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Pravasi Special: The India I want to see

January 08, 2015 14:00 IST

The very purpose for the existence of a Raj, a government -- and authority to levy taxes -- is to ensure the safety and security for its citizens. Failing this, it is unfit to rule, says educationist Dr Shashi K Pande.

As India gears up to honour its pravasis on January 9 to mark their contribution in the nation’s development, presents perspectives from eminent writers on the Diaspora.

Earlier in the series:

Pravasi Special: A look back in anxiety The coup that changed India's Diaspora policy ' Pravasi Special: Friends of India

'India has stayed in my blood' ' Bharat Mata and her children

Somerset Maugham, an astute observer of the human scene, wrote somewhere that to know one’s own country a person should have lived in two others as well. And earned a livelihood in them -- he might have added. 

One then rubs against the meat and potatoes of the place. 

Pravasis such as Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Ambedkar, Azad, Jinnah (yes, he was also once an Indian Pravasi) met these contingencies -- some more, some less.

While distance gives a perspective on the homeland, the returnee is nevertheless transiently a bit like the ‘prodigal son.’

With humility, therefore, an appraisal follows with some thoughts on the hoped-for changes. 

Initial impressions first.

Vitality, creativity, elasticity, diversity, emotionality, continuity, longanimity, spirituality (in the folk and popular sense) -- these are the adjectives that jump to the mind after one arrives and begins to interact pell-mell with the seemingly chaotic India. 

Contrast is stark if one arrives after a spell of having lived for some time in the staid, sober, slightly jaded, rational West.

India, although old and hoary with age, comes across at first blush as young and vital, bubbling with life, energy and elan -- unageing.

All this is relative, of course. But it happens also to be quite important, psychologically -- if India wants to preserve this anti-ageing talisman woven into the fabric of its civilisation.

What has concocted this alchemy in this particular civilisation?

In my opinion, three inter-related strands contribute to the vitality, the vigour, and the ever contemporary, ever antique ‘feel’ of eternal India. 

First: India’s unique cosmology about Time. Even though it may appear outright farcical to a Thomas Babington Macaulay type of mindset -- if taken literally, it is -- it nevertheless has an enormous impact on the daily rhythm of life in India. 

Awash in symbols and myths, many connected with this cosmology, India has largely annihilated the experience of Time. 

It lives ever in the throbbing, pulsating present. 

Second, the pluralistic, polychromatic, vibrant nature of the Indian culture derives directly, in my opinion, from its polytheistic base. India by long tradition, beginning even with the Rig Veda creation myth, has had a sceptical and non-doctrinaire mind, instinctively averse to any simplistic, monothematic views of life (such as those adopted in our neighbourhood, China and Pakistan).

The polytheistic fabric gives India this immunity against reductionism of any kind. Is it then any wonder that a land with supposedly 330 million gods and goddesses and 4,635 communities happens to be accommodating, elastic and overall mighty tolerant? 

Even in the Mughal period, it was perhaps not coincidental that India had emperors like Akbar who, in part influenced by the enveloping culture, practised a pluralistic polity and added a patina of rich Muslim aesthetics to Indian culture. 

In this context, it bears emphasis that in a country where the sacred Hindu texts from time immemorial have been reciting ‘All rivers go to the same sea,’ can anything but secularism, in spirit and in actuality, prevail? 

Never mind the detractors, if there be any imaginary or actual or short-lived. 

Secularism does not, of course, mean appeasement to any community.

As for freedom of thought, unfortunate attempts to ban books like Wendy Doniger’s have of late been made, but one must again take the essential, long view of India’s history and not get mired in trivialities. 

All said, ‘Where the mind is free and the head is held high’ flows in Indian veins.

Third, the greatest strength of the Indian culture is its preservation of family ties. 

All communities clearly show this. Perhaps nowhere else, including China, family is as strong as in India. 

That, indeed, is the institution where India’s continuity, emotionality, tolerance, longanimity are acquired and cultivated. Sentiments are central to India’s emotionality. 

I am well aware that the very word ‘sentiment’ has become suspect in the West; no wonder that sentiments are fast becoming extinct there. 

It was, however, for my ‘foreign’ wife to point it out to me after she had lived in India for some time that India was either sentiments or nothing. 

All relationships are imbued with sentiments. Even with our former rulers. We live more in a ‘bhavsagar’ than in a ‘gyansagar’ -- emotionally, not cerebrally.

Therefore, jadedness is not in the cards for us. 

And that brings me to see what should be in the cards in the years ahead.

In what I have said earlier, the positive predominates, but it is obvious that there is a flip side also to the same attributes, if carried to excess. 

For example, emotionality does often become camp in India, and leads frequently to disorder and unrest.

In changes that I would like to see in India, I would give the highest priority to improvement in the law and order situation. Its present status is just unacceptable. 

The very purpose for the existence of a Raj, a government -- and authority to levy taxes -- is to ensure the safety and security for its citizens. Failing this, it is unfit to rule. 

It is axiomatic that the minority communities feel utterly safe, barring isolated incidents as those even in the USA, recent alleged police excess in Missouri.

De-bureaucratisation in India is the other crying need. 

Power-hungry babus cause untold misery to the people. How speedily this can be done was shown by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when in one fell swoop he dismantled the laughable distinction between the PIO and OCI. 

The same goes for inanities like the present 65 appro­vals required starting a business in India.

If the central and state governments could reward every ‘official’ from a certain level upwards who successfully removes five rules per month in his jurisdiction, this may be a beginning.

When I was for five years the director of a teaching psychiatric institution and its affiliated mental hospital in India, I was horrified to discover -- to give just one example -- that to take a discharge from the hospital (discharge, not the more complex admission) the patient and his family had to spend nearly a day in taking various ‘No Objection’ certificates including one from the Patients’ Library! Tempering with rules led to ‘audit objections.’ 

Next, I would like to see that the government takes measures to ensure that the solidity of the family structure in India is minimally compromised in ensuing years. 

That the family can still stay strong despite the impetus of industrialisation and urbanisation, Japan has remarkably shown -- but not the post-religious Europe. 

A multi-disciplinary commission of some sort needs to be established to tackle this very difficult terrain. 

Sexual mores, fortunately largely still conservative in India -- prudish at times, no doubt -- also enter into deliberations of such a hypothesised Commission. 

But, certainly, India would not wish to emulate conditions where about half of first babies were to be born to unwed mothers, with illegitimacy willy-nilly becoming the new norm as now in America -- whatever its reasons or the rationale.

Dr Shashi K Pande was a full-time associate professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University in USA and later professor and director of the Central Institute of Psychiatry, Ranchi.

Dr Shashi K Pande