Friday, April 27, 2012

The idea of India...

...A vibrant entity

I have referred to the article Taseer mentions here.


  1. A moment in this otherwise interesting article that stood out for me was when the author reminded his Indian peers that an education in the arts is essential even for scientists, that a sense of history can bring insight into how to expand human possibility in the present moment. That's very true, I believe.

    And yet, and this seemed telling when I read it, it's also an argument that I've been hearing about education in the US for decades. On one level that's a universal truth—scientists do need training in the humanities to be well-rounded scientists; and great scientists have often agree with this—on another level in the context of this article it seemed to be another way that India echoes the West. Is it that India is still both developed and developing as a nation? Is it that the post-colonial period of discovering one's own identity separate from the European colonizers leads one to recycle lessons already discovered elsewhere?

    I'm probably making too much of a throwaway line LOL yet it got me thinking about cultural echoes. It might be true that this plea for India as purely its own nation, separate from the rest of history, is no more possible than it was for the US to be fully separated from European history. While I support the idea of Indians writing their own history, I also don't think that you can divide history into separated regions and ever get the full story. Context matters a great deal.

  2. Hi Art, I agree. Context does matter. However, I tend to agree that with Taseer's assertion that there is a very real conflict between the idea of India as germane to Indians' view of their history and society and a purely academic reading of Indian history from the prism of colonialism/Orientalism. It's like the Indian record on economic growth. When the Great Recession happened, Indian banks escaped he crisis because they had not been quick to adopt the "reforms" that had taken the Asian Tigers down in 1997.

  3. The conflict between the idea and the actual is perhaps one of the root causes of the anxiety here. I don't think it's an academic reading to point out that this is an existential crisis perhaps more than an historical one. (Existentialism and existence are of course not ahistorical.) I'm not actually attempting an academic reading, I'm attempting a psychological one. Psychohistory, I suppose, if a label is required by someone.

    I do very much agree that there is a conflict here, as you describe it, and as Taseer states it, I'm just aware that it's at least in part a conflict of identity, perhaps even of self-determination. My mention of the colonial past was only to affirm that it's very hard to talk about Indian history *without* mentioning the colonial past: it's too intrinsic to Indian culture as it currently stands. And having seen various post-colonial national identity crises play out over the decades in India, in South Africa, in Southeast Asia, and many other places, I think it's part of the fabric of the conflict as well. It's a psychological pattern of building a self-identity I see repeated on large as well as small scales. And I think that's healthy. It just needs to be kept in balance and not allowed to tip over into some kind of ultra-nationalism that throws the baby out with the bathwater. I think there's a risk of that, based on some of the rhetoric I've read about this (internal) conflict.