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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Meghnad Desai questions the popular tendency to define India as a single entity

Lord Meghnad Desai on re-writing history in his latest book ‎
Indian Express – Piyasree Dasgupta Tags : talkkolkata Posted: 
Friday, Mar 26, 2010
Lord Meghnad Desai wears criticism with style. His latest book 'The Rediscovery of India' has been written off as best read by 'philistines'

The book, published by Penguin, questions among other things the popular tendency to define India as a single entity almost as a retaliatory statement against hostile nations. ‘Indians appear to have lost a unity of identity, except when it concerns an external enemy’, he writes. “Within itself, India has a lot of definitions. Popular history has been mostly divided between the royal court stories of north India which includes the Mughal and Pathan rulers and the Hindutva story which traces the origin of Indians to the Hindus, the Aryans. Where is south India, where is North East in the narrative?” he asks. Something, that Desai feels, is reason enough for a reconsideration of Indian history.

And when the Centre and state administrations are being driven up the wall by the demand for separate linguistic territories, Desai declares that there’s no need to feel threatened by linguistic differences. “If the demands of a separate linguistic territory are valid, then a neutral body should take a call on the issue and let a new state be formed,” says Desai. On being asked if a ‘neutral body’, the Parliament in the case of India, can really take an apolitical, objective decision on a matter like this, Desai quite curiously seems to have placed his faith in the voting system of the nation. “I presume that people vote with their self interest in their hearts,” he reasons.

Keep it local

Meghnad Desai Indian Express, Sunday, Mar 28, 2010

Two of the worst legacies of British Rule are over-centralisation of power and the idea that uniformity means equality. The UK has slowly cured itself of over-centralisation by devolving power to regional assemblies but the idea of uniformity dies hard.

India had a decentralised arrangement before 1947, and had the Cabinet Mission Plan been accepted, India would have had a weak Centre and strong states. But that was not to be. So Independent India began with a centralising bias in the Constitution, despite the separate lists of Central, provincial and concurrent subjects. …

Prices of foodgrains also vary from state to state, as one would expect in a large area. It would be folly to deliver physical quantities of foodgrains with all the possible wastage and leakages and also transfer an identical amount to each and every BPL family across the country. The point is that even the poor are not all alike. So, treat them as individuals, let there be variations in provision as indicated by local circumstances, and let the local state deliver the cure.

The history of Bengal Renaissance is couched in nationalist fervour. In recent times, there have been attempts to enlarge the scope of the understanding of nationalism by studying the role of artists. The Alternate Nation of Abanindranath Tagore is a study of the painter by his great grandson and art historian Debshish Banerji. Banerji spoke to Krishnan Unni P about the need to understand the history of Bengalpaintings and the changing patterns of nationalism: at 8:38 PM

A nation is a compendium of identities and differences. Regions are alive. They are not represented. Their voices are not heard. In my work, i am aware of the growing questions of the region. One nation is not enough. We live in many nations. Hence, the importance of Abanindranath and his works.

Debashish Banerji, the great grandson of Abanindranath Tagore, has worn many hats. He is not only a Doctorate in Art History from theUniversity of California, but also a Professor of Asian Art History at the University of Philosophical Research, Los Angeles, and author of  ‘The Alternate Nation of Abanindranath Tagore’. He speaks to Shruba Mukherjee of Deccan Herald on the different shades and colours of Abanindranath’s works. 8:38 PM

The turn of the 19th/20th century in India saw the development of a number of social identities which may be thought of, using Benedict Anderson’s phrase, as ‘imagined communities’. Bengal as a region, India as a nation, Asia as a continental identity, plus an incipient globalism were all in the process of being constructed by a number of contested cultural narratives. The ‘lived community’ of the national subject becomes the confluence of these diverse narratives, many of which are erased or subjugated in the emergence of a mainstream or authorised national history.

Abanindranath has been seen in terms of the authorisation of such a national history but I have argued that his work is much more properly seen as an ‘alternate nationalism’ which enables the domain of communitarian dialog of diverse cultures.

Pavan K Varma, in conversation with Kanchan Gupta, says the local must prevail over the foreign (Pavan K Varma’s book, Becoming Indian — The Unfinished Revolution of Culture and Identity has just been published by Penguin.) [This interview was published in The Pioneer on Friday, March 26, 2010.] 7:17 PM

KG: Nothing offers a better platform than a book for a study and discourse of this nature... By the way, some people feel you have been needlessly uncharitable towards English and Western culture...
PKV: There is hardly any space left for cerebral discourse. There has been an oversimplification of what I have to say in my book. One is that I am against English. I am not. I am not for the imposition of Hindi. I am just saying that there must be respect given to our languages and while English is an indispensable language of communication, specially to help us interface with a globalising world, it cannot be given primacy over the language of our culture.
There is a language of communication and there is a language of culture. The language of culture is a window to your history, mythology, folklore, proverbs, idioms, to your creativity ... and it’s the language in which we cry and laugh. There is no contradiction between the two. Recent research shows that all those who are well-grounded first in their mother tongue pick up a foreign language that much faster.

KG: Do you believe English is still a foreign language in India?
PKV: I genuinely believe that while it is a language of communication which has been indigenised in India, it can never take the place of our natural languages. And, badly spoken English cannot become the lingua franca of a country which is so rich in its linguistic heritage.


Dravida Peravai endorses the need for State Re-Organization Commission. At the same time we want the leaders who demand separate states to spell out what magical formula they hold closer to their chest to end poverty and empower all sections of society and take them towards path of prosperity, instead of just saying separate state will bring heavenly comforts to earth. Leaders must have a mission. Let all of us put our brains together, debate what went wrong, why backwardness crept in, what made few segments of society affluent while tribals had to perish.  from DRAVIDA PERAVAI

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