Sunday, July 16,
is not always good
The Acceleration of just about Everything by James Gleick.
Little, Brown and Company, London. Distributed by Penguin
India. Pages 231. £ 10.99.
pace of our life is getting faster. Speed and instantaneity
characterise our lives. We see around us rapid technological,
cultural and political changes. We live in the age of atomic
clocks which can measure a billionth of a second with
precision. It is surprising that as we are able to measure
smaller and smaller time intervals, our own lives tend to
become faster and faster.
is the form of ecstasy the technical revolution has bestowed
on man," observes Czech novelist Milan Kundera. Time is
no more a "gentle deity" as Sophocles claimed. In
such times when we seem to be having too much of everything,
when technology has compressed so many things into the same
allotted time span we are losing grip over things, and
impatience becomes our nature.
therefore, quite relevant to ask how fast is fast enough. Are
we trying to cross some speed limit, living below which is
more natural for us and with which we can cope more
first locomotive engine was devised, it could run at a maximum
speed of 30 km an hour. Many people refused to board it simply
because they thought the speed was too much and can harm human
health. Perhaps they thought riding galloping horses to be
more natural. But thanks to the daring spirit of man, he didn’t
stop there but has continued to make travel faster ever since.
The case of a
fast car and a fast computer also needs to be distinguished.
We actually see a car moving fast, but we cannot see a
computer computing fast, say, performing billions of
calculations a second. Is it more mind-boggling to see it or
to imagine it working that fast? In the first instance, we are
conscious by direct perception; while in the latter, we are
conscious because of our understanding.
knowledge has been made available to us by the achievements in
science. As man has explored the world at a deeper and deeper
level (ranging from interiors of the atom to the large-scale
structure in the universe), we have found different objects
possessing speeds of magnitudes much higher than seen in
maximum speed of 300 million km a second that can be attained
in our universe is of light travelling in vacuum. Thank God,
we don’t see light directly. It is only a messenger. At the
microscopic level, all elementary particles whiz around at
speeds that can be close to that of light. Then, heavenly
bodies like planets go round the sun at very high speed. The
earth is travelling at 300 km per second. Galaxies which are
groups of a large number of stars, move literally at a
makes us aware of almost every aspect of our lives which has
been swept by the technological storm. In contrast to the
earlier book by the author, "Chaos: the Making of a New
Science", here he concentrates on the "chaos"
in our own lives. The author makes it clear how technological
revolution has become insatiable, how quickly "new"
things are becoming obsolete in the face of improved machines
and gadgetry. But he also highlights the advantages of the old
methods in terms of their comfortable speed which left people
with more time to rethink their decisions.
the information overload brought about by the Internet, Gleick
writes, "Connectedness has brought about a glut... The
multiplication of information pathways leads to positive
feedback effects in the nature of frenzies... Close packing
and transmission speed are the two sides of the coin... No
quills to sharpen, no ink to blot; just bits and more bits, at
this information surplus, a "simplify your life"
movement was born in the nineties. We see more and more books
with recipies and advice on how to counter the threat of
information overload or to stay in harmony with objects of
desire. Some choices are: stop watching TV news, cancel half
your magazine subscriptions, pretend that you have just three
friends, cut back on the number of toys you buy for your
child, and so on.
But the fact
is that we are not shutting down our e-mail addresses or stop
buying pocket computers or cellular phones which could connect
us from any corner of the earth. Without these information
sources, we would feel a sensory deprivation as if stripped of
our hearing aids and corrective lenses. These have become
extensions of our sensory-motor system.
the author asks if our need for information on demand is a
primitive instinct? That may be the argument of companies who
want to sell their products but more than this, it seems to be
our deep-seated need to feel connected as well as feel
important in the crowd, as we experience insecurity in the
changing technological world.
bumping into a speed limit and our intelligence is tied to the
speed in which we think. We sleep less and less. The average
sleep time has fallen by 20 per cent over the past century,
says a study done in the USA. The technologically advanced
nations are also making zombies.
The effects of speed in life
are all there before us as this book shows very clearly. While
the reversal of this trend seems unlikely and adopting an
altruistic life-style may not be within the capability of most
of us, we can at least be aware as well as cautious of various
traps of the speedy way of life. One may perhaps end with this
extract from the book "The Bridge on the Drina" by
Ivo Andric, "...to those who boasted of the speed with
which they could now finish their business and reckoned how
much time, money and effort they had saved, Alihodja replied
ill-humouredly that it was not important how much time a man
saved, but what he did with it... He tried to prove that the
main thing was not that a man went swiftly, but where he went
and for what purpose... therefore, speed was not always an
advantage. ‘If you are going to hell, then it is better that
you should go slowly,’ he said curtly to a young
culture is king
Review by Shelley
Culture and Everyday Life by Toby Miller and Alec McHoul Sage,
London. Pages 224. £14.99.
Cultural Studies by Ziauddin Sardar and Borin Van Loon. Icon,
Cambridge. Pages 176. £8.99.
increasing interdisciplinary approach to scholarship, is it
possible to speak of discrete fields of study? When one
teaches "Dr Faustus", is it possible to ignore the
relevance of the age of the Renaissance and the history of the
attainment of self-conscious freedom by the human spirit
manifested in the European races? Chinua Achebe’s
"Arrow of God" is an anthropological study of the
Ibo tribe in one of the villages in southern Nigeria and not
merely a work of fiction to be handled in the traditional ways
of literary criticism. Jean Rhys’ "Wide Sargasso
Sea" or Saadat Hasan Monto’s "Toba Tek Singh"
cannot be approached without a Foucauldian consideration of
the politics of madness in the entire cultural history that
goes into the construction of the discourse of insanity.
inclusion of "cultural studies" in various
disciplines suggests a collapsing of difference as well as the
hybridisation and crossing over between disciplines such as
linguistics, psychoanalysis, literary criticism, history,
social theory, anthropology and philosophy. Recently we have
seen incompatible figures like Saussure and Freud, or Marx and
Heideggar come together — a theoretical linkage which is
challenging and wide in scope. Violations of rigid
compartmentalisation are certainly positive and must be viewed
as liberating insofar as they produce theoretical advances
that would become fundamental for generations to come.
critical theory with cultural studies is to clearly consider
the cross-section of the current "dissensus" on the
shape of the post-disciplinary university, including the
positive aspects of cultural studies as the new organising
principle of academic work. This method offers a new
understanding of the way literary studies shape and define
culture as well as popular culture, and the way that teaching
and research institutions are changing in response to
international movements, social forces, and the increasing
importance of the historical specificity and character of
popular culture and everyday life. Investigating how
"high" culture (literature, liberal education) and
popular culture (fashion, film, advertisement and discourse
analysis) are dealt with in the classroom, shows that the
culture wars of the 1980s and the 1990s are by no means over;
they have simply warped into new visible struggles of
educational funding, curricula, academic standards, and
and Alec McHoul have clearly rethought the study of popular
culture in their recent book "Popular Culture and
Everyday Life," while also explaining key ideas in
everyday practice, such as "eating" or
"talking" or sports and the discourses that
construct these practices; the way we dress or talk, what we
eat and how we socialise, communicate things about ourselves,
and thus can be studied as signs. Ideologies, for instance,
are all related to class positions and therefore to the
primacy of material living conditions rather than to ideas or
beliefs in the life of human beings. History is the struggle
for the control of material conditions on which life rests.
when we look at a sport like golf, is it possible to see
beyond the accepted or conventional attitudes and beliefs
which go with the game? A determining and defining authority
is created through the social discourse of this game. It is
performed most effectively by making the system seem natural,
God-given or ideal so that other classes accept it without
asking any questions. The golfer becomes part of something
larger than himself and surrenders to the power of the game,
its hysteria and, to use Walter Benjamin’s negative term,
imperialism of the game is akin to baseball or cricket, which
links these games to a modernist sensibility of western
exceptionalism. In the world of golf the ludicrous enthusiasts
experience a sense of transcendence, a trip to the realm of
the timeless and universal.
phallocentrism of the game where males dominate the different
committees that run the show, is an indicator of the cultural
construction of a patriarchal power which underpins the
domination of one gender by the other. The links between
beliefs, the pro-golf lobby’s self-image, the production of
meaning and the process of constituting the so-called lovers
of the game, even if they have never played another game in
their lives, are not immediately apparent.
that goes with the game is essentially a contested concept, a
discourse that renders it almost invulnerable and much
appreciated in many circles, but there is a fundamental
rejection of it by people who realise its worth and its
elitist aura that suffers from inherent complexes, though
there are exceptions of those who are genuinely in love with
the game and play it without making a show of it.
popularity is based on the production and dissemination of
erroneous beliefs whose inadequacies are socially engineered.
The ideas that rule this game are the ideas of the ruling
material forces of society. Therefore, the institution of golf
is as much ideological as any other state institution.
The book thus
offers a wide-ranging survey of social and cultural theory,
while issuing a challenge to the emphasis on speculation
rather than observation which is inherent in contemporary
cultural studies. The authors try to show that everyday
popular culture is too important a social phenomenon to be
dealt with speculatively as the spectacular, and always as a
representation of something else. Instead, they want to show
how (first, using a historical or geneological approach)
everyday cultural objects arise out of local conditions —
conditions which are highly specific and far from spectacular.
And then (second, using some variations on conversation
analysis) they demonstrate what these objects actually look
like in their places situated everyday.
In last few
years, as is the practice in the humanities, many departments
have introduced courses in both dominant and sub-cultural
practices backed by a study of literary criticism and theory
which takes into consideration the diversity and range of
cultural studies and providing perspectives on everyday life
through ethnography, textual reading, discourse analysis and
political economy. For 50 years the model or paradigm of
university studies has relied on an opposition between the
established canon and its "other", or popular
culture. The theory wars of the 1980s changed that. The canon
has been overwhelmed by world literature and popular culture.
As Aijaz Ahmed argues, "There is no exclusionary
pleasures of dominant taste" but only an inclusive sense
of heterogenity that coutners the "cultural myopia"
of western humanities curriculum. No unitary idea of world
literature is possible.
advent of post-structuralism and the decline of literature,
the opposition between high and popular became untenable,
transforming the concentration of inquiry from the canonical
into cultural studies. This shows how we might think about the
humanities — and how we might act as humanists — as the
world changes around, about and under us. We have to realise
that the role that theory and cultural studies has played and
will play in the various conceptual mutations in contemporary
times is not slight. Such developments suggest changes in
teaching and the pursuit of interdisciplinary areas such an
anthropology, film studies, liteature, American or African or
Asian studies, and history, which range widely over a diverse
discipline of cultural studies must have a new paradigm for
the common analysis of canonical as well as non-canonical
texts. Z. Sardar and Borin Van Loon in their recent book
"Introducing Cultural Studies" have tried to show
the presence of this exciting field of study in academic work
within the arts, the humanities, the social sciences and even
science and technology. They take a fleeting, though rather
interesting, view of the contribution of Raymond Williams,
Richard Hoggart, Stuart Hall and E.P. Thompson to the whole
enterprise of cultural studies. Interestingly all these
pioneers came from a working-class background and tried to
understand the role of culture at a critical point in a deeply
class-ridden English society. Culture to them was more of a
commodity that is constructed with the sole purpose of
struggle for cultural domination, a war for legitimacy and
social status waged by the elites.
departments have already undertaken to radically change the
methodology and approach to popular culture. Through a
detailed criticism of competing theories, including cultural
studies, new historicism and cultural materialism, social and
literary critics like Miller and McHoul in the past few years
have demonstrated how this new study should — and should not
— be done. We are at a juncture where it is important to
alter the specialised intellectual work in the academia
because, as Edward Said has also argued, it speaks
increasingly to itself rather than the world of everyday life
and ordinary need.
specialisation and methodology has a tendencey towards a
doctrinaire set of assumptions and a language of
professionalisation allied with cultural dogma and a
"surprisingly insistent quietism". Our consistently
advocated preference is for a form of criticism and a teaching
methodology that dispenses with all this obscurity and instead
contests at every point the confined and limited
specialisation of much academic discourse. For a teacher the
text must be a vast web of affiliations with the world, not
simply located in a canonical line of books called
"English literature" but something that has its
roots and connections with many other aspects of the world —
political, social, cultural — all of which go to make up its
relevance to our day-to-day life.
It is well known that there
is complacency in the obsession with the status quo. Academics
who have devious and short-sighted agendas are not prepared to
consider one of the central battlefields of the culture wars
in the universities where liberals and conservatives have
fought over questions of diversity, tradition, and current
innovations in pedagogy. The battles have been fierce in many
universities around the world, complicated by the university’s
unsettled, ever-changing nature, whereas here in many of India’s
so-called forward-looking universities senior faculty members
feel threatened to hear or are afraid to put across radical
views exploring the university’s engagement with
"culture" and its vast number of different as well
as competing representations.
NWFP was won and lost
Review by B.R.
West Frontier Drama 1945-1947 — A Re-assessment by Parshotam
Mehra. Manohar, Delhi. Pages 262. Rs 400.
Parshotam Mehra has written extensively and authoriatively on
the history of India’s North-Eastern frontiers. He has now
given us a meticulously researched and documented and highly
readable book on the tumultuous two years in the North-West
Frontier Province preceding the partition of India. He has had
access to some untapped material in the UK, including the
papers of two former Governors and some members of the ICS who
held senior positions in the provincial administration during
that critical period.
in the North-West Frontier Province in 1945-47 can only be
understood in a historical perspective. The province was
regarded by the British as the most vulnerable part of their
empire. They had constant fears of incursions not only from
the unruly trans-border tribes, but from Afghanistan and the
regime tried with a great measure of success to insulate the
province from the nationalist ferment in the rest of India.
scene, however, changed almost overnight with the emergence in
1929 of a remarkable man, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who blended,
like Gandhi, a charismatic leadership with a genius for
organisation. He brought his Pathan (or, to be more precise,
Pakhtun) followers into the forefront of Gandhi’s nonviolent
satyagraha struggles which astonished friends and foes alike.
His Khudai Khidmatgars (servants of God) set an example of
discipline and sacrifice which put the other Indian provinces
in the shade.
an official record of convictions for civil disobedience
between January and September, 1932, the NWFP with a
population of just three million accounted for 5557
convictions compared with 1620 in Punjab which had five times
the population of the Frontier Province. Even Bengal,
politically one of the most active provinces, recorded no more
than 10,952 convictions with a population of 62 million.
In 1929 the
Congress Working Committee adopted the Khudai Khidmatgars
organisation and the alliance continued till the very end. In
successive civil disobedience campaigns, the Khudai
Khidmatgars were subjected to fierce repression, more severe
than what the Congress faced in other provinces. Abdul Ghaffar
Khan himself returned to NWFP in 1937 after six years of
imprisonment and exile, but the Congress (read the Khudai
Khidmatgars) made a good showing in the general election and a
Congress Ministry was sworn in with Dr Khan Sahib as Chief
of World War II in 1939 led to the resignation of the Congress
Ministers, a clash with the British Raj and the quit India
movement. The Congress and the Khudai Khidmatgars were banned
and Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his followers again imprisoned. The
field thus became clear during the war time for the growth of
the Muslim League with the full backing of British officials.
It was alleged that Abdul Ghaffar Khan was propagating
nonviolence to emasculate the brave and war-like people of the
Frontier and the Congress was trying to bring about a Hindu
Raj in collusion with the Axis powers.
League fought the general election in 1946 on the issue of
Pakistan and tried to polarise it on communal lines, but the
Congress still managed to win 21 out of 38 Muslim seats and
all the non-Muslim seats. The Muslim League won 17 seats, but
11 of them were from the non-Pakhtun districts of the NWFP.
The Congress again formed a ministry in March, 1946, but was
not able to settle down to work.
Mehra documents in meticulous detail the events immediately
preceding and following the general election. We learn from a
diary entry by Governor Cunningham on October 17 that a Sikh
politician told him that no Muslim believed in Pakistan
"as a dismemberment of India". On November 3 the
Governor noted that a Muslim visitor, Pir Baksh, was of the
view that the Pakistan cry was unreal and that for "the
average Pathan villager, a suggestion of Hindu domination was
unreal cry became a political reality in less than two years
comes out from the narrative of events in this book: the
arrival of a new Governor Olaf Caroe in March, 1946, the
installation of the Congress Ministry in Peshawar, tensions
between the Governor and the Congress Ministers, Nehru’s
visit to the Frontier in October, 1946, demonstrations by the
tribes and the fanning of religious sentiments by the Muslim
League with the help of the mullahs, officials and students.
statement of Prime Minister Attlee in February, 1947, setting
June, 1948, as the deadline for winding up of the Raj, the
Muslim League decided to dislodge non-League Ministries in
Punjab and the NWFPat any cost. Mehra succinctly sumns up:
"A largely violent and unprincipled campaign, the
so-called civil disobedience movement, enabled the League to
wrest political initiative and power from a popularly elected
government in the last few months preceding the birth of
arrival of Mountbatten, events moved fast; Jinnah did not
budge from his demand for Pakistan. The June 3 plan, which
decreed the partition of the country, was accepted by the
Congress as a "lesser evil", when the alternative
seemed to be a looming threat of civil war and a drift to
Khan and his followers felt badly let down by the Congress. He
was totally opposed to partition, but if it was inevitable, he
said, he would prefer the option of an independent Pakhtun
state. Nehru had rejected an earlier draft of a Mountbatten
plan granting the option of independence to any province or
princely state on the ground that it would lead to the
balkanisation of the country. Having done that, Nehru — and
the Congress — could hardly ask for an exception in the case
of the NWFP.
leadership sympathised with Abdul Ghaffar Khan in his
predicament but felt helpless. Abdul Ghaffar Khan sensed that
a referendum in the NWFP which was imposed by the government
in a surcharged communal atmosphere was not conducive to a
sane verdict and he boycotted it. Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s
cherished goal had always been autonomy for the NWFP, as for
other Indian provinces, with freedom to manage the internal
affairs of the province within the framework of a federal
It seems he
raised the demand for Pakhtunistan as a bargaining counter in
the desperate situation of 1947. However, he soon retraced his
steps. Even though the Khan Sahib Ministry had been dismissed
soon after the inauguration of Pakistan, while still enjoying
a majority in the provincial Assembly, the Khudai Khidmatgars
and their allied organisations declared that they accepted
Pakistan as their country and pledged to serve it loyally.
redefined their demand of Pakhtunistan to mean full freedom of
the Pakhtuns to manage their own affairs as a unit within the
Pakistan state. This was a deliberate gesture for
reconciliation, but it was lost on the Pakistani leadership.
Khan could have remained in India but chose to stand by his
people. He attended the first session of the Pakistan
Parliament at Karachi in February, 1948, and took the oath of
allegiance to Pakistan. In June he was arrested and charged
with sedition and sentenced to three years rigorous
imprisonment. Between 1948 and 1965 he spent 15 years in
autobiography he recounted the savage repression to which his
followers were subjected. He contrasted the attitude of the
government of Pakistan with that of the British rulers before
1947. "The British had never looted our homes but the
Islamic government of Pakistan did. The British never stopped
us from holding public meetings or publishing newspapers, but
the Islamic government of Pakistan did both. The British never
treated Pakhtun women disrespectfully but the Islamic
government of Pakistan did."
deals at great length with Nehru’s visit to the NWFP as the
vice-chairman of the Interim government in October, 1946, and
how he and the Khan brothers met with hostile demonstrations.
Nehru suspected the hand of the Governor in these
demonstrations and on his insistence Caroe was sent home on
leave, while the plans for the transfer of power, including a
referendum in the NWFP, were under way.
hostility to the Congress, Nehru and the Khan Sahib ministry
there is little doubt. In March, 1946, on the very day Khan
Sahib and his colleagues were sworn in, Caroe wrote to the
Viceroy complaining about the excesses of the Congress
Mehra gives a lot of space to
the laments of these retired British Governors and civil
servants whose careers were suddenly cut off. Their diaries
and correspondence show that they did not understand the
uniqueness of the Indian revolution; if they had been in
France in 1689 or in Russia in 1917, they would have lost not
only their jobs but their heads also.
it on your genes
Review by Satya P.
Destiny: Nature and Nurture in Human Behaviour by R. Grant
Steen. Plenum Press, New York & London. Pages 294. Born
That Way: Genes Behaviour and Personality by William Wright.
Routledge, New York & London. Pages 303.
Human Genome Project report can be seen as a significant
landmark in the rapidly advancing new field of molecular
biology and biotechnology. The Human Genome Project
Initiative, aimed at analysing all the codes of 50,000-70,000
different proteins of all the human genes, was based on the
assumption that to know the DNA code is, at least in part, to
know the bearer of the code.
(deoxyribonucleic acid) is, from a molecular biological
approach to the understanding of the human condition, the
blueprint of our being. The founders of the Genome Project
believe that the sequencing of every human gene (the entire
human complement of DNA) will enable the scientists "to
identify genes for manic depression, schizophrenia, drug
addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, and various other human
specifying the extent of the prevalent gap between knowing the
sequence of the human genome and understanding the various
ramification of that sequence, many scientists assure us that
our future is written in our genes. Each cell of the human
body is thought to contain a complete copy of the genetic
information required to "construct, not just the cell,
but the entire body."
organisms, each one of us is a "unique collection of
proteins, coded for by a unique collection of genes carried on
the DNA molecule". Each cell of the human body has 23
pairs of chromosomes which together can specify the structures
and functions of all the cells in our body.
acquire sufficient knowledge of the ways in which genes
control and determine the structure and function of our
bodies, scientists are confident that a direct medical
intervention will be possible to correct or eliminate the
genetic flaws which cause obesity, depression, imbecility and
other psychic and sexual disorders. Such claims cause both
hope and concern about the future role of technology and
science in the planning and controlling of human affairs.
books, published in 1998 and 1999 respectively, offer very
comprehensive, lucid and insightful surveys of the most recent
researches in molecular biology, genetics, evolutionary
psychology and socio-biology. The books do not require any
specialised knowledge or training in the highly technical
areas of life sciences and cybernetic technologies being used
in these disciplines. These books provide a detailed summary
of the background of the research work relating to the
findings of the Minnesota Studies on the behaviour of
separated twins, the Bell Curve on the inherited intelligence
and the significant statistical correlation between the
genetic inheritance and the personality and behavioural
Steen is a scientist at the University of California. William
Wright has been a science writer with the New York Times. It
is evident from the titles that these two books deal with the
polemical issues that emerge from the results of experimental
investigations in the most contested frontiers of knowledge
(and ignorance) about human personality and behaviour.
Investigations into the determinants of human personality and
behaviour have always been the most challenging, fascinating
and contested areas of studies. These books show that the
results of recent experimental work can be selective,
depending upon the author’s orientation, for proposing
mutually conflicting interpretations of human behaviour.
expresses a greater confidence in the claims for the genetic
determination of human traits and behaviour in comparison to
Steen. Steen repeatedly cautions us about the methodological
and substantive limitations of the state of research in
evolutionary genetics whereas Wright is extremely critical of
the exclusive emphasis on environmental determination of human
behaviour as expounded by behaviourists and Marxists.
neither of the books expresses any reservation about the
received view that each human being is a unique individual.
Both authors take pains to underline that human beings share a
common threshold of minimal needs and environmental background
for survival and development from conception through birth
Yet these two
books demand from us that we focus our attention in different
directions to find why we are enormously different from one
another in our temperaments, attitudes, beliefs, emotions,
interests, skills and goals even when we hail from the same
a greater emphasis on genetic inheritance whereas Steen sees
neither heredity nor environment as determining factors. Steen
is of the view that both genes and environment influence human
personality and behaviour but do not determine our activities.
Scientist Steen is more modest in making claims for modern
science in comparison to journalist Wright.
experiences repeatedly show that individuals born in the same
family, brought up in similar environment and educated in the
same school often differ in their personalities and behaviour.
We are never exactly the same. Notwithstanding the subtle
differences that characterise our being human, we are equally
amazed to find unbelievable sameness in tastes, inclinations
and habits with strangers whom we may have never met before.
Making sense of the sources of such fine variations and
incredible parallels in human behaviour has always stirred
human curiosity. This enigma has fascinated and encouraged
human beings to speculate, debate and investigate the human
condition from diverse perspectives.
The quest for
coming to terms with differences among human beings is as old
as humanity itself. Living with differences, the sources of
which we can neither understand nor regulate, has appeared
both challenging and frightening. Placing human behaviour
under some conventional and agreeable patterns, by controlling
"undesirable" differences through enforced
discipline, has been an integral part of socialisation of new
generations in every human society, past and present. The
ancient or pre-modern societies tried to achieve this goal by
imparting instruction in moral norms, using the available
methods of soft or hard persuasion and brutal coercion at
their command. Every new generation gets its own chance to
look back and draw lessons for itself from the darker or the
glimmering side of our collective human past to meet its own
concerns and perspectives.
application of modern scientific methods to the study of human
affairs since mid-19th century onwards, question marks were
put on the validity of traditional modes of interpretation and
understanding of human behaviour, effectiveness of methods of
persuasion and coercion for regulating human behaviour. The
traditional methods were declared unscientific, unreliable,
unwanted, and worth abandoning. A search for causal
explanations, by discovering universal laws governing human
behaviour and invention of new mechanisms of control based on
such discoveries, became the foremost goals of the scientific
investigation of human behaviour.
In such an
environment, under the bewitching spell of the success of the
methods of natural sciences, the dichotomy between nature and
nurture, innate and acquired, heriditary and environmental
factors became the major source of disagreement among
scientists seeking causal explanation of differences in human
traits and behaviour. A preference for explanation and
regulation of differences exclusively in terms of the natural,
side of this exclusionary dichotomy supported and legitimised
the class biases within the modern European societies and
their colonial and neo-colonial agendas in relation to the
people outside the European world. The rise and popularity of
eugenics and Nazi ideology can be seen in the light of such a
partisan view of human nature.
strong support for the opposite side of the fallacious
dichotomy, an exclusive emphasis on environment as the sole
determining factor of human differences can be seen as rooted
in a commitment for the radical egalitarian ideologies for
social transformations as a solution to all human problems.
Whether we like it or not, the processes which form human
personality and behaviour function independently of our
ideological or scientistic preferences.
The merit of
these two books lies in providing very relevant and
significant information about the ways in which divergent and
conflicting assumptions, methods and techniques of research in
contemporary human studies have gradually evolved in the
western world. The authors provide vivid illustrations to
caution the readers about the ways in which seemingly
scientific methods of analysis have been adopted in the past
to serve ideological interests and goals. However, both Steen
and Wright share the confidence that it is possible to draw a
sufficiently clear line of demarcation between questions of
science and issues of social policy. They both share the
conviction that dissemination of relevant information about
ongoing scientific research is an essential condition for
healthy democratic debate on policy matters and freedom of the
scientists to pursue their academic research.
these narratives of the rise and decline of the fallacious
dichotomy between nature and nurture in western culture
provide a cautionary message, contrary to their optimism. Both
these books, despite their serious disagreements on the
determinants of human behaviour, are a testament to the fact
that the shifts in research orientations and methods of
analysis have not occurred in a vacuum. The problems were
formulated and reformulated in response to the issues as they
emerged in constant interaction between new ideas and real
In view of the growing
disparities and commercialisation of the use of medical and
other technologies by the MNCs in recent times, it is the
responsibility of the people and the media to ensure that
checks can be put on the misuse of this new technology against
the underprivileged and disadvantaged people of the world.
baiters: outsiders and insiders
Review by Akshaya
Eyes: India from Milton to Macaulay by Balachandran Rajan.
Oxford University Press, New Delhi. Pages 267. Rs 545.
more by commerce than by conquest, English imperialism was to begin with very
tentative and unorganised. It took some time before the East India Company
realised that mere trading was not enough, and that a foundation of a
well-grounded English colony in India was a political necessity to safeguard and
buttress its commercial ventures.
well-researched book narrates the transition of British imperialism from being
utterly defensive and apolitical to being expansive and dominating, through a
close reading of a range of English literary texts which have hitherto enjoyed
the reputation of discourses of universal aesthetics as well as ethics.
Exploring these literary sites from a post-colonial vantage point, the author
traces the slow and steady consolidation of British imperialism in India, a
consolidation that belies its absentminded, fitful and ad hoc beginning.
Rajan begins his analysis of
the rather "Orientalist" representation of India in colonial
literature with Camoes’s "The Lusiads", an essentially Euro-centric
epic poem that boasts of Portuguese victories in opulent India. Vijayanagar is
more noted for its gold and precious stones than the valour of its people.
Oriental opulence has been a persisting stereotype as is Third World poverty
today. Far from being a poem of heroic journey, it is just a guidebook to the
spice trade. India, the consummation of imperial quest, is hardly a site of
resistance. The poem rather celebrates the infiltration. The gateway to India is
adorned with scenes depicting previous conquerors of India from Bacchus to
Alexander. India is condemned as a land of submission.
As an avid scholar of Milton,
Rajan brings out the subtle cultural politics that goes into the making of his
epic poem "Paradise Lost". Milton’s India too is a veritable
inferno. "If references (to India) are taken together, their most
conspicuous characteristic is that nearly all of them occur in infernal or post-lapsarian
contexts. "India is consistently invoked first throughout the construction
of pandemonium and later on while describing the devilish pursuits of Satan and
his bee-like crew of fallen angels.
The choice of India as the last
step before paradise and its association with serpent is strategic and has
imperial underpinnings. India is depicted as the land where the vulture can
"gorge the flesh of lambs or yearling kids", suggesting the
helplessnesss and inexperience of India to the onslaught of imperial power and
cruelty. Rajan’s telling phrases such as "Satanisation of the
Orient" and "cumulative infernalisation of India" sum up Milton’s
Dryden’s drama on Mughal
Emperor "Aurengzebe" comes for post-colonial scrutiny in the next
chapter. Rajan explains how cleverly Dryden’s fictional Aurangzeb reverses the
historical one. The fictional king is not only a legitimate successor to the
Mughal throne, he is magnanimous, tolerant of non-Muslims, very patient as well.
There is vigorous feminisation of the Orient through the metaphor of Indamora,
"a captive queen", Dryden’s Aurangzeb is "Englished" so
blatantly that the author wonders whether Dryden could have shown same
disrespect to the Greek or Roman past as he eventually shows to Mughal history.
British historians from Richard
Orme to Alexander Dow defined India as a chronically subject nation. Even
"more lettered" Oliver Goldsmith went on to describe Indians as
"slothful, submissive and luxurious, satisfied with sensual happiness
alone". James Mill, who visited India not even once, dismissed Indian
civilisation with a barrage of derogatory epithets like "rude",
"ignorant", "superstitious", "credulous", etc.
The Hindu religion is described
as "gross, disgusting, incoherent, disordered, capricious, rife with
passion, laden with portents and prodigies, violent, and deformed". The
impression that Forster’s "A Passage to India" conveys of India is
also of abasement and monotony, "some low but indestructible form of
life". Rajan observes that the basic purpose of British historians has
always been to devalue Indian past beyond the possibility of reinstatement.
Rajan reveals to us the
cultural biases built in Hegel’s "Philosophy of History". Africa is
condemned as "a site of consciousness that is totally unreflective".
The "dark continent" is simply ineligible to enter history for it is
"the land of childhood lying beyond the day of self-conscious
history". In imperial writings, the Third World is invariably projected as
an uncivilised brat who needs hard adult tutoring from the high West, the
self-styled respository of civilisation and world culture.
The aside comments on India too
are equally deprecatory. India stands for "wild tumult of excess",
"wild extravagance of fancy" and "a monstrous, irrational
imagination". Indian culture is no more than a "dumb, deedless
expansion". Like Mills and other Europeans, Hegel does acknowledge the
"wisdom of India", but the priority is always accorded to its pearls,
diamonds, perfumes, rose-essences, elephants, lions, etc. While charting out the
march of idea, Hegel finds the amorphous and structureless Oriental terrain
simply incapable of attaining transcendence.
If India is people without a
state. China is a state without people. Overlooking India’s claim to the
concepts of "zero" and "whole", Hegel seems to prescribe
that for a genuine transcendental redemption the Orient must come under the
total tutelage, guardianship, wardship, trusteeship, paternal care of the
Rajan explores yet another
facet of the "feminine India in the writings of early British women writers
on India. In Hamilton’s "Translation of the Letters of a Hindu
Rajah", for a change, India is not represented as a weak, vicious,
self-wounding civilisation, but as a site of "authentic femininity"
with needs to be heard rather than sequestered. Hamilton sees Britain as
masculine enough to liberate and protect feminine Hindus from the caprices of
the Mughals. The novel is a fervent plea for raj-sponsored Indology. Owenson’s
"Missionary" is also replete with misleading generalisations such as,
"In all the religions of the East, woman has held a decided influence,
either as a priestess or as a victim."
Southey’s "The Curse of
Kehama" is another text that proclaims Hinduism to be "the most
monstrous in its fables and the most fatal in its effects". Islamic tales
may be "metaphorical rubbish", but Hindu metaphysics is simply
grotesque and bestial. Southey openly advocates the two-fold colonial policy of
conquest and conversion to chastise "unimprovable India". Kehama, the
protagonist of the poem, is more ridiculous than monstrous.
Unbound" has its own cultural politics. The fact that Prometheus is exiled
to Indian Caucasus to acquire wisdom is foregrounded in the contemporary viewing
of Indian Caucasus as a place of origins. India is important to Shelley, but as
Rajan puts it, "only as a territory of imagination" and not a place of
actual human living.
Presumably a study of Macaulay’s
infamous minutes constitutes the last chapter, but Rajan’s accent falls on
Macaulay’s rather polemical "The History of England". Macaulay’s
account of British colonial India as recounted in the essays on Clive and
Hastings are full of Bengali bashing: "The physical organisation of
Bengalee is feeble even to effiminacy .... His pursuits are sedentary, his limbs
delicate, his movements languid." The essay contains some significant
insight on Rammohun Roy’s complicity with the British.
Rajan’s observation that
"Roy can seem like a preliminary advertisement for Macaulay" has the
potential of problematising the credo of Indian Renaissance. Comments on Roy
underline the predicament of Indian Renaissance as a reform movement
implementing only "the donor’s agenda" — the donor is invariably
the imperial West.
Perceiving India as feminine is
a common colonial trope. But Rajan furnishes a long list of other equally
damaging tropes which colonial discourses often employ to denigrate India as the
theatre of the other. India is "the anima and the id". It is the
"proliferating jungle". It is "prolixity instead of order".
It is "tropical rather than temperate". While summing up his analysis,
Rajan points out the limitations of the binary structures implicit in these
Instead of defining any living
space in terms of "jungle versus forest", "nature versus
culture", "male versus female", "chaotic versus
orderly", etc. Rajan insists on hammering a poetics in which both the
essentialist and relativist ways of living co-exist and constitute each other.
If the colonial discourses erred in portraying the East in an exclusive frame of
"the Orient versus the Occident", the post-colonial critics also tend
to fall in the same trap. Post-colonialism should not border on anti-West
"Under Western Eyes"
presents a composite perspective on the systematic and consistent otherification
of the Orient, particularly India, by way of incorporating sources from history,
philosophy and literature. But the book is no more than an incremental operation
of scholarship, because at the level of argument and drift, it is only a minor
extension of Edward Said’s seminal work "The Orientalism". One
wonders whether anything worthwhile or path-breaking is possible any more in the
post-colonial studies. Post-colonial scholarship runs the risk of reaching a
dead end much before its grand start.
There is no gainsaying the fact
that colonial texts or authors portrayed India as a weak-kneed, submissive and
badly divided nation; even many of the contemporary Indian writers writing in
the so-called phase of post-colonialism continue to dismiss India in deprecatory
colonial terms. Rajan’s post-colonial analysis would have made greater sense
had he picked up insiders rather than outsiders for their constant downgrading
of the Orient in the West.
The only fertile
area that post-colonial studies can really grow is this
unravelling of the complicity of the Indians in the colonial
project, both before 1947 and after. Also it would have added to
the cause of post-colonial studies had Rajan exposed the
duplicity of some of the so-called emancipated human rights
activists and Third World champions who, even in their gestures
of vehement post-colonial protest, remain firmly anchored in
First World capitalism.
goes Sufi and thrills you
Review by M.L. Sharma
Freedom by Osho. Diamond Books, New Delhi. Pages 205. Rs 100.
of Freedom" in the series "Sufis: The People of the Path" is one
of the most consistent works giving a full taste of Osho "philosophy".
Where Carl Jung, the most prominent pupil of Sigmund Freud left, Osho appeared.
Osho’s thought has reached the logical conclusion. Freud was a pan-sexualist,
Osho is a pan-naturalist. Freud focused on sexual repression and guilt; Osho is
concerned with natural way of life, saying sexuality is part of the natural way
of life and does not form a complete picture. Osho is dead against conditioning:
social, political, religious, ideological — that is belief systems. He says
belief systems are non-communicative.
Osho is a poet and thinker
rolled into one and it is an error to make him a pan-sexualist. His love of
nature is reflected in the lines: "When you are sitting on the grass, close
your eyes, become the grass be grassy... feel the subtle smell that goes on
being released by the grass." About conditioning and belief systems he
says: "Caged in one’s own system, you are unavailable, and the other is
unavailable to you. People are moving like windowless houses... Everybody is
imprisoned in his own conditionings."
Osho counsels people to free
themselves from ideological grooves and "isms". He defines
enlightenment as a paradise lost and paradise regained. The child is born in
innocence and in order to gain enlightenment, the child will have to lose
innocence. "It is like a fish which has always lived in the ocean — it is
impossible for the fish to know the ocean... It has been born into it, it is
part of it, it is like a wave. To know the ocean a little separation is needed,
a little distance is needed. But take the fish out, on the hot sand, there will
be pain and there will be suffering, but in that suffering the fish will know
for the first time that it has been living in the ocean."
Osho is against substitutes.
Cheerfulness in the original state of mind, moroseness is a substitute. In his
own words: "The very enjoyment is what meditation is... Let cheerfulness be
your only religion, the only law." By happiness he does not imply
forgetfulness and lack of sobriety. He quotes Sheikh ibn Ajiba’s words to
substantiate his point that ecstasy is also the way of sobriety:
"Drunkenness with consciousness of the state is higher than drunkenness
with forgetfulness. Ecstasy is not the goal but the means, nevertheless an
absolutely essential means." Osho’s advice is to be drunk and yet alert.
He objects to repression
because it curbs naturalness and when naturalness is curbed, senses are
corrupted. "We have not been allowed to be natural — hence man has lost
dignity, innocence, grace, elegance... And because of all these repressions the
body has become non-orgasmic." It is because of repression of sex, man has
lost the sense of smell. Whereas a dog has a strong sense of smell, man has lost
all sense of smell. "Smell is very sexual, that’s why we have destroyed
Osho believes that life is
sacred. He advocates the principle of joyous waiting and dismisses pessimism in
life, and religion. If God spoke to men in the past, he speaks even today.
Osho asks people not to see
thorns but the rose alone. "Once you have started seeing the beauty of
life, ugliness starts disappearing... If you start looking at life with joy,
sadness starts disappearing. You cannot have heaven and hell together, you can
have only one. It is your choice." The main thing is how one interprets
things. For Osho death is even beautiful and not to be afraid of. "When man
is dying. The circle is complete... death is very close to life: it is the very
crescendo of life. Life comes out of sex energy and life is moving back to sex
Osho believes in equilibrium.
Thus silence is a balance between happiness and sorrow, which is to be
preferred. Life is without a full stop. It is a continuous process. Life, love
and relationship are not nouns but verbs (living, loving and relating).
Like the Buddha, Osho’s main
stress is on love and compassion. Trees, he says, even respond to love and
compassion. Western mind is aggressive and cannot understand why a tree should
even be responsive to finer feelings of love and compassion. His definition of sanyas
is very interesting — a creative kind of suicide. "You can still
live, but you can live in your own way. Then the need for suicide disappears, or
becomes very much less."
Osho denies fatherhood,
motherhood, or belovedhood to God. "God," he says, "is
experiencing". He explains experiencing in a beautiful way: "Looking
at a rose flower, if you disappear into the rose flower and the rose flower
disappears into you, the observer becomes the observed, and the observed the
observer. There is no distinction left, there are not two things confronting
each other but a meeting, merging, melting into each other — then boundaries
are no longer there."
For contact with God, it is
most essential to drop all theories, explanations and philosophies. "Before
God you have to be utterly naked with no explanations, no philosophies
surrounding you. In order to see God, you have to be free from ‘nafs’, which
is like a neurotic hunger which cannot be satisfied. "You see the distant
but not the close-by." God is very close but our mind is elsewhere. The
state is which an ordinary human being exists is called "nafs" by
Sufis. "‘Nafs’ is blind to God, unless you drop ‘nafs’ you will not
see God and God is everywhere. Only God is. Nothing else. But you will not see
God, you cannot see God. To see God you will have to drop ‘nafs’."
"Nafs" is a desire
for more money, power, sex, etc. The first thing to be understood is "nafs"
and by understanding it, one should drop it. Just to see it is to drop it. By
the drop- ping of "nafs" comes "tambah" — turning back. By
turning back one attains the state of "hal", an altered state of mind
but a temporary one. Then comes "magma", when "hals" become
permanent and are not only flashes. The word "magma" implies arrived.
It is the real state of man. From "nafs" to "magma" is the
journey of a Sufi.
Osho is against synthesis of
religions. He believes there is beauty in every religion and there is no sense
in collecting wise sayings from various religions. "No synthesis is needed
between a rose-bush and the lotus — they are perfectly beautiful as they
Man has cultivated fondness for
artificial things — cosmetics, perfumes, etc. because he has lost the sense of
smell. The only criterion is how much payment we get. There is nothing new and
unique about life being lived. "But if you live a life of comfort and
convenience and ritual and formality and lies, you live in hell... start living
again. And don’t think about pay, you may not be rich but your life will be
enriched. You may not have fame, but you will have joy. You may not be known to
the world but will be known to God."
About love he muses: "Love
means to give all that is beautiful to the beloved. Freedom is the most
beautiful, the most cherished goal of human consciousness." Love is one’s
quality of life. In true love, subjectivity is significant, not object. About
God, he says, God exists whether we think about Him or not. "We can go on
denying God, that doesn’t make any difference — God still is. God is
existential... So what is the point of belief or disbelief? Drop them and try to
see whatever is the case."
There is unity in existence.
The separation is only for delight or for enlightenment. Osho disfavours
possessiveness. Two lovers are two pillars supporting independently,
unpossessing each other, one roof of intrinsic beauty and spiritual harmony.
"Kaaba" is where Rabia kneels in prayer and Vrindavan is where Meera
bows. It is one’s beauty of soul which makes one feel the spiritual presence
of one’s beloved. Wisdom is an insight into existence whereas knowledge is
borrowed from others.
The book is
compulsive reading as it provides deeper insight into the
mysteries of existence and love, savouring of unique Sufi