Colonisation by the British wasn’t just political domination; it was also cultural and psychological. It meant a systematic onslaught on the idea of Bharat. Soon after they arrived, the British had realised that they had to attack this idea of Bharat, this cultural homogeneity in order to continue their domination. That’s why the independence struggle wasn’t just a struggle for Swaraj, but also Swadharma and Swabhasha –as the sense of “Swa” or “Self” is made up of many components. The British knew this very well, that’s why they stripped the people of their sense of Indianness, a sense of pride, a sense of unity–and instead planted an awe and inferiority complex of everything western – their literature, their mannerisms, their culture, their clothing, and their ways. When the British finally left, they replaced their rule with a bunch of people in power, who too continued to be in awe of the West. They were people who had studied in universities abroad, and came from a mindset that India needed “development” and “fixing”, and they furthered the process of replacing our great civilsation. So it’s not only the British but we as a people too, who have been responsible for this loss. However, the last few years, the government and the people of Bharat seem to be waking up what we have lost, and seem determined in bringing back that sense of “Swa”. One such person is Amish Tripathi, a world-renowned Indian author and the Director of Nehru Centre in London. He has been a champion for our culture, as he re-introduced Shiva and Ram to millennials through his incredibly popular books, without diluting the glory and spiritual significance of the Gods. In conversation with Organiser’s Deepti Verma, Amish maps the milestones that we have achieved along this journey of “Swa” in the last 75 years, and all that still needs to be done. Excerpts:
India always had a rich heritage of books and literature, before a lot of it was systematically destroyed with every invasion. What was your introduction to Bhartiya Sahitya like?
My grandfather taught at the BHU (Banaras Hindu University), besides being a pandit at the Kashi Vishwanath temple. Even my grandmother was a teacher. So studying and discussing these ancient puranic texts was a part of my childhood. My family always had that atmosphere. And I’m not talking only of religious texts but a vast repertoire –like folk tales and Sanskrit plays. What I realised is how deeply evolved and liberal our traditional story telling was. We didn’t need the west to teach us about liberalism –which comes with an air of moral superiority. Our liberalism was quiet, natural, and strikingly human. Take Kalidasa, the most celebrated playwright of ancient India, for example. Or Bhasa’s, who Kalidasa himself acknowledged as being the greatest playwright of all times. Panch-ratra of Bhasa talks of an alternate plot for the Mahabharat, where Dronacharya brokers a peace between the Pandavas and Kauravas before the war breaks out. That kind of evolved thought, came from an evolved source. That source is diluted now. Ancient story telling is a lost art that needs to revived. For that matter, a lot of arts, like painting and architecture are all inspired by the west now. As our institutions, universities, and learning centres like Nalanda and Takshilla were destroyed. The only disciplines where sanctity has remained intact are classical Indian dance and music, maybe because of the guru shishya parampara.
What do you think can be done to protect and revive “Swabhasha” and Sahitya in Hindi and other regional languages?
This Government is doing enough to revive our culture, at the international, national and state levels. And the common man is responding. It’s like VS Naipaul’s concept of a million mutinies. The demand for change was there, that is why a supply has followed. A cultural movement is taking place. We need go back to our ancient wisdom and apply it to present-day situations. Look how environment friendly and scientific our city planning was. Most cities and villages had a temple complex in the centre, which had a water body, pond, or kund inside it. This collected the extra monsoon water, which was used for the rest of the year. In fact, the word “Varsh” and “Varsha” were very significant. Our buildings were also Vastu Shastra compliant, they had courtyards and jharokhas and used materials that were weather friendly. Now we are blindly aping the glass buildings of Europe, which are not suited to our weather at all, and our water management is so off that most cities are flooded for two months of the year and have a water crisis the rest of the year.
“When the British finally left, they replaced their rule with a bunch of people in power, who too continued to be in awe of the west. They were people who had studied in universities abroad, and came from a mindset that India needed “development” and “fixing”, and they furthered the process of replacing our great civilsation”
You started as an author, but today you are working as a documentary host, a producer, diplomat and a cultural ambassador for India. What has kept you interested in this cause.
It was while working on my documentary on Shri Ram for Discovery TV in Chitrakoot, that I realised how seminal journeys of our gods were reduced to stories. We need our current and future generations to realise how rich our history and culture is. I’m not anti-west, but we need to know our own culture first. We need to know our roots to understand the world around us; and I’m very passionate about this.
“If your traditions are not fair game, then ours can’t be. One religion or one race can’t enjoy absolutism. If you can’t make jokes about certain aspects of one community and their traditions, that should be a two-way street”
You talk of Bharat being a land of an inherently liberal culture, but that seems to be changing. This new wave of Bharat doesn’t take an attack on its culture lightly, the recent case being the Kali controversy. What’s your take on this?
I think John Nash’s Game Theory can explain this. The Nash equilibrium states a player can achieve the desired outcome by not deviating from their initial strategy and each player’s strategy is optimal when considering the decisions of other players. So if your traditions are not fair game, then ours can’t be. One religion or one race can’t enjoy absolutism. If you can’t make jokes about certain aspects of one community and their traditions, that should be a two-way street. I think the Hindu side has woken up to this in the past few years and they will not take their religion, customs, or tradition being made fun off lightly. We have a renewed confidence, which should be celebrated.
What more can be done in this space, this cultural movement, especially for the youth and future generations?
For the youth, content wise, everything can be an opportunity to reflect and reconnect with our roots—and can be consumed in many forms. We also need to decolonise our education system. In ancient India, a toddler was first introduced to short fun stories of Krishna Leela, then young students were introduced to Mahakavyas like the Ramayana and Mahabharat, then one’s spiritual training began with the study of the slightly more complex Upnishads (spiritual), then finally one had the wherewithal to read more evolved cultural texts and plays—and interpreted them in their personal ways. Today this finesse is completely absent in literature. In fact, we are taught the history of our invaders. They are chapters and chapters dedicated to the most genocidal groups of mankind, and nothing is said of the race that resisted and persisted. The European Christians and Turkic Muslims, were the most genocidal groups –they wiped out so many ethnic groups like the Zoroashtrians and European pagans, yet they couldn’t achieve that in India. How did we survive that for centuries? Shouldn’t that be taught and learnt? Isn’t that the more interesting story?