Varsha Bhosle -- this is for you.
There is nothing like an emotional impetus to put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, if you please.
A few weeks back, I read in the media about Varsha Bhosle's tragic death. It jogged my memory and brought back poignant souvenirs.
It was in late October 1999. I received a message that a certain "Mrs" Bhosle had called from Bombay (as I still thought of the city where I was born).
Since I didn't know any Mrs Bhosle, I was intrigued. Then, I remembered that the redoubtable Marathi connection in our family, my mejo di (Bengali readers will be familiar with this appellation), Nibha Walawalkar, was fond of passing on my telephone number to her vast circle of friends and acquaintances in the western metropolis.
Call back? Why not? Otherwise, I ran the risk of serious flak from my didi -- she was married not only to a Marathi but a Sandhurst-trained Maratha, Colonel Bhal Walawalkar. Never you mind that he was the most gentle and considerate brother-in-law. But my didi was more formidable than his entire former regiment put together.
I called. The lady at the other end was both animated and delighted. She muttered something about the "Pioneer" people (and specially their telephone operator) as being "most unhelpful". She had to make many calls to get my number. The reason for her trying to contact me was that she wanted to know more about an editorial piece I had written in The Pioneer a few months earlier, since she was writing a piece on the same subject.
The penny dropped -- I had indeed read a few of her writings on a new internet site called Rediff.com and rather liked them. I, on the other hand, was an occasional columnist and wrote only when something or some person seriously got my goat. The poor telephone operator could hardly be blamed -- the only person who guarded my number was the Pioneer's edit page editor, a delightful soul, who is still close to me, though he has moved on in life.
The Indian net scene was at a nascent stage at that time but Rediff was clearly the leader of the pack. Varsha wanted me to answer her queries on my article immediately. I told her it would take me some time to go through the background material that I invariably collect for any article. She sounded excited and upset at the same time, but I promised I would call back and reminded her of my track record. That reassured her somewhat.
Even before the appointed time, she called me. I was mightily relieved that I had done my homework by then. We had a long and very cordial discussion. She signed off and said she would send me her article. She never did, but a friend of mine pointed it out and I read it.
She was generous in her article where she quoted me extensively. I was touched and flattered.
Wanted to thank her, which I did by e-mail. Never got a response. However, after that, I read her columns fairly regularly and empathised with her views and thoughts on most occasions, though we never interacted directly after that.
I was convinced that Varsha was one of the few writers in the Indian Fourth Estate who could take on the gang of "secularists" and "liberals", who covered up their abysmal knowledge of our history, civilisation, ethos and culture, only through their English vocabulary and prose. These hacks were word-meisters and spin-doctors, but serious writers, never. More on this tribe later.
Over the years, the media grapevine provided periodic news of Varsha's medical and mental problems and soon her column stopped -- or was it my fault that I did not look hard enough?
This brings me back to the lonely brigade of Indic culture empathisers in the nation's Fourth Estate, both in the print and the electronic varieties, and in the Indian academic and intellectual world as a whole. This does not mean that there are not enough "Hindu Internet Fanatics", as one TV anchor derisively labelled them. Thankfully, there are a huge number who rush to defend their history and perceived social consciousness when these are trampled upon. But these valiant soldiers are just that -- mere foot soldiers. They need their colonels, brigadiers and generals, like Varsha, to guide them and lead them in the war.
Make no mistake -- it is a war out there. The most prominent figures in the desi media and the academic world are ardent "secularists", whose raison d'etre is to mock, trivialise, distort and undermine our ancient heritage and civilisation. Backed by formidable money power in the large print organisations and the political power of the Indian state establishment, these Gunga Din types are in action almost every day, sprouting their sordid agenda. If their venom against their own roots is spewed out before an international (read "Western") audience, the more is their zeal.
What makes these characters the way they are? One explanation puts the blame on the "Macaulay indoctrination", in the course of which English education spread in the country, starting with Bengal in the mid-19th century. The spread of English language educational institutions in urban India led to a decline in the institutions that primarily used Indian languages. This inevitably led to young Indian minds forgetting their own culture and history, and losing their ancient civilisational roots.
However, this thesis is clearly facile. To start with, until recently, the initial years of schooling for most Indian children, even in urban India, were in Indian languages. The passage to a full English curriculum took place in late middle-school, around the age of 11-13. Unless, of course, you were in one of the so-called convent schools, where the medium of instruction was English throughout. These, then, could possibly be the culprits.
Here again, we may be generalising. Some of the finest products of the Bengal Renaissance were groomed in these convent institutions. One of the most powerful poets in the Bengali language, Michael Madhusudhan Dutt, was from this milieu. Poet Tagore too went to a missionary school. Netaji Subhas Bose and Sri Aurobindo both went to Cambridge, where they nurtured their Indian roots. No, we will have to seek the causes of the malaise elsewhere.
An extremely perceptive analysis of the mental make-up of colonided populations was done by the Franco-West Indian scholar Frantz Fanon, whose iconic work The Wretched of the Earth is well-known in India and the English-speaking world. However, his earlier book Black Skin, White Masks (1952) contains the assessment of the issue we are concerned with here -- the feeling of inadequacy and low self-esteem that colonised people display vis-à-vis their erstwhile conquerors and colonisers. In this pioneering study, Fanon looks at black people who had lost their indigenous culture and had embraced the civilisation of their occupiers. They ape the norms of the colonisers fervently, while running down their own indigenous roots. This trait, according to Fanon, is particularly widespread among the upwardly mobile and educated blacks.
There we have it -- this is a perfect parallel to the phenomenon we see in India. After 800 odd years of Islamic and British rule, the Indian elite and intellectuals are copybook examples of the Fanon phenomenon. Living, breathing purveyors of a sordid ideology. Their make-believe world is that of the Mughal conquerors and the English overlords; it is through these prisms that they view their own pre-colonial civilisation and heritage. Running down an ethos that goes back 4000 years or so is what gives these people their daily high.
A cousin of mine, a nuclear physicist by training, who divides his time between Europe and California, and shares with me the same Vedic monotheistic Brahmo Samaj upbringing, was outraged when he read one of these secularist storm-trooper's eulogy of Husain and wrote to this ex-Calcutta denizen that the fellow was still living in the "make-believe planet of Billy Bunter and Battler Britain, Enid Blyton and Wodehouse", while the real bhadralog, who had also gone through the same English convent-school route, had never adopted the factotum's mind-set and world views as this man had. Ouch, this must have hurt.
However, the desi secularist storm-troopers carry on regardless. One can understand what drives the press hacks, the politicos and the Page 3 slickers. But the "intellectuals", the "buddhi-jeevis" as we call them? Justifying the destruction of the Somnath temple and eulogising genocidal maniacs like Tughlaq, Aurangzeb and Babar?
The American playwright Lillian Hellman said it so well: "Intellectuals can tell themselves anything, sell themselves any bill of goods, which is why they are so often patsies of the ruling classes." In India, "our secularist intellectuals" are always selling snake juice to the public.
Let me sign off with the British poet John Cooper Clarke, who wanted people to "maintain a mistrust of intellectuals." This is because these fellows were "all the time condoning some of the worst barbarities".
In any case, Varsha, the tormented soul, is now on her eternal journey. All I can do is wish her peace and reassure her that Indic civilisation still has resolute defenders. Yes, two telephone calls can stay in one's memory for a long time.Jay Bhattacharjee is a corporate-business analyst and a political commentator