Modern Times

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Raima Sen, one of Moonmoon Sen’s contribution to the tired-world, gives us an interesting insight into a modern “Bengali” upbringing.

However, Raima identifies more with the spunky, modern Sheila of The Bong Connection. “We’ve had a very modern upbringing. We didn’t do pujas at home. We speak in English at home, not Bengali. Most of my friends have been Anglo-Indians.”

There is a lot to be said here — about self-loathing, about the perceived downmarket-ness of speaking in one’s vernacular or of participating in religious ceremonies, about the sense of shame felt by certain elements of the Bengali “high society” in “not being English”, the association between faux-Westernism and “modernity” and finally the connection between a “modern” upbringing and the au naturale look in a naughty MMS (yes I know that was the other baby Sen—but they all had the same upbringing).

But then again, why bother ?

Instead all I shall do, while keeping in the spirit of the “Partner” season, is to quote Govinda from David Dhawan’s Banarasi Babu where he defines modernity in a way Raima Sen would definitely approve.

Govinda (in chaste Bihari accent):

Ab tumhare pyar ke khatir dekhna hum kaisa “maadern” ho jayenge. Tumhare mummy ke saath baithke puff marenge, patte khelenge, tumko disco main le jayenge, jeans ke pant pahenenge tight aur inko aise phaar dalenge aur unke andar likh denge “Take it easy” aur kaan ke andar baali pahenlenge aur chuha cut baal kaatke pura sahar mein ghumenge tum bhi kahogi kya chuha pai hoon..”

[Rough translation: Now see how “modern” I become for the sake of your love. I will sit and smoke with your mother while playing cards, I will take you to the disco, I will wear really tight jeans and then rip them and write “Take it easy”, I will wear ear-rings and get a “mouse”-type haircut and even you will realize what a mouse you have….]

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107 thoughts on “Modern Times

  1. Bengali intelligensia has time and again found ways to find its way back to vernacular culture and re-invigorated Dharma inspite of going through such bouts of so-called “Raima type modernism”.

    We have to remember that the self loathing, Hindu hating, “brown sahibs” of the past, eventually ended up throwing a Vivekananda, a Aurobindo, a Shyamaprasad or a Tagore amongst our midst.

    Its just a matter of time before from amongst the Govinda described Chuhas will rise the behemoth of a Vivekanand from Bengal again (or whatever will be left of it).

  2. Methinks Ms. Sen is the exception, not the rule. The Bengali upper class is distinguished from other Indian regions by its devotion its mother tongue. A colleague of mine who had grown up in Bombay and spent a decade living in Calcutta told me how much she envied the fact that the Bengali upper class took such pride in speaking in Bengali.

    Contrast this with the pan-Indian upper class in cities like Bombay and Bangalore and their English-only upbringing and you’ll know what I’m on about. And given the fact that there is a very robust tradition of modernity and reform that has been carried on in the Bengali language and is indigenous to Bengal, I don’t think people, even the snootiest of Bengali upper classes think of it as somehow anti-modern.

    And given how Ms. Sen’s mummy mutilates the Bengali language with her part-Anglo part-nyaka accent, would you really trust her progeny with “A mori Bangla bhasha”

    Rishi, have you ever read anything written by Swami Vivekananda? As someone who’s read the complete works of Swami Vivekananda, let me state that he was a Vedantic Advaita follower who didn’t care two hoots about what passes for Hindu rituals and practices in contemporary India. He was a very great man, and I strongly suspect his way of reinvigorating Dharma is not something you’d necessary want.

  3. Edit: My last sentence should read – “………not something you’d necessarily agree with”

    (though I personally am fine with it, as I see Advaita as a more complex, philosophically rigorous way of approaching metaphysical thought)

  4. @JAP: Methinks I have said all that needs to be.
    @Vasuki: How Sen-si-tive.
    @Rishi: Its just a matter of time before from amongst the Govinda described Chuhas will rise the behemoth of a Vivekanand from Bengal again (or whatever will be left of it).
    Well not from the Sen family, it seems.
    @Thalassa: “The Bengali upper class is distinguished from other Indian regions by its devotion its mother tongue”
    Having not seen the “upper crust” in other Indian regions I cannot comment on a part of your statement. However I have, while growing up, seen quite a few people for whom anything Bangla was downmarket: whether they would express their distaste as clearly as Raima is of course debatable.

  5. Dear Thalassa
    I have read the works of Vivekananda too.
    He was Advaita Vedantic and didnt care two hoots about what passes as Hindu rituals.
    Nor do I.
    But I am not sure if you happen to know of Hindu practices in contemporary India.

    I think I necessarily agree with his way of re-invigorating Dharma and I am sure if you understood Vedanta after reading his works, you would too.

  6. @ Thalassa

    And what passes as mundane Hindu rituals in Bengal (and Assam ) are derived from the Poorva Mimansa school of Hindu philosophy, something that Swami Vivekananda’s teacher Sri Ramkrishno himself practiced and preached.

    He however adviced Vivekanand to walk down the path of Advaita Vedanta, (a la Shankara way), because he felt that Advaita was a more evolved and consolidated system more suited for the times. (and still is)

  7. @ Thalassa
    I would have hoped that you shed some thoughts on Sri Aurobindo’s work as a corollary to Swami-ji’s work. He sure took Vivekananda’s ideas to the next level, in continuum. Together, their body of thoughts are certainly the seed, that I would see be used as a basis of re-invigorating Dharma.

  8. Yup, English is the language of the ‘modern’ people, where modern is of course equivalent to western culture. Things are pretty disgusting Bangalore … I see parents talking to tiny kids in English.
    Sometimes I wonder if there is something wrong with my circle of friends, we seem to be most comfortable when conversing in Hindi, although all of us come from English-medium education backgrounds. Perhaps our upbringing was not ‘modern’ enough!
    The other extreme end of the spectrum are the politicians who want to banish English from the education system, while at the same time ensuring that their kids study English. My 2 cents here:
    http://khabri.blogspot.com/2007/02/language-rant.html

  9. Rishi, I am an agnostic bordering on atheist (the only reason I don’t say atheist is because I can’t be bothered to construct an argument defending my atheism). My interest in Advaita is purely as a school of philosophy, not as part of my religious practice.

    And I fear I may have come across as sounding contemptuous of local religious practice – far from it. I feel that both Advaita and the local traditions drawn from eclectic sources have their place. What does not have a place is a forcibly homogenized anti-reform religious orthodoxy or religion as a political construct. Both are loathesome to me.

    Anyway, enough digression. On to Ms. Sen. Arnab, I’d defer to you on this as far as Calcutta Bengalis are concerned. Most affluent Bengalis I know from Delhi or small town Bengal (mostly Bardhaman district) are more than happy to speak Bengali at home.

  10. @ Thalassa
    Not that there is anything wrong with being a atheist or being a agnost…to each our own.
    But Advaita Hindusim as a school of Philosophy is incongruent with Atheism.
    The very basis of Advaita (or Dvaita or Vishistha Advaita), stems from the belief in the Universal Brahman.

    Vivekananda’s genius does not lie in his wonderful thoughts on Advaita but in his quest of Moksha as a true Karmayogi.
    Beginning with Aadi Shankara (charya), there have been greater philosophers of Advaita Hinduism before Swamiji and probably and hopefully be greater ones after him. But it is in Swami Vivekananda, that Hindu Dharma saw one of the greatest Karma Yogis of the past several centuries, both as a social reformer and as a political invigorator (i recall u being loathsome of the latter).

    To look at Vivekananda’s writings as a bunch of esoteric and complex thoughts in the service of metaphysics is a big mistake which many of us make. What lies behind is the Karma the he derived from it in his practice of Hindu Dharma.

  11. PS for the atheists
    Please do not confuse Brahman (absolute) with Brahmin (a varna)
    One is a nomenclature for the Eternal Absolute, the other is a varna found in the Purusha-suktas and many Hindu Smritis or time bound commentaries (including the infamous Manu Smriti)

  12. its just a matter of time before ppl ask: “How are you?” without really meaning it right? a la american “courtesy”

  13. I’ve never really been to bengal so i admit to not knowing the locals intrinsically. However, my 1st two girlfriends were,coincidentally, both bengali. And that’s something i’m proud of. “Modern” or “Local” upbringing, i love them all!

  14. Don’t know about Vivekananda or Aurobindo, what seems more likely is the revival of the army of brown babus due to whom the empire ran in its glory days. Now don’t get into the khudirams and netajis, I am talking of the army of english mosahebs, who adopted to the English ways with full vigor. Some of it seem to have seeped in to the DNA of this class and have been passed on to the generations who “didn’t do pujas at home” and “speak in English at home, not Bengali”, lest that make them “less modern”. What is amazing is that Suchitra Sen is reportedly a regular at Belur! The difference between sane and Sen

  15. “Having not seen the “upper crust” in other Indian regions I cannot comment on a part of your statement. However I have, while growing up, seen quite a few people for whom anything Bangla was downmarket”….

    But I think, Thalassa is quite right in her/his observation. I have never lived in Calcutta ( from a district town of WB) , but have lived in various places around India for study/ work. And I agree with Thalassa.

    Do not know about the High Society types, but yuppie/dinki types from other states generally abandon their mother tongue righ at the primary school. Very few of my friends can read in their native language( strange yet true). And most of the people(not all) who could , they abandon the use of that in written communication ( and even in oral communication when talking with a peer coming from same state) the moment they enter any moderately famous institute of learning.

    But generally in the case of Bengalis, whatever their upbringing have been, if two of them meet up, they will typically start speaking in Bengali ( again , I do not know about Kolkata, but am talking about other parts of West Bengal and India)

  16. Miss Sen. I would strongly recommend you to read Mark Tully’s “No full stops in India” to understand how the English people feel about Indians speaking English.

    It rough translate as follows, “If a Frenchman speaks bad and mutiliated English we are still elated that a Frenchman has agreed to speak English, but if an Indian speaks English we will only sneer and make fun of him.”

    My teacher once told me – go tell a German, a Frenchman, a Russian or even a Japanese that you want to put his son in an English medium school you will get a bloodied nose. Go tell the same thing to an Indian he will start dancing in joy.

  17. What really comes out of these comments (apart from Advaita, Brahman and assorted great sages), IMHO, is the age old question of the educated Indian middle class: Are we the right shade of brown, in our attitudes as well as our skin tone? The Anglicized and the Sons of the Soil…the middle path is something the middle class has been trying to find, and perhaps that’s why we find it necessary to react to Raima Sen or Balasaheb Thackeray …both say some things that are abhorrently appealing to our schizophrenic personalities

    (Going back to listening Marathi Natyasangeet mp3s on my mobile phone, not fully understanding what the heck was bombasted by self above…)

  18. GB,
    Raima Sen’s comment actually tell a lot about the times we grew up in. It was the 80s Calcutta when India has not yet seen the winds of globalisation. And great people like J Basu and B Bose at A Street came up with the brilliant idea of introducing English at Grade 5. It seems to have affected a lot of people of our generation. By design or by accident, there has always been an ‘Xtra’ respect accorded to the English language in Bengal. In Satyajit Ray’s “Pratidwandi”, a tense candidate asks Dhritiman in the waiting room, “Interview ta ki English e hobe?”. This might have been a statement from Ray.
    I have had plenty of Bengali medium friends who grew up with a slight inferiority complex about their English skills. Similarly I have seen many guys who were from English medium schools who thought that they are somehow superior to ones who lacked English speaking skills. Somehow, the ability to speak a fluent version of Indian English was considered as an asset. So I grew up thinking that I had lacked something. When I went to Rotary club parties, I felt ill at ease as I could not speak out sentences which had such a plethora of “You know” and “I mean” ‘s spoken by the upper crust. Also people from every part of India think that the other’s English accent is somehow funny. Bengali accent, South Indian English, Delhi English and every other version is somehow funny to the others ears. The funny thing is that to someone who is not Indian, it all seems weird. 🙂
    Example: “Ishh I am so foolis” (Bengal), “O cmon…lets go to the club…arree chalo na…o tujhe pata hain bhainchod..you know…i mean…shes so hot (Delhi), or “What Ra…finish your curd rice quickly…swalpa wait madi….what man…its bullshit..en macha…en maga” (South) are actually all hybrid versions.
    So what Raima is actually saying here is that “From an early age I was taught by my mom that talking in Bengali and attending bengali festivals is gauche. My mom especially made me to speak the Delhi version of Indian English in front of Non bengali guests and basked in pride when i didnt utter a single word in Bengali. Once she caught me talking to a friend in bengali. She dragged me home by my hair and said, “Shame on you Raima. Talking in bengali to that uncouth son of a govt office clerk. What will he do in future? Smoke bidis at the street corner. You are a firefly. You have to maintain my image.” Last year I heard was that the uncouth boy was working in Bay Area, CA and he still reads Tagore. But thats OK. There are still enough people here who overtly respect people with that ‘xtra’ english skill. Also the ability to insert several “you know”‘s and “i mean”‘s in a single sentence is a great skill which few women are fit for but one that I was born for; a skill that cannot be accrured/substituted by reading a Chaucer or a Hemmingway or a Chandler or a Naipual or the history of the English Langauge or the etymology of words. Once I went to Calcutta Book Fair and met a friend who was buying some books by Shibram. He also had a copy of Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”. My mom proudly said to his dad that I read nothing but the highest class of English literature and not cheap Bengali books- like the complete works of Sidney Sheldon, the complete Mills and Boon series and the works of the remarkable Jackie Collins. “Keep away from that creep, he speaks in bengali and was staring at your legs”, was her advice to me on the way home. The same evening an Anglo Indian boy looked at me the same way and even kissed me while squeezing my ass, but mom didnt seem to mind. Perhaps it was because of his “Hello Auntie” and “Oh jesus” type ejaculations (pun not intended).”
    Now if I understand correctly most Anglo Indians of Kolkata are Christians and many of them are Catholics. So Raima disliked pujas, which is fine. But is she an atheist? Or is she more attracted to ahem Jesus or God. Did she feel ‘modern’ in one of those churches where her anglo Indian bfs took her too? Was she blessed by the divine light? (cough cough) You must listen to the great Tom Leykis if you dont believe that religious bigotry exists in the Western world: http://podcast.971freefm.com/klsx1/7515.mp3
    http://www.971freefm.com/episode_download.php?contentType=36&contentId=893722
    I am not even sure if shes aware of it, but this comment was her was nothing but as you say,” “faux-Westernism and “modernity” “. I could have understood if she was an adolescent, but I believe that she is in her 20s. It could be that she used to accompany Anglo Indian boys to back alleys; but unless he clarifies her stance on her religion and language, she just sounds like a stupid ass.

  19. This is strangely pertinent to smthing that never ceases to surprise me, no matter how common a phenomenon it is amongst indians staying abroad. among our acquaintances, my daughter is perhaps the only one who is not fully proficient in english yet (shes 2.5) as our chief medium of comm. at home remains the vernaculer. this is in sharp contrast to the rest of the bengali, marathi, punjabi, sindhi, gujrati kids i know whose parents have never exposed them to the mother tongue & speak with them in eng(while the couples stick to the mother tongue). frankly, i find the entire thing quite unnatural & when asked, most of them opine ‘learning mother tongue will not help them anyway as we are settling here.’ ho hum!
    strangely enuf, most south indian parents i know instruct their children to speak in tamil, telegu or their respective language.

  20. check this out. Its the preview of Rush Hour 3.

    GB, I completely agree with Tucker’s last comment in the video: “U asians, stop humiliating urself”.

  21. Being from a culture (Oriya) that is quite close to Bengali I would say of all Indic cultures it is the Bengalis who have set the intellectual, cultural stage for India. The point that I will be making right now is a bit along fault lines but it is being made with only positive intentions.

    It might sound mushy, but look at India’s classical musicians, filmmakers, Nobel laureates, &c. In fact Rabindranath Tagore is, I believe, the only Nobel laureate for literature who wrote in an Asian language. Apart from South Indians (more so Tamils and Malayalees, and less with Telugus and Kannadigas), most other communities tend to be the yuppie, “maadern” kind. But then I often find South Indians to be quite regionalist, self-centered and inward looking. On the contrary, it was the Bengalis who gave India the idea of one country – despite being the first people in India who came in contact with the British and opened up to English education, and hence their general Anglophilia.

    In Delhi, for example, Durga Puja is quite a big deal and it draws people from all over the city, most being non-Bengali. On the other hand, barely anyone hears of stuff like Rath Yatra. Instead, all the Oriyas end up doing is bickering over caste issues (the infamous Das vs. Dash), back-talking, &c.

  22. Reminds me of my two batchmates, both Probashi Bangali(non-westbengal resident bengalis). One, the daughter of a ‘big shot’ officer of a large PSU blurts out ” Ami Bengali’te kathaa korte paari naa “..oter, the son of a Foreman had Anandamela and Suktaaraa (bangla teen magazines). It depends completely on how one’s brought up, as in how exactly parents decided to bring up their kids. And offcourse, after a few years , the onus is totally on self to discover.
    Raima’s father happens to be prince from the Tripura Royal family with links to the Jaipiur royal family, .. so it would be wrong to assume that Raima to be a Bangali.

  23. GB,

    The discussion I believe is not whether or not to get admitted in english medium schools and start speaking english all the time. I think the general trend of thinking vernacular languages are downmarket is the issue here.

    We simply can not live without english. The majority of office going Indians basically get a job if they speak english well and otherwise you can rot in hell. So we have to be profficient in english to live and earn a living. this can not be put in the same line as germans or french refusing to speak english. Our situation doesn’t allow us to be so much choosy about which language we speak.

    But the real turn down is with this target in our minds we often forget that to speak english well we need no demean our own language. Some of bengali parents do take pride in the fact that their kids cant read bengali and i am sure this is true in other languages speaking communities in india too.

    My own cousins who used to live in bengal ( just in a cosmo township where they could mingle a lot with different ppl from other states), didn’t know to write and read bengali for quite sometime. THey were very happy with their hindi capabilities. I had no objections about that only thing is I humiliated them everytime i wrote a letter to them. I would write that in bengali and used to find words from Bankim’s books to fill them in. Now thats mean but thats how i felt about those who humiliate their mother tongue and believe me I still do.

    Regards,
    Ankan

  24. So we have to be profficient in english to live and earn a living….Our situation doesn’t allow us to be so much choosy about which language we speak.

    Wonder why ? Did Japan need the Engish language to rise from ruins to an economic superpower? How about Korea? What about the resolve of Israelis who resurrected a dead language (Hebrew)to a thriving language?

    Only we Indians look down upon our own languages.

  25. “However, Raima identifies more with the spunky, modern Sheila of The Bong Connection. “We’ve had a very modern upbringing. We didn’t do pujas at home. We speak in English at home, not Bengali. Most of my friends have been Anglo-Indians.” …

    Went to the link and read the actual cote… came back and re-read your write-up…
    “…and the au naturale look in a naughty MMS (yes I know that was the other baby Sen—but they all had the same upbringing).”… probably being the line that stood out most…

    Not sure I agree with GB’s assesment of what Raima Sen really meant to say… definitely sure I dont like the au naturale part…

    The word that really stands out is “modern” upbringing… and I do get a sense that the word is not used condescendingly… I count among my friends a lot of people who didn’t do Pujas at home (for religious reasons or otherwise)… what would you call such an upbringing… “atheist”… maybe… “different”… maybe… “modern”… also maybe…

    And yes the average Bengali of our generation is more comfortable thinking and expressing him/herself in English… a phenomenon that you might choose to term unfortunate (though a lot of people, me included, wouldn’t necessarily agree)… but definitely something you can’t deny…

    Anglo Indian friends… !!! thats a bit of surprise… growing up as I did in Salt Lake, amidst Bengalis and Marwaris, my only association with Anglo Indians were the teachers at school… but my memories of them remain fond enough to assume that their children could have been entirely befriend-able… anyways not having Bengalis for friends is hardly a sin that can call for the kind of strident criticism that I read above…

    or am I really missing the point… the comments above seem too indignant… which leads me to believe that maybe, just maybe…. I should not be totally ignoring the fact that the bulk of the criticism seems to be coming from people who have, for whatever reasons, happily chosen to leave their country/culture behind… (not really getting into a debate about that… but it could explain a lot of the ‘indignation”)…

  26. We don’t need English just to survive in the world… we need English to survive in the country. How many south Indians can speak Hindi? How many Bengalis, brought up in West Bengal can communicate in it? (I know a couple of Bengalis from Delhi who cannot…) Maharshtrians and Gujratis have less of an issue, given the proximity of their respective tongues to Hindi, but for inter-state communication, we need a common language. and by default, that is English.

    My parents both went to a vernacular Medium-of-Instruction school. English was taught from 8th std onward. But Indian languages don’t do technical and scientific instruction well at all. So both of them (tech degrees) were taught in English for their degrees. Dad coped well, mom had a torrid time. And so she put her foot down when the time came to choose the language of instruction for us kids, we would learn in English from the word go.

    In hindsight, I believe she made the right choice. I don’t like the fact that I am not fully conversant in my native tongue (though you may not even notice it when I speak, I can switch through both and Hindi very easily) but I would not choose it over having a command over English.

    Someone up there (DV?) said that Japan and Germany did not need to adopt English to become successful, well, neither country had to deal with Nehruvian socialistic policies, half a billion people in the middle of the century itself, absolutely no history of industrial development and sudden liberation from foreign oppression like we did. You just cannot compare. You want a fair comparison, look at the disaster that was East Germany. They went from Hitler’s Nazis to soviet-style communism overnight, and till the Berlin Wall fell it was reminiscent of India up to the 80s – waiting lines for rationed food, months before you’d get a car or telephone and what not.

    That said, I’m not disagreeing with what you (GB) have written. There is too much of a tendency for some English speakers to look down with distaste at ‘vernacs’. It grates on my nerves too, and I can’t entertain it around me.

    (Sorry for the long post, but DAMN it feels good to have written that!)

  27. @Sourav:

    “Being from a culture (Oriya) that is quite close to Bengali I would say of all Indic cultures it is the Bengalis who have set the intellectual, cultural stage for India.”

    I don’t want to start a war on which culture is better .. but it is apparent that you have no idea of what other cultures are like.

    “It might sound mushy, but look at India’s classical musicians, filmmakers, Nobel laureates, &c. In fact Rabindranath Tagore is, I believe, the only Nobel laureate for literature who wrote in an Asian language. ”

    classical musicians are aplenty all over india, not just bengal.

    film is a new medium in which the bengalis have excelled, i agree.

    the Nobel prize is just a prize .. get over it

    “Apart from South Indians (more so Tamils and Malayalees, and less with Telugus and Kannadigas), most other communities tend to be the yuppie, “maadern” kind. ”

    it is amazing how easily you have generalized about ENTIRE CULTURES in one sentence. i envy your ability.

    “But then I often find South Indians to be quite regionalist, self-centered and inward looking.”

    Sigh! Again, generalizing entire cultures.

  28. I seriously don’t understand this attitude of Raima’s. While I agree that to succeed in today’s business and social circles you do need to speak English and speak it well …..but there is absolutely nothing modern about not using your own language….especially a language as serene as Bengali.
    I was myself brought up in Jamshedpur , primarily a Hindi speaking city, my Bengali is self taught….. hence I started off by reading simple “Feluda” books while my cousins in Calcutta were already reading Tagore and SaratChandra….took me a while to graduate on to the masters and I felt so good about it that day ……even these days I sometimes take a train to Jackson Heights to check out the new Bengali books out in the market ….

  29. I am not sure if speaking in English (and particularly not speaking in Bangla) or having Anglo-Indian friends (by the way, are there still Anglo-Indians left in India. I thought all of them have migrated to some white country. May be Raima’s friends are from abroad, then why Anglo-Indians and not whites) makes one modern (What does this term mean anyway).

    But in one point I agree with her. You cannot be modern (I am assuming this means being liberal in thinking) and do puja at the same time.

  30. @ Subhendu

    “But in one point I agree with her. You cannot be modern (I am assuming this means being liberal in thinking) and do puja at the same time”.

    How is “being a liberal thinker” inversely related to “doing Pujo”?
    Could you please elaborate.

  31. We speak in English at home, not Bengali – quite natural if that is her mother tongue – and perhaps Moonmoon did do her pujas regularly – but the hushed-tone mantras were misinterpreted by her daughters as signs of uber modernity…

  32. Er– we do know a few from the ‘high’ society of Calcutta and boy— they ARE funny!

    Anything foreign, is OK (be it toilet paper or even — a toupee). You will be constantly reminded that their great-great grandfather was a member of the Calcutta club, while dear Uncle Henry (Harisadhan to you or me) became the president of the Bengal Club.

    Dear, dear distant cousin Minny (Minati) did marry a scion of some minor royal family, Tripura or Natore. What is glossed over is that the scion promptly ran away with an actress from the Star Theatre.

    These wonderful beings do not have daal-bhaat.
    They have soups, salads, a cutlet with a pudding or a quiche.
    Spices are absolutely -UUUGH, unless recommended by dear Tony (Antony Bourdain, no less).

    Though these creatures live in Ballygunge, Gariahat is unknown. Knightsbridge, Harrods– even the Camden flea market– is where they go to shop.

    (It is another point that inspite of their bi-annual visits to other shores, they do not visit the Tate, or the MOMA. One of these creatures did stand in front of the Mona Lisa, but more as to say — been there, done that. These people are not rich enough to own haute couture, desi or foreign. I suspect they wear reduction sale items fom Sainsbury/Walmart.)

    And if I am proud to live across the kerosene shop and witness long queues and humanity at its squabling best, these people are PROUD that they live in an apartment where the consulate staff stay. Nigerian? No, came the sniffy reply, German.

    And if they look at vernacular literature with disdain, they are just literate enough to flip through the HELLO magazine. Whenever they feel the need to read cerebral stuff, they peruse the latest Mills & Boone. They do buy a Coelho or two, but it is to grace the coffee table.

    These people haven’t heard of the luminous beauty of one Miss A. Rai. One of the fond mothers, was heard to say in public that her da-hling daughter was so very very pretty. It was because she resembled dear princess Anne!

    @gb–quick — post a link which shows Anne at her horsy-faced best.

  33. @DV

    I would like to know what you do for your living… Do you do a job, or a business or whatever

    Just look around my friend. I am a poor software engineer and I know had I not known English as good as i can speak today I would have been jobless. And trust me I know a lot of those who in spite of being fully conversant with their respective languages are jobless due to the simple fact that they don’t know good English.

    Also Japanese need to learn only Japanese and Israelis would need Hebrew alone. Unlike them do you propose we learn Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, gujarati, Punjabi, Assamese, Bengali dadi da dida???

    That’s a wonderful proposal i would say !! 🙂

    Its our necessity to learn English and we have to.

    Having said that would like to mention a fact that even before a few years in WB govt schools started teaching English only at sixth standard. I myself learnt all the English i know today after sixth standard only.

    Regards,
    Ankan

  34. “or am I really missing the point… the comments above seem too indignant… which leads me to believe that maybe, just maybe…. I should not be totally ignoring the fact that the bulk of the criticism seems to be coming from people who have, for whatever reasons, happily chosen to leave their country/culture behind… (not really getting into a debate about that… but it could explain a lot of the ‘indignation”)…”

    I would say that is a nasty attack.

  35. @Anonymous Coward: For the politician’s thats just the worst expression of vote-bank politics. This “Amra Bangali” policy of CPM, the abolishing of teaching English still Std VI in government schools has greatly handicapped Bengal candidates in all India examinations.
    @Rishi and Thalassa: Very interesting comment thread. Its very rare when Raima Sen and Advaita Hindusim occur within the same page.
    @Arun: My objection is not in people saying “How are you” as opposed to “Jai siyaram”. It’s in people saying the first somehow thinking themselves superior than those who say the second.
    @Rohit: And so do I. Love Bengali girls that is.
    @Bhopale: Which is fine. I am sure Raima thinks grandma is not modern.
    @Dodo: Experiences vary, my friend. Let me say that this sentiment of Raima—I have heard that a few times before. From Bengalis.
    @DV: Let me repeat.The problem is not in preferring an English education to a vernacular one. There are several practical reasons why one would want to learn English, however the commonly-held association between English and “modernity” and vernaculars with “medievalism” is what I am talking about here.
    @Nandan: :-). Your last sentence took the words right out of my mouth.
    @Yourfan2: “So Raima disliked pujas, which is fine. But is she an atheist? Or is she more attracted to ahem Jesus or God. Did she feel ‘modern’ in one of those churches where her anglo Indian bfs took her too?”
    That’s a good question.
    @Driftwood: I have heard of Bengali kids not being taught Bengali in the US because two tongues would, apparently, confuse them.
    @Saurabh: Yes I loved that line too !
    @Sourav: Hmm.
    @Dipanwita: I am sure English is not the mother tongue of the Tripura royal family. Again Raima may choose to speak English and reject her mother tongue—that’s her choice; however to think that doing so is a manifestation of modernity is where the delusion lies.
    @Ankan: “I think the general trend of thinking vernacular languages are downmarket is the issue here.”
    Right.
    @DV: That is not really my point here.
    @Kunal:
    I count among my friends a lot of people who didn’t do Pujas at home (for religious reasons or otherwise)… what would you call such an upbringing… “atheist”… maybe… “different”… maybe… “modern”… also maybe…
    Just atheist. It has nothing to do with “modernity”. You seem to confuse being religious (faith in God) with being fundamental (an adherence to religious chauvinism and the use of religion as a weapon to oppress a group of people). A person who prays to Shiva or does namaaz five times a day is not necessarily medieval. Nor does being atheism imply modernity. They are simply different points of view about the existence of a superior being—anyone who thinks he is “modern” (and by extension of that superior) just because he holds one of those points of view (namely atheism) is actually being fundamentalist. Remember that Stalinists were not “religious” but they were “fundamentalists”—torturing and killing many simply because they were “religious”—would you call Stalinists modern?
    Intolerance is medieval. Religion itself is not.
    “not having Bengalis for friends is hardly a sin that can call for the kind of strident criticism that I read above…”
    Yes I do feel you are missing the point here.
    “I should not be totally ignoring the fact that the bulk of the criticism seems to be coming from people who have, for whatever reasons, happily chosen to leave their country/culture behind… (not really getting into a debate about that… but it could explain a lot of the ‘indignation”)”
    I was waiting for that. Kindly note we “who have happily chosen to leave their country/culture behind” do not claim to be more “modern” than those who have not.
    @Red: So she is.
    @Aditya: Hmm
    @Dibyo: I do not find it tough to understand. It is entirely expected—Moonmoon Sen , daughter of Dibanath and Suchitra Sen speaks in the most put-on accented Bangla…
    @Subhendu: But in one point I agree with her. You cannot be modern (I am assuming this means being liberal in thinking) and do puja at the same time.
    I think I have replied to this already in this comment—the difference between being religious and fundamental.
    @S.Pyne:”the hushed-tone mantras were misinterpreted by her daughters as signs of uber modernity”
    Hushed-tone mantras? Do explain.
    @Swati: Oh lord…here’s princess Anne.
    Feel sorry for the daughter.
    @Kishor: Yep. That we all agree on.

  36. @ Arun:

    The nature of this conversation is one of generalization. I admitted right at the beginning that I am treading along fault lines.

    As for other cultures, I am not uber knowledgeable about other cultures (since I haven’t actually traveled a lot in India) but I wouldn’t call myself ignorant either since I’ve known people from all over.

  37. Swati – hello namesake! Please to be discussing such glorious specimens of Bongness some more – I thought such batshit crazy Anglophiles had decamped to England a long time ago.

    Though how odd that they are such avid followers of Tony Bourdain – do they know Nondon Bagchi took Tony to Maidan and fed him alu-kabli? And to think they could have invited poor Tony over and fed him their fourth-rate rendition of Brit food.

  38. @GB…
    “anyone who thinks he is “modern” (and by extension of that superior)..”

    Thats exactly the point I’m trying to make GB… that when I read Raima Sens’s cote in the context of the article… I get the sense that “modern” implies “different” as opposed to implying “superior”… call it semantics if you will… but the criticism does seem slitely strident…

    @GB and Ancient Mariner…
    “I would say that is a nasty attack.”…

    In hindsight… agreed (slitely sheepishly)… tho like I said I never really wanted to get into the pros and cons of that debate… I was just meaking a generalized statement that the NRI is typically faster to take umbrage… and a stouter defender of “Indian” values….

  39. @ Ancient Mariner

    I am an accountant.

    @ Aditya

    But Indian languages don’t do technical and scientific instruction well at all.

    Has anyone ever made a genuine effort to translate (correctly) scientific literature into Indian languages?

    Look at the Iranians. Every good book (technical or otherwise) published anywhere in the world gets translated into Farsi withing a short frame of time. This is despite the fact that they live in a oppressive theocracy. Compare this to India where we make no effort at all. We are happy with English translations ! (Although some good books get translated into Bangla – I must admit)

    Tagore and Bose made a genuine plea to do scientific liteature in Indian language. But alas! It all fell on deaf ears.

    @ everyone

    Stop using the word vernacular to describe INDIAN LANGUAGES!! In Latin “verna” relates to slaves.

  40. I agree with what you say great bong.But I wouldn’t lose lot of sleep over what raima sen has to neither would I come to any conclusions based on that.I have watched couple of her interviews.I dont think she is the brightest.

    Whatever raima said is not nearly in the same league as what her fellow bong actress Rima sen had to when asked to describe the director of golmall”HE CAN EVEN MAKE A BLACK AFRICAN WOMAN LOOK BEAUTIFUL”

    p.s.really admire your blogs.Keep them coming thick and fast.

  41. Arnab: You state that an atheist who thinks relegious people are not “modern” is being fundamentalist. Then as an example of such an atheist, you talk about Stalinists. But isn’t there a big difference between an atheist who considers relegious people not modern versus one who murders them for being relegious.

  42. Hey new Aby, this is old Aby.
    Sincerely request you not to be Aby, else it would cause an identity crisis for both of us.
    Thanks in advance!

  43. @GB
    It is such a tragedy that Suchitra Sen miserably failed in the upbringing of her daughter.

    We all are aware what MunMun Sen is all about. The latest shoe-string budget flick Bow Barracks Forever is just another proof of it.

    Both of her daughters are an enlarged copy of her own character.

    Coming to her accent; recently in a television interview, Koel Mullick did a caricature of Munmun Sen that was confirmed by Ranjit Mullick in the same show. It was really hilarious!!!

    GB, I had sent the links of Minister Fatakeshto in the Gunda post. Did you like those?

  44. Here’s me sticking my neck out in support of Raima. ( I owe it to her at least for the sake of happiness she and her sister together have brought me on countless occasions ;))

    Wading thru the comments, am a bit flummoxed as to what the issue is here.
    1. Is it wrong that MoonMoon didnt preach her daughter on what it is like to pray?
    2. Is it her coining of “shunning religion/pooja and speaking in English” as Modern?
    3. Or is it her friends circle being thickly populated with anglo-indians?

    Which of the above is offensive, may I ask? Since when did we become expert nannies to tell Moonmoon how she should/could have brought up her daughter?

    I have seen my fair share of parents swelling with pride when their little one held a conversation in a language other than the regional one (english on most occasions). Ditto may parents and ditto may parents when they heard me exchange pleasantries in Arabic (Courtesy sometime I had spent in North Africa)

    Its not a British Raj hangover. Its an affirmation to them that their kid is sharp enough to figure out what works. Its an affirmation that their kid can survive in alien conditions. And more importantly its a relief that their kid is not a “frog in the well” as they were forced to be in their youth.

  45. @Mani

    The problem is the 2nd point which you state. Did your parents think that you had a ‘modern’ upbringing when you spoke in Arabic ?

    The problem here is that Indians equate modernity with Westernization.

  46. Dear Thalassa,

    I am a little intrigued …. You wrote that Vivekanando didn’t care two hoots for “Hindu rituals” in contemporary India. Please enlighten me as to which “Hindu rituals” in particular the Swami didn’t care two hoots for, and possible references to such rituals in his writings/speeches.

  47. This is an extremely interesting discussion.
    Living in Europe for close to nine years now, I always squirm with embarassment when my non-Bengali compatriot friends/colleagues speak in English with me (and other Indians)– I have often had Europeans wonder with amusement that although we are both from the same country we communicate in English. With Indians who are not from southern India, I do insist on speaking Hindi often resulting in funny bilingual conversation.

    However, comparisons with Germany, France, Japan, Iran, or even if one cited Bangladesh, are rather unfair. These countries have a single language each (ok, France did have a few, but has successfully wiped out most of the others), and absolutely everybody in that country speaks that language. However with our numerous languages coming from at least three distinct language families (we shouldn’t forget the NE), one has to settle for a compromise. Since Hindi (or as Gandhi had suggested, the Hindustani dialect) didn’t work out for various reasons (legitimate or not), the popularity of English in India is understandable.
    Of course our colonial mentality contributes in a big way to this as well. On the other hand with globalization, few of us would deny that our fluency in English is very useful. Imagine if the major colonial power in India had been Spanish/Portuguese/French/Dutch/whatever, and we’d have to learn their language at school and then again English as an adult because of globalization… quite a nightmare.

    I may be wrong, but I would have thought Bengali is commonly spoken in Tripura, so Raima’s father would be very likely to be fluent in Bengali as well. However this is a problem some of my friends face too. They come from different regions in India, and don’t speak much of the others’ language and instead communicate in English, which would thus be what their children encounter most often at home.
    I was shocked at a few kids in their early 20s from B’lore (must be rich kids as they had come all the way to Germany to attend a Heavy Metal concert, and then were travelling around Europe) I met recently, who claimed that although they had lived all their lives in Bangalore, they didn’t speak Kannada, but only spoke English and a decent bit of Hindi!

    On a personal note, I grew up in various parts of India. In the beginning I had to learn the local languages at school until my parents decided that this was crazy and put us in the Kendriya Vidyalayas. From then on it was Hindi and English. We learnt Social Sciences in Hindi and Science and Mathematics in English. I hated the former because of it being in Hindi, but with hindsight I think it was a good idea. I have always been fluent in speaking Bengali because we only spoke Bengali at home. However reading and my embarassing writing skills were self-taught. Bengali books were read out to us, we read English and Hindi books ourselves. In fact I am kinda ashamed to say that it was only recently that I finished *reading* my first novel in Bengali, Sei Somoy.

  48. @Hujur
    Without trying to put words into Thalassa’s mouth, from her response, I understood them to be the philosophically Mimansa driven, ritually Pauranic Shakta traditions, practiced in Eastern/North eastern India and Hindus in Bangladesh.

    Not to mention the integration of post-Pala, Buddist “Tara” into the Shakta language.

    Also includes, the plethora of Hindu Aagama rituals, prevelent amongst the Vanavasi tribes like the Santals and other groups like the Chandals of Bangladesh, in the form of “Monosha Devi”.

    Thalassa can correct me if I am wrong.

  49. @ Hujur

    Forgot to mention the, I believe, Vishista-Advaita based Gudiya Vaidhnava Bhakti traditions from Nadia and Krishnanagar region (a reflex response to violent Sufi Islamic preselytization originating from that region).

    Hujur, you will find it interesting that rise of Vishishta Advaita (beginning with Ramanujacharya in the South) was the reflex response to Islamic proselytization.

    Similarly, rise of Advaita was the reflex response to Christian proselytization (in Colonial India).

    Something you might want to analize.

  50. Sorry forgot to fill the boxes, please delete the above comment.

    I think most of Indian languages are becoming obsolete, they are not able to catchup with english.
    In a normal Indian language conversation 50 % of words will be english.
    I don’t know hindi equivalent of bathroom, latrine, train, bus, car(vahan !), telephone, cell phone, TV, TV serials, films, video games, computer, email, soap(sabun), shirt, toothpaste etc.

    How about all medical terms ? well we use them in normal conversation.

    No matter how hard you guys try hinglish will take over.

    Secondly we do not have common front against english, hindi can never become a national language.

  51. Er– I was just thinking.

    Which school did the two litle ‘princesses’ attend? La Marts or was it the Modern High? Or Loreto?

    Where did they find all those Anglo-Indian friends? I mean, in Cal, except for the O’Briens, Claudius’and the Mellos, there are hardly any Anglo-Indians who can be called ‘society’.

    While there are hoardes of Bengalis who can tinker a imon-kalyan on a sitar as well as play a lieder on a piano. Who can quote the Upanishads and the Zen Avesta and the Kalevala, if not Ginsburg and Nabokov.

    Now these Bengalis would be dead than being seen hobnobbing with Moonmoon Sen’s daughters. So,—

    the little miss Dev Burmans were left to make friends with …….

    I mean, come on All You Anglo Indians— PROTEST!
    I mean, even glow-worms have more brains than the Sens of Tripura House.

    PS.
    The Dev Burmans must be delerious with delight that Reemah and Raima are passing themselves off as Sens.

    My husband has pronounced his judgement– any family, Anglo-Indian or otherwise, if it has a grand piano, IS –irrefutably — SOCIETY.

    No, I am no social climber. There is only a harmonium and the tabla at home.

  52. Dear Rishi,

    My questions to Thalassa are clear:

    1) Could you mention which “Hindu rituals” specifically Vivekanando cared too hoots for? Please mention the rituals specifically.
    2) Are there any of his writings/speeches that attest to these views?

    Or do we “modernists” simply assume that Vivekanando, like us, must have cared too hoots for Hindu rituals, as he seems “cool” otherwise. I wonder if a “modernist” would unconsciously try to put his/her words into the Swami’s mouth post-mortem.

    I have been through a similar phase during my “hip” teenage years where I’ve considered “Hindu rituals” simply meaningless – which in hindsight, I feel a hasty conclusion I derived without bothering to check first on the symbolic, spi-“ritual” meaning behind the ritual. I did grow out of it, once I

    An inherent loathing for “Hindu rituals” is second-nature to an “Indian modernist” (Bengali or not), particularly among the Hindu-born. In stark contrast, I have observed that Indian converts (and their descendants) to Abrahamic cults, “modernist” or not, would dare not be skeptical or cynical about their co-cultists steadfast grovelling on all fours, 5 times a day, in the direction of a pagan, black stone (as a ritual) .. or for that matter, getting down on their knees to something akin to a hangman’s noose, used by Roman executioners (as a ritual).

    Ask the Hindu ritual-loathing Indian modernists what they feel about their observations of the Abrahamic rituals and you will hear flowery descriptions of “impressive display of a military-like drill by thousands of identically robed believers” or “I love Mass – its so cool”.

  53. Correction in the third paragraph:
    I did grow out of it, once I dug deeper and read up adequate explanations explaining the symbolism behind the rituals.

  54. @ Hujur
    Ask the Hindu ritual-loathing Indian modernists what they feel about their observations of the Abrahamic rituals and you will hear flowery descriptions of “impressive display of a military-like drill by thousands of identically robed believers” or “I love Mass – its so cool”.

    Again, just expressing my opinion.
    Well thats the beauty of Hindu Dharma.
    A Charvaka and a Jaina, representing two contrasting views on the material world, can cross intellects under the same roof.

    A Vishistha Advaita and a Bouddha, representing opposing ends of theism can bull their way into oblivion. Hindu Dharma is all about different “strokes for different folks…”.
    But to me personally, it still boils down to Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitah.

    My fight is against the threats to the very ideas i mentioned above.

    Unfortunately, the Abrahamic cults you talk about happen to be two of them and have historically proven themselves to be quite adamant at it.

  55. Rishi and Hujur, before I get drawn into a pointless internet slagfest (which is as far from the “neti neti” of our gyan yogi ancestors as you can get) I’d rather read my copy of the Rig Veda a hundred times. Do me a favour, go read some Carvaka pronto.

    Now let us revel in the absurdity of Ms. Raima Debburman Sen. By the way, when she acted in Chokher Bali, did they dub over for her voice? Because you know, since she cannot speak Bengali and all that………..

  56. My husband has pronounced his judgement– any family, Anglo-Indian or otherwise, if it has a grand piano, IS –irrefutably — SOCIETY.

    No, I am no social climber. There is only a harmonium and the tabla at home.

    Start your own blog. Now!

  57. I don’t know hindi equivalent of bathroom, latrine, train, bus, car(vahan !), telephone, cell phone, TV, TV serials, films, video games, computer, email, soap(sabun), shirt, toothpaste etc.

    Compare this with France. They wouldn’t even want a widespread word like E-mail. So the Académie française decides that E-mail nust be replaced by “courriél” (courrier électronique)

    Surprise ! Surprise !

    Everyone follows what the Academy says!

  58. Good post GB!

    I find this dis-owning our own culture has become a trend these days. Most of Indians (bar Tamilians, Gujratis, and I used to think Bengalis) feel ashamed to talk about their Indian roots.

    In my frequent conversations with foreigners, I find that those people are really interested in knowing about India, its culture. And its ironic that these people, with so-called modern upbringing, who try to represent modern India, fail to talk about India, as they know very little thanks to their upbringing, really bring shame to India.

  59. @Kujur:

    “Something you might want to analize.”

    Was that a polite way of saying, “Up yours”? 😉

    @GB:

    Actually the only difference between many of us and Raima is that we don’t take the overt pride in being in the same situation. I have been born and brought up outside Bengal, and while my spoken Bangla is okay, reading is barely passable and writing, almost impossible.

    However, this fills me with a vague sense of regret, primarily because I am not able to understand many of the lyrics to songs that otherwise sound so beautiful. (Aside: Someone sang the beautiful Bangla version of “Phoolon ke rang se…” the other day – “Borne gondhe chonde geete te hridoy e diyecho dola…” and I had no clue that even existed!)

    At the same time I am proud of my abilities in English, and yes, I do consider those who don’t know English as being disadvantaged, simply because that’s the truth. And on the whole, I feel I am better off the way I am. Meaning I’d rather know English well, than the other way around.

    Taking the examples of Japan, Germany etc, us simply stupid because we are a heterogeneous nation, quite unlike them, and without a common language.

    What seems to have gotten some of the fundies’ goats is the faux equivalence that Raima ostensibly drew between religious rituals and medievalist thinking. Relax. We use those sort of terminology everyday without meaning anything more than just a generalization.

    Besides, religious people are not all necessarily fundies. But they all are definitely irrational.

  60. Hmm… very interesting. I think we are associating too much significance with Ms. ScatterBrain Sen and her statements. I think the following describes her condition most appropriately:

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=ignoranus&defid=65093

    She is as representative of the modern Bengali as Sanjay Dutt (post Munnabhai MBBS) was of the medical fraternity. Her type were always on the fringes of everything- society, career, even nobility. And I suspect over time they come to admit it. They only exist for comic appeal in their real lives, and a rare memorable performance on the reel.

    (Sigh I had such hopes… she appeared to possess so much more acting prowess than either the slutty Mom or Sis)

    Anyway, the debate though is very interesting. I am the probashi variety, and till very lately had litle notion of any form of Bengali-ness (though we spoke Bengali at home, and my parents did do Puja everyday, but I found it all a little stiffling, that’s it).

    I have never lived in Calcutta, or even anywhere close. Though I used to date someone who like me was the probashi variety, both us could have been Greek, and it wouldn’t have mattered at all.

    But then recently we came across some people from Calcutta in Bombay (which is home for the last 6 years or so), and it was quite a motley crue- schools ranging from La Marts and Modern High to Bhagini Nivedita; from Xaviers to Bangabasi; from the corridors Tolly Club to well, whatever. They speak English well, but they speak Bengali even better. It is just so delightful speak to them, and realizing that the lingua franca of Calcutta is so entertaining (and expressive) that I myself have started speaking the same. And I realize that while I have not missed on much, it is so much more fun to speak in your mother tongue with your friends. I have been in some majority Tam groups and have realized that even they enjoy slipping back to their mother tongue, every time decency permits.

    Anyway, without extending this discussion to Advaita and drawing parallels with Japan, Germany and the like, I can say that conversing in vernac is cool.

    (Oh there are these real turn-offs too, the Nyeka variety- and which other language has as colourful a word as “Nyeka” for snob).

    Incidentally, through the same people, I happen to know the producer of the Bong Connection socially. If he can manage to stand still for ten minutes, given the alcohol induced stupor he always is in, I might consider the lot worthy of comment. The wastrels!!!

    T.O.

  61. @ Shan

    Agree with you mostly…
    “Besides, religious people are not all necessarily fundies. But they all are definitely irrational.”
    I think, a more charitable explanation is that most of us exhibit schizophrenic behaviour; we are perfectly rational in our everyday lives, but we return to primitivism and retrogression when it comes to religion. Probably a defense mechansim against the chilling alternative- that we are not created in the image of God, but are products of Darwinian natural selection, there is no higher purpose to life, merely pitless, cold indifference.
    @ GB
    “Remember that Stalinists were not “religious” but they were “fundamentalists”—torturing and killing many simply because they were “religious”—would you call Stalinists modern? “
    Are you saying that Stalin did what did because he was an atheist? It’s not clear if people can actually murder anybody in the name of atheism? Atheism is not a belief system, it is a point of view that is skeptical about some (OK, all) of the extra-ordinary claims made by religious believers. Demand for proof in itself cannot become a conviction. On the other hand, it’s abundantly clear, that religious can & have murdered in the name of religion. And religious books had given express consent in this regard- whether it was the ‘Dharm’ Yudh in Mahabharata (Krishna gives express consent to kill millions in the name of Dharma- in modern parlance-‘either you are with us or against us’), Koran of course & countless crusades done by Christian missionaries.
    If ‘modern’ means subscribing to contemporary scientific thought, clearly doing pujas cannot be called a ‘modern’ thing.

  62. Whatever u say……….

    the truth is this…………

    people who speak english at home always having advantage

    over the people who doesn’t get that opportunity (in India ……..(like me kind…)

    english become their second mother tongue whereas others r trying to hard to pronounce “was”(bus) than “baass”
    …………..

    If their merit doesn’t permit them to succeed in their homeland “Bengal” which is eventually full of very intellectual and intelligent people……(and is very competitive one too )and they want to come out of bengal for study n job…….then sen type modern bengali s become more successful than otherkind…..

    when only knowing their mother tongue can’t give them anything but a great laugh in their wrong english but only knowing english can give u much more to feel happy in
    INDIA…….

  63. Atleast Brihaspati, the doyen of the Carvaka school of thought, was knowledgeable enough to construct intelligent arguments to stress the primacy of the Laukika (Materialistic/Temporal Realm) over the Astika (Belief in the Absolute) …and to his credit, Brihaspati does sound very convincing in his arguments, both in favor of a “joyous life” and against the existence of anything remotely supernatural (a la Richard Dawkins). But then, given my background and interests, I have done my fair share of studying and researching the epistemology of various schools of Hindu philosophy, including the Carvaka doctrine (not your usual quickie on google).

    “Internet slagfest”? Sheesh…. we just blew away the basic instinct and the fundamental right of the Argumentative Indian – to debate topics that we know well and withdraw gracefully when we don’t.

    Self-loathing “Modernism” among Indians comes in various shades, from a repugnance of one’s own mother-tongue to not “caring too hoots” to study a symbolic rite or philosophy before critiquing it (why bother anyway?), to a cursory, “generalized” dismissal of any seekers of the Dharmic Paths as being as “irrational” as Abrahamic cults.

  64. Taking the examples of Japan, Germany etc, us simply stupid because we are a heterogeneous nation, quite unlike them, and without a common language.

    We were never a homogeneous nation still we once had a lingua franca that was indigenous not a foreign language. It’s authority was unquestionable. It was the age when India contributed to the world, very different from the current age.

    No nation has become great by using someone elses language. As an independent nation we are only 60. Take my word. As literacy levels rise and people become more aware of their history and start having faith in their own abilities these colonial hangovers would vanish sooner rather than later. Who knows what will happen after 100 years?

    Another Athens shall arise,
    And to remoter time
    Bequeath, like sunset to the skies,
    The splendour of its prime;
    And leave, if naught so bright may live,
    All earth can take or Heaven can give….

    Adiós

  65. Everyday I realize how great Kanti Shah is,”kaue ne cheel ko chuma liya aur chuhe ko baccha paida hua” I may have forgotten this dialogue from Loha but it is the essence that survives…. Raima Sen’s unusual birth and Govinda’s summing up of her life…wah kya baat hai.

  66. Till this evening, I had never pondered over my jaga-khichuri linguistic background! I was brought up in the (undivided) Punjab where I spoke Bengali at home, with sprinkling of Punjabi picked up from my ayah Mehri. (Sample: Batita butiye dao na). I studied in Presentation Convent, Indian Section, but all of it in English. Then I was admitted to St. John’s Diocesan in Class III. It was Bengali medium till Class VI and English medium from Class VII onwards. It took me about six months to learn enough Bengali to do reasonably well in class. None of us had much difficulty to swich from Bengali to English in Class VII. We had a well stocked library of both Bengali and English story books. The teachers must have been excellent to inculcate the love of literature in us, irrespective of the language. How lucky are we to be able to read and appreciate both Tagore and Shakespeara! Incidentally, Gayatree Chakravarty and Ketaki Kushari are my school seniors.
    My daughter Swati is even more fortunate to have read Tolstoy in original Russian.I will ask her to tell you how she managed speak to fellow students from all over India, while studying in erstwhile USSR.
    I am proud of the fact that Bagla-o bolte pari, Ingrijee-o.

  67. @Pri: The modern upbringing it seems.

    @An Ideal Boy: Hmm

    @Ravi: Dont worry I dont lose sleep. I think our PM does enough of that.

    @Debashish: “But isn’t there a big difference between an atheist who considers relegious people not modern versus one who murders them for being religious.”

    True. My point is simply that being an atheist does not make you modern—you can still be a fundamentalist (which is what I associate non-modernity with)

    @Aby: I write RTDM in English to reach out to a wider audience. Not because it makes me modern.

    @Aby: Yes I had seen those videos some time ago. I was actually in touch with the person who posted those videos (he had posted some Phatakeshto stills before)
    and it was he who informed me when he posted the video.

    @Mani: Good to see loyalty.

    @AS: Hmm

    @Sam: The point again was about the association of modernity with English.

    @Swati: My husband has pronounced his judgement– any family, Anglo-Indian or otherwise, if it has a grand piano, IS –irrefutably — SOCIETY.

    Heh. Sing me the song that I so liked to hear…long long ago. Long ago.

    @Surendra: Thanks

    @Shan: Besides, religious people are not all necessarily fundies. But they all are definitely irrational.

    We can debate this. But I understand your point.

    @The One:

    She is as representative of the modern Bengali as Sanjay Dutt (post Munnabhai MBBS) was of the medical fraternity

    Perhaps. But she does represent a sizeable number of enlightened Calcutta bangla families in her attitude.

    @Ravi: “Are you saying that Stalin did what did because he was an atheist? It’s not clear if people can actually murder anybody in the name of atheism? Atheism is not a belief system, it is a point of view that is skeptical about some (OK, all) of the extra-ordinary claims made by religious believers.”

    Stalin did what he did *in spite* of being an atheist. Communism is a belief system, sharing many common characteristics (the subjugation of all forms of dissent) with religious extremism. The point is that just because you think, rationally, that God does not exist and that religion is the opium of the masses does not necessarily make you any less medieval than than the rabid Man of religion.

    @Sudipta: “people who speak english at home always having advantage”

    I dont think so. I never spoke English at home and have never felt disadvantaged.

    @Aditi: Thats what we can all agree on. Kanti Shah is God.

    @Debjani: Swati’s mother. Now we have at least one instance where 3 generations have commented at RTDM. Thank you for visiting.

  68. Hujur, now why do I get the feeling that you are the doppelgänger of someone? Are there indeed two in this world who appear in the same space and speak as one? Only Arnab knows the answer to this great metaphysical question.

  69. @Thalassa: In case you mean to suggest that Hujur is my evil twin (i.e. me commenting under another id), there is not much I can say that would convince you otherwise. In case it helps, I am not. Just as I have never been any of the yourfans.

    Else I can assure that Hujur is himself and himself only—-at least by what his/her IP says.

  70. @ Ravi Ivaturi :
    “And religious books had given express consent in this regard- whether it was the ‘Dharm’ Yudh in Mahabharata (Krishna gives express consent to kill millions in the name of Dharma- in modern parlance-‘either you are with us or against us’”

    I would humbly request you to read up on the meaning of dharma. Dharma is not religion. Again. Dharma is not religion. If it was religion, then Krishna definitely could not have said, kill the Kauravas. (Pandavas and Kauravas were cousins and hence religion is not an issue at all).
    Dharma is by one definition, the essence of an entity (movable/immovable)without which the entity ceases to exist.
    Maybe this will also give you pointers to the varna ( not caste (jati), but varna). A kshatriya is one whose karma and whose esscence is to fight injustice.If he does not then his birth in the family of khsatriyas is of no use. He is free to choose what he wants to do. But he cannot be a kshatriya.Same for a brahmana. And for vaisyas and sudras.

    I have digressed here, but please read up the meaning of Dharma before you tell anyone that Krishan asked the Pandavas to kill in the name of religion. It was a fight against gross injustice. A fight to survive and a call of duty to be honoured.

  71. @ Kannan

    Nowhere did I imply that Mahabharata war was a religious war. I do know that Dharma connotes a way of life, proper conduct, and sacred duty; btw all religions too, apart from identifying whom to pray to, also advocate their own path of morality, norms and ethics. So, in that sense, Dharma could be called an impersonal religion.

    Let’s ask this question -why was Mahabharata war fought at all? As far as I can remember, Mahabharata doesn’t brand Duryodhana as an evil king/despot who tortured his citizens. The only injustice in Mahabharata was what was perpetrated to the Pandavas. In essence, it’s a story of vendetta, a fight for personal honor. That’s why, in my opinion, Arjuna asks a very sane question before the war begins…” why do I have to kill millions who have nothing do with the context of the war”? Then Krishna steps in with His ‘I am the Doer, you are merely the instrument ‘logic and ends Arjuna’s dilemma or rather eliminates his feeling of guilt. You see, for Mahabharata war to be called a righteous war, you have to invoke Krishna’s Divinity. See the circular logic involved- because there is no other way could you justify killing millions because Draupadi was insulted!

    History has seen several instances where a charismatic personality has sanctioned mass killings, by invoking ‘I am God or God told me’ argument and if Mahabharata war, if it did occur, should figure in that list. It is a different matter, of course, that when Bush tried to invoke the same argument, it didn’t hold much water with the rest of the world 🙂

  72. @Ravi Ivaturi:

    Really, I could NOT have put it better myself. I agree completely. Great job!

    @DV:

    A pan-Indian language will rise? I posit that it already has. And that language is English as she is spoke in India. Prove me otherwise if you can.

  73. @ Shan

    Thanks.

    @ GB

    “The point is that just because you think, rationally, that God does not exist and that religion is the opium of the masses does not necessarily make you any less medieval than the rabid Man of religion.”

    We have been arguing without defining ‘modernity’. While I agree that the term has multi-hued connotations, -subscribing to contemporary scientific thought- is surely a legitimate way of describing modernism. So by definition, am I not more modern/less medieval than the rabid Man of religion?

  74. @ Ravi Ivaturi :
    Thanks for the reply.
    Greatbong, I am sorry for taking up your comment space and even digressing to this extent, but if it is ok with you, please publish this comment.

    “The only injustice in Mahabharata was what was perpetrated to the Pandavas. In essence, it’s a story of vendetta, a fight for personal honor. That’s why, in my opinion, Arjuna asks a very sane question before the war begins…” why do I have to kill millions who have nothing do with the context of the war”? Then Krishna steps in with His ‘I am the Doer, you are merely the instrument ‘logic and ends Arjuna’s dilemma or rather eliminates his feeling of guilt. You see, for Mahabharata war to be called a righteous war, you have to invoke Krishna’s Divinity.”

    The people who sided along with Duryodhana inspite of knowing what he was doing was wrong and those people had their chance to correct themselves or even Duryodhana. When everything else failed, they started a war.
    And then when the war actually was on the anvil, Arjuna lost his nerve and said ” why should i kill all my relatives and near and dear ones? for this kingdom?” That is when Krishna allays his fears, by saying everything comes to me, I am the source of everything and everything terminates with me.So go forth and fight for what is right and do not worry about the fruits. Everything is a part of me, so why hesitate? Think of me as the Doer and you as the instrument.
    He is not justifying the killing of millions of innocent people, he is saying if it is a part of the job, then well do it. The guys on the other side are not innocent. They knew what they were gettting into, led by their king Duryodhana. If they were innocent, then it would be contrary to Dharma (Never kill an innocent man).
    The logic is not circular as you think it is. Krishna never said as others did, that he is the messenger of God or he is God himself except for the phase in Bhagwad Geeta, where in he touches upon a lot of philosphilcal issues and tries to clear out the clutter present in the mind of Arjuna. He never said, since I am God,and hence what you are doing is right. He said I am God,but well you got a job to do and you might as well do it if it is the dharma for you to do it. Finally whatever you do, even if it is killing people, remember everyone reaches me. Be on the path of Dharma, Do your karma and just wait for the consequences of the karma. Dont worry about them.

    And one more thing please, do not compare Krishna’s words with the violent verses in Quran or the Church’s crusades. Those were hate crimes and blind ignorance.
    Krishna’s words (if you feel compel one to kill) take effect only if you contemplate on it deeply and not ignore the reality that surrounds you on earth and the consequences which follow in the life after.

  75. @ Kannan
    “He is not justifying the killing of millions of innocent people, he is saying if it is a part of the job, then well do it. “

    As far as I know, only James Bond has the license to kill, he can kill as many as he needs to, to get his job done. Sorry couldn’t resist that 🙂
    But seriously, the M-war was not a freedom struggle; the Pandavas were not fighting any invader. It was a revenge story, pure & simple- so how do you justify a mass carnage? I can’t… except by saying that I can’t be presumptuous to know the Mind of God.

    “And one more thing please, do not compare Krishna’s words with the violent verses in Quran or the Church’s crusades. Those were hate crimes and blind ignorance.”

    Really! Well, they believed that their way was the only way & their God was the only One (even if they were deluded). They were only trying save the souls of the infidels 🙂

  76. Thanks Ravi for reply.

    Mahabharata was not a freedom struggle. I have said before and say again, it was a fight against injustice (injustice by any parameter one would like to use).
    mass carnage happened (on both sides, not just Kauravas, only The pandavas and draupadi along with very few other survived). And again, everyone knew what they were getting in to. One does not need to know Mind of Bhagwan (if Bhagwan has or needs any) to know that a soldier goes in to a war without knowing if he is going to come alive out of it or not. THe kings were ready for war, so were the soldiers. And that is how it is even today. Governments are ready, then so are the soldiers.

    “Really! Well, they believed that their way was the only way & their God was the only One (even if they were deluded). They were only trying save the souls of the infidels ”

    I know, they believed as such. But that is the reason why i said do not compare them to Krishna’s verses. Krishna did not say that people who do not believe in me are infidels. Infact, people who dont believe in me, are all a part of me, (inclusive as opposed to exclusive and very much the opposite of the other instances you have pointed out) If you wish to know, even atheists are supposed to be ones who get closer to God, because their very existence is based on premise of proving that God does not exist. So they end up contemplating upon God. This is called Sambramha Yoga.
    Anyway, I have digressed quite a bit from the whole post.

    Greatbong: Just wish to say, a nice incisive, sarcastic post as usual. This phenomenon of aping what West does is catching up all over India and infact has swamped the metros almost completely. Haloween and Valentines day almost take precedence (thanks for small merices, they are not holidays) over local traditional festivals amongst the kids and teens respectively. Where do we go from here? I shudder to think about my future generation. We will be complete misfits amomgst them.

  77. GB, please allow one last response (hopefully)

    @ Kannan

    I think, the Pandavas should have challenged Duryodhan, Dushshasan, and Karna (& Shakuni too…) to a duel- man to man, any place, any time (Rajni sir style) :). Millions would have lived.

    Seriously, are you saying that the soldiers were into the war willingly? Fast forward to the present day, do you think the American soldiers jumped with joy when Bush declared war on Iraq? The kings, I understand, were there for a variety of reasons- political (good will), religious (some of them wanted to die in Krishna’s hands so that they would attain liberation- I know Krishna did not fight). Don’t give me the patriotic rationale again, I repeat, it was a personal war between the royal cousins. Just imagine – the supreme commander of our armed forces (Ms Pratibha Patil) declares war on Pakistan because Musharraf has insulted her husband and you were forced to join the war. How would you feel?

  78. @ Shan

    while my spoken Bangla is okay, reading is barely passable and writing, almost impossible…..I am proud of my abilities in English, and yes, I do consider those who don’t know English as being disadvantaged, simply because that’s the truth. And on the whole, I feel I am better off the way I am……

    I am proud of you too. But unforunately to them you will always remain a funny looking coon who speaks our language (i.e ENGLISH) with an even funnier accent. Remember the whole Shetty episode?

    A pan-Indian language will rise? I posit that it already has. And that language is English as she is spoke in India. Prove me otherwise if you can.

    I do not intend to prove you wrong. Be steadfast in your beliefs. It should help you in future.

  79. @ DV

    Professing an undying loyalty to your cultural roots is a great thing & all that- but then, you should look at a few hard facts.

    • India is world’s second largest English speaking country. This fact is consistently listed as one of the major reasons why India is on an economic ascendancy.
    • Yes, it’s true that sometimes people make fun of your accent- but I noticed something very interesting when I was in NYC. Earlier we had to make an effort to understand the American accent, now the Americans are making an extra effort to understand our accent. Sure, the transition was need –based, but who cares? It was need-based for us too, initially.
    • All accents, including the Canadian & Australian are made fun of. We are not being singled out…

  80. India is world’s second largest English speaking country.

    No comments!!!

    All accents, including the Canadian & Australian are made fun of. We are not being singled out

    My point is not about accents.

  81. @ DV

    “My point is not about accents.”
    Didn’t you take a dig at accents in your last response to Shan?

    “We were never a homogeneous nation still we once had a lingua franca that was indigenous not a foreign language. It’s authority was unquestionable. It was the age when India contributed to the world, very different from the current age.”

    So what’s your point? Are you saying, let’s bring Sanskrit back to replace English? Even assuming for a moment that it’s possible to do that, what will it achieve? I am really curious to know!

  82. @gb
    Mother does not suspect that I can swear quite fluently in Azeri and Armenian too!
    My own polyglotality amazes me!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    In ‘Gharey-bairey’ was it a cottage or a grand piano?

    And in the USSR, we had to wait for the students from various corners of India to learn Russian before we could go beyond yes-no-thank you.

    I like the way English is spoken in India– to witness– sssugaar, tabil, sitishun etc etc.

  83. Thanks for the reply Ravi.
    Greatbong: One last comment and I promise I wont say anything on the issue further. Thanks for allowing your comment space to be hijacked :p

    Mahabharata was a personal war against injustice.
    It was fought a time when kings were the sole authority in a kingdom.
    And soldiers were ready to die (else they would not be fighting). Single duel a la Thalaiva Rajni style would be nice but then it is a matter of the kings getting armies along (If kauravas insist that they bring their 18 crore infantry along, the pandavas would be very much stupid in not getting an army of their own).

    Cut to present, Mushraff insulting Patil’s husband (Well there is not much left of Pratibha Patil to insult anyways). Hmm. India does not have options. It would just rave rant and pull out the diplomats etc. We are a democracy now.. If you asked a question and if Pratibha Patil were queen (the sole authority) and i were a solidier and had great respect for Pratibha and felt I can do something to avenge a slight and if Pratibha felt that she needs to avenge Musharaff by carpet bombing Pakistan and Pakis, I would be willing.
    So there is a lot of difference here between the cup and the lip.

    Thanks Ravi for this discussion. My only grouse was the verses from Gita being put in the same bracket as those of Quran or the Old Testament.
    Your atheism( an assumption) is of no issue to me and the discussion above was not to show that Krishna was God and other things attached. I wanted to just clarify that the verses you quoted were not appropriate for the situation and that is all. You can also have the last word here, but my belief that, Sanatana Dharma is indeed very much differnt and unique from all other ways of life (religions which impose a certain way of life included), has only been strengthened.

  84. @ GB, … Mother tongue???? You mean what Moonmoon Sen speaks? (I hope some of us havenot forgotten her Achalaa act in the ‘Greeho Daaho’. may be you meant ‘grand-mother’ tongue 🙂

    While it is accepted that a bengali should know the language, a sort of stigma does exist for the bengali communicating at times in english or supposed ‘english’ music, films, books ….. Being called a ‘Tyaaansh’ ( a deregotary term for Anglo Indians , only heard in Calcutta)and ‘Bangla maayer anglo shontaan’ are few such examples. This is different kind of exclusion.What’s ur take on these uber-bangalis?

  85. What a serious discussion over such a non-entity! We should just laugh, and maybe sympathise, with Raima and her ilk. Actually this disease infects people in different degrees. I have heard many people introducing themselves as “Aavisheik” and “Aanirbaan” instead of “Obhishek” and “Onirban”. In fact I had to correct many people (and still do), to call me “Shourjo” and not “Souriya”. Is this reflective of an aversion to Bengali? I honestly don’t know.
    But one thing I am pretty sure of. Knowledge of English and its usage does not mean disrespect to one’s mother tongue. However, conversing in English with another fellow Bengali certainly is. I think this extends also to a corporate environment, when one is not addressing people who have a different mother tongue. Which office dictates what language we use for informal communication?
    Also I have not read much of Rabindranath. But I can recite facts from Feluda.Does that make me less of a Bengali? I think not.
    One memorable incident I remember in this context. In one quiz when I was in college I had answered a visual clue with “Indrani Dashgupto” instead of “Dasguptaa”, and I loved it! Both the expression on the quizmaster’s face, and the visual clue, of course.
    Just my dui noya poisha.

  86. @DV:

    “I am proud of you too. But unforunately to them you will always remain a funny looking coon who speaks our language (i.e ENGLISH) with an even funnier accent. Remember the whole Shetty episode?”

    No I don’t know the Shetty episode, and I don’t care. What I do care about is your view that English speaking foreigners look on us as “coons”! I am astonished because I have never experienced that anywhere, be it UK, US, or Canada on my business trips. In fact they frequently marvel at our English speaking and admit that I speak it better than them!

    Maybe they are being sarcastic and I don’t get that?

    However, I agree there will always be people who will mock our “thank you come again” accent. How is that different more more malicious than a Bengali mocking a Marwari trying to speak Bangla, or anyone else mocking Bengalis for trying to speak any other language. We all do that.

    Remember this joke? A Bengali was trying to spout shayiri (to be recited with a strrong Pranab Mukherjee accent –

    “Ham na geela karaga, na shukha karega; tum shala mat raho yehi dua karaga”

    (Hum na gilaa karenge, ne shikhwaa karange; tum salamat raho, yehi duaa karenge)

  87. Hey, why did we stop the discussion on the Anglos? Btw, to the person who said that O’Briens and Mellos are the only Anglos, the former I can understand but the latter? Mello seems like a Portuguese family name and the Portuguese as far as I can tell, didn’t intermarry – they just converted the local population. So Mello would likely be Goan Catholic which is NOT THE SAME as Anglo-Indian. As far as I can tell, the major Christian populations in India are: Goan Catholic, Mangalorean Catholic, Syrian /Orthodox Christians, NE Christians and Anglo-Indians. Perhaps Kolkatta Anglos have different names? The Anglo-Indians I knew in Bombay had names like Presgrave etc – more English names. Could be wrong though.

    I’m surprised Raima thinks that having Anglo friends is a sign of modernity. The poor Anglo-Indians have been reviled by pretty much every community in India (including the Goan and Mangalorean Catholics, sad to say).

    n!

  88. Yes. The Mellos were actually the d’Mellos. In Calcutta, there was quite a sizeable population of Portuguese descent and they prided themselves on their continental European (and not British) ancestry.

    In ‘Kim’, Rudyard Kipling mentions them as living in and around Dharamtollah Street and having flourishing family businesses.

    The poor Anglo-Indians were a social embarrassment for the Raj. For them were the posts in the Indian Railways (engine drivers and guards) and the police (the traffic sergeants). After Independence, the more ‘fair’ amongst them were allowed entry into Australia and Canada.

    I remember a Mrs Sanders, a frock-clad spry lady, who was unable to conceal the bitterness that her fair complexioned husband had blithely emigrated to Australia, leaving her to fend for herself on a tiny salary offered by a missionary school. Her skin tone was not deemed ‘white’ enough even for a tourist visa.

    On the other hand, Cyril d’Mello was a Calcutta University Blue, a sports commentator on the Akashvani and a society darling because of his impeccable manners.

    But to the ordinary daal-bhaath Bengali, any one who wore European costumes, complete with a hat…(remember Bhowani Junction?) while the women folk wore frocks, talked in chi-chi english, used a knife and fork at the table……..WAS a SHAHEB!
    And if this sahib had a ‘deep tan’ given by the ‘bloody indian sun’, why, he must be an Anglo-Indian!

  89. WARNING: Long!

    Hujur wrote

    “Atleast Brihaspati, the doyen of the Carvaka school of thought, was knowledgeable enough to construct intelligent arguments to stress the primacy of the Laukika (Materialistic/Temporal Realm) over the Astika (Belief in the Absolute) …and to his credit, Brihaspati does sound very convincing in his arguments, both in favor of a “joyous life” and against the existence of anything remotely supernatural (a la Richard Dawkins). But then, given my background and interests, I have done my fair share of studying and researching the epistemology of various schools of Hindu philosophy, including the Carvaka doctrine (not your usual quickie on google).

    “Internet slagfest”? Sheesh…. we just blew away the basic instinct and the fundamental right of the Argumentative Indian – to debate topics that we know well and withdraw gracefully when we don’t.

    Self-loathing “Modernism” among Indians comes in various shades, from a repugnance of one’s own mother-tongue to not “caring too hoots” to study a symbolic rite or philosophy before critiquing it (why bother anyway?), to a cursory, “generalized” dismissal of any seekers of the Dharmic Paths as being as “irrational” as Abrahamic cults.”

    I realize this is a pretty old thread now, but I was Googling for Carvaka references and found that this exchange struck a chord with me. Not sure if Hujur is still following any discussions on this page, but it’s just possible that my personal encounter with Lokayata philosophy and with Brhaspati’s apparent sentiments may intrigue her(?)/him(?) — or others still following this exchange.

    I’ve been a skeptic most of my life and have also been greatly interested in the most recent breakthroughs on evolution. I was very sad when Stephen Jay Gould died, because he contributed decisively to a new understanding of evolution as something that proceeds by relatively compact and discrete leaps forward, thanks to intense pressures of the moment, rather than in the more traditionally understood gradual but never-quite-halting way assumed by original pioneers in evolution like Darwin and Wallace.

    Thoughts about the practical needs of the human family have led me to concentrate on the process of socialization as central to humanity’s being able to evolve as a thriving species at all. Yes, the urges to eat or to have sex, etc., are also tied to survival, obviously. But the cohesion that the human family has developed over the millennia seems just as crucial to me and has led me, as strictly a layman, to conclude that the urge to look out for our fellow human beings and to feel empathy is just as critical to our species’ evolution as the urge to procreate, etc. This is why I now view the development of cohesive communities, all the way from the humblest village to the most sprawling global alliance, as a reflection of something just as biological/natural as the most impassioned sexual courtship.

    Consequently, I view history’s written paper trail as crucial — crucial, that is, in detailing our most significant leaps forward in humanity’s growing comprehension of that inner voice that tells us to care for our neighbor.

    The earliest (known) social reformer is the ancient Sumerian leader Urukagina, who also reformed the temples in his native Lagash to reflect his belief in his god Ningirsu as the shield and safeguard of the “widow and orphan” (the first time this phrase appears in writing), and who was the first to promulgate altruism and to introduce the concept of “freedom” (“amagi” in Sumerian) to the human comedy. His basic idea of protecting the vulnerable reappears through the millennia every time some new gutsy countercultural spin emerges on the nature of deity, whether from Buddha, Socrates, Jesus or many another theistic pioneer.

    As a skeptic myself, I was eager to uncover the earliest surviving gutsy skeptic in ancient times who (hopefully) had also addressed the social ways of his times as well, thus coupling new ideas on the cosmos with equally new ideas on society in just the way that the pioneering countercultural theists of the ancient past had always done. The earliest (known) atheist is clearly Brhaspati, the founder of the Lokayata philsophy. His original Brhaspati Sutra is lost, so his ideas survive primarily in (in chronological order) Haribhadra Suri’s Sad-Darsana-Samuccaya, Samkara’s Sarvasiddhantasamgraha and (roughly half a millennium later) Madhavacarya’s Sarvadarsanasangraha. I was delighted to learn that Brhaspati too had submitted certain countercultural notions on how we should treat each other, and I pursued translations of these three source texts with the utmost eagerness……..

    Sure enough, Haribhadra Suri cites Lokayata thinking directly as maintaining that

    “There is neither god nor liberation” [freeing from the entanglements of this world]. “This world consists of only as much as is within the scope of the senses.” “Moreover, earth, water, fire and air are the four forms of matter”, and so on. This was just what I was looking for!

    Samkara confirms much of this unequivocally skeptical take on things:

    “There is no world other than this; there is no heaven and no hell; the realm of Siva and like regions are invented by stupid impostors of other schools of thought.”

    Samkara even provides purportedly direct quotes from Brihaspati himself:

    “‘The Agnihotra ritual, the three Vedas, the triple staff, the ash-smearing, are the ways of gaining a livelihood for those who are lacking in intellect and energy.'” This even has an invigorating dash of real humor to it. Great! And the direct quote of Brihaspati himself even includes a warning on how we should regard others:

    “‘[G]ifts of gold and land, the pleasure of invitations to dinner, are devised by indigent people with stomachs lean with hunger.
    ‘The building of temples, houses for water-supply, tanks, wells, resting places, and the like, please only travelers, not others.'”

    Huh? Is this caring for one’s neighbor? Well, let’s not jump to conclusions. Let’s first see what Madhavacarya says. Even though Madhavacarya is 500 years later, he actually goes into far greater detail on Brhaspati’s own ideas than either of the other two and quotes Brhaspati directly the most often of all. Many scholars of today give greater weight to this third summary than to any other precisely because of its greater detail. Yes, one should be wary of a source text so many years later than its subject, but if its greater detail impresses scholars the most (in some cases), that probably means this summary is still worth close scrutiny.

    Madhavacarya quotes Brhaspati directly as saying “‘The Sacrifices, the three Vedas, the ascetic’s three staves,
    and smearing oneself with ashes-
    [T]hese are but means of livelihood
    for those who have no manliness nor sense.'”

    This, at least, tallies with a direct quote in Samkara. So far, so good. Any advice on proper behavior? Since there is somewhat more from Brhaspati himself here than in Samkara, that may mean that there may be at least something somewhere that reflects a more socially responsible spirit than the remarks against the hungry and against travelers that we see in Samkara:

    “‘While life remains, let a man live happily,
    let him feed on melted ghee though he runs in debt'”.

    Candidly, while I see nothing wrong with living happily, the notion that it’s O.K. to get fat and drown in debt seems almost counter-evolutionary to me. But perhaps, the fact that this is not as early a source as Samkara should make me take this with a grain of salt. Frustratingly, there is nothing anywhere in this third summary that suggests a contradiction with either the letter or the spirit of the remark against the hungry and travelers in Samkara.

    Let’s, though, keep in mind something else that might point to all of this being taken with a grain of salt as well: neither Haribhadra Suri nor Samkara nor Madhavacarya are promulgators of Lokayata philosophy, so we’re receiving this info from somewhat unsympathetic quarters. It’s true that two of these sources agree on Brhaspati’s remark about the rituals being a waste of time, so that is probably something that Brhaspati really said. But the rest?

    Both Samkara and Madhavacarya end their summations with a statement of their own, a statement apparently intended to provide a sensible rationale for this philosophy. Neither statement explicitly harks back to anything quoted directly from Brhasapati. In fact, Samkara’s ending statement comes immediately after a closing remark to a previous “paragraph”: “[S]so believes Brhaspati” explicitly referring to the last statement previous to that concerning the rituals. So Samkara’s closing statement is clearly outside any quote and is in his own voice:

    “The wise should enjoy the pleasures of this world through the more appropriate available means of agriculture, tending cattle, trade, political administration, etc.”

    Something surprising here: this is one of the more provident prescriptive sentiments in the Samkara summary, leaving the reader with a less explosive impression than from the earlier quotes.

    And the closing Madhavacarya statement also follows a similar pattern. After the notation “Iti.” signaling the conclusion of a direct Brhaspati quote, Madhavacarya closes by saying in his own voice:

    “Hence, in kindness to living beings, let’s fly to the Carvaka doctrine. Such is the pleasant conclusion.”

    Frustratingly, no other reference pointing to a general concern with other living beings can be found in any of the three summaries. I don’t know about you, but the impression I get from both these conclusions is that both writers are attempting to tame an explosive philosophy rather than demonise it. Might this mean that the most uncomfortable sentiments earlier on are most likely accurate precisely because they are uncomfortable? Let’s see: how does Haribhadra Suri close?

    “The implication of the conclusions is to be critically discussed by the intelligent.”

    To my chagrin — as both a social activist and a skeptic for most of my life — I find that Brhaspati is also the earliest (known) espouser of an entirely self-centered ethic! It’s sobering to me that the earliest (known) atheist is also the earliest (known) social isolationist.

    Of course, it’s not impossible that this uncanny pattern involving religious founders versus pionering atheists is simply a series of coincidences, but over thousands of years? Founders of religions (their bloodthirsty, frequently immoral, followers across the centuries are a separate case) introduce countercultural altruism again and again while subsequent countercultural innovators in atheism like the Greek, Critias, of a century or so later than Brhaspati, and quite a number of others in ancient and not so ancient times as well, are primarily — not exclusively, but primarily — supporters of a recurring self-centered ethic until the philosophical demographics among such countercultural atheists finally start shifting to a more socially conscientious point of view only a few hundred years ago.

    If such a self-centered ethic is indeed counter-evolutionary for humanity — and I’m reasonably sure it is — then might that mean that both altruism and belief are equally essential to any human evolution? If so, does it make sense for belief, as opposed to unbelief, to be positively evolutionary even were there no such thing as deity? Or is that supposition ultimately illogical, and would the apparent primacy of the role of belief in human evolution automatically point to deity itself (whether mono- or poly-) being also essential to human evolution and thus entirely real?

    It’s not especially comfortable for someone like me, who has kept theistic belief at arm’s length for as long as I can remember, to have to face these questions. But my bitter disappointment at the first extant atheist also being the first extant self-centered philosopher and vice versa has brought me to the point where I’m seriously wondering, how good can a wholesale skepticism really be for healthy cultural evolution? Instead of my being delighted at having finally found the earliest espousal of ideas that have characterized much of my own thinking for most of my life, the baggage these ideas come in has left me dismayed and questioning. Could I be wrong in assuming that empathy and altruism are the essential glue to humanity’s cultural evolution? Or was I wrong in expecting that the first extant atheist would also have a social conscience? And so, is atheism therefore wrong?

    Thoughts?

    Jaimini

  90. Arnab,

    reminds me of what gurudev Tagore had once said to english loving bengalis
    Tomader dekhey amaar dukhho hoye, tomra chesta koreyo engrez hotey parley naa, aar golemaley banglatao bhuley geley.
    (i feel sorry for you as you people couldnot muster being an englishmen totaly & at the end have forgotten bengali amidst all this hullabulla.)

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