SV: Rajaram's bull

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Sun Aug 6 03:33:57 UTC 2000

Lars Martin Fosse <lmfosse at ONLINE.NO> wrote:

> > What Indologists need to do is to popularize Indology.
>This is an interesting point. In principle, you are perfectly right:
>Indologists should reach out to the general public. The problem is that the
>general public in many places take little or no interest in India and

I hardly think Indology can be made palatable to a wide and an
international audience. We don't have impressive pyramids, or
a great wall visible from outer space, or a Rosetta stone, to
capture the imagination. Nor does modern India have the oil or
the amount of firepower that some other Asian countries have,
to create an interest.

Professional Indologists seem to be very concerned over the
influence that OIT-ists have over the contemporary Indian
population, at home and abroad. If popularizing Indology among
is something worth doing, this is the target audience. And the
professionals have to take care not to be overly pedantic, and
also to be sensitive to the politcal and cultural sentiments of
an ex-colony of the old British empire. Is it all that surprising
that a country that is just half a century into its life as an
independent democracy has a little romance with nationalism?
You may have seen the duck in Europe before, but that hardly
makes a difference to the Indian nation. The extreme version
of this nationalism is distasteful to you and to very many
Indians too. However, do remember that to the general Indian
ear, European and American talk against nationalism sounds like
yet another ploy to keep a third world nation in its place. It
seems like the hypocrisy of the nuclear powers when they preach
to other states against going nuclear, without making any sincere
efforts towards the disarmament of their own weapons. The West
is thought of as having already milked all that can be got out of
its own versions of nationalism and kin ideologies.

Case in point - to say that something is Vedic, not Hindu,
presupposes a definition of what is Hindu. Now, what is the
Indological definition of "Hindu"? Is there even one commonly
accepted definition? If there is one, and if it does not accept
the notions the Indian people have about it now, you can expect
some immediate friction. So there is no point in being surprised
by the vehemence that some things evoke.

Another example - all the professionals on this list know much
about the alliance of brAhmaNa and kshatriya in classical India.
However, to be very blunt about it, if you think this is obvious
to the modern Indian, or that it should be obvious, you are living
in an ivory tower. I would venture to suggest that this is not
even obvious to the few Indian academics involved in Indological
studies. India's colonial history has succeeded in creating an
image where the indigenous ruling classes are seen as having been
quite emasculated, but the priestly classes are thought of as
having retained their power, and increased it, through subterfuge,
cunning, treacherousness, and above all, collaboration with the
British rulers. This is the take-off point for most of those
involved in subaltern perspectives on India.

Consequently, the word "Brahminical" evokes no image of the
kshatriya contribution to Indian society, and creates a false
picture of Brahmin on one side and all the non-Brahmin castes
on the other - a very potent potion in the caste ridden politics
of India today. To say that Indologists are by and large
interested only in the Rg Veda and the IVC, and not in British
colonial India, is to ignore how inseparably linked the two are
historically. To simply assert that contemporary Indologists do
not subscribe to the assumptions of those who lived a hundred
years ago is not going to be believed, unless supported by proof.
And we are sufficiently wary, to insist that the proof of the
pudding be in the eating.

Indians come with a complex attitude towards the west - on the
one hand, the west enamours us, with its industrial and economic
successes; on the other hand, it breeds suspicion, with its known
history of imperialism and violent racism. We are a people with
a very long cultural memory, and we are very reluctant to believe
that attitudes change all that greatly, over fifty to seventy
years. In the US, there is sufficient racism visible, to remind
us that change does not happen overnight.

Regarding a perceived Indophobia - too often, the average Indian
comes off with a feeling that Indologists are in love with an
India that no longer exists, but hate the India that does exist
today. And to say that studying India is fascinating because
its society is so very complex also evokes unpleasant images of
being nothing more than a specimen like some sort of lab rat, to
be disposed off, after the study is done. The obvious response
is to turn against the person(s) doing the study.

If countering any or all this seems like a pointless exercise,
then I should think the academic community should just ignore the
maverick and right-wing free-lancers. If these people are a serious
concern, then the Indologist of Western birth needs to figure out
how to win the hearts of the modern, English-speaking, urban-
dwelling, Indian, who is most probably Hindu, often in a technical
or scientific profession.

Best wishes,
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