The Museum of Ignorance

In the times of mass graves, vanishing forests, multi-million dollar MOUs and new defi nitions of poverty line, scholar Ashis Nandy brings in some perspective.


You are constantly questioning the nature of patriotism, even calling it an ‘intimate enemy’. Do you believe that in more than any time in history, patriotism is a ‘sarkar’ construct or is it a right wing phenomenon?

No, that is not the point. In fact, I distinguish between patriotism and nationalism. Patriotism is a form of territoriality. Even cats and dogs are territorial. If you change your home, your pet cat doesn’t change. He stays back in the old house. Birds are also territorial. Th at’s how the pigeon mails came into being. But nationalism is something different. It is not a sentiment. It’s a theory… an ideology and like all ideologies have a larger ambition, it occupies a larger, a different space in our personality. And I think that like all ideologies, the demands of nationalism are much more ‘total’. And I object to that because I believe that kind of nationalism is a contribution of Western imperialism. In this part of the world we have internalised it and made it our own. But it has never paid dividends in our community based society.
In that context, what’s your take on Tagore’s ‘Jana Gana Mana’ which was originally written for King George’s welcome?

No, that’s a rumour, and that’s an attempt to slander him. He has given a very powerful and detailed response to it; you can get it in his writing. Not only that, I would like to point out that if you read Jana Gana Mana carefully, the whole song, you will know that it could not have been written for any King, George, or otherwise because he is talking of ‘Jana Gana Mana Adhinayaka’, who is for ages, presiding over the destiny of human beings all over the world, and to whom pilgrims have gone. Th at is something that is not, obviously, directed towards any earthly king.


You’ve talked about the epic culture in India, would you elucidate a little further about the gods and the demons?

I believe that’s what scholars like Marx said in a kind of dismissive tone; it is partly true and is in many ways true of India. Th is is primarily a historic society. Th ere might have been some fragments of history somewhere, but this is primarily a historical society because this society has prioritised non-historical ways of looking at the past. Th ere will be some historical ways of looking at the past… But on the whole, this society has always believed in constructions of the past, And it is part of India’s DNA that historical consciousness had not been prioritised and given absolute sanction. And this has made our past also open-ended, like our futures. Th is is one of the few societies which can actually say that.


Would you say it’s a beautiful thing?

I think it’s a beautiful thing. Because we reach our future through the past, very often.
And on the topic of epics, there are many renditions of the Ramayana. What do you make of the ban on AK Ramanujan’s version?

The Ramayana is of the Dalit community too. They will be further marginalised. There are communities here which worship Ravana. To whom Ram Navami is a day of mourning. Even in north Bengal there are such communities. It is a shame, and a travesty of Hinduism to destroy the right of Hindu communities who have chosen to build temples to Duryodhan, Karna, Vibhishan and so on and so forth all over India. I think apart from being Brahmanic, it’s demonic. Let me put it this way- it’s a rakshas gesture.


How would you describe Kashmir… as a stand-alone socio-political entity?

It wasn’t a standalone socio-political entity entirely earlier. It was always in touch with the mainstream Indian culture. It always was in touch with parts of central Asia. And you see both the influences in Kashmir. Even their Hinduism is different. There is a diff erence. It is by our actions, by our highhanded attempt to smother duality, to smother difference that has antagonised ultimately, the Kashmiri people. Or attempt to fiddle with Kashmiri democracy which has brought us to this pass. And today, Kashmiris have already seceded from India psychologically. Th ey may be politically still within India but I don’t think they will come back into India within the next two generations, given our record there.


With reference to your book, ‘The Tao of Cricket’ and the new season of the IPL starting, your views on the IPL.

I don’t think IPL cricket is really cricket. It’s a form of entertainment and it should be treated as entertainment. I mean, it’s a very transient thing. If I ask you the results of some of the IPL matches you have seen, you won’t even be able to remember them. Even the cricketers who have played them, don’t remember them. I think the spirit of cricket has been taken out of them, more or less. It’s all right if you want to make some money, provide instant entertainment, OK. But if you think you want to savour something of the culture of cricket, which in some sense is deeply compatible with the culture of this part of the world, whole of South Asia, then you will not see it in the IPL matches.


Your views on what is known as the Red Corridor.

I think our record vis-a-vis the tribals of India, in the last 60 years, has been abysmal. We might not have killed them off like the Europeans did in the Americas, but we have pushed them to utter penury and destitution and treated them like primitive remnants in our civilisation, who can best serve the country by dying out and silently and obediently entering our museums and history textbooks. It is in desperation that they have turned to the Maoists. I don’t think most of them know who Mao was. But they have found in Maoists, an ally who atleast care for them. I don’t think Maoist theory is any more sympathetic to tribal cultures than the Indian State because their concept of evolution also presumes proletarianisation of the tribals. Nonetheless, it’s a fact that they’re willing to fight for and even die for the rights of the tribals. So the tribals have opted for them. It’s a great pity, because the forces which are being deployed against the tribals, the Maoists, are also mostly tribals if you notice, read between the lines of the newspapers.


The Salwa Judum.

Obviously, Salwa Judum, that is also tribal, but even the paramilitary forces come from Nagaland and Mizoram and so on and so forth.
You met Narendra Modi once on a one-on-one basis. How was the interaction?

That I don’t want to talk about because ultimately that was a private conversation. It was in 2002 because I was extremely perturbed about the slaughter in Gujarat. Pogrom, actually. A proper, well defined program. I have talked enough about it. Let us not talk about it, but I thought Narendra Modi was in some ways a fit person to preside over that slaughter. He’s very efficient and very well organised.


India is touted as an emerging superpower. Do you think you can even call it that?

I don’t know, it is trying hard to be that and people are saying so but I have never been in love with the superpowers. Earlier we had two, now we have one and I have always found them deeply fl awed systems, so I don’t look forward to it. I think India will be much better off trying to build a humane, compassionate society than becoming an emerging superpower.

The man with a million ideas! He's just the kind of person who can make any discussion a roller coaster ride, maneuvering it through the exciting twists and turns of his creative ideas.

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