Seeing our identities through western eyes
Reviewed by Harjeet Singh Gill

In/Disciplines: Notes on  Politics,  Education and Culture 
by Rajesh Sharma. Three Essays Collective.
Pages 207. Rs 345

In in/disciplines, an anthology of disparate papers, the author has dealt with the complexities of Punjabi identity, literature and a number of other concerns vis-a-vis state of education, politics and culture in present-day India.

In the very beginning, the author introduced himself as a professor of English in Punjabi University, where English is a foreign language in every sense of the term. It is followed by a discussion on the concept of Punjabiyat. There was a time when Punjabiyat was indexed by Gurbani and Sufi lore. Then there were the armies of Ranjit Singh which crossed the ancient frontiers for the first time in the history of the nation.

On the other side of the coin were our soldiers who were engaged in the two wars of the British for jobs and promotions and won medals of valour. Ironically, during the recent celebrations of the two world wars in the West, there was not even a footnote of gratitude for the services rendered by our soldiers, for the simple reason that they were only an appendix to their armies.

During the same period, the Punjabiyat was indexed by the Namdhari rebellion, Akali morchas, Ghadar Movement, followers of Bhagat Singh and Udham Singh. Unfortunately, now there is another connotation of Punjabiyat where in our boys sell their land and by every possible illegal means go to the West to work as labourers of the old masters.

The author has also an important paper on the academic activity of our university scholars who attempt to denigrate the West by the most ridiculous claims that all western philosophies and scientific discoveries were already there in our ancient texts. Their researches somehow find the Indian sources of relativity theory and quantum physics. Reading translations is a hazardous enterprise any way; most of these scholars have contact with the texts which are at least thrice removed from the original writings.

There is also a paper on the Indian universities where there is a suggestion made by the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission to invite foreign scholars. The authorís reaction is normal. However, we must accept the fact that all our institutes of higher learning follow the western models. Even the questionnaires about village studies are framed in the western universities. Our senior-most scholars and scientists work as research assistants to their western colleagues in the hope that in their joint enterprise they will get visiting fellowships. The power relation is very simple. Almost all our writers who write in Indian English about India live in the West. Even the African Nobel laureates reside in California. Indian and Pakistani soldiers kill each other with the guns and bullets made in the West.

The narrative of ancient India is quite different. From the times immemorial to the middle ages, Bharat was certainly one of the most fascinating domains of intellectual activity. There were philosophers, linguists, logicians who excelled in the most incisive discourses. Panini, Patanjali, Bhartrihari radically differed with each other but essentially presented a continuity of thought. The diametrically opposite Buddhist thinkers Nagarjun, Dignag and Dharmakirti presented another hue of the spectrum. And there were the logical schools of Nyaya, Vaisheshika, the materialist Sankhya and the traditionalist Mimansa, which were dialectically engaged with each other. Much later, the Bhakti movement rebelled against the rigid and corrupt priest practices but inadvertently snapped the intense intellectual tradition of our land.

Our freedom struggle was an excellent opportunity of reviving the older tradition. Though heavily influenced by the western ideas, Gandhi, Nehru, Jaiprakash had an active dialectical interaction with the West. In their own way, they not only acquired but also appropriated the western revolutionary thought and passed it through the sieve of the struggle of independence. This struggle was both political and existential but it was so personal that it had practically no influence once the country became politically independent. After the colonial rule, the third world is completely and thoroughly westernised. The tragedy, however, is that our political, administrative, academic institutions are the poorest imitations of their western counterparts. As a result, we are neither here nor there.