Many writers have tried to give us the essence of Indian identity. One view of Indian identity is that India is a home of a composite cultural and religious traditions and has combined the essential elements of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and many other traditions. The other view is, Indian identity is formed basically by Hinduism which is like a mighty Ganga which comes down from the great Himalayas to join the Sagar in the Bay of Bengal which is joined by many rivers, small and big, but remains the Eternal Ganga. It is the great Hindu civilization flowing from the distant past to the present day??Indian civilization has remained in constant ferment through the processes of assimilation, transformation, re-assertion and recreation that happened in the wake of its encounters with other civilizations and cultural forces such as those that came with the advent of Islam in medieval times and European colonialism in the most recent past.?
The book, puts the idea of India in perspective. They say in the introduction, ?Our book is about Indian identity. It is about ?Indianness?, the cultural part of the mind that informs the activities and concerns of the daily life of a vast number of Indians as it guides them through the journey of life.? The ?big picture? or a ?grand narrative? that they have drawn is like the pattern of a forest, not every detail may be visible. They have analysed Indian life through family, caste, role of women, sexuality, health, religious and spiritual life. The concluding chapter, the Indian mind, discusses the Hindu world view. They have devoted a chapter on the conflict between Hindus and Muslims.
The family and the caste
Discussing the central role of family in Indian life, the Kakars observe that it is ?the glue that holds Indian society together?. However, they add, ?this focus on the family as the exclusive source of satisfaction of all one'sneeds also reflects a continuing lack of faith in almost every other institution of society?. The subordination of young to the old, son to father, women to men is a part of the patriarchal family structure.
Similarly, their observations on caste are also very perceptive ? if marriage and kinship are the body, hierarchy is the soul of caste. The Hindu horror of faeces is the cause for the persistence of untouchability.
However, Hindu spirituality and philosophy always allowed individuals to leap out of these constricting structures. The advaita philosophy which says every individual is a spark of the Divine is a charter of individual freedom. It is also a charter of democracy. Manu'sdictum, ?Where women are honoured, God feels honoured?, is a harbinger of women'sliberation. The Hindu liberal spirit became visible after India'sencounter with the West. Kamasutra is also a testimony of the liberal spirit of Hinduism. Sex or desire (kama) is a part of life. Is is part of the four-fold fulfillments of life? Dharma (that which is right), artha (riches), kama (desire) and moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death).
The Sangh Parivar
The Kakars observations on the Sangh Parivar are interesting. In the chapter, Religious and Spiritual Life, they say, ?Yet the militancy of his (the Hindu nationalist?s) outlook and actions is also constrained by two binding elements of Hindu religion and culture : the themes of tolerance and universality. He is not free from these fundamental aspects of his religious-cultural identity that are also the major themes running through the grand recit, the ?master narrative?, of Hinduism'sencounter with other religions, secular ideologies and the historical forces of change.? They say that while championing a singular identity for Hindus amidst many sampradayas (sects) to face the onslaught of cultural and economic globalization, the Hindu nationalist cannot cross the Laxman-rekha of tolerance and universality, the two fundamentals of Hindu culture and civilization.
Hindus & Muslims
The chapter, Conflict : Hindus and Muslims, deals with various factors which have contributed to it. The authors say that there is some agreement among the commentators that factors other than religion as the root cause but there is no agreement on the root cause. Is it a civilizational conflict or just the result of colonial ?divide and rule? policy? Some see economic factors in the conflict. Social scientists find threat to identity from modernization and globalization. There is a demographic dimention as well?conflict occurs where Muslim minority population ranges from 20 to 40 per cent. Even Mahatma Gandhi believed that ?imperialist expansion for thirteen centuries has made Muslims an aggressive lot?. Killing of cows and eating beef has been the most important source of Hindu bitteress. Among the Muslim upper class and clergy there is a nostalgia for the old Moghal empire and the authors say, it is like ?the Andalus syndrome??a grief for the lost glory of the Muslim civilization in the Iberian Peninsula felt in the Muslim world. Then there are demagogues and politicians. This is a potent mix for any conflagration.
The Hindu view of life.
The last chapter, The Indian Mind, sums up the Hindu view of life. The authors say that the distinctive world view of Hindus is contained in three concepts or ideas which have shaped the thoughts, actions and feelings of the people: moksha, dharma and karma. The authors rightly observe that the belief in the existence of an ?ultimate reality? is beacon in the lives of most Indians without any class and caste distinctions and rich and poor, literate and illiterate, urban or rural.
Sudhir Kakar and Katharina Kakar have given a glimpse of the life of Indians in today'sIndia and how it is connected to its ancient heritage. They have provided a bird'seye-view of the saga of Indian life and how an ancient framework ideas and concepts which is flexible enough to meet the challenges of life even today. The book is a guide to understand India.
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