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India has a strong and well developed body, but her face is darkened with self-doubt

Manjula Padmanabhan

In the community of the world's nations, what sort of individual is India? I would says, a neurotic adolescent female with past life delusions. She is the unhappy progeny of a colonial emperor who coupled recklessly with a harem of traditional cultures. Then discarded them when their hybrid offspring failed to conform to the ideals of either parent.

This one, India, has a strong and well developed body, both tall and wide, but her face is darkened with self-doubt and acne. She's thin but not because she cannot feed herself. Her lack of self-esteem makes the effort seem unjustified. Like a victim of anorexia in the real world, she starves herself wantonly, as an unconscious punishment for her inability to merge her unique identity with the homogenised melting pot of the modern world.

While eating disorders have been the crisis which she has been traditionally associated with, more recently other types of self-abuse have been included in her repertoire. She is, for instance, heading for chronic dehydration, her rich forests are thinning out and her reserves of energy are falling severely short of her requirements. She has fits of violence and suicidal despair. She is moody and temperamental.

In her early years, the one virtue with which she was routinely characterised was an attitude of tolerance verging on apathy. Her detractors called it a lack of moral force, while her champions identified it as a philosophical maturity, the legacy of centuries of civilisation. But is recent years her detractors seem to have been vindicated. Like many young people, she has responded to the confusions and uncertainties of the modern age by turning away from the path of reason towards superstition and ritual.

Many gods and prophets crowd her altar. Many qualities are represented, many traditions and orthodoxies. But, increasingly the deity that presides over all others is the blood-browed spirit of raw Fanaticism. He is an old god but one whose simplistic formulae are perfectly suited to the insecurities of today. Rather cleverly, he likes to use icons borrowed from the Catholic church to fill his alcoves.

Modern India's fundamentalists don't talk about rebirth and fatalism. Instead, they like to flirt with Christian concepts such as 'salvation' and 'consecration' and 'heaven' in the sense of the infinite acres of celestial real estate awaiting the devout deceased. And why not? The uncertain rewards of a million rebirths are nothing when compared to the instant gratification offered by 'World without end, Amen!'

Like many adolescents, modern India blames one of her parents for all her failings, in this case, the colonial father. He is blamed for everything, from the low self-image to the lack of prestige in the international arena. His names are removed from city streets and his memory is constantly being dishonoured. He is accused of having assaulted the chaste and unblemished mother culture, who, if not for her unfortunate historical encounter would have sailed into the 20th century with her head held high. The inheritance of industries, railways, fiscal and legislative structures are treated with contempt and suspicion.

But India responds like a typically father-fixated daughter to the first sugar daddy nation who happens to court her with fast food and soft drinks.

She is unable or unwilling to examine the evidence of the record. That the mother culture was herself just the latest in a series of illegitimate daughters caused by successive invaders. That either there was never any period of perfect chastity or else that in cultural terms, innocence is a severe liability. It creates an atmosphere of indifference to the tide of change that is constantly lapping at the shores of reality. It breeds incompetence and is an irresistible lure for more vigorous cultures. Particularly when there are resources to be plundered, weaknesses to be exploited.

The results of the recent election provide a tempting subject of psychoanalysis. Conveniently, three political entities have emerged inviting a comparison to the basic Freudian troika of self. The Congress party represents the superego, the hopeless idealist, whose vainglorious rantings skew all plan and projections by raising unattainable goals. The United and Left Fronts represent the pragmatic ego with its homespun austerities and peculiarly unappetising tonics for the nation's ills. And the BJP? The BJP has to be the Id, the source of dark, unspeakable urges, of unexamined passions, of invisible but potent forces.

In a sense, the pubescent Indian nation has been shown that she is in the grip of her turbulent Id, unable to face it, unable to cast it out. Some forms of therapy encourage the patient to act out her repressed desires. Maybe that's what lies in store for us in the weeks ahead. We can only hope that at the end of the exercise, we won't all need electro-shock treatment and padded cells.

Illustrations: Dominic Xavier

Manjula Padmanabhan

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