Continued from Part 2
BM: You know, I was thinking that you sort of epitomise in a way the true Indian-ness, the true way of being an Indian is not something that is restricted to the geography or a specific cultural or religious background in which one is born, but it is essentially about having more of an inner attitude. This quality of inwardness, of seeking that inner divinity, that inner self – that is the hall-mark of a deeper, a truer, a real Indian way of being. But then the challenge is how to go about inculcating this sort of an inwardness, this attitude in the younger generations who will shape the India of present and future? How to even begin speaking about it?
MW: Yes, it is an important thing and a difficult thing. Maybe the best way is that Sanskrit should be taught right from the childhood. I mean, when a child is constantly repeating some deeply powerful shlokas instead of some silly rhyme such as ‘Humpty Dumpty….and all fall down’…. you see, that can already start to make a huge difference.
And then English should be taught only as a language that is necessary to know in today’s globalising context, but not really used as a medium of instruction throughout one’s schooling or college. It is unfortunate that English has become a means toward social or economic mobility in India. I mean, that is the real issue here. You see parents of 3-4-year-old children in parks, restaurants etc, and they are all speaking to their children in English because they know that if they want their kid to go into good schools, the kid must know good English or he or she won’t be accepted. This is really sad, no?
The other day I was speaking to the watchman of the place where I am staying. And he is sending his son to an English medium school, but the boy is struggling with English. He is now in sixth grade but he can’t really read or follow simple English, can’t frame a simple sentence. English just doesn’t go into his head…. I mean how can he really study or learn to think, it is so hard for him. But the parents are pushing and pushing him. I tried so hard to speak to his wife but nothing…. I mean I sympathise with their concerns.
This is what Sankrant Sanu also writes in his book, …. the book about the language policy in Indian education….you know that one?
BM: Yes, I know…you mean the book ‘The English Medium Myth’….
MW: Yes, I often speak about it, or tweet about it. It is really sad how strongly the system has pushed English so hard over the past couple of decades, especially among the poorer sections, through the schools that cater to lower economic strata….it is really a burden or pressure for these kids and their families.
But then if they don’t study English, they aren’t able to go for higher studies because there aren’t engineering or other such professional courses in their native languages. It is all very deliberate, I think…. this push, but then this is also a way to keep control, keep a check…. You know, to not allow native intelligence to blossom, to make people feel that only English makes them educated or smart…
I mean, this watchman whose son I was just speaking about…this man is pretty much illiterate but he is very smart and intelligent, you know, he can solve a problem very diligently and carefully. So it is that very practical kind of intelligence. But he wants a different future of his son, and he thinks that his son must know English for that. I mean, it is painful but that’s what it is.
BM: Yes, I understand…it is quite a difficult situation. And I think your point about teaching Sanskrit from the childhood makes a lot of sense. And maybe that’s why we see such a strong opposition to the teaching or promotion of Sanskrit from some quarters…. I mean, the whole debate that was there a few years back when the idea of making Sanskrit compulsory was floated…..
MW: Yes, yes. And then now you see this opposition to the prayer asto ma sadgamaya. I mean, how can they do it? How? Really strange, no?
BM: Yes, this very deliberate confusion that some are trying to create — this connection they are trying to make between the teaching-learning of Sanskrit and promoting a certain Hindu way, a certain Hindu language, etc….
MW: But then becoming Hindu is actually becoming Human, you know. I mean, Dharma is not same as religion in the sense Christianity or Islam are religions, no? They are two very different baskets, and those who have a certain agenda they mix it up and just create confusion in people’s minds. That’s how I see it.
BM: Yeah, I agree. And that’s why I think voices like yours, I mean whether it is this book of yours or what you write on social media or on your blog, or through your talks…they really help clarify some things for a lot of people.
I say this also because I think that in India you do see today a lot of churning, a lot of people are trying to learn more about what India really is, what Indian-ness really means and there is a lot of questioning also happening which is good in a way…and if this kind of seeking or churning continues I see a lot of hope, a lot of optimism for India’s rebirth in a sense, a reawakening of sorts.
But of course, there is also a danger that if some counter-forces become stronger in their attacks, or continue to cause disruptions to this deeper reawakening, much of this work may not really take us far….
MW: Yes, yes, that is very much there – both the reawakening and the danger. And that’s why it is important that Indians make their political decisions very carefully. Because that does play an important role in the way things are set up in any country today, but particularly here in India. There is a very strong anti-Indianism in some political outfits and that’s why they should be kept away from positions of power. So, some political, practical wisdom is also necessary if Indians have to continue this path of rejuvenating their cultural heritage.
BM: Oh, I agree, I agree. And personally, for me, I find a lot of support in Sri Aurobindo, especially when I read and re-read some of his writings where I see him going so directly and pointedly to what is true and the right thing to do in matters concerning the practical world, the very tangible reality of the world as it exists today, and the way the different forces are working….I mean you find such practical wisdom in his words that is so deeply grounded in the deeper truth.
You see this when you read his responses to questions about some of the world situations or events that were unfolding when he was in his physical body – whether they had to do the second world war or Indian independence movement or anything else….that’s the kind of wisdom we need today, the voices of the Rishis of our times, the modern masters who have shown us what needs to be done if we really want India to rise again.
MW: Yes. and there is one more thing I feel Indians need to really get over – this need to say what they think the others, or rest of the world wants to hear…you know what I mean? This tendency is still very much there, though I think the younger Indians are getting better.
But among the older Indians I still see it – this tendency to sugar-coat or say things in a very guarded manner, not really being straight-forward, especially when they are interacting with the outside world, or when they live in the Western countries for example and work with the westerners. There is a lot of this pressure to fit in, and sometimes it can really take you to an extreme.
I’ll share with you something – I don’t remember if I mentioned it in my book, I don’t think I did. Once I was traveling and, in the flight, there was this young Indian man sitting next to me. He seemed very bright, intelligent, he was teaching some Science subject at a university in America, if I remember correctly.
And when the food came, I asked for vegetarian meals and he asked for non-vegetarian. I just kind of looked at him, maybe I had some curious expression or something I don’t know [gentle laughter]… but he said, yeah when I converted to Christianity eight years ago, I started eating non-vegetarian. You see what I mean? Isn’t it really sad?
Anyway, I said to him – oh, you converted to Christianity, why? And what about your family and all…how did they take it? And he told me that his parents had also converted to Christianity. So suddenly he didn’t look very intelligent any more, you see? He was perhaps trying to fit in with his context, his environment, I think, and he even went to the extent of converting to a different religion. I don’t know for sure, I mean nobody can be really sure except the person himself who goes ahead with something like this, but still that or some other kind of pressure must have been there…
BM: Yeah, that’s quite something… But you see somehow, we shy away from talking about such uncomfortable things, even though they are happening all around us…I mean, take for example, this issue of religious conversions itself. That is a big one in today’s Indian social context, especially because so much disharmony is created in the communities where such conversion activities go on in large numbers.
But we see there is so much resistance or hesitation or simply a lack of interest in dealing with these difficult issues heads on. Governments also shy away from taking up these matters and so much controversies are created, unnecessarily and just for short-term political gains.
And then of course, there is the larger issue of Indian constitution which sort of makes it difficult to work through these difficult issues because of some provisions that are there which end up creating more social divisions instead of facilitating harmony. All these are things that not many people are ready to openly discuss or debate…. that is quite a tragic situation I think. And if someone does talk about, immediately that person is branded with all sorts of labels, called this or that….
MW: I know, but you see, the labelling or branding is just because they want us to feel ashamed of something. I would rather be with the dharma, be with the truth rather than worry about what people label me as – that is immaterial in a way. Why shouldn’t I speak what I know as the true and right thing? That’s how at least I see it.
BM: Yes, and that’s exactly the truthfulness we see in your book as well, which is what makes it such a joy to read. I mean I could go on and on talking to you about several other things, since there is really a lot we can learn from your experience, from what you have seen and experienced and the way you have experienced India and her spiritual traditions. It has been really, really wonderful to have had this chance to speak to you, to hear you share such insightful instances and experiences and lessons. But perhaps it is time to stop here for now.
I want to really thank you for spending so much time with me, and for being so candid and open in our conversation, it really felt like I was catching up with a friend I have known for so long… thank you very much. And I mean it in all sincerity and honestly. I am very happy to have read your book and to have had this opportunity for such a wide-ranging conversation, about the book and about so many other things. So, thank you Maria! And thank you once again, for giving us the book – Thank you India!
MW: Thank you! I enjoyed our conversation immensely. And now you have your work cut out for you, no?… (laughter)… I mean transcribing this long interview, did you cover the questions you had in your list…. how long is it, I think we talked for about an hour or so, may be more…
BM: Yes, a little more than an hour. But it was quite an enriching hour, and I am very grateful for that. And I think we did cover pretty much everything I had in my prepared list, and a whole lot more actually! So, it has been great. I wish you all the best for whatever next project you are working on and look forward to reading more of your writings!
MW: Thank you!