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Indian intellectuals – colonized borrowers of ideas

Posted by desicontrarian on June 5, 2009

About 20 years ago, I was reading John Keay’s ‘India discovered’, while living abroad. A beautiful coffee table book, with great illustrations of the Stupa at Sanchi, the discovery of Ajanta and Ellora, and the euphoric panygerics for various kings. Prof. William Jones had started the Asiatic Society of Bengal, enchanted by the classical languages of Sanskrit, Prakrit and Pali. He was wonder-struck that Sanskrit, ‘more mellifluous than the greek, more perfect than the latin’ was a living language! He said that this was like living in Greece during its civilaizational peak. The man who took over from him, James Prinsepp, had a great eye for detail. He painstakingly deciphered the Brahmi script, learnt the language from pandits at kashi, and nearly lost his eyes and his mind due to his efforts. He came across an inscription by one Piyadassi in 1837. It was utterly unlike the overflowing eulogies that other kings’ inscriptions had. It simply said

“The Beloved of the Gods, Piyadassi the king, has had this inscription on Dhamma engraved. Here, no living thing having been killed, is to be sacrificed; nor is the holding of a festival permitted. For the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi, sees much evil in festivals, though there are some of which the Beloved of the Gods, the king Piyadassi, approves.”

It was not known who this Piyadassi was. It took many years for the veil to lift slowly, and for India to reidscover Ashoka, the greatest of her emperors.

The book is filled with details of the various ways to depict The Buddha – the taxila style, the gandhara style, the varanasi style and so on. After drinking in all this, I read this.

In his infamous minute of 1835, Lord Macaulay wrote that he had “never found one among them (speaking of Orientalists, an opposing political faction) who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia”.

He articulated the goals of British colonial imperialism most succinctly: “We must do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, words and intellect.”

His blueprint abolished the teaching of Sanskrit in Gurukulas, and Arabic & Persian in Madrasas. The plan to cut the roots of Indian civilization from the future generations succeeded beyond his wildest expectations.

This class of people took the reins of power also in 1947. Their leader was Jawaharlal Nehru. In the debate on the national language in the constituent assembly, his was the decisive vote for English, against Sanskrit (advocated by Ambedkar).

Thus, ever since 1863, the loss of our cultural roots has been a fact. The surprising thing is the low level of awareness of this loss, and how the leading intellects of the nation have been the agents of this destruction. They continue to be the intellectual sepoys of the Raj which has supposedly dissappeared.

The principle reason for the rennaisance in Europe was that their intellectuals abandoned christianity and went back to the Greek and Latin roots. India has not had a life-changing rennaissance precisely because we are not well-aware of our own conditioning by Macaulayism. Thats why we cannot study humanities the way Europeans study theirs. There is no emotional link. Thats why we have more science and technology studies than classical studies. Thats why we have a mediocre, borrowed, ape-like  intellectual culture, with no original contributions in any field of knowledge, for the last 200 years.


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