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Global Craving For Western Culture
Global Craving For Western Culture
GLOBAL CRAVING FOR WESTERN CULTURE
By Prof. A.D.Sarkar
Historically, white western Europeans, for whatever reason, went on a rampage with awesome regularity to far away places from their own natural habitats to conquer and occupy lands which could possibly not be theirs even by the widest stretch of human imagination. In due course colonialism was terminated superficially in Africa and Asia only to be re-modelled by a new form of domination which the indolent, self seeking native rulers of newly formed supposedly independent countries failed to realise. These Presidents, Prime Ministers, Cabinet Members or Military Chiefs and their associates became the nascent elite and rubbed shoulders with their erstwhile white masters. 'What an achievement' effused the nouveau riche black elite but the white man together with the emerging freebooter of the east, viz., the Chinese fooled the rulers of Asia and Africa, who themselves had no compunction in plundering their own poor community. The western brigand and the Chinese went on, and still are, looting the resources of Africa and Asia, including manpower, and dictating their will with ease to compliant listeners. The elite of the west invented the word 'global' and convinced the world that their hearts go out to the natives of their ex-colonies for their lack of drinking water, food or sanitation but they had no alternative to maiming and killing them in this emergent global theatre of interdependence for the sake of establishing and maintaining democracy in the regions they just vacated. Hence the title of this essay incorporates the term 'global' but the victims are really the ordinary populace of Africa, Asia and possibly South America.
To many the word culture connotes refinement. By refinement one perhaps means the niceties honed over centuries regarding daily interactions between people in social situations. These are often simple things such as greeting when meeting someone or how to eat with cutlery but correctly. There is a sophisticated way of using one's hand as well when not using implements. To be cultured may just mean articulating carefully by judicious use of extant vocabulary and avoiding expletives. A cultured group may have strict codes about their apparel and means of recreation. There are many examples which the bulk of the population of a country may ignore as time wasting but they are important to a selected bunch of people of privilege. In Britain and now globally the majority nurture the ambition for a well furnished home, a car or two and generally enjoy themselves without making a big effort. Among the common men and women in Britain there have always been a few who will comment and argue violently without very much knowing what their discussion was about. They believed whatever the persons in authority told them about anything. For example, Denis Judd writes in his very informative book, 'The Lion and the Tiger', OUP, 2004, that after the 1857 uprising by the Indian army against British rule, a cartoon in an English publication shows a dustman and sweep saying '–--- This 'ere Hingia bisinis –-- its just wot yer might expeck from sich a parcel o' dirty black hignorant scoundrels as them'. This is a dominant culture of the British, including the self-assured, emergent black ones, which is that the humans in Africa and Asia are substandard but the British are the best in the world. They, the ordinary people, are brain washed by such persons as Rudyard Kipling (1865- 1936) who was very confident in claiming supremacy over the Indians, the lesser breeds, who were unlucky not to be born English. Every nation accommodates groups of various subculture all of which begin and consolidate over centuries. Dress, language, food, humour among many other practices in groups of people are constituent parts of their culture and we shall select a few of them and discuss in what follows.
It would seem that dress is predicative of the status of human beings in terms of their pecking order at home and abroad. People dress of course to conform and to offer a vision of their own loveliness. Britishers do not seem to be guided by principles and ideals. What is important to them is lucre. Yet they doggedly adhere to certain aspects of their culture, dress being one of them. It is very interesting, however, to read that the early Romans in the height of their power considered the British to be uncivilised and hence prone to fight. The most civilised Romans encouraged building of temples, private mansions, roads and use of iron which they brought with them. The British elite spent a tremendous amount of effort to command the Latin language. They wore toga and all this was regarded as the abandonment of backwardness and become civilised.
Even when the British raj controlled what was the natural geographical region of India, Indians did not rush to dress up in shorts or trousers or suits. Some did but millions did not. The ruling classes of Britain did not approve of, for example, dhoti, which was the dress of most of the Bengali people. The British called it loin cloth and the highly admired British hero Winston Churchill thought of dhoti wearing Indians as half-naked but shorts were perfectly acceptable. As was the wont of Indian parents with money to burn, at least one son was sent to England ostensibly to study, usually, law of the rulers but, most importantly for them, to return home after three to four years to join the much coveted group known as Beelat Ferat , England returned, Indians. Mahatma Gandhi came to England following that tradition and it was universal among slaves to dress up like the master. The Mahatma was no exception and he even tried to learn to play the violin thinking that it will bring extra kudos for him. However, something made him realise that he was Indian but he was giving up a very important feature of his Indian culture. He wore dhoti when he returned home and to the annoyance of both Indian and white sahibs he wore it high as one does when doing manual work. Winston Churchill admired the founding father of Pakistan who always spoke in English, wore three piece suits, used a monocle and ate egg and bacon. He of course drank alcohol and in all probability had no interest in his religion although he professed to be a Muslim and his heart ached at the frightening prospect of his co-religionists being ruled by Hindus. Not unexpectedly, Winston Churchill squirmed with helpless loathing at seeing Gandhi's audacity. He said on one occasion, '…....the nauseating and humiliating spectacle of the one-time Inner Temple lawyer, now seditious fakir, striding half-naked up the steps of the Viceroy's palace on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor!' Winston Churchill was so frustrated with the Mahatma that he wrote in 1919, the year of the Jallian Walla Bag massacre of unarmed men, women and children by General Dyer using Gurkha troops who fired obediently, '(Gandhi) a half-naked fakir who ought to be laid, bound hand and foot, at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back.' It is a wonder that he did not get the Mahatma assassinated.
Gandhi's example must have shamed many Indians so much so that the father of Pandit Nehru, the first prime minister of today's India, a very expensive barrister, discarded his Saville Row suits complete with wing-collars and cravat in favour of kurta pyjama. Ex-Harrovian Nehru himself became Indian in dress. Gandhiji never laid down any rules but one will not see an Indian politician who will not dress up Indian style even today at least in public. The bulk of the populace of course have abandoned Indian clothes and become westernised because they wish to be modern. The only two countries in the whole of Asia and indeed in the world are Bhutan and Mayanmar which have not succumbed to western style apparel as yet.
In the 1940s British India, teenagers and grown- ups used to wear dhoti, kurta pyjama or shalwar kameej depending on their regional origin, that is whether they were Pathans, Marhattas or Tamils among others. Senior Indian staff working in industry, judges and lawyers wore western clothes at work but reverted to Indian apparel once they came home after work. Dhoti disappeared from Bengal around the 1960s to be replaced by jeans and T-shirts, possibly due to US influence, for college boys and girls who were described by young American tourists as 'skinny a...d'. The Indian college boys in turn called short haired scantily dressed black women of Asian origin, visiting India as tourists or television presenters, petnis which could be translated as ugly female ghouls. These young college men and women are not intelligent enough to wonder why they are called such names by the visiting Americans. They will not dream of reverting to Indian clothes which really suit them.
Readers may be interested to know about an Indian girl who was forced to westernise by her father in the city of Kolkata. The well to do father, a Hindu wanted to eat beef which was totally unacceptable to his wife. His wife will not touch him nor would he be allowed to pollute the household by living in it. He built a little den for himself at the bottom of the garden and employed Muslim cook and other staff because Hindus will rather starve than be in close proximity to a beef eater. He forced his daughter, in her early teens to go to a school which was run for white children during the raj time. She was totally lost as she was compelled to abandon her sari and dress in skirts, blouses, ties and stockings. She could not eat the food especially with the aid of cutlery. Communicating in English, particularly when they all spoke Bengali and Hindi, became a trial. The biggest problem for her was being allowed to bathe only once a week because her class mates said that was what civilised people do. One gathers that modern day college boys and girls are avoided by old Indians because of their unbearable body odour.
The Prime Minister of Pakistan and the President of Afghanistan and his cohorts prefer collar and tie to their traditional dress, especially, when they are going outside their countries. If one takes a flight from the gulf states to Europe he will see men and women of those countries in their traditional thobes and long dresses looking elegant as they board the plane. There will be a rush to the wash rooms at lift off for men to change into suits or jeans and women into jeans or short skirts. They look so pitiably downgraded.
The most glaring example of a race's contempt for their own culture generally and clothes in particular is seen with the Chinese who are happy to send troops to occupy countries they covet but no nation can beat them at their slavish attempt at being English. One sees their politicians in western suits, musicians learning western music but not their own and of course dancing western style. The mongoloid races do not have a strong enough culture to last hence the craving for westernisation. The Thai king was once seen sitting suitably suited to receive a European royalty and shaking with fear when the visitor arrived.
The Japanese are a prime example of an eastern race looking towards the west and copying them totally so that they could improve their status in the world. It is recorded that the call for westernisation came from, possibly, the emperor himself in 1885 who announced, 'Japan-abandon Asia- Go west.' To the Japanese the emperor is divine so they obeyed his call. When Japan bombed China convinced that the Chinese were non-humans, calling them 'chunkoro', the powers that be at US condemned the bombing. They said that the act of dropping bombs from the safety of altitude was 'contrary to principles and law of humanity'. The Japanese showed no solidarity with the west even after their vigorous endeavour at westernisation. Japanese children were known to declare in 1944 that they will fight to their death the US and UK. Equally the people of USA did not accept the Japanese as humans. News was circulating in Asian countries that the Japanese were talking about surrendering but Truman ordered dropping of atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki possibly, in spite of western apparel, they were not humans to the citizens of USA; or, possibly, to obtain empirical verification of the efficacy of their nuclear arsenal.
Turks, Africans and AmerIndians:
As in Japan, in 1923 Kemal Ataturk(father Turk) discarded his first name, Mustafa, and declared himself and his countrymen as Europeans at least implicitly. Women's veils and men's turban and fez were outlawed by new statute. In three years the Muslim lunar calendar was replaced by the Gregorian one. Men dressed as Europeans and the old legal system was replaced by secular laws. By 1929 Roman script became the norm. Turkish language was purged of Arabic and Persian words. Almost every Turk one meets outside Turkey today dresses in suits and ties and thinks of himself or herself as white Europeans but they are not members of EU yet! One wonders if the current President of Turkey knows of the 'Old Kingdom' of the Hittites of Anatolia founded around 1650 B.C.E. The constitution such a long time ago was humane and religion not oppressive. Diplomacy was preferred rather than war. It is unlikely they mimicked the western way. They certainly would not join any organisation whose ambition would appear to be to start another war of horrific dimension.
African and Asian leaders dressing up in western clothes, speaking in English and flying about the world and being wined and dined as dukes and barons of long ago must feel flattered that they are now equal in status to their one time masters who were the white men of Europe. They may regret giving up their natural identity centuries from now though. One sees groups in Canada calling themselves First Nations. They want their identity back but most of them look nearly white European through centuries of miscegenation. They dress as their white counterparts do and English seems to be their first language. What identity can they reclaim? A group of South Americans were saying, “We should dress like our ancestors,” but they ponder, “What did they wear?” Their first language now is Portuguese!
All these aspiring people of the Americas, Africa or Asia will not be able to gain their pre colonial identity back. Some say that they are inferior to the white man. An Asian, African or those aspiring ancient people of the Americas will react angrily at the suggestion that the white man is superior but they should take a leaf out of the British book. In the early days of their Indian empire, someone like Robert Clive dressed up like a Moghal grandee occasionally but that was more of a fancy dress for him than conversion to Indian custom. Sexual liaisons between the white Europeans and native women did occur producing a new race in India called now the Anglo-Indians but the Directors of the East India Company soon put a stop to that. The men and women from Europe, there were no black Europeans those days, wore thick clothings, ate fowl, mutton and beef voraciously for their midday meals, drank bottles of madeira and danced and fornicated the nights away. They, as is the custom today, never gave up their way of dressing, stuck to their own form of cooking, spoke in English and generally maintained their British identity as at home in Britain. They lived separately in their own exclusive areas everywhere in India.
Religion plays a very large part in peoples' culture but even many priestly classes do not look into the history of their own religion. There have been sincere efforts among a small group of people to know about other faiths but it is not easy to comprehend a system as varied and complex as Hinduism. At a television debate, a Muslim, who appeared to be an Imam, declared with total confidence that monotheism is the truth but it tends to degenerate into polytheism. It was significant that he used the word, degenerate. It was a preposterous statement. If he cared to find out he would have known that the Celts, Anglo-Saxons or the Norse migrated to the British Isles around 600 B.C.E long before his monotheistic religion was even dreamt about. As with the inhabitants of ancient India, to them natural forces were both awe-inspiring and enchanting. The Imam should have read the Creation Myth of Middle-Earth which propounds that the planet earth is in the middle of an upper and a lower region. At the same time there exists an empty space between two polarities, namely, Fire and Ice. As the empty space explodes, liquid appears which fills three Wells of Wisdom. One of the wells is named the Well of Wyrd above which stands a tree called Barraskr in the old Norse language. The roots of Barraskr contain the realm of wisdom and the lower branches the people. The upper branches are inhabited by what in the English speaking world are called gods who die like all sentient beings. They correspond to the Vedic devas and devis or devatas who have a much longer life span than that of a human but nevertheless who die as well. To the people of the Middle-Earth everything in the earth or the Universe was cyclic. There was no linear time. The Vedic Indians thought in exactly the same way.
Unlike the Muslim despots from the lands of the Arabs, Turks, Persians or Afghans who ruled India for a millennium between them, the British of the 18th century who became the new master did not try to convert the Hindus by the sword. In fact it was quite the contrary. The ruling class respected Hindu culture and even supported the practices sometimes. It was against the law of the land of Britain not to carry a padre if the sailing ship weighed 500 tons or more. The powers that be in India made false declarations of the vessel capacity so that no ship weighed 500 tons. Historians comment that the British surrounded their lives with wine, women and songs. A padre would have ruined their enjoyment. It was also true that they were against mass conversion of Hindus to Christianity although they built a cathedral in Calcutta as soon as they settled down.
Warren Hastings, Governor General of undivided Bengal from 1772 encouraged Sir William Jones, 37 years old when he arrived in India in 1783 as a judge of the supreme court, to learn Sanskrit and tell the world about Hinduism. The Governor General perhaps had in mind the esoteric part of Hinduism but Sir William like his countrymen of today's Britain failed to grasp the axioms and ideas of the Vedas. To the utter disappointment of serious students of what became known as Hinduism he tied his little knowledge of the subject with the Book of Genesis, being a devout believer in Christianity himself. In fact the term Hinduism came into being after the death of Sir William in 1794 as a reaction from the Indians to the vicious attack on it by the British evangelicals who started to arrive in India by then.
William Wilberforce (1759-1833) said that Hinduism was one grand abomination. Yet he campaigned vigorously to abolish slavery. Is it politically incorrect to compare him with modern day white folks who rescue overworked donkeys or dig tube wells in Africa and Asia to provide drinking water for the inhabitants of those continents? Macaulay wrote to his father around 1835 that if the natives could be forced to learn and cultivate the English language,'there will not be a single idolater in Bengal 30 years hence'. The evangelicals had a clause inserted into the charter act of 1813 which stated that through the English language Hindus 'now engaged in the degrading and polluting worship of idols shall be brought to the knowledge of the true God....' Henry Martyn, a missionary in India in the early 19th century passed a temple on his way to somewhere. He could hear the drums and cymbals. He wrote,'.......I shivered at being in the neighbourhood of hell...'. Reginald Hever, Bishop of Calcutta from 1823 wrote Hymn No 1821 as follows:
'In vain with lavish kindness,
The gifts of God are strown;
The heathen in his blindness,
Bows down to wood and stone'.
In British Guyana and the Caribbean generally, the Hindu indentured labourers had great difficulty in westernising unlike the African slaves who became sahibs in all but colour and appearance. Both the white sahibs and the up and coming Africans looked down upon the Hindus and, particularly, their culture to which they clung doggedly. However, the persistent contextual onslaught wore down the newer generations and they got dressed in western suits, used cutlery, spoke English and modified their idea of Hinduism. Around 1930 a unitary, Christianised Hinduism was formulated in Trinidad with the forlorn-hope of being respected therefore by now supremely confident Africans and the white European Christians. Unlike in India, the land of their forefathers, temples became congregational and sermons were given as in a Christian church. The age-old mantras in Sanskrit were transliterated using the English alphabet. Books with such mantras were and still are distributed among the members of a congregation like prayer books in churches. Idols remain but visitors are coaxed into thinking that they were gods as the English told them in India and elsewhere. Everywhere, non-Hindus are told that these gods are really various manifestations of one Almighty God the creator.
The Hindus in Britain are similar and it is impossible to convince them that using parallel terms and ideas as the Christians do confuse the essence of Hinduism. Hindus have the freedom to believe what they wish to believe. Therefore the Hindus outside India or those English speaking ones in India are entitled to believe what they wish to believe. The problem is that they try to say that Hindus are really monotheistic. It is not correct to be categorical about Hinduism, because as a Hindu one is not subjected to a doctrine. There is no organised church nor is there a holy book.
The term worship does not apply. There are many arguments against equating Hinduism or Buddhism with the Semitic religions. In fact an equivalent word to religion does not exist in Sanskrit and possibly in any of the Indian languages. Readers interested in this argument should benefit by reading 'Life as a Siamese Monk' by Randall R, Aukana Publishing, Wiltshire, 1990. He was of course well versed in Christianity but became Buddhist. He writes that Christianity is based on a Creator God, Jesus his son and one with God through the Holy Ghost- the Holy Trinity. The doctrine is that of first causes and beginnings. All persons are born sinners. Salvation is possible only through the intercession of Jesus Christ and the grace of God. He must have blind faith in Jesus because he cannot hope for salvation by his own effort. A Christian can expect everlasting heaven or perdition. For heaven he or she had to supplicate of God for his grace. Gautam Buddha moved away from his henotheistic Hindu heritage and declared clearly that there was no God or original sin and no saviour who granted salvation.
For a Hindu, anna, food, is a deva which is offered by a jib, living being, to deva jathar-agni, the fire of the stomach. This ensures that the eater is sustained and the numerous faculties of a living organism such as senses and impulses remain functional so anna must be treated with respect and reverence. The eater will therefore sit cross-legged and eat with his hand. The hand provides the feeling of sparsha, touch, which is an act of tactile respect. The bolus is then transferred to the fire of the mouth, an act which places the offering to devatas via agni deva, fire. The act of eating which follows is yoga with a deva or many devatas, the choice depending entirely on the eater, hence one should concentrate on eating only silently without engaging in conversation. At the end of his meal, the eater should drink an amount of water an entity from which the consumed anna took form in the soil of planet earth in the first place. At least, for example, a few grains of rice should be left which when scattered would be the food for ants. Eating liquid, such as soup is carried out by taking the bowl to the mouth. An intervening implement such as a spoon rejects the tactile respect due to anna.
The foregoing may be laughed out of practice by people of Africa, Asia, Latin America or the indigenous Australians being non-western and hence primitive and uncivilised but they may consider the following.
Making chairs and tables for the diners' use will add substantially to deforestation considering the population of Asia alone. Cutlery are manufactured from stainless steel which contains a very large amount of nickel and chromium together with small amounts of expensive metals such as molybdenum. Supposing we have 300 million Indians with westernised eating habits and practice. Suppose they use 300 millions each of knife, fork and spoon. To manufacture these implements would require about 85,000 metric tonnes of steel which will incorporate approximately 15,000 tonnes of nickel, 7,000 tonnes of chromium and about 400 tonnes of molybdenum. Such metals are not plentiful like, say, iron and are very expensive to mine and extract from the ores. If India's neighbours and Africa follow suit, there will be scarcity of such metals to the annoyance of NATO and the Chinese. Bombs will surely then drop on them with the approval of the UN Security Council because, after all, US, UK, Russia, France and China are the United Nations. The remainder leaders of nations of the world must obey them or they will end up the same way as Iraq and Libiya, their Heads of state being hanged or shot in the street like a dog after the ubiquitous humiliation.
Undoubtedly, the British began the industrial revolution and they were at the forefront of science and technology. Their language English is wonderful to read and listen to. They have excelled in drama and literature and produced philosophers of great merit. The Africans and Asians could learn from these and improve the quality of life of their citizens but they should look at British humour seriously. Some of the ideas could probably be pursued with the object of both learning about life and entertainment. I must apologise to write this section in first person singular to quote a small part of my total experience of British humour to show how an alien can soon appreciate the subtleties of the humour a country has displayed to its indigenous population.
My father had money to burn and he sent me to England soon after the partition of British India. The object was ostensibly to obtain academic qualification but I think he wanted me to return to India in four years' time and qualify to belong to the elite group of Beelat Ferat, England Returned, and live the rest of my life as a pukka kalo, black, sahib. The fact that I did not want to leave India was of no consequence.
I liked reading cartoons because they had similar things in India, quite likely, an idea copied from the British newspapers and periodicals. Certainly this was one of the benefits of British rule. Within a week or so of my arrival in the UK, I was looking at a long comic sketch in which there was this grandfather in his white longish beard and cloth cap but well dressed in his three piece tweed suit taking his son, also bearded but not grey, daughter-in-law and cheeky grandson Willie out for supper. He lived with them and probably, in one of his weaker moments, he wanted to give his daughter-in-law a respite from cooking and in the process treat the whole family. It was apparent that he budgeted generously for half a crown per head; this was 1949. However, true to form, his family started free-loading to the upper limit and grandfather swooned many times inside as he calculated the loss of finance at his own stupidity in taking them out. He suddenly burst out, “Jinks! What are you trying to do? Eat me out of house and home?” or something similar. I became paroxysmal and remained in that state for some time holding my stomach. People around me had puzzled looks about them and although I described and showed them the sketch, they were not that much amused.
I could never find the stand-up comedians funny. Punch lines were not the culture in comic performances in India at least in Bengal. Once, long after my arrival in Britain, I was with a group of people on the last evening of a conference when we were being entertained by a comedian after dinner. I was concerned that I was off-putting to him because my small table was in the front and I was not laughing at all. He was looking at me every so often. A time came when he started telling the audience a story about a rather pugnacious monkey. I immediately recalled an encounter between a college student and a vengeful monkey in a zoo in Kolkata a long time ago. So I listened to the presentation of our comedian carefully. He said that a man went to the monkey enclosure in a zoo and as he stood outside, a monkey came and stared at him as if he was an object of curiosity. The monkey soon started to mimic whatever the man did. For example, the man may have adjusted his hair which dropped on his forehead or he adjusted his tie. The monkey followed suit and went on repeating the man's gestures with a serious face and eyes fixed on his victim. It went on for sometime. The man was so angry and humiliated that he bought two of each item someone needs to have a shave with a cut-throat razor. He went next day to the zoo and went over to the monkey enclosure. The monkey recognised him and came over and took the items for shaving as the man offered them. The man sharpened his razor on the leather strap. The monkey did that. The man moistened his brush in the jug of water and created a foam using the stick of soap. The monkey did that. He applied the soap to his face. The monkey did that. The man shaved. The monkey went through the motion but did not touch his face with the razor. The man wiped off the residual soap from his face with a hand towel. The monkey did that. The man held the sharp end of the razor near his throat and made quick movement as if to sever his throat. The monkey did 'that' and walked away. The comedian did a 'two-finger' sign as he said 'that'.
I dissolved into loud laughter- pure unadulterated painful amusement; oxymoron? The comedian beamed, moved forward to the edge of the stage and said to me, “I thought I will get you some time.” My guilt at not responding to his jokes before for which he worked so hard evaporated. I exonerated myself by honouring him.
I read Philip Larkin's book, 'High Windows', Faber, London, 1976. As he talks about the subject of joke and laughter, he gives an example of dry humour.: A group of friends of a deceased man gathered together to remember and celebrate his life. A friend got up and said:
When I drop four cubes of ice,
Chimingly in a glass and add,
Three goes of gin, a lemon slice
And let a ten ounce tonic void,
In foaming gulps until it smothers
Everything else up to the edge,
I lift the lot in silent pledge:
He Devoted His Life To Others.
Larkin comments that one aspect of the humour is the conceptual disjunction between having the all important liquid refreshment which makes one merry, bold and loquacious. There is an attempt, however, to counterbalance such blatant frivolity on an august occasion by the addition of a noble sentiment in the final line. The conceptual feature is followed at speed with the rhetorical effect caused by the unexpected bathos dropped on the gathering by the final line, viz., 'He devoted his life to others'. It is very important that the rhetorical statement must be unexpected and sudden. Brevity and speed are essential. Otherwise wit is not effective. I understood the mechanism of this type of humour as explained by Larkin but the joke in the given example totally escaped me and I mentioned this to colleagues who were all University trained. They said with sympathy that during my sojourn here I had taken up the working class culture of Great Britain; Larkin's example had brought together two important features, viz., (a) conceptual and (b) rhetorical. The presentation was meant for a middle class audience. True enough- it occurred to me that I never had any interaction with white middle class Britishers. They never socialised with me but the working class did. They often invited me to their homes. Their wives struggled to find food for me and I did not arrive even with a bunch of flowers for the ladies. How ignorant was I of the culture of the land! After so many years, my behaviour still rankles with me; those lovely generous ladies!
Humour is contingent on the culture of a group of people because I tried many audiences in the UK with Indian jokes translated into English. Nobody has laughed yet. It could be my delivery of course as the Irishman Frank Carson used to say, “The way I tell them.” This reminds me of a working class limerick which I found on a tea towel and which appealed to me greatly:
An Irishman's Philosophy
There are only two things to worry about,
Either you are well or you are sick.
If you are well,
Then there is nothing to worry about.
But if you are sick,
There are two things to worry about,
Either you will get well or you will die.
If you get well,
There is nothing to worry about.
If you die,
There are only two things to worry about.
Either you will go to heaven or hell.
If you go to heaven there is nothing to worry about.
But if you go to hell,
You will be so damn busy shaking hands with friends,
You won't have time to worry!
It does fit in with Philip Larkin's analysis of jokes; does it not?
A cultural practice of the Scots and, perhaps, the Welsh and the Irish also is to talk too much and not polish their shoes, somewhat similar to Indians in India. An Englishman, on the other hand, will keep his shoes polished, even in the desert with his handkerchief. He is economical with words while conversing. He would generally express himself by a number of incomplete sentences accompanied by hesitant 'hum' and 'ha'. An English working class man told me:
“You worry you die; you don't worry you die; so why worry?”
I do not think that there are many other races in our world who have produced such excellent comic sketches as the Anglo-Celtic ones did in the 20th century. There is this Rab C Nesbitt in Glasgow, no use to man or beast, but a beer-induced spontaneous philosophaster. I watch with pleasure repeats of Dad's Army, Ain't half hot mum, Till death us do part and many other similar renderings but translated versions of these do not mean much even to the very westernised Indians in India. I wonder if we are seeing the demise of western civilisation because I cannot stomach modern comics. They are obsessed with genitals, excrements and such things. One feels sorry for them with their forced gestures and laughter rather than be frustrated.
Music and Dance
There is this music for customers' entertainment in night clubs in the west which is finding global approval particularly in Asia. It would appear to a stranger to just have a single tune with single catchy drum beats. People in Europe get immediately involved and start shaking their bodies and bob up and down. India's Bollywood cinema has copied this idea and music and dance routine by jeans- clad heroes is very popular among the great multitude of people who visit cinema halls even from today's homes with television. Night clubs are appearing in cities particularly for college boys and girls. They take drugs because that is what the westerners do. They have even adopted the Qawalli, devotional songs sung by a Muslim sect. Instead of tabla they use western percussion instrument and gyrate on the floor to syncopated drum beats. Like their counterparts in Europe they have little interest in structured dancing such as waltz, fox-trot or quadrille.
Youngsters of my generation in India never experienced night clubs. My first experience of western dancing was on board the ship which transported me to Britain first time. I used to watch occasionally Anglo Indians, Europeans and some anglicised Indians engaged in ballroom dancing. I had no ambition to join them and learn but to me the steps appeared to be well structured but mechanical. Once I went to a Christmas party in England which I did not enjoy much. During lunch, next Monday, one of my colleagues complained that I did not once get up for a dance. He was my contemporary and did his PhD in an Engineering subject in the 1950s. He must have had an analytical brain and tenacity because it was no mean feat in those early days of post-graduate course development by research in Engineering subjects. In my boundless deficiency of prescience I replied to my chastising colleague that my culture does not include individual dancing, an activity reserved for professionals who perform for the public. At any rate I feel silly just stamping my feet or twisting my body or nodding my head with the unimaginative, monotonous drum beats you have. To sugar the pill, I added rather insincerely, “I like to see the natives performing on the dance floor though,” My colleague's face went red and I thought that he was going to punch me. Instead he shouted, “Who are you calling natives? You are the native!” For some reason Kenneth Williams flashed through my mind as Julius Caesar in a 'Carry On' film where he thunders down the corridors screaming at his inimical conspirators with his inimitable voice, “Infamy, Infamy, they have got it infamy.”
I of course get emotionally involved in some of the popular British songs but what appeal to me most are the madrigal, the Gregorian chant of the 6th century CE and of course Bach and Beethoven. Unfortunately my understanding of European music is little except that I have read that, unlike classical Indian music, the dominant characteristic of the European one is polyphony, the composition of music being in parts each with an independent melody of its own. Something that is always confusing and distracting to me is the introduction of a counterpoint called harmony. I very much like listening to a choir where, I am told that different notes are sung in a planned sequence producing a combined effect. There is of course this orchestral music where many different instrumental musicians play from different scores producing music which is greater than the sum of its parts.
Yehudi Menuhin says that long before the Muslim irruption, India had a peaceful period which allowed every art form and literature and philosophy to thrive. He says that the purity of Indian music was not disturbed and the complexity of melodic ornamentation accrued over centuries because Indian music was not, his word, drowned in harmony.
There is no Yehudi Menuhin to tell the gyrating young girls and boys of India about the culture of music, literature, philosophy or dance of their land but it is apposite to say a word about Indian classical dance here.
In Indian performances, every art form and hence dance must express one of the nine modes, nava rasa:
(1) Shringara (Erotic).
(2) Hasya (Comic).
(3) Karun (Sad).
(4) Raudra (Furious).
(5) Vir (Heroic).
(6) Bhayanak (Frightening).
(7) Vibhatsa (Grotesque).
(8) Adbhut (Strange).
(9) Shanta (Calm).
A dancer or a group of men and women will dance to enact a mythological tale with the aid of dance steps and abhinaya, acting, and the use of mudra, hand gestures. There are famous temple dancers where there will be images, murtis, the much maligned idols as the Muslims and Christians know them. The murtis of course are forms to represent devatas and they can be anthropomorphic, theriomorphic or therianthropic. The problem with the Indian people is that they are incapable of learning the basis and history of, say, an art form and they just glance at an existing image and produce one in a totally arbitrary manner. The fact is that the iconography in terms of features, colours or particular still-life postures represent actions with an object or purpose in view. Thus a murti shown to rest his foot firmly on an animate form is suggesting to the viewers to keep their cravings in check.
The Jewel in the Crown
It was hard to find a white Britisher in India during raj time who had anything encouraging to say about Indians. They lived as far away from the natives or coolies as they called them including Mahatma Gandhi but that is common among most nationalities. If you visit one of the Arab countries which depends on immigrant labour from academics to road builders you will find Indians both Hindus and Muslims socialising together but the latter will not go near the Pakistani community. This is very odd because the whole prospectus for creating Pakistan was to obtain a home for the Indian Muslims once the protection of the British ended. The Arabs never entertained non-Arabs and the Africans, Koreans, Phillipinos or Bangladeshis all had their exclusive groups. Even the Scots celebrated Robbi Burn's supper or held their own dance nights to which even the English were not invited.
India has shrunk geographically over many centuries largely due to foreign invasion.
Only in recent history the country lost 25% of its geographical area but powers that be, the sahibs in Calcutta or Shimla, never saw the writing on the wall. The Hindu population declined from 75.09% in 1881 to 69,46% in 1941 whereas the corresponding increase in Muslim population was from 19.97% to 24.28%. The number of Muslims diminished after partition of the country in what remained of India because the majority Muslim areas became Pakistan but within a period of 40 years the Muslim population has increased from 9.91 % to 12.20%. in today's India.
The powers that be never saw the writing on the wall because they never wanted to. They probably did not know or were not interested to know that the invading Muslims became detached from the cultures of Mesopotamia or Asia Minor and took a delight in vandalising India. They imposed their culture by sword. Enthusiastic iconoclasts, in their imbecility, laid waste temples, looting all the gold and silver. They even burnt priceless Hindu and Buddhist philosophical manuscripts, notably in the Nalanda library in Bihar in the 12th century CE. Muslims invaded Sind in the 7th century and advanced to all parts of India and persecution of Hindus did not abate until the death of the last effective Moghal emperor in1707.
It is necessary to mention the misfortune of the Hindus because of the incompetent Maharajas who could not repel the invading Arabs or Turks. The Hindus must have been delighted that the new conquerors expelled Muslim rule from India. The British never saw that. As is their custom today the Europeans generally and the British in particular consider themselves exceptional in the comity of human beings. They must impose their way of living on all and sundry without ever abandoning their own superior status in the world. They, you would think, will begin their rule of an unknown country to them such as India by studying the existing system which the Indians followed to maintain their material life and culture. If they had they would have seen that the true Indians were those belonging to the village communities. They were the ones who represented the political units and the social practices, not the rajas and Maharajas. Small political cells formed by villagers became gramagala occasionally by forming a confederacy but each cell retained its own way of life. Sometimes as many as 84 villages combined with an officer nominally being the man in-charge, probably appointed by a raja. The particular confederacies were known as chowrasees The appointed officers could not interfere with the ways of life of the villagers. In all probability they collected taxes and also helped in keeping law and order.
A Hindu would seldom go beyond the perimeter of his village. Telling lies was uncommon between people in a village because misbehaviour was punished by social exclusion although there were procedures for expiation. The most common accusation heaped on the Indians by the British of all classes was that the Indians were liars and therefore could not be depended on. It is true that raiding a neighbouring village which was outside their particular gramagala was not uncommon but a person arriving at a village from another was an atithi, guest, to expect respect and undivided attention.
Colonel Sleeman who was appointed as the commissioner for extirpating the Thugges which he did in the period 1826-1835 writes: 'I have had before me hundreds of cases in which a man's property, liberty and life had depended upon his telling a lie and he had refused to tell it'. A village life was the most important part of his culture. London Times, 1882, shows India to have 448,320 villages with a population in each being less than 1,000. There were 45,109 towns with population in each more than 1,000. In Bengal, expansion into town was encouraged by the raj.
The villages were little republics and self contained and self confident. The population comprised land holders, agricultural labourers, performer of rituals, servants, blacksmith, carpenter, accountant, washerman, potter, barber etc. As in modern times as soon as they ensured the superiority of their military and police force, the raj started dismantling India's infrastructure. Lord Cornwallis made radical reform to land management and Indians became confused. In 1790 courts passed into the hands of the white British judges. Lord Wellesley, who arrived in India in 1798, began the policy of territorial annexation resulting in the imposition of the British way of Government in parts other than Bengal. Lord William Bentinck, Governor General of India from 1828-1835 insisted on Anglicist reforms. Macaulay imposed the English language in 1835. Even after their direct Indian experience of nearly 150 years Lord Curzon declared in 1901, 'Viceroy's strength lay in the extraordinary inferiority in character, honesty and capacity of the Indians'. He said that in the whole subcontinent there was not a single Indian fit for a responsible administrative position.
The Bengalis particularly embraced English education with great gusto and as they started to declare they were now educated the resident sahibs became irritated. From the 1880s onwards the Britishers in India became aware and apprehensive of the 'educated' Indians. One could not blame them because Macaulay inadvertently elevated the Bengalis who knew English literature better than the sahibs who knew of nothing else but enjoying their lives to the full. Soon Indians started to appear as Deputy Magistrates, college lecturers and junior administrators. The sahibs and memsahibs were fuming helplessly. An Englishwoman wrote in The Englishman that now civilised women will come under the legal jurisdiction of those who are on the outer verge of civilisation. The Englishman printed 'Wanted sweepers.....None but educated Bengalis need apply.' The people of Britain were generally indifferent although The Times strongly supported the racist cause of the white man in India.
India has been the jewel in the crown for the British as described by the British. Yet by all accounts they hated Indians and the country itself. They settled all over the globe but not in India. If it was the heat that deterred them there were regions in India which provided a cool environment. If it was the snow they missed there were areas where it snowed. They went on criticising India and do so even now but they never realise that they were the rulers for nearly 200 years!
We need to emphasise that there are fragments of western culture which the global population could emulate to their advantage but getting dressed up in suits and ties is not the priority as it seems to be among the non-European nations. Have you ever seen even an Australian in kurta pyjama in Pakistan or thobe or sarong in Mayanmar?You look cadaverous in western clothes. Stop trying to express yourself in English which is not your mother tongue. You will always be at a disadvantage when you wish to compete in the world over matters important to your country. By all means learn the language if you wish to read English literature. You will discover the beauty of the language and the thinking of their poets and novelists or playwrights. If you say it is the world's lingua franca which must be learnt for the advancement of your country you could train selected people who will interpret and translate for your nation. There is no need for cutlery. Learn to expand your public transport, perhaps, by the use of solar power. An industrialist in India is producing cheap motor cars. He announces rather grandly that the model is people's car. Yet India still does not have an adequate public transport system! The grid lock in Lagos has to be experienced to believe it. Above all do not allow a second phase of occupation by the Europeans and now the Chinese under the guise of aid and/or industrial development. Remember, the wilder beast in huge number stampedes instead of standing up to the predator; the lion or hyena picks off the weak one among the fleeing animals.
Have you ever thought how much money and manpower you would save if you left the UN? It is a victors' club with the Chinese now as their welcome partner. The Chinese will fool you easily but remember Tibet. They walked in with guns and bombs while the victims tried to defend themselves with sticks and stones. You may appreciate how sly they are if you knew the large regions of Amdo and Kham have already been erased from the Tibetan nation as it was. They are Chinese provinces with Chinese names. Ngari and Tsang-U are described differently. The Tibetans are in the process of being reduced to a minority by ethnic pollution as the Chinese, sometimes forcefully, settling Han Chinese in their country of yesterday. The Uighurs in the north west have suffered a similar fate. UN and the world powers just look on with fear and indifference. While you wine and dine these powers, your mineral resources are being whittled away. Your penurious progeny will not forgive you.