dead or alive, who has a truly pan-Indian appeal is B.R.Ambedkar. Where Gandhi is forgotten in his native Gujarat, and Nehru vilified in his native Kashmir, Ambedkar is worshipped in hamlets all across the land. For Dalits everywhere he is the symbol of their struggle, the scholar, theoretician and activist whose own life represented a stirring triumph over the barriers of caste.

Mrs Gandhi’s singular contribution to Indian political discourse was the idea of the ‘foreign hand.’ The nationality of this hand is difficult to establish, although one presumes it was coloured white.

……….Thompson wrote with feeling of how, despite spending years in British jails, Nehru could still befriend Englishmen: ‘One would have to go rather far back in British history to find an article of that quality: to find persons willing to undergo years of imprisonment, and to emerge with unflagging intellectual vitality and with so little bitterness.’ This was a civilized human being and, as his years in office showed, a democrat.

The Mumbai columnist C.P.Surendran has written evocatively of what Tendulkar means to this nation of losers. Every time he walks to the wicket, ‘a whole nation, tatters and all, marches with him to the battle arena. A pauper people pleading for relief, remission from the lifelong anxiety of being Indian……..seeking a moment’s liberation from their India-bondage through the exhilarating grace of one accidental bat.’

…………..there is no socialism in the US because there is no soccer in the US.

Simply put, the game of soccer is too collective, too participatory, and too democratic for the achievement and profit-oriented Americans. They like golf and tennis because these individual sports are governed by the capitalist ethic of ‘winner takes all’. They like basketball because the numbers satisfy their immodest appetites – if the Chicago Bulls win a match, it is because Michael Jordan has scored no less than 38 points.

They like baseball because in this team game the result is decided by a home run hit by a single batter or a series of no strikes thrown, again, by an individual pitcher; whereas in soccer the goal that decides the game can never be attributed solely to the striker.

………………It might be claimed that the love of American football invalidates this argument. True, this is a team sport, but with a level of physical contact and intimidation that more readily satisfies a warlike people, preparing them for real combat in the sands of Iraq or the fortress of Vietnam……….Moreover in this version of football there is a clear hierarchy. The quarterback is the boss with the brains, the running forwards the followers with brawn or speed of foot. Only one man gives the orders. We can recognize (and respect) the managing director of this firm. That the quarterback is almost always a white male only binds the game more firmly to American ideals of the successful and all-conquering society.

No comments: