Searching Roots Of Life And Existence: Reflections Of Rajendra Yadav
Rajendra Yadav, one of the prominent literary figures of India who brought ‘New Wave’ in post independence Indian literature, breathed last in the mid night on Monday at New Delhi. Fiercely independent of thought, he heralded modern sensibility in Indian Literature through his trail-blazing original works and translations alike. Giving new direction and radically shaping the form and content of story writing, he forged ahead as a major architect of ‘Nai Kahani’ movement and helped carve an irrevocable place for Nai Kahani transforming the Hindi Literary scene permanently. In all his major writings he revolts against inhibiting traditional values and orthodox precepts as well as socio-political chicanery in modern times. He has been widely translated in all the Indian languages and main foreign ones, and frequently appeared in reputed journals, newspapers, anthologies, and books both in India and abroad.
This speech was delivered by him On March 23, 1999 at JP Memorial lecture organized by PUCL.
By Rajendra Yadav
I am unable to free myself of the realisation and fear that we are living in a terribly anti-creative atmosphere. Those who are leading and ruling the country have crushed our creative instincts have encouraged import and borrowing. Statistics in place of investigation and analyses and copying in place of research or invention have become our ‘model.’ We have become used to live in the world of translation and copy. Whatever we do, their originals already exist somewhere. Our experience lies in affixing our seal and presenting it. Our pressures and social relevance have relegated to the margin that we could develop our research upon – be it a commodity or an idea, an instrument or art. The spectre of international competition has pushed us into the shortcuts of deformed and imbalanced development. We have become prisoners of a vicious circle where we can neither be underdeveloped and isolated, nor be in the race of development, to match them on their terms. The pain of having fallen prey to wrong challenges has made self-denigration our National past time. We lament over our moral degradation as a ritual, and over our weaknesses and insignificance and then continue on the same path. Probably this is a spiritual solution of achieving individual salvation and then falls in the rut again.
It is a fearsome irony of our situation that gossip magazines have circulation in lacs and a book may take five years to sell 5,000 copies. It is a tragedy of the explosion of words and elimination of thought. Magazines are a game for the moneybags and are sustained by advertisements from the same class. ‘Well-known intellectual’ journalists are hired to play the game of presenting the class interests of the sponsors as national interest so that politics and power may be exploited to serve their aims. As a writer I am unable to free myself of the guilt of realising that I neither have any role in what is happening around me nor do I have any say in this. We reassure each other that the creative artist is a genius – we don’t know we derive inspiration from which past and then merge into which future. Because my intrinsic capital that Door Darshan and journalism are eating into bit by bit, is my sensitivity. The shattered life-board, to which I am clinging in this stormy sea in the hope of surviving, is being slowly chipped off by these two crocodiles- while one is continually rendering my language meaningless and hollow, the other is doing the same to my imagery. Creative language demonstrates its power and meaningfulness in multiple possibilities and allusion. On the other hand, journalistic language and fact narration is married to uni-diractionality and superficiality. Similarly, visions awaken my memories and imagination. But television pictures imprisoned in frames drown me in the insensitive ghost world of dead shadows. Like this, one has deprived me of my language and the other my imagery, because both are monopolised by power and property. Whenever I write anything, the sting of its artificiality and lack of truth makes me uncomfortable.
The explosion of media has definitely made me knowledge-able but not wise. In the process of losing my memory and imagination I have realised that I don’t have any vision. No personal dreams, no social Utopia. Which is that rope and ladder that will pull me up from the dark abyss of the present towards light? Sometimes I think that this energy may come only from memories and experiences. May be, during the quest for my roots I am able to realise my dream that will become my future. I start examining my roots. My personal life is not purely mine, it is a mixture of many things. The times and the society that have shaped us has, one knows not, how many traditions and how many myths. To understand them the story writer in me looks towards the previous generation. Towards those respectable personalities who spent three-fourth of their life in a slave India and brought us into the new India, may be in understanding them I can free myself from personal nostalgia and get the insight to see the best in me. The truth is that to avoid the pain of disillusionment, I have always avoided looking at them objectively.
I know that my idols are so fragile that they will collapse at mere touch. This apart, the values of these old people can give me only reverence, curiosity or a feeling marvel. Are we to preserve them as collector’s items just as we had inherited them? In other words, strange dresses, hair styles, hats, middle class servile people sitting by the side of some English or Indian officer or standing around them with an imprint of success on the face, in the background of flower pots or varandahs. All this was so foreign, strange, and laugh-able. Fading pictures in Sepia tone – to live feudal contradiction and double standards in the same breath never bothered them, never stopped them. They proclaimed allegiance to feudal belief and took advantage of illegal gratification, because they never examined their old values and beliefs, never questioned them, only accepted them religiously. What they earned themselves was the ego of carrying forward the past. I view them as persons classified into dishonest and bribe takers, dogmatist, and believers in inequality, traditionalist, insensitive towards servants and women, and time-servers. They had no interest either in the struggle for freedom going on in some urban centres or in the future of those who were leading it; if anything they were opposed to it. Their general belief was that these dhoti-clad could not touch the British Raj, the Raj that had subdued Germany and Ja-pan – this was the common belief during the period of two world wars. These people lived under the protection of the terror of colonial empire and derived inspiration from it. In their own way they were themselves unbridled dictators. We had started our attempts to understand the new age and our efforts to enter it only after rejecting these people and freeing ourselves of them. I can pity their limitations and slave mentalities, but have no respect for them. The quest for roots takes me from this immediate past to-wards the past of the Nation and Society: towards religion, culture and history… If you pardon me, I do not find anything acceptable or worth following there also. The values and beliefs of a spent and backward society are unimportant and irrelevant to me. I can eulogise them, but I can not follow then. To somehow try to modernise some characters or thoughts or situations, by hook or by crook is as big a lie as to plant today’s values and beliefs on them. It will be a betrayal of both the periods. What was yesterday is impossible today, and what is today was not possible then. Those people were the product of their circumstances, and I am today’s. If I look towards that period for a solution of my questions, it will be a simplistic journey and if they visit us as a ritual or a ghost they will distort my life and my view. To impose the bygone values on the present means closing the doors to the future. What do the mythical beings give me except the satisfaction that they also had lived in some such circumstances and problems? Apart from the idle satisfaction that “they had also lived in similar situations and problems”, what else do history and the mythological characters give me? While borrowing both these from there, am I being honest towards mythology and history – don’t I deface and create according to my whims? And then, what is history and historical proof? Antiquity and history always appear to me as a crafty ‘Government witness’ who can be made to say anything. They are always ‘eye-witness’. Both the parties can prove their point time and again ranging between naked communalism and great liberal humanism. They are magical law books quoting from which an able lawyer can get me off a charge of murder and the other one can get me a death sentence.
Probably this is the reason that some authorities have always taught us that Indian history is basically the history of values and principles and not that of incidents and persons. I can be proud of this exception, but in the light of all my knowledge this sounds utterly unscientific. Every thought, every concept is the product of its circumstances. It is another thing, though, that once established it develops and fructifies autonomously, and in this process it becomes more and more abstract or metaphysical. It is like a barren cloud that moves along the earth, but one can neither depend on its shade nor can one expect rain from it. Earth may or may not derive any benefit from it, it does become a play field for some whole timer philosophers and thinkers for their intellec-tual game. Lord Buddha may have established a dharma for human welfare and compassion, but for thousands of years the picture of Baudh Dharma in our mind is that at some distant place there is some Vihaar where groups of Bhikkhus are all the time trying to find the answers to the questions of life and death, trying to unlock the mysteries of birth and rebirth – the magical atmosphere of the awe of supernatural. There remains no contact with the lives of countless people who are born and who die, nor do they return to this world to test their knowledge. Hindu Dharma does not even recognise the need for any Sangh or collective dialogue. Its only aim is individual attainment and moksha.
Here I try to convince myself. All right, since I can not make my history, my present, or future. And, nor can the past heroes be my ideals – let them remain where they are and continue to inspire my wonder, reverence, and respect. In sum, Indian culture and thought must contain something that is my guide today, which is relevant and worth accepting, something that can be the foundation stone of my society. I am told at this point that serv-ice, scarifies, and dedication are the only highest cultural values which can be of help in constructing a peaceful society. Service, sacrifice, and dedication are the positive moral values which India can present with pride for the benefit of the world, I am reminded.
Here my mind is troubled with some other questions. Every next age has questioned the old one as to how people tolerated injustice and oppression silently. I am surprised most of all by two things – Greek philosophy art are to-day accepted as highest human achievement. When thousands of slaves were crucified, were beaten raw with cats, were made to carry huge stones, or had to fight bare hand with bears and tigers, the philosophers of Greece would be en-joying jokes, showing the gift of the gab and trying to solve the delicate questions of philosophy and art, ad-miring sculptors – what were they made of. It is said that well known Greek philosopher Cicero used to deal in slaves and ran their training centres, Michelangelo used to crucify slaves so that they may feel the pain of Christ in their lifetime.
Secondly, I do not understand the life of the feudal lords in our own country. For not doing begaar, for not paying rent, or for some disobedience or disrespect the muscle men breaking the bones of the low caste persons, or scores of men being beaten raw or being hung upside down with burning chillies under them, or wives and daughters being raped in the presence of husband or father, or excreta being stuffed into the mouth. In the midst of these things, how can one forget oneself in prayers to God – how can one get lost in the finer nuances of poetry and music…? How can one continue the discourse and perusal of art and philosophy? No, the eternal values of Indian culture that we are all the timed hoisting proudly are not so innocent and liberal. These are not principles that are a product of the affection and mutual understanding, rational discussion of two equal parties. These are feudal values. I hear in the background the helpless cries, the suffering moans, the blood letting from inhuman killings and rapes of thousands upon thousands of persons. We condemned crores of people to serve us in the name of service, sacrifice, and dedication; we compelled them to serve and sacrifice under duress, we roasted them in the fire of our pride. We perfected the philosophies and weapons to keep them dedicated to us and to remain our slaves. We have killed, burnt, or compelled countless women, harijans, or dalits to live the life of animals just because their birth was not of their choice. They had a body they had not opted for. We have hammered into their psyche that this is the result of their Karma and their fate is to serve us, to sacrifice everything for us without expecting anything in return and the fulfilment of their life is in unconditional loyalty to us. We made them sacrifice their present. The allurement of heaven and fear of hell! How barbaric, cruel, and atrocious is the attitude that some people’s lives depend upon our likes and dislikes. And they internalise the idea that the culmination of their life and death is in our service. This is the fulfilment of a duty. So they may not have any complaint, we accept their sacrifice in the name of God! This becomes an ideal for compelling others also to do the same. How can the values of such people be my ideal today? How can the values of the people who, not only for justifying the cruel-ties, atrocities, and barbaric exploitation but also to gloss over the resultant mental unrest, take to renuncia-tion and the shelter of God, be the ideals in to-day’s world?
One may reluctantly accept them. But today all those feudal restrictions are changing, democracy is making its appearance – whatever humanity has saved as best and great after all the upheavals, will form the basis of the future society… Thing are not bad only, they have a bright aspect also. But, here I can not restrain myself from another thought. A few years ago, I had read a discussion in the Time magazine of America. The discussion was between two groups of doctors. When the Nazis started killing Lakhs of Jews in the Gas chambers as the ‘final solution’, some Nazi doctors thought that they could select some of them for their medical and scientific experiments. Those selected were going to die anyhow, therefore, they could be subjected to fatal experiment and the results could be recorded for posterity. Experiments were conducted on thousands of women and men, old and young. The American doctors were discussing whether the result of these medical or scientific experiments should be accepted as a gain of the human mind without raising the point that any values of ethics or cruelty were involved in them. Exactly the same question troubles me: should the great achievements of sacrifice, service, dedication, etc., culled from inhumanities of the feudal order, be viewed as the eternal achievements of Indian culture or should we develop our own values in today’s world?
Same old question! What is the way out? Neither history nor geography help me! Do rivers, oceans, mountains, fields, and changing seasons constitute a nation? Nationality and nation appear to me to be false and a political slogan of vested interests. Which Nation? Of Ashok, of Kanishika, of Akbar, or of the British? Till 60, 70 years ago we used to include Ceylon and Burma in the map of In-dia. An attack on Lahore or Dacca appeared an attack on our nation – today with the narrowing of national boundaries nationhood also has become confined to these narrow boundaries – one does not know how much land mass will be left tomorrow to incite our feeling of nationhood! How can the pride of this changeable nationhood be the basis of my emotional world, which is ever restless for expansion? How can I free myself of inner contradiction when I history confronting one another? All right, leave aside the past… we had some dreams or vision to mould our present into future and we were fighting for a society, were trying to tackle the exploitation of labour, class-conflict, and unequal distribution by a proletarian revolution. Was there any academic, writer, who was not moved by this dream? But slowly, be-fore our own eyes, all these dreams started crumbling.
A cry started rising that Marxism had failed – Capitalism had defeated it. All this was happening around us and we were unable to digest it. How can Marxism fail? The most scientific philosophy that had changed human history in a hundred years, the central philosophy of the 20th century that had divided the whole world into the two camps, for and against humanism – how can it fail? There is some-thing wrong somewhere. What went wrong in its practice that history has started retracing its steps. I believe even today that as long as the word ‘exploitation’ exists in the dictionary, Marxism can not die. Which is the point of view, other than dialectical materialism, that holds the key to understand history, society, power, and transformation in such a scientific way? Is history merely the other name of unrelated incidents, the story of upheavals of states and empires, or of the chain of chance events? What other ‘atom-bombs’ does the third world have except the philosophy of Marxism with which it can fight the feudal-colonial past and the assaults of capitalism? Are not all the freedom struggles in the world being fought with this lone weapon? Which weapons other than this philosophy were at the disposal of Russia, China, Cuba, and Vietnam? But why did this philosophy try to understand the circumstances here at home only in a bookish manner and continue to believe that if economic inequalities are removed, a socialist system will automatically take shape – that it is necessary only to understand class interests and to accelerate class conflict. But it forgot that in India there is also the basic truth of varna-vyavasthaa and its religious sanction: this fact was totally over-looked. In other words, with all its conceptual revolutionary zeal, it could not re-shape the society from with-in.
But who are the people who will continue this struggle? It is believed that all revolutionary thought, all pronouncements of freedom, equality, brotherhood are born in the minds of the middle class. Though the bourgeoisie despises it and itself despises the proletariat, this is the class, which analyses and dreams, leads. The middle class in India is neither small nor weak. For the last hundred years all of us have been the product of this class, but when I try to look towards it for a ray of hope, the picture becomes hazier. One sees a rat race from below upwards, from the village to the city, and from the top to across the seas. There would be a rare educated middle class family from which one or the other member has not gone over to Europe or America. Once in a while some of them visit the country, lament over the conditions here and go back. Are we all not responsible for this? Most of us had started our lives in conditions of economic scarcity – worked part-time, completed our education with the misty dreams of changing the society. We wanted to change the social structure, but became a victim of the vicious circle of affluence. Protecting our children’s future from these difficulties and denials be-came our main concern. Whereas we used to wait for months for a bicycle or a fan and used to celebrate the acquisition of a radio, we started thinking in terms of small families so that we may give better facilities and education to next generation. We fulfilled all their needs, sent them to costliest schools, and gave them whatever they wanted. Their lives were far better than our child-hood. But this, is how we poisoned their mind and the result of which we are suffering to day. We have deprived them of struggle, initiative, by giving them facilities and protection. We developed our values through struggles and we have deprived the next generation of its sensitivities by eliminating the capacity to struggle with the result that the next generation became ‘receiver’- what was being given to them that was coming from where and how this was no longer their concern. Facilities given to them were the result of bribe, treason, black-marketing, smuggling did not bother them. Why would this consumerist generation, devoid of any values and a product of a bro-ken culture, think about nationalism, why would it pay any attention to social inequalities and the differences of wealth and poverty? Why would it entertain dreams that talk about ending exploitation? For us it may be treason, anti-social, or inhuman – for them it is a life-style of facilities. In this valueless and unrestrained world murder, violence, drugs, dowry, foreign junkets everything is acceptable. We have fashioned a licentious consumerist class to which country, culture, and society do not mean anything. This group is almost traitor, uncultured, and anti-social. It does not have a language of its own and has no sensitivity.
We are ourselves responsible for this generation. Have we understood our country and society?
When there was a bar-rage of charges that we did not understand our roots, our culture, and our history – we were living ideas borrowed from the west – the roots that we got hold of were horribly hollow. Here, the first truth that I faced was that the ideas that we adopted during the past 150 years were all western – modernism, humanism, democracy, national-ism, Marxism, existentialism, and now post-modernism. None of these is rooted here. The mockery is that our middle class adopted all these ideas only at the intellectual level, these neither became a part of our practices, nor the asis of behaviour. In social life, in the work place, and at home in the family structure there continued the old feudal pattern. All these ideas from the rest of the world did not change us, simply diverted our mind. Whatever we had adopted in the name of culture that also was Western and was given by colonial imperialists. Ed-ward Said has analysed it in detail in his book Oriental-ism. “India has a past, but no history”- proclaimed the Europeans and the British. They discovered our mythological, religious, and philosophical works, languages, ruins, cave paintings and established their authenticity – constructed a grand past – so that we become engaged in singing their praise or become engaged in spiritual quests while they engage in plundering, killing, and breaking us.
The new version of this orientalism that was presented as the only solution of all the problems was given the name of cultural nationalism, that is, one nation, one religion, and the rule of one party. This was another face of communal religious state. History was rewritten to suit it, culture was redefined and regeneration of the past was established as the dream for the future. The biggest enemies of the greatness of the country were declared to be Islam and Christianity. Culture is defined today with reference to these two enemies. In this context, there is no denying the fact that cultural nationalism in its core is another name for Manu’s varna based feudal social structure and is the agenda of Hindu dictatorship. Hindu varna system is the sworn enemy of democracy or socialism. While the minorities, in order to preserve their separate identify and for collective security, take refuge in religion, the communalism of the majority establishes Fascism. Both feed on each other. Feel endangered from each other – one considers it a danger to religion and for the other it is a danger to the nation. This atmosphere of terror and lack of confidence goes on making both more and more strident. To quote Premchand, here communalism comes in the garb of culture and nationalism. “Cultural nationalism” is the process of islamization of the Hin-dus. Is minority complex. Its theorists, like Golvalkar, have talked about, in clear words, as freeing the nation from the lowly and the other religions (mlecchh aur vidharmi) and have praised Hitler for having dared to do this. If these minorities have to live in our country, they should live as second grade citizens and should not talk about rights, status that belongs to the majority. This is what the Sangh Parivar is trying to teach the Muslims and Christians through the language of murders, arson, riots, and the destruction of religious places. It is itself the victim of insecurity-complex of the minorities and of majority arrogance. At the family level, Hinduism is democratic and majoritarian, but for co-religionists it is intolerant, inhu-man, and cruel. ‘Maunvadi cultural nationalism’ does not give to Dalits, women, and tribals the rights that are available to those within the Varna system and to men. They will have to stay at the place that has been deter-mined for them by our great culture. If under the bad and corrupting influence of the west they raise their voice, their habitats will be burnt; they will be killed collectively and individually and will not be allowed to observe any family-social function in the manner the upper caste people do. As far as women are concerned, what can they do? In every family they exist as slaves – we will keep them as we like – they will be denied education and legal and Constitutional rights – they should produce children, should look after the household and should feel obliged – otherwise, they have to suffer death, rape, ex-pulsion. This is the language of the scholar in every religion.
The Marxian precept that “Religion is opiate of the proletariat” inspires me to run free of every religion and every history. I try to be agnostic and secular. But, then I find that I have become a stranger to the religious Indian masses. On the other side, in trying to be above religion I find myself supporting every religious bigotry, fixity of ideas, blind faith, and inhumanity – if the attitude of being religion-neutral (sarva-dharma samabhaava) is not cowardice, what else is it? How can this barbaric savarna (within the Varna classification), male dominated cultural nationalism, which does not give either equal rights or civic rights to eighty percent persons, be my ideal. It something that imposes the thought, literature, art, history, of the few. No, all this gives me neither any solution, nor shows any path – neither a scientific understanding of the past nor the dream of the future. There is no way out for me with-out freeing myself of this culture and this past.
I am in a blind alley where there is no past, no future, there is no history and no geography – where everything is undependable, untrustworthy, and ethereal. The biggest tragedy is that I was never bound, like the existentialists, to the idea of “now and here” with an intensity and despondence that I may cut to pieces my soul, make my ir-rationality, or absurdity a philosophy, and use it as a weapon; that I may get rid of my fake beliefs and dreams like a peel, to feel free…. I still feel the lack of belief and yearn for a vision. Then, is this my end and is this what the western thinkers have termed the end of history, society, humans, and ideologies? I fear may be I am stuck here and the human caravan is going forward by some other route? Has history faced such a situation before also?
I remember- Bhakti movement – that is the biggest national level ‘cultural revolution’ of the recorded Indian history. This is what had happened when the reigning varna system had started giving stench like that from trapped waters. Then, this very religion and devotion was used by the lower, disadvantaged, and deprived sections to raise their collective voice and to present it as an alternative; to give dynamism to history – there were weavers, chamaars, carpenters, dyers, women – those productive classes that had been pushed to the margin by the parasitic forward classes – there were the likes of Kabir, Tukaram, Raidas, Meera, Sehjo, and others. These were the people who rendered irrelevant and useless the entire monopolist, centralist, elements.
Surely, at this juncture of history the same producer worker deprived classes will show us the way out from this stench – are doing so. Our roots are neither in any religious text, nor in any historical ruins – they are where there is labour, demand for equal rights – there is democratic openness, and where there is collective uprising against the oppression of thousands of years… I will end with these lines from Dinkar, “where there is plurality, the idols of war weep – all the wars of world are attempts at unity.”