Tagged: Voltaire

A Belated Post for Independence Day

“I am convinced that everything has come down to us from the banks of the Ganges, – astronomy, astrology, metempsychosis, etc. It is very important to note that some 2,500 years ago at the least Pythagoras went from Samos to the Ganges to learn geometry…But he would certainly not have undertaken such a strange journey had the reputation of the Brahmins’ science not been long established in Europe.”
Voltaire

For a country which had a united, glorious and flourishing civilization for several millennia before it was enslaved for eight hundred years, seventy years of independence is not so much an anniversary of nationhood as a time to reflect on how far we have recovered from the many wounds inflicted on the nation by the invaders who not only enslaved its people and looted its treasures but also disfigured its historical places and distorted its history. Seventy years after independence, it is wonderful to see my country shining, prospering, and marching towards the place it once held at the helm of the world’s economy, culture, and education.

Glimpses of India in the Bard’s work portray the country as a prosperous land of gold and precious stones and pearls and sunshine, of proud people who worship the sun and beautiful veiled women, impressions that echo in the work of other writers and travellers to India through millennia…aberrations like Burnett’s racist slur in literature started only about a century ago, and now the pseudo-liberals continue their work, trying to portray the country in a poor light in both literature and the mass media.

Someone mentioned during a dinner conversation a while ago about how they thought that the concept of patriotism was outdated in present times. But I like the quiet pride that shines in my English, Irish, Kenyan and Canadian friends’ eyes as they talk about their countries. It mirrors my love for my own nation, coming as I do from a family of freedom fighters, with a great Uncle who once fought the British with his poetry. I wished I could tell the person who called patriotism outdated that everyone should have the freedom to love their country and to say so. It is only when we feel secure in the love of our own family that we tend to accept and respect others more easily, and adapt better to a united society. Breathes there the man with soul so dead, etc. as a good Scot once wrote.
Jai Hind!

A short related excerpt from The Reengineers.

Arun’s lecture on the last working day of class ten had revolved around his favourite topic: India.

‘How many of you respect the Indian national flag? The national anthem? How many of you actually stand up when it is sung?’

I raised my hand automatically, so did Sabi. Hearing furtive giggles, I turned around and found to my horror that in a class of forty students, only the two of us had our hands up. Anu was frantically gesturing to me to drop my hand. I did so, puzzled and hurt.
Arun did not look surprised. He continued, ‘Now this question would have evoked a totally different reaction in classrooms in countries such as the UK or Japan. They have an intrinsic sense of national pride that is lacking in India. Not surprising, as it has only been forty-four years since we got our independence.’
I looked down into my book, wishing I could hide within its pages. My love for my country had turned me into a bigger freak than I already was in the classroom.

What did it mean to love one’s country anyway?
Much like the farmers who enthusiastically cheered for Mother India when Jawaharlal Nehru addressed them but were dumbstruck when he asked them who exactly they thought Mother India was, I had no answer. To me, patriotism was the joy I experienced while reading the poems of Subramaniya Bharati, Uncle RK, and Rabindranath Tagore. It was my pride in singing the national anthem and saluting the tricolour unfurled in the school assembly on Monday mornings. It was the lump in my throat when I watched songs like ‘The fertile earth of my country that brings forth gold, diamonds and pearls’ and ‘I am a little soldier of the nation. Say with me, Jai Hind’ on TV. It was the anger and resentment I felt when my mother told me not to get too friendly with Anu as he was not a Brahmin or with Sabi as she was not ‘one of us’ but a north Indian.

Excerpt with permission from HarperCollins Publishers India from The Reengineers by Indu Muralidharan

We must cultivate our garden

I remember reading Aurora Leigh as a student. I read it in a week as though in a trance, enchanted with the long prose poem and surprised at the familiarity of the cycle of stages that the protagonists go through – the brash idealism of early youth, the need to own a cause and fight for it, the exhilaration of taking risks and playing with their lives, the obstacles they face from the world that turns out to be quite different from what it seemed, the decisions they take impulsively out of their beliefs, the mistakes they must make and the consequences they must face before they come to the Voltarian realisation that the same truth holds good for each of us. For all of us. We must cultivate our garden.

It seems unbelievable that a hundred and fifty years after the book was written, in this enlightened and modern world, most of us still essentially remain the same, making the same assumptions and presumptions with the idealisms of early youth and later realising that the wise people born before us were so right, so true in most of the things that they said.

Art is much, but love is more.
O Art, my Art, thou’rt much, but Love is more!
Art symbolises heaven, but Love is God
And makes heaven.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning. (Aurora Leigh, Book IX.)

Art is heaven, but Love is God, said Elizabeth Browning. I hope that she is now at peace in her heaven with her God, reciting her sonnets to her beloved Robert.

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Coming soon! The Re-engineers (HarperCollins) A walk through the boundaries between fiction and reality

Remembering Aurora Leigh

I remember reading Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barret Browning as a very young student. I read it in a week as though in a trance, enchanted with the long prose poem and surprised at the familiarity of the cycle of stages that the protagonists Aurora and her cousin Romney go through – the brash idealism of early youth, the need to own a cause and fight for it, the exhilaration of taking risks and playing with their lives, the obstacles they face from the world that turns out to be quite different from what it seemed, the decisions they take impulsively out of their beliefs, the mistakes they must make and the consequences they must face before they come to the Voltarian realisation that the same truth holds good for each of us. For all of us. We must cultivate our garden.

It seems unbelievable that a hundred and fifty years after the book was written, in this enlightened and modern world, most of us still essentially remain the same, making the same assumptions and presumptions with the idealisms of early youth and later realising that the wise people born before us were so right, so true in most of the things that they said.

Art is heaven, but Love is God, said Elizabeth Browning. I hope that she is now at peace in her heaven with her God, reciting her sonnets to her beloved Robert.