JP Memorial Lecture, 1999

In search of roots

- By Rajendra Yadav

[Rajendra Yadav is one of the main literary figures of India who, according to critics, brought 'New Wave' in
post independence Hindi fiction. 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 perma-nently.
In all his major writings he revolts against inhibiting traditional values and ortho-dox precepts as well as
socio-political chicanery in modern times. He has been widely trans-lated in all the Indian languages and
main foreign ones, frequently appearing in reputed journals, newspapers, anthologies, and books both in
India and abroad. His novel Sara Akash has sold more than five lakh copies, a rare phenomenon for a
literary work in India. Since August 1986 Rajendra Yadav is editing the literary monthly magazine Hans
founded and edited by Munshi Premchand. Today Hans is taken to be one of the most important Indian
magazines providing a forum for contemporary cultural and social issues.

The PUCL organises a JP Memorial lecture ever year to mark March 23, 1977,the day the Government
of India had to lift Emergency imposed in June 1975]

I am unable to free myself of the realisation and fear that we are living in a terribly anti-creative atmos-phere.
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 rit-ual, 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 maga-zines have circulation in lacs and a book may take
five years to sell 5,000 copies. It is a tragedy of the explo-sion of words and elimination of thought.
Magazines are a game for the moneybags and are sustained by advertise-ments 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 lan-guage 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
superfici-ality. Similarly, visions awaken my memories and imagina-tion. 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 prop-erty. Whenever I write anything,
the sting of its artifi-ciality and lack of truth makes me uncomfortable.

The explosion of media has definitely made me knowledge-able but not wise. In the process of loosing my memory
and imagination I have realised that I don't have any vi-sion. 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 storywriter 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 collec-tor's items just as we
had inherited them? In other words, strange dresses, hair styles, hats, middle class servile people sitting by the s
ide of some English or In-dian 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 con-tradiction and double standards in the same breath never bothered them, never stopped
them. They proclaimed alle-giance to feudal belief and took advantage of illegal gratification, because they never
examined their old val-ues 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 re-spect 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 mod-ernise 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 situa-tions and problems", what
else do history and the mytho-logical characters give me? While borrowing both these from there, am I being
honest towards mythology and his-tory - 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 quot-ing
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 inci-dents and persons. I can be proud of this exception, but in the light
of all my knowledge this sounds utterly un-scientific. 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 re-spect. 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 cul-tural 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 tol-erated 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 disobedi-ence 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 con-tinue the discourse and perusal of art a
nd philosophy? No, the eternal values of Indian culture that we are all the timed hoisting proudly are not
so innocent and lib-eral. 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 uncondi-tional loyalty to us. We made
them sacrifice their pres-ent. The allurement of heaven and fear of hell! How bar-baric, 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 val-ues 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 feu-dal 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 dis-cussion 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 ex-periments. Those selected were going to die
anyhow, therefore, they could be subjected to fatal experiment and the results could be recorded for
posterity. Experi-ments 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? Nation-ality 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
bounda-ries 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 expan-sion? 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 exploi-tation of labour, class-conflict, and unequal
distribu-tion 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 Rus-sia, China, Cuba, and Vietnam? But why
did this philoso-phy try to understand the circumstances here at home only in a bookish manner and
continue to believe that if eco-nomic inequalities are removed, a socialist system will automatically take
shape - that it is necessary only to understand class interests and to accelerate class con-flict. But it
forgot that in India there is also the ba-sic 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
pro-nouncements of freedom, equality, brotherhood are born in the minds of the middle class. Though
the bourgeoisie de-spises 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 acquisi-tion of a radio, we started thinking in terms of small families so that
we may give better facilities and educa-tion 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 re-sult 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 sensi-tivities
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 mur-der, 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 horri-bly
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 intel-lectual level, These neither became a part of our prac-tices, nor the
basis 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 mythologi-cal, religious,
and philosophical works, languages, ru-ins, 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 relig-ion, 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 ene-mies. 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 re-ligion, the communalism of the majority establishes Fas-cism. 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 Prem Chand, 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 vid-harmi) 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 minori-ties and of majority arrogance.

At the family level, Hinduism is democratic and majori-tarian, 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 collec-tively
and individually and will not be allowed to ob-serve 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 re-ligion.

The Marxian precept that "Religion is opiate of the pro-letariat" 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 relig-ious 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 classifi-cation), 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 existential-ists, 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 think-ers 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 na-tional 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 pro-ductive 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 upris-ing 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."

Delivered at Jamshedpur, Bihar on March 23, 1999, Translated from Hindi

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