Kanchan Gupta interviewed Indian diplomat Pavan K Varma whose latest book “Becoming Indian: The Unfinished Revolution of Culture and Identity” is now on the stands. In the interview, the author makes some excellent points regarding the cultural audit, rather the absence of it after the union jack came down. Following is an excerpt from that interview which can be read in full here: [Emphasis in underlined italics is mine.]
Kanchan Gupta: So tell us, what prompted you to write this book? To take the middle class series nearer to a conclusion or something else…
Pavan K Varma: Essentially, after 60 years of independence, I thought the time had come for a cultural audit. This audit entails two things. One is a rigorous analysis of colonialism because, as I write, colonialism is not about the physical subjugation of a people but the colonisation of their mind. And while a political audit takes place after the Union Jack comes down and an economic audit takes place to take stock of what is lost and what is gained, a cultural audit is something that does not take place … this is something which is common to all colonised countries… to, in a sense, recolonise the mind. So, it is both a rigorous analysis of colonialism and a meditation on the state of culture today in our country.
I must confess I profess a fair degree of anguish at our low threshold of satisfaction and self-congratulation. Because we are not only a nation, we are a civilisation. We have 5,000 years of history, antiquity, peaks of refinement, assimilation, diversity … but underlying that diversity, what is not visible to a superficial observer, is great unity. We are not a parvenu civilisation, we were not born 200 years ago, and therefore it is legitimate for us to see where we are in terms of our culture today in contrast to the journey we have made and where we have come.
And I believe in the reappropriation of our cultural space without chauvinism or xenophobia. This is all the more important because we are simultaneously in an aggressive phase of globalisation where the subtext in the field of culture is often co-option, where the victim is the last to know. And, when the educated are relatively rootless, that co-option becomes all the more easier. So that, essentially, is the paradigm of the book.
Interesting choice of words there when Mr Varma says that we have come to set a low threshold of satisfaction. Now, one might be prompted to ask, “Low threshold of satisfaction compared to what ? What is the standard ?”
Going back to our tradition to seek guidance, we find that the Vedanta Darshana talks about Ananda or Bliss as one of the svaroopa lakshanas of the Brahman. The Taittiriya Upanishad has a section known as the Ananda Mimamsa which is one of the anuvaka of the Brahmanandavalli. It discusses the the gradations of Bliss starting with the smallest unit, a healthy young man possessing all the riches and all the capacity to enjoy, to higher celestial beings, all the way up to the supreme Bliss that is the Brahman. The concept of Rasa in the Indian theory of Aesthetics has it’s roots in this Ananda. I won’t attempt to talk about Rasa here, because I possess neither the courage nor the talent to do justice to this topic. Instead I would direct you to this excerpt from one of Sandeep’s older posts where he dealt with this topic in detail. [Again, emphasis in underlined italics is mine.]
…..The nearest approximation in meaning to Rasa in English is feeling or emotion. More accurately, Rasa is the emotion inspired in the audience/reader by the artist. The culmination of Rasa is defined by this poignant verse.
Sakalaprayojana Moulibhootam Samaanantarameva|
Rasaaswadana Samadbhootam Vedyaantaram Anandam||
The crest of all benefits of enjoying a work of art is blissful joy;
Joy that eliminates the awareness of one’s own existence and subsumes the enjoyer within itself. (Ed: a very crude translation)
In other words, an intensely-involved meditative state that excludes even the awareness that you are alive and breathing. This state is beyond mere involvement or acute concentration. Paradoxically, the stress here is on the artist because his/her art consciously creates the environment to elevate the viewer/listener/reader to this state. A true artist therefore strives to attain:
Yaavat Poorno Nacaite Na Taavannaiva Vamatyamum|
The artist knows no peace until he empties the Rasa that has welled in his heart through experience, erudition or sheer talent. This emptying process culminates in a work of art, which ennobles those who savour the Rasa it contains. The joy of the artist lies only in creating the work of art.
Now that is the standard for the satisfaction which our ancient artistes strived to provide, and they were motivated to do so by an audience which was worthy of experiencing that satisfaction. For being the descendants of such illustrious ancestors, we have definitely spiralled down if we had to set such low threshold for satisfaction that we seem to heap praise on mediocrity consistently.