The idea of Indianness - And the story spins on

Updated: Oct 10, 2010, 16:59 PM IST

Rijo Jacob Abraham

The tumultuous events of the past week – the Ayodhya verdict, the CWG scam and the sensex hitting 20,000 points has the unmistakable smell of Indianness to it. In fact every Indian story, right from the Vedic times is similar in this regard.

It is the way we try to obliterate history. It is not just the Ayodhya verdict. The verdict is no surprise, though the case makes the issue sharper and poignant.

While for other societies, people in history become ancestors and live among them, for Indians they become myths and myths later become sentiments. It never had any association with reality, instead it became a vague mist of identity, safely floating above them.

As a nation we are peacefully oblivious to history. Consider that how many monuments remain forgotten in Delhi, used as godowns or as shady government offices with brilliant splashes of pan stains on the walls.

We, unlike other countries which believe in linear progression of time, believe in a cyclical one. Not just about re-births but about birth and this life itself. Here politicians, how much ever they are disgraced by corruption charges, resurrect. Where as in other countries their entire political career comes to an irreversible end, in India there is always a possibility.

The whole gamut of the Indian system seems to comprise short cycles of gains and losses with each phase having no particular meaning. For us, life never progresses but moves in circles. The sensex completed a full circle from January 2008 last week. Still India cannot protract its growth. We just cannot muster enough energy to bring about a strong infrastructure to promote sustained growth. While old investors make money, newbie lose and newbie later become bulls and make money and give other newbie a bear hug.

This is not just for those who trade in the stock-market. What is peculiar and disheartening about poverty in India (and also the entire sub-continent) is that it is a process. While some fall out of poverty some continue to slip into it. India thus is able to actively eradicate as well as manufacture poverty.

Another international games event in India, after Asiad held 28 years earlier, we remain clueless how to organise an event. Isn’t it surprising how lesser parallels are drawn between the two? Is it surprising that the mainstream media, in all its populist vigour cried foul over the state of cleanliness, infrastructure and preparedness of the games, never tried to investigate into the awarding of contracts to individual projects? Something that came close was from a leading investigative newspaper, which ascribed casual (yet surprising) high levels of kinship among CWG officials to favouritism. The CWG story has completed its growth cycle, the ship has sailed, in Indian minds.

With suicidal tendencies built into the idea of India, there is a powerful instinct of resurrection also. William Darymple points out in his book ‘City of Dijins’ that the city of Delhi as we know it today is its ninth life-cycle. When Britons colonised India, it was not a primitive civilisation, waiting to get modern. India was a society in a more advanced form of social evolution than Britan was. What happened was a meeting of two civilisations – one at its prime and other at its fag end.

The fact that a civilisation is born, grows old and dies is a universal truth. But in India, it is death that is written into growth. India cannot grow without devising self-defeating plans and it cannot self-defeat without growing. Death and resurrection is inherent in an Indian story. The way it has been, India does not explode to non-existence because of external factors. After sometime of opulence and glitter it simply implodes silently.

India’s aspirations to be a superpower, and market-friendly stories of India over-taking China and being the biggest economy in the world in 25 years nevertheless makes us proud. But India is torn from within – between its potential and its need for a civilizational hara-kiri. If India has to save itself, it must sacrifice its aspiration. (I am no way alluding to Pranab Mukherjee’s stance that inflation is a result of high growth rate). Noted contemporary historian Ramachandra Guha pointed out in a talk in New Delhi last year that the country should not even try to be a super-power but try being a “less discontent nation.” I could not agree with him more.

But what makes India interestingly curious is that this system works and serves its purpose even though erratically. John Kennth Galbraith, the American ambassador called India a “functioning anarchy”, but nevertheless functioning. It is a frustrating thought, but there is a way out – get used to this idea of Indianness!