To most of the finest critical minds of West, Colonialism was a necessary evil, the first portal towards a more even homogenized world. But for the Colonized, the psychological after effects and the trauma of subjugation, in all postulated merits, have not yet let them embrace the egalitarian world the apologists conveniently then envisioned. In the prospect of creating a technologically and morally advanced society, even if we ignore hierarchy of market economy, it has created a polarized world that clearly defines between the modern and the primitive, the secular and the non-secular, the scientific and the mystic, the expert and the layman, the developed and the third-world, the protected and the expendable. Nandy argues that Colonialism has not only colonized the geographical material entity but also the mind; by compelling colonized societies to modify, if not alter, their cultural priorities towards the concepts of modern West. This psychological aspect permeates into contemporary politics, rather conspicuously, even after absolute demise of empires and shift in world orders. In this book, Nandy consciously connives to uncover what Western colonialism has done to its subjects unconsciously, and the alternative language of discourse colonized Indians might have created in the process.
I know the intro sounds like the first snooze button in a long boring lecture, but I find myself ill equipped to articulate the things that I enjoyed and found enlightening during the read. Even using Nandy’s own language, which is academically tharoorized like Khilnani’s, isn’t enough to produce my thoughts and disagreements, or even appreciation towards the things I couldn’t repudiate though I wanted to. As counterproductive as it is, I had no other option but to paraphrase Nandy a bit to make myself a comprehension in this review.
“Even in opposition, the dissent remains predictable and controlled. It is possible today to opt for a non-West which in itself is a construction of the West. One can then choose between being the Orientaist’s despot, to combine Karl Wittfogel with Edward Said, and the revolutionary’s loving subject, to combine Camus with George Orwell. And for those who do not lik the choice, there is, of course, Cecil Rhodes’ and Rudyard Kiplings’ noble, half-savage half-child, compared to whom the much-hated Brown Sahib seems more Brown than sahib.”
The book is comprised of two long essays, first one of psychology of colonialism where Author examines the nature of sex, age and ideology in British India, and latter about post-colonial view of West and India. And they both speak of victims than victors, and when victors are addressed they are considered as camouflaged victims in their earlier stage of psychological decay. Nandy’s logic is interesting, which in itself is an anti-thesis for the generalized categories by which world is viewed today – a recurring element in reading. According to him, one must choose the non-modern slave over the modern master. In this choice, author denies any effort to deify suffering or moral cajoling for slave is oppressed; rather, slave represents a higher cognition for regarding his master ‘human’, whereas master’s cognition perforce reduces the salve to a ‘thing’. Modern oppression, he argues, as opposed to traditional oppression is not a battle between the self and the enemy, or the oppressor and the revolutionaries, or the god and the demons. “It is a battle between de-humanized self and the objectified enemy, the technological bureaucrat and his deified victim, pseudo-ruler and their fearsome other selves projected on to their ‘subjects’.” Though I think a detailed look into the traditional oppression, taking the time period in consideration, can render them less monochromatic, I found this take very appealing and well in line with book’s title.
“The Hindu, for instance, is aggressive while talking of pacifism, dirty in spite of his ideology of purity, materialist while preaching spiritualism, and comically Indian while trying to be Western.”
It would be safe to say that Colonialism, at least over time, wasn’t concomitant with the economic and political gains that lured Imperial empires in inception. For France and Portugal, South Asian or African colonies have consumed more than they returned, and in Manchuria, Japan constantly lost money. But that didn’t make the subjugated land any less of a colony; and from this view point, Nandy tries to show the state of mind as the primary differentia between colonizers and the colonized, where a shared culture might not find its commencement with alien rule or closure in its departure. To illustrate it, author explores the homology between sexual and political dominance, and concludes it not just as a by-product of colonialism, but after effect of the sexual stereotypes and philosophy West possessed- denial of psychological bisexuality, acceptance of dominance by men and masculinity over women and femininity. During the early British rule in India, 1757 to 1830, British middle class were not dominant in ruling culture and administration was devoid of lordly prerogatives and race based evolutionism. Though rapacious, first two Governor Generals were committed to things Indian; proselytizing was banned, and Indian laws and system of education were followed. But towards the later stages of Industrial revolution that caused the rise of middle class and British-evangelical spirit, they began to ascribe salvatory meanings to British domination. Raj began to see India as uncivilized in their ‘white man’s burden’ and Indians began to see their progress in becoming more like the British, in friendship or enmity. In this ‘identification with the aggressor’, western view of hyper masculinity began to permeate into the socio-religious-literature-art movements of India, with ‘Kshatriyahood’ (the martial portion of Indian caste system) becoming the indicator of authentic indianhood. Indian concepts of purusatva (masculinity), naritva (feminity) and klibatva (hermaphroditism) were polarized against one another and the existence of later two or any forms of androgyny were now perceived as negation of man’s unalloyed political identity. Author identifies the moral and political dilemma this transition caused, and it’s chronic after effects in colonial India through two works of Rabindranath Tagore, Car Adhyay and Gora, which were twenty seven years apart in publication. This reader was able to identify, to some extent, the suggested transition in depiction of Gods, who are getting increasingly martial, or masculine or feminine, every day against earlier androgynous ardhanarishwaran (half man half woman God).
After the psychoanalysis between sex and political identity, author explores the subsidiary homology between childhood and state of being colonized. According to Philippe Aries, the modern concept of childhood, child as an inferior immature version of adult who needs to be educated than a smaller version of adult, is a product of seventeenth century Europe. Playfulness of a child remained lovable, but, any childishness or immaturity from adults became unlovable, even savage and primitive. Also along with delegitamization of femininity and childhood, Modern Europe also undermined old age. Semitic religious elements saw or a natural aging as decay or unfolding resulting from man’s inherent sinfulness, and according to this European ideology of ‘male adulthood’, only adult male can be representative of a perfect human being. The principle of productivity and performance, axioms that drive technology even today, eventually began to replace the wisdom of grey hair and render the elderly socially irrelevant. How Nandy plugs this into the psychology of colonization was fascinating and inline with the categorization of oriental scholarship by Amartya Sen in his book- The Argumentative Indian. Western civilizing gospel that worked well in Africa and other parts of the world was a bit handicapped when it came to India and China; for they both had a living past that Europe admired for long, however strange they were from western standards, with century old tradition of literati, philosophy, art and science. To circumvent this problem, colonial ideology drew a thick line between the once glorious bygone past and its senile vestige which is the present (This remind me of AL Basham’s ‘The Wonder that was India’ with my mind getting fixated on ‘was’ part in title; on second thoughts it might be an ill placed example for this discussion considering the historical age book graciously covers). To concrete this, colonial rule asserted existence of ‘yin’ in the ‘yang’ that is traditional Indian culture and presented themselves as the liberator from ancient retrogressive elements.
Cultural response to this colonial ideology is visible even now, in present day politics and social media, where constant validation is being sought out by Indians, often creating hilarious stereotypes. Author explains it based on works by Benkim Chandra Chatterjee, the social reformer who gave us the iconic song and slogan ‘Vande Mataram’. Revival of hindiusm on reinterpretation of scriptures unknowingly borrowed its core values from colonial world view, Nandy argues. In Chatterjee’s Anandamath, Hinduism was shown as an organized religion, hero hailed from an order of sanyasis similar to semitic priesthood, with a sense of history and passive acceptance for Raj as an inevitable phenomenon. He tried to recreate the imagery of Krishna as a martial God giving wisdom to Arjuna in battlefield than the lovable playful butterthief everyone was familiar with. And further, following the Semitic creeds, there were attempts to introduce the concept of singular holy Book, linear history unlike the cycle of ages and acceptance of ideas akin to monotheism. Such school of thoughts viewed cultural regression and even subjugation, earlier by Muslims and now by British, as a result of loss of original Aryan qualities which they shared with Westerners. Author gives the popular example of Vivekananda and Dayanand on this Chritianization of Hinduism and failed example of Iswarachandra Vidyasagar on primarily Eastern, anarchic federational version. And Gandhi, who later organized Hindus as Indians, not Hindus in his open ended mass mobilization against colonialism.
The ideological damage wasn’t a single sided aspect. Though ideology of colonialism induced a false sense of cultural homogeneity in Britain and gave the Island primacy over Napoleanic France and rest of Europe, long term cultural damage to the society was greater. Social Darwinism under the colonial ideologies de emphasized speculation and reduced softer side of human nature feminine and femininity altogether into limited cultural role. This is interesting if viewed through the later history of Britain where it wasn’t until 1918 did all men have voting rights, and 1928 for women to reach there, and as far as 1969 for lowering it to 18 years. For illustrating further cultural pathologies, author tries to reflect the ethical-religious responsibility and critic for totalitarianism through works of two British authors with Indian roots- Kipling and Orwell. Those who didn’t belong to or rebel out of this hyper masculine over socialized aspects of European personality were ostracized (classic example being Oscar Wild) and some, like Sister Nivedita, Annie Besant, Mira Behn found in Indian, a greater tolerance for androgyny, better legitimacy for women participation and mode for dissent. It will be a stretch and probably wrong to bring contemporary aspects to this argument – by binging early and continuing presence of women in political representation in South Asian nations than Western counterparts – but the idiot in me is yearning to do so. Nandy’s essay ‘Woman versus Womanliness in India’ can give a better picture about the difference in female participation in Western and Eastern society.
“Gandhi was a living antithesis set up against the thesis of the English”
The foremost and most creative response to this western modernity came from victims, in the form of Gandhi, who became the living symbol of the ‘other West’. His definition of ‘Swarajya’ was self-realisation, by liberating Indians from the British, in the realm of history and psychology. In his critique against modernity, through the idea of Non Violence (Nonviolence cannot be construed as an original Indian concept, Gandhi himself attributed Sermon on the Mount as his point of reference, and was influenced by the other marginalized West who had no place in colonial social construct, the likes of Thoreau or later Tolstoy), he wanted to liberate English as well as Indians. He challenged the existing neo stratification – superiority of masculinity over femininity and that of womanliness over femininity in men. Against the hyper masculinity or Khatriyahood, the forte of colonial ideology, Gandhi borrowed the tradition of saintliness in India- the divine bi-unity, superiority of ability to transcend the dichotomy of man-woman. He further elevated the essence of femininity over that of masculinity, implications of which can easily be lost by someone applying the framework of western definition. In Indian female identity, maternity has primacy over conjugality, and female principle is more powerful, dangerous and uncontrollable, like the Goddess Shakti and other manifestations. Thus he completely negated western cosmology and Khatriya world view, the colonial culture that was built on ability for violent activism. His principle of non-violence was not merely non-violence of the weak, but non-violence of the strong- liberation of courage in activism from aggression by being non-violent while having the means to be violent (Gandhi’s response to Arms Act would be the best example). Gandhian worldview also opposed the western or modern academic conception of history, a chronology of good and bad events with dis-junctions of revolution that defines a nation. History when seen as the authentic reality in this sense reduces ‘myths’ as pseudo history and cultures that follow them as primitive. In Gandhian view, ahistoricity affirmed dignity and autonomy of modern people, for unlike history, myths allow no strings attached access to processes which constitute history, and hence widen human choice than restricting them. It allows real time hold on present without any need to avenge the past. On the other hand, as rightly demonstrated in Independent India by the Hindu Right, historicization of myths can cause serious fissures in secular fabric and greater false pride to avenge the past.
“Gandhi’s concept of a free India, his revolution for racial, caste and inter religious conflicts and his concept of human dignity were remarkably free from the constraints of history. If the past does not bind social consciousness and future begins here, the present is the ‘historical’ moment, the permanent yet shifting point of crisis and the time for choice”.
In the second essay, author takes his psychoanalysis to the post-colonial view, of both India and the West. It gets into the nitty gritty details of Kipling’s life in relation with his literary view, and the materialistic obfuscations of internal critiques like Nirad C Chaudhuri and V.S.Naipaul, who in their loss, wanted to identify India as a martial opponent to the West. Nandy’s polar opposite is Aurobindo Ghose, who denounced his western middle name and western education to embrace India as India, not the non-West. To the former Orient should defeat the Occident in its own game by embracing ‘this-worldiness’ of Kshatriyahood, and to the latter the already superior ‘Spiritual India’ was the real India. Though pluralities of ideologies are always accommodated, this split is in present continuous tense, and when everything material fails people retract to the spiritual self for answers. This made me recall the title of Edward Luce’s book on modern Indian economy – Inspite of the Gods, a vocal affirmation to the notion that religion and technological progress cannot coexist except in rare exceptions. The major western worldview separates both philosophies, with conspicuous hierarchy and exclusivity. And this is where Gandhi stands as an original critique to modernity. He attacked the moral statement and civilizing mission of colonialism based on cultural superiority in their home ground-by declaring it evil through judgement via Christian values. And he further disproved the historical conception of colonization as an instrument of progress using western conception of ‘history’ itself. Gandhi endorsed a non-modern Indian cognition that viewed western model unsuitable for both parties, with its unequal distribution of power and social hierarchies.
“there are many kinds of failures, some of which succeed.”
A Passage to India, EM Foster
Idea of India was always compromising, fluidic and in a way ahistoric, with tolerance and willingness to learn the ways of outsider or civilized, provided its profitable. It would be more correct to put this aspect as something out of necessity than intrinsic trait, a survival strategy that keeps somewhat dynamic boundary conditions, to preserve one’s self-image. Here the ‘Spiritual India’ maintains pragmatism even with its weak grasp on reality and provides ductility over brittleness of egoistic identity. I can’t say I have grokked this unfathomable unheroic Indian response, and to the occident in me and you, these questions may offer more clarity than the answers author provides for them.
“But the question remains why every imperial observer of the Indian society has loved India’s martial races and hated and felt threatened by the rest of the India’s ‘effeminate’ men willing to compromise with the victors?
What is it in the latter that has aroused such antipathy?
Why should they matter so much to the conquerers of India if they were so trivial?
Why could they so effortlessly become the antonymous of their rulers?
Why have many modern Indians shared this imperialist estimation?
Why have they felt proud of those who gought out and lost, and not of those who lost out and fought?”
Nandy’s take on post-colonial literature reminded me of the permeation of romanticism of tragedy into Indian literature/movie scene and sensationalism getting accoladed in unwarranted places. Tragedy in literature as we know now had no precedence in classical Indian traditions; for, tragedy didn’t revolve around the final defeat of ungodly here, but rather in the majestic sweep of time and unavoidable decay that affected everyone, God-demon, mighty-humble alike. If we can compartmentalize complex characters and open dialogue between different philosophies out of discussion, it would be safe to assume that Tradition of tragedy of Greek theater entered in its might to Indian sub culture through European colonialism. And even after half a century, it is reflected in the typecasted National Award winning movies. More than their narrative brilliance or technological marvel, the decisive metric for award mostly is its social value. I am not saying that it is necessarily a bad thing, but a movie or book stands a better chance at being recognized if story ends or follows tragic path, than something uplifting or positive or anything that isn’t gloomy. Of course, this pattern has a lot to do with representation of contemporary ill practices and marginalized societies that are reduced like anomalies in modernity. Still, the empowering emotion in the winning piece is romantic sympathy than empathy, with the accepted notion of finding beauty in tragedy and divinity in suffering.
Colonialism might have opened secular hierarchies previously incompatible with traditional orders; its effect on cultural revives should also be acknowledged alongside the cultural baggage it brought up. But it would still be wrong to attribute all the secular elements as predominantly western, for India as a civilization has thrived on an argumentative culture that accepted and assimilated various opposing philosophies to its stream. But, Like Tagore says, it should not be a obstacle for accepting the proven good elements from other civilizations, by the stupid logic that they aren’t Indian enough. Unlike the ‘melting pot’ scenario of America where a dominant culture overtakes the less fortunate sub stratas though by popular choice, In South Asia and more specifically Indian case, culture continuous as ‘salad bowl’ or more specifically ‘thali meals’ where several separate identities coexist in the civilization enriching each other without losing their distinct essence. The post-colonial insecurity for validation and anxiety for separate nationality acceptable to the western norms, exists in modern India; and manifests itself through absurd political claims and orthodox logics. Recent efforts of Hindi imposition , compulsion of National Anthem in theaters, branding every expression of dissent anti national, construction of unwarranted statues, glorification of martial historical figures, direct and indirect forcing of religious logic into other fields under the excuse of ‘preservation of culture’, rising religious fanaticism aimed at righting the wrongs done centuries ago etc. are perverted efforts to make the salad bowl into a melting pot. Nandy’s analysis, in my eyes, doesn’t offer any counterpoise or solution, but a better understanding into its psychology and even better understanding on the reasons for their continuous failure in disrupting the cultural fabric.
The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism comprises of two parts, or rather two essays,
- The Psychology of Colonialsim : Sex, Age and Ideology in British India
- The Uncolonized Mind : A Post-Colonial view of India and the West
I would also like to give a shout out to the essay ‘History, Change and Permanence: A Classical Indian Perspective’ by Madhav Deshpande that examines the superimposition of Western notion of history on Eastern culture.