Friday, February 01, 2013

Be kind to the Fat Boy!

The old saw recommends before saying anything, consider whether it is true, whether it is necessary, whether it is kind.

Which leads to the thought, if one cannot be kind to long-dead and mostly forgotten people, then how can one be kind to the annoying and exasperating living ones?

In that spirit, I can say that Macaulay was a very smart man, and liberal for his times.  He had some mistaken notions about the Indians of his time, fuelled by works such as James Mill's History of India.  He therefore was on a civilizing mission and was quite sincere about it.  The unfortunate consequences of the British rule that he supported was the impoverishment of India; a draining of rural India of its vitality, which was already attenuated by a century of political disorder; famines during which no respite was given on land revenues, and which resulted in the deaths of millions.  Macaulay, perhaps more than most Britons of his time, was aware of these, but still thought that British rule for India was an overall good.

Macaulay is of interest today, because some of his prescriptions are still in force today.  He cannot be blamed for that because everyone has a choice to try to rise out of the prejudices instilled into them in childhood.   Indians internalized Macaulay's judgment of them, and arrived at an  attitude that Indians are basically second-class, no matter how much they strive and how much they excel.  Earning pats on the head from the West was about the best they could do. (If you read Allen Drury's novel, Advise and Consent, set in Washington, D.C., some particular comments about the character of the Indian ambassador, Krishna Khaleel, I think, are the other side of the coin.)   I remember  this attitude of despair very well from my childhood, my parents were the chief antidote.  My parents were ahead of their time; Indians in recent years are more confident.  However this confidence is in the spheres of business, technology, science and such, not in the area of arts and humanities.  Bollywood still craves for Hollywood acceptance; the good writers and artists are only those recognized by the West, and so on.

Symptomatic, I think, was that Jawaharlal Nehru University taught Arabic, and French and Persian, but not Sanskrit - until around 2001.

This negative attitude was imposed on Indians, to be sure, but to accept it and to perpetuate it, is a choice. 

Updated: April 11, 2022 -- I think most Indians could care two bits now what the New York Times or the Washington Post says about them or Indians.