I spent a week recently attending a wedding in Karnataka. Hindu weddings are chaotic affairs, going on and on for days on end, and you sit there in a corner watching the goings and comings as your cousins, whom you have not seen for years, fall flat at your feet, and there is so much noise you can hardly hear yourself breathe. Everybody watches the clock nervously, for the Muhartam is approaching and there is so much to be done, when there is a hush and the young couple exchange garlands and everyone wonders how we were able to pull it off.
India is exactly like a Hindu wedding. You are not sure until the last moment you will pull it off, but you do, and everybody is happy. The whole thing is chaotic, but it works, and this goes for everything else in India. It is a chaotic society, but it works, like an old engine that keeps going through sheer habit. India is, in fact, a sort of functioning chaos, but the main fact is that it is functioning, and that too without much effort.
For the last few months, nothing really has been functioning in India-neither the Parliament, nor the government, nor, in fact, much else, and one wondered from time to time whether it was all going to pieces and fall apart. But India continued to functioning as usual – trains ran on time, industries continued cranking out their stuff, offices functioned normally, businessmen got their licences, children went to schools, the police kept law and order, politicians and babus took their bribes, and airports and railway stations were busy round the clock. It was chaos all right, but it was also business as usual.
I would divide the world’s countries into three categories; functioning chaos (like India); non-functioning chaos (like Pakistan and most other Muslim countries); and orderly (like western countries).
There are times when we are amazed at our own disorderly chaos. Stand at a road crossing, even in a relatively orderly city like Mumbai, and watch the traffic. The poor policeman tries to bring some order and just when you think he is going to be run over by a bus, he blows his whistle, the traffic comes to a halt, and suddenly there is dead silence all round. Then, as if by magic, things are on the move again, and there is chaos all round once again, and the unending cycle starts all over again, until the next whistle.
In the west, everything is orderly and the crowd behaves like trained dogs. They do exactly what the traffic inspector or traffic lights tell them. Nobody moves and even children stop fidgeting. I was once in Tokyo watching the crowds below from my hotel room up above on the tenth floor. It was past midnight and there was not much of a crowd on the roads, except the odd reveller returning home after a night on the town. Suddenly the small crowd froze as the traffic lights turned red. There was not a single vehicle on the road, not even a bicycle. But the small waiting crowd waited for the signals to change and crossed the narrow road – more like a lane than a road – only after the signal had gone green. Can you think of such discipline in India?
In London, the underground trains are always crowded. You have to push through the crowds to enter your compartment or to exit. It used to be quite an effort in Mumbai and often you lost your fountainpen or even your watch during the incessant jostling. But things were different in London. People did jostle you but they were so polite you never really felt you were being pushed around. Even young girls apologised if they pushed ahead of you, instead of the other way round. Even old men and women, most of whom had just survived the war, stood on one side to let you overtake them. It was all very orderly, very peaceful. Though the stations were full of crowds, and the trains being in short supply, you had no idea when you would be lucky to catch one.
We Indians dislike order, which may be one reason why we dislike authority of any kind, and always take pride in defying it. It is true that Gandhiji raised civil disobedience to a fine art, but I have a feeling he did not have to try very hard to do so. Disobedience and defiance are inbuilt in the India, which means, Hindu character. We are natural rebels and instinctively dislike authority of any kind. For the last one thousand years, the Hindus have been fighting aggressors of one kind or another and done our best to harass them to distraction.
Emperor Aurangzeb, the nastiest of the Moghuls, was so harassed by Shivaji, he wondered what he had done to receive this kind of treatment. He once conferred that it was he who was being persecuted rather than the other way round, and must have been the happiest of men when he died in what is now Maharashtra while the Maratha forces milled around him.
The British were very unhappy when they left, or were forced to leave India. Some Britishers were genuinely fond of India though they never really understood us. They thought we would be grateful to them for their generosity in bringing order to India. But what they did not realise is that we Hindus resent foreigners being nice to us or imposing order on us. The fact is that though we appear disorderly, that is, physically disorderly, we possess an inner moral order which keeps us orderly. Culturally and spiritually, the Hindus are the most orderly society in the world, though outwardly, we may look-and often behave-in a disorderly manner. And it is the inner moral and spiritual order that has kept us going all these centuries and the reason why we have survived in one piece, and shall do so in the coming centuries.
Let us, by all means, be orderly but not too orderly or too disciplined. India still has enemies in its midst, and we have to throw them out. Too much of order can enslave you. Go and ask the Germans. They were so orderly, a man like Hitler took them for granted and destroyed them. Nobody should take Hindus for granted, for we are our own people, and there is nobody like us.