What is Indian-ness? By forgetting sympathy, India is in danger of losing its highest civilisational ideal
Indian-ness is pretty difficult to define considering you can’t generalise a country of 1.2billion people with 29 states, 100 different languages and dialects, several cultures amalgamating in the most diverse and melodious way… But yes there are certain things Indians do in general which can be explaind as Indian-ness…is it good or bad?? Thats for no one to decide…
1. Asking for a free panipuri after you have eaten your share..Its your birth right to get a free one.
2. Sipping tea from a saucer instead of the cup.
3. Riding triples on the bike.
4. Wearing helmets only to get away from the traffic police..Its an winning if you don’t get caught.
5. Standing in long queues for every other thing without ever grumble…(well our population make sure we stand in a long queue).
6. Every guy searching for a fair, attractive ,educated girl on marital sites..no one wants to marry a dark skinned girl.
7. Fair and Handsome can give you the dream job and dream man you have been looking for.
8. It’s ok to see a car in a crowded street behind cycles, autorikshaws and cows and buffaloes too.
9. It’s perfectly fine to spit everywhere after chewing pan and mashala, cigarette.
10. In India you don’t drive on the left side of the road, you drive on your left.
11. In India everyone becomes an engineer first and then decides what to do next.
12. Its fine to travel on train in India without ticket..You can either adjust with fellow travellers or get a deal done with the ticket inspector.
14. If you do not score 90% in board exams you are not brilliant.
15. If you are walking with a girl who can be your cousin sister or just a friend you are looked down upon as if you have committed a sin.
These are some of the things I could remember which makes us special..I don’t know if they are good or bad..But Indians are the people who can survive in any situation and can adjust to difficulty…we are the people who have JUGAAD for every problem.
Every civilization has its own view of the world and man’s place in it, values that exude into the psyche of its members. Support has been a dominant value in the world view of our own civilization.
Some of the new one Indian icons – Buddha in ancient India, Kabir, Nanak, Tukaram, Basava in medieval India, Tagore and Gandhi in modern India come instantly to mind – have held that sympathy is necessary to how we connect (or must connect) not only to human beings but to all existence. Here Tagore and Gandhi are in complete agreement. “Brotherhood,” Gandhi writes in one letter, “is just now a distant hope. To me it is a test of true spirituality. All our prayers, and ceremonial are empty nothings so long as we do not feel a live kinship with all life.”
Sympathy, as i understand it, is the emotions of kinship, a sense of ‘we’ that extends to afar what is our kin. And this emotions of kinship is not limited to human beings but extends to the natural world. One can compare sympathy to a mountain climb with many base camps marking its progression on the way.
The first camp from which one cannot see the summit – covered as it is by clouds, though we know it is there – is forbearance, defined minimally as giving the good of the doubt to others. The second camp, a small higher, can be said to be compassion, while the third and the last camp from where one climbs to the summit is empathy, the ‘feeling into’ another person, although of course, empathy can also encompass a ‘feeling into’ nature.
The point is that the climb fosters deeper and deeper feelings of loving contentedness although only a few, rare saints can reach the summit, expressed in the Upanishads ideal of ‘he who sees all beings in his own self and his own self in all beings’. Most of us can consider personal fortunate if we can catch a glimpse of the peak of sympathy from the base camps of tolerance, compassion and empathy.
Yet, today, one feels that the traditional Indian civilization emphasis on sympathy, love in its most elevated form, as indispensable to social cohesion and solidarity, is being eclipsed by other values, such as justice, the righting of wrongs. We are all familiar with the famous slogan of the French revolution, now a universal aspiration: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. It is interesting to note that profession, brotherhood, occupies the last place in this short list and, really, has become completely muted if not sidelined in modern discourse.
In our fascination with Western intellectual gurus, we do not realize what a disproportionate space the Western idea of the role of power in social relations has come to occupy in the modern Indian mind. Again, this is not to reject the value of the role of power and the truth it contains, but seek to assimilate this truth with our own civilization heritage on the most importance of sympathy.
For instance, social movements in service of fairness for the weak and the oppressed are rapidly picking up pace in our country, shaking traditional hierarchies and power structures. This is a welcome development. Some of these changes, however, seem to conduct on the basis of only one ethic, justice, which is related to the issue of power, of correcting skewed and unfair power relations, a highlightings of Equality in the three aspirations of the French revolutionary slogan.
In an almost socialized ethic of justice, what matters is the outcome, not the path and there are eloquent voices that have defended violence in service of justice. In such cases, should the ethic of empathy, compassion in this context, not temper the quest for justice? In our quest to right a wrong, bring the ethic of justice to the forefront, are we in danger of losing sight of what Gandhi and Tagore – and before them our best icons – held was a defining characteristic of Indian civilization … sympathy? In Tagore’s words, “Creative force needed for the true union in human society is love; justice is only an accompaniment to it, like the beating of tom-tom to song.”
Given the march of exclusive nationalisms all over the world in recent years, religious nationalism in Turkey, Indonesia, India and parts of the Islamic world, racial nationalism in the U.S, cultural ‘sons of the soil’ nationalism in most of Europe, one would be tempted to say that a secular, inclusive nationalism was a broad-based dream which has few takers today. But perhaps what is needed is a vision of inclusive nationalism that is not of the ‘continuing’ kind, which only pays homage to man’s reason and conditions of material life, but one that bases itself on the fostering of awareness irradiated by our civilization heritage of empathy.
What is needed is a improvement of an ‘idea of India’ that has deep roots in our civilization and to which our very new cultural icons have borne witness, namely that each one of us is deeply embedded with other human beings as also connected to animate and inanimate nature, a connectedness that demands a cultivation of sympathy for all that is not self. At certain historical times, this supreme value of our civilization may be temporarily superseded. But even when banished into unconscious depths at such times, empathy continues to claim its privileged position in our psyche as a niggling feeling of poorly understood disquiet that follows a betrayal of our highest civilization ideals.