- Should we care, and is there anything we can do about it?
- Of course we should care: no great civilisation can afford to be indifferent to the way in which it is perceived by others. But what, today, is Indic civilisation?
- Can we afford to anchor ourselves in a purely atavistic view of ourselves, hailing the religious and cultural heritage of our forebears without recognising the extent to which we ourselves have changed?
- Isn’t Indian civilisation today an evolved hybrid, that draws as much from the influence of Islam, Christianity and Sikhism, not to mention two centuries of British colonial rule?
- Can we speak of Indian culture today without qawwali, the poetry of Ghalib, or for that matter the game of cricket, our de facto national sport?
When an Indian dons ‘national dress’ for a formal event, he wears a variant of the sherwani, which did not exist before the Muslim invasions of India. When Indian Hindus voted recently in the cynical and contrived competition to select the ‘new seven wonders’ of the modern world, they voted for the Taj Mahal constructed by a Mughal king, not for Angkor Wat, the most magnificent architectural product of their religion.
- So, doesn’t Indianness come ahead of the classically Indic?
- I would argue in the affirmative, which brings me to the second part of the question: what can we do about it?
It seems to me that we ought to be pouring far more resources into our cultural diplomacy, to project the richness of our composite culture into lands which already have a predisposition for it. I’m not a fan of propaganda, which most people tend to see for what it is: i believe the message that will really get through is of who we are, not what we want to show. But just as, in economic terms, the government must provide the basic infrastructure and let the private sector get on with actual ventures, so, too, in the field of cultural promotion, the government has to create the showcases which individual Indians can then proceed to fill.