Can Indian civilization be compared to a 'thousand-branched tree'? IA hat have been its outstanding achievements and their impact on the world? These are some of the questions this book asks. But it also deals its issues confronting more and more Indians caught in an identity crisis: What is specific about Indian culture? How has it dialogued with other cultures? And what are the meaning and application of secularism and tolerance in the Indian context? The author argues that in its core values, Indian culture is not some exotic relic of the past, but a dynamic force that still has a role to play in defining India's identity and cohesion, and in proposing solutions to today's global challenges. Written in a crisp style, this thought-provoking volume challenges received ideas on India's culture and invites us to think afresh.
Michel Danino was born in France in 1956. At the age of 21, after four years of higher scientific studies, he decided to live in India, where he first took part in the publication of books related to Sri Aurobindo and Mother. A student of Indian civilization, he has lectured widely on aspects of Indian culture and history. In 2006, he published in France a study of the Aryan problem in the Indian context (English version forthcoming). He has also authored a comprehensive study of the Sarasvati River, The Lost River: On the Rail of the Sarasvati (Penguin India, 2010). Michel Danino was actively involved in forest conservation in the Nilgiris in the 1980s and 1990s. His other interests include nature photography and the creation of quality educational material on India's heritage. fe currently lives near Coimbatore in south India.
WHEN I was a teenager in France, back in the 1970s, I stumbled on the teachings of several beings who, to my eager mind, suddenly gave a meaning to life as no Western thinker had. We call them seers, yogis, mahatmas, maharishis, but better terms would perhaps be 'explorers', 'evolvers', 'sowers', or 'builders' —although, on occasion, there is also some demolition work involved in this tortuous business of evolution. Before I set my heart on Sri Aurobindo, who eventually drew me to India, I had been deeply moved by Sri Ramakrishna, and had felt a certain shudder while reading Swami Vivekananda, perhaps the same shudder that ran through his listeners at Chicago in 1893. Why so many such beings took birth in India is a question I will not presume to answer. But they do seem to have found (or should I say 'made'?) this land more suitable than others for the fulfilment of their action. They moved and worked within a certain worldview native to India, broadening it and renewing it when needed. What is this Indian worldview? What is so specific to it? Is it merely 'spiritual'? If not, how has it been put into practice, and with what results? Finally, does it still have something to offer to the world? Can it have some impact on the course of humanity, or are we just indulging in an academic debate over how golden and glittering our past was in contrast with the dreary present?
Swami Vivekananda confronted the question in 1894: 'India
can never be Europe until she dies. And will she die?' In other words, shall we soon have to leave behind the essence of Indian-ness and be happy if all that is left of it is a bit of exotic local colour for foreign tourists? Sri Aurobindo was rather blunt, too:
In the stupendous rush of change which is coming on the human world as a result of the present tornado of upheaval, ancient India's culture, attacked by European* modernism, overpowered in the material field, betrayed by the indifference of her children, may perish for ever along with the soul of the nation that holds it in its keeping.2 That was in 1918, and I have often had occasion to meditate on this 'betrayal by indifference'. But a more immediate question is perhaps, How would a twenty-year-old Indian today feel about 'ancient India's culture'?
The 'Angry Young Indian': If I were to picture myself as this young Indian, my answer would likely shift the focus to the material field. Job opportunities may look better today than a decade or two ago (for how long ?), but I would still ask my elders how in sixty years they managed to bring the nation to its present state. I would feel anger and con-tempt for the hordes of politicians and bureaucrats who have bled this country white, diverted colossal resources from their intended targets, and turned the daily life of ordinary Indians—those they ceaselessly claimed to `uplift'—into a hopeless hell. But I would also ask the many good, honest, capable, cultured people of this country why they have done so little to stem the rot, why they have contented themselves with throwing up their hands in despair and pleading helplessness—or, at best, with giving fine talks on every ill India is ridden with. And I may possibly be tempted to do like many of my friends: fly to some `heaven' across the seas, where to gain admission to school or college you do not have to declare your religion in the name of
God knows what 'secularism', or your caste in the name of a `casteless society', where you do not have to pay a bribe at every step or prove that you are 'backward' before you can move forward, where your talents can be appreciated rather than stifled—in a word, where you do not have to feel ashamed of your country. This, as I have frequently seen, is what many, if not most, young Indians carry in their hearts. It is a justified, legitimate if bitter feeling, nurtured by proof upon daily proof.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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