The empire strikes back
Author: Suma Varghese
Free Press Journal
Date: December 5,
I know this is a
slightly delayed reaction, but I cannot resist making it. I refer to the much-publicised
British Golden Jubilee Banquet held in London a few weeks back. It was here that
Cherie Blair, the PM's wife, stole all our hearts by turning up in a
sari. But I refer to
a more momentous event than that. Namely, Prince Charles speech.
Prince made some remarkable disclosures. First, he thanked India for "its
civilising influence over Britain", then proposed a toast for "real
India, the enduring and everlasting India", an India that had preserved its
identity through its experience of colonisation, and which must now fight the
invasion of satellite television.
This is amazing.
India having a civilising influence over Britain? Where does that leave the
white man's burden? Imagine, the crown prince of Britain admitting that the
civilising had been as much from the invaded country to the invading country as
vice versa. What a volte face for a nation that
systematically during its 300 years of rule, denigrated every aspect of the
'native' culture, including its philosophy and spirituality, and supplanted it
with its own imperial values, attitude and approaches. The prince of a nation
that has done more than any other to alienate us from our traditional culture
and way of life, today acknowledges the "civilising influence" of such
In the same vein, he
went on to congratulate us for having withstood the experience of colonialism, a
'colonialism' his own country imposed! Here is an implicit acknowledgement of
the less than salubrious impact of colonialism; a concession that their conquest
may have damaged us. Considering that his mother did not have the bigness to
apologise for the Jallianwallah massacre, this is downright handsome of the son.
And to think he
should have the sensitivity and depth to penetrate into "the real India,
the enduring India."
There is, in the
Prince's speech, a profound shift from the popular perception of the
Indo-British relationship. Instead of seeing India as a former imperial colony
and a Third World nation, he sees it as a perennial civilisation, one nothing
can vanquish, and which can, in rum, not vanquish, but transform its invaders.
We can see this
happen in the case of the Prince himself If the British conquered us yesterday
with their superior strategy and physical might, today we seem to have conquered
them with the force of our philosophy. On the same occasion,
the Prince quoted
Vedic hymns, revealing his acquaintance with the heart of India's philosophy
and spirituality. His fondness for Indian classical music, which derives its
aesthetics from the same philosophy, is yet another indication of the Prince's
affinity for our culture.
Nor is he the only
one in the Royal household to feel the lure of the East. His late ex-wife, the
Princess Diana, was also attracted to the sub-continent -- mostly Pakistan, and
had an active interest in spirituality. The Duchess of York, who came
recently to India for a homeopathic cure, is reportedly an admirer of
India's holistic therapies.
Our ancient hoary
land has wrought its magic once again. It's as the sages and philosophers have
always maintained. By constant transformation, India remains her essential self;
in turn, this essential self is the instrument of the world's transformation.
Vivekananda, for instance. "What may be that force which causes this
afflicted and suffering people, the Hindu... to survive when other nations
perish? The cause can only be their spiritual force."
Says Sir Jagdish
Chandra Bose, "By continuous living tradition and a vital power of
rejuvenescence, this land has readjusted itself through unnumbered
Asks Dr S.
Radhakrishnan: "By what strange social alchemy has India subdued her
conquerors, transforming them to her very self and substance..... ? Why is it
that her conquerors have not been able to impose on her their language, their
customs, except in
So what indeed is
the secret of India'a enduring vitality? How do we account for its
transformatory power? What did Prince Charles mean when referring to the 'real
India, the enduring and everlasting India"?
The tragedy is that
while the prince of an alien nation could see this aspect of India, most of us
in contemporary, urban India are out of touch with it. Caught in the maelstrom
of change, it is difficult for us to step back far enough to see the continuity
of our culture. At the most, the Prince's words will conjure up some vague
images of our Vedic past, but of its real relevance to our present life, we have
little or no notion.
"real" India survives, and even thrives. Indeed, if we continue to
exist despite our manifold problems, it is her we have to thank.
The real secret of
India's survival is its tolerance, its inclusion. What has kept it from being
swallowed whole by its conquerors, or warped beyond recognition, is its limpid
ability to accept
the cultures, tradition and above all, the religions of alien rulers. The
Muslims came, and we accepted them. Islam began to flourish in all corners, but
if it did not become the dominant religion, it is because we did not resist its
spread. The same
with British rule
and the spread of Christianity. The number of Christians in the country are
certainly not enough to threaten Hinduism, and that is because Indian coexisted
with them, rather than trying to wipe them out.
There is a profound
lesson for all of us in this approach. Indeed, now that personal growth has
become such a mainstream activity, it is one of the first principles of
What we resist,
persists; what we accept, can he transformed. Almost all of us will have had
occasion to encounter the truth and wisdom of this observation.
Make the mistake of
hating someone, and you will forever be yoked to thoughts of that person. You
cannot get away from them. Wherever you go, his presence pursues you; no matter
what you think, eventually, your mind wanders back to the hated object.
Had you loved him,
you would not have been so much possessed by your feelings as you become in
hate. The same is true of any vice we attempt to give up. The more we resist it,
the greater the urge. The more we hate ourselves for giving in to it, the
its power over us.
It is only when we accept ourselves implicitly. weakness and all, that it
loosens its hold over us. From a larger context, if we were to stop protesting
manifold flaws of
the country and moved towards accepting it instead, we would be in a position to
acceptance, as anyone interested in personal growth will tell you, are the twin
mechanisms of transformation. They will also tell you that they are about the
most difficult and challenging aspects to attain. How then, did our country,
is to say, all of us
as a whole, achieve this feat?
Here is where we
glimpse the continuity that binds us, and which makes us uniquely Indian. The
answer lies in the Vedic heritage, with its belief in the unity of all creation.
Believing as we did that all is one and all is holy, we naturally inclined
towards interconnection and a sense of reverence towards all that exists. If
this has made us respect and serve all forms of life, our traditional pursuit of
self-realisation as the purpose of life, has given us respect for all forms of
religion, which we see as different paths to the same truth. Little wonder then,
that we are tolerant and open-minded, and accepting of diverse viewpoints.
This catholicism is
part of our heritage, and whether we are conscious of it, of our personality.
Moving consciously towards it, and making it a part of ourselves will give us an
untold edge in effective living. It will also ensure, as the Prince solicitously
advised us, that we don't lose our essential selves to the satellite revolution.