CONTINUED FROM PART 1
I became more at ease when I accepted a partly-colonized, partly-decolonized consciousness as part of the modern day educated Indian experience. I felt mentally calm enough to accept that it is part of how I interpret my experience and that of others. But I also realized that this was not the only way to make sense of my own limited understanding. And that there can be a whole other way to understand all of this.
I remembered that somewhere in his writings Sri Aurobindo speaks of politicization of mind and political mindset being one of the worst outcomes of materialistic modernity and modern, rationalistic education. Yet that is an essential stage in our human evolution, as his uniquely inclusive and integral approach to life-affirming spirituality also reminds us. The challenge is to transcend the limits of a rational-externalised view of life and gradually move to a more spiritualised inner view of life – all life, which does not reject any human activity or pursuit but uplifts and raises everything to its noblest and inmost purpose and place in the wider existence.
With that in mind, I felt a deep sense of understanding when I read Sri Aurobindo’s political speeches and writings where he talks about Swaraj, his vision for a political future of the modern nation-state of India, and his true understanding of what Indian nation could mean for its people. This Indian nation would not be a colonial copy but one that is grounded in a deeper and truer vision that is indigenous to Indian civilization, is eternal yet newly evolving, rooted in its timelessness yet inclusive and integrative of all that continues to come from the world outside.
To what extent Indian people and successive governments elected by the Indian people have dedicated themselves to working toward that vision, to what extent we have even understood that vision – these are questions deserving deep reflection and analysis. But if I were to quickly give an answer right now, I would have to say that unfortunately over most of the last seven decades, the free and independent India has witnessed consistent attempts by her political, bureaucratic and intellectual classes to undermine her civilizational and cultural identity. Not only that, these classes have also managed to thrust upon her an artificial veneer of mindless and rootless modernism which is not consistent with the trajectory of Indian historical-social-cultural-political evolution.
Reading Sri Aurobindo’s political speeches and writings also made me think of some wider issues concerning the impact of colonial thinking on how the Indian State works. There are still plenty of laws existing from the British colonial days, but even that is only a small matter. The bigger one is the growing awareness in small sections of Indian intellectual classes that a lot of political unrest and social conflict in India is the result of Indians’ lack of understanding of how Indian collective psyche and lived experience clash with the European/Western ideas of ‘nation-state,’ ‘religion’, ‘secularism’ ‘multiculturalism,’ and ‘tolerance.’
For example, the modern idea of nation-state initially grew up in mono-religious, homogenous societies whereas India has always been (from ancient times) a highly diverse, heterogeneous society with deep underlying unity of vision and thought. But this inner unity manifests itself in diverse outside forms, practices, traditions and ways of life. Sri Aurobindo’s theoretical distinction between peoples and nations is helpful here, which is also somewhat similar to Tagore’s view on the idea of nationalism.
Even to this day one can see tremendous socio-cultural diversity in many aspects of Indian life and living as one travels from village to village or town to town. At the same time can be seen the crushing impact of the widening reach of Western-style materialist-rationalistic modernity which by its default nature tends to homogenize things. The combined push-pull kind of force of a culturally-grounded, organic-holistic-integrated view of life and a circumstantially-commercially-imposed outlook that is often contrary or at least divergent from what the Indian collective psyche has been accustomed to since ages is causing much unrest – psychologically, socially, politically, and culturally.
As I reflected more I realized that while this very Western idea of nation-state may have been imposed on India, there have also been thinkers like Sri Aurobindo who remind us of the psychological rather than the physical principle as the foundation of nationality. Nationhood, according to him, refers primarily to the notion of psychological unity which, in turn, might be heightened by common collective memories of ancient traditions, past heroes and sufferings, by common geographical habitation and by common interests and values.
“[T]he nation is a persistent psychological unit which Nature has been busy developing throughout the world in the most various forms and educating into physical and political unity… All modern attempts to destroy by force or break up a nation are foolish and futile, because they ignore the law of natural evolution. Empires are still perishable political units; the nation is immortal.” (Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity)
This emphasis on national ‘spirit’ (and spirit by its nature will be manifested in innumerable outer forms) and on an inner psychological unity helps me see that it is these ideas that we need to hold on to in order to prevent Indian nation-state from becoming a dominating, imposing type of monolith that might suffocate or brutally eradicate the rich diversity that exists in various nooks and corners of India. At the same time, this view that makes us realize the inner significance of the idea of nation will also make us see that becoming a nation in this sense (modern as it may be) is an essential step in our ongoing collective path to renew and relive the truths of our golden past.
“Nations do not prosper without self-sacrifice…. The self-respect of the nation is our religion, self-sacrifice is our only action or duty. We ought to give proper scope for the divine qualities in us to shine forth. Trifling emotions ought to be given up. Do not be afraid even if you are required to die. Do not retreat; bear pain for the sake of the nation. God is your support. If you do this, the Indian nation will, in an instant, get back its former splendour and glory. It will take its place at the side of the independent nations of the world; it will educate other nations; it will shed the lustre of true knowledge, and it will inculcate the principles of Vedanta. Our nation will come forward to benefit the human race and the whole world. Before it the whole world will tremble! But when? Only when we all are prepared to repay our debt to the nation.” (Speech delivered on 31st January, 1908)