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An opportunity for reconciliation, not triumphalism

Modernity has failed and modernism is in disguise a realm of Occident versus Orientals.
12:00 AM Feb 06, 2024 IST | Prof Ashok Kaul
an opportunity for reconciliation  not triumphalism

Professor Harish Chander Srivastava would teach us Sociological Theory. One of the finest teachers we had in the university - straightforward, scholarly and profound. After joining the faculty, I would often go to his house for evening conversations.


Despite a few of his disciples would not wish him to discus academics with me, he was rather fond of me and would discuss subtleties of social theories. One evening, he was discussing the newly published book 'The Image of Man’  with one of his younger colleagues, when I entered his room. It was a fascinating sitting, but to my shock my colleague lied to me that he had received the message that I had a badminton match in the university club, so I must go. It was just avoidance. I understood and left.


I had no grumbling about it. For, such humiliations were part of your existence, if you were not a permanent employee in a university system. I had been for seven years a temporary lecturer, a long duration of embarrassment and sufferings.  This I suffered, because, I had not four first classes in my career. In Kashmir, one would hardly get a first class, if one would be studying Arts subjects. That was not the case outside Kashmir, where marks would pour in easily.

This perhaps was in the mind of my professor that once I would become permanent teacher, I would academically unnerve most of my critics, for their first classes were first classes on paper. It happened in the subsequent years that I could gain quickly my lost ground of years, once I became a permanent teacher. He was a great support and consolation in sad, disturbing times.


His aura was a philosophical presence and conversations would run like brook from his mind, bright and appealing. One day he told me graciously that I should not mind what others had to say to me or about me. Our life from morning till night is a concurrence of humiliations and sufferings, so be with it and regain yourself. He was in a sense a lonely person. His observations were that even the close associates, generally with whom one stays, cannot be harbingers.


Your spouse, your colleague and your neighbors remain your censors, despite enjoying close bond. It is here that there is existential falsity. You do not draw an identity from this universe. It is rigid, a mindset unresolved, for it is a frame of reference in comparisons. Unfortunately, all the three are your bitter critics. It becomes source of your identity that already is met with split.


You are vulnerable in your reflections. Spouse would never be pleased with your utility value, whatever you do for him or her. Neighbor would think that you the other and source of encroachment, lacking in religiosity. And the colleague would allege you that you were the cause of his or her sufferings. This is a competitive era, where you are tested every moment to produce results, out-smarting other and taking care of yourself. That is why identity formation is fragile.


Always around in a universe of relativity, it is competing and contesting unendingly, without being perfect. Identity cannot be an anchor, for it itself is not consistent. It is happening with imagined nationalism, if you lack the inner spirituality.

Therefore, you need faith to give meaning to your existence that you can draw from within. Without any schism between thought and deed, the actions are in consonance with your valued estimations. Its source is lived accumulative organic cultural capital, wherefrom you draw your spirituality. Human memories, encompassing diversities in dignity and compassion are its essences.

True, the present visual global world has mitigated three sources of your pain and pleasure. There are hardly any conversations and communications, which used to be with your spouse, with your neighbor or with your colleague. You feel you can outsmart them and lessen your burden of familiarity through secondary group communication systems.

The social media, electric gadgets, mobiles and computers might have mitigated their presence in your life, but your sufferings are not lessened, as presumed to be. For, in multitude acquaintances, you do not have one to be relied upon. Our identity planks are essentially fragile to give us any sate of welfare and security. The world Order needs civilization repositories to be explored with consensus. Modernity has failed and modernism is in disguise a realm of Occident versus Orientals.

Professor Harish ji is no more with us. I do not know what he had to say now, but the fact is that the identity formation is a continuous quest. If cut from spirituality, it goes in the realm of politics of identity that divides humanity into contesting pieces. It is what is happening in today’s world. Politics of identity has made the realm of power and domination its plank. Hence it is causing suffering and bloodshed in the world, unprecedentedly.

India is a different country. Its social kernel is based on philosophical discourses that have produced the gluing knots of its civilization journeying. The metaphors of its strength lie in its consensus, historical agencies and their capacities to make alterations in the structure of the society. The embodiment of this historical chain present these mythical or real heroes, like  Rama, Krishna, Lal Ded, Nund Reshi, Buddha, Kabir, Nank and Gandhi, who  have capacities to invoke reformations in the existing structures. It invokes collective faith without affectation, impositions and restrictions of religiosity. It brings continuity of journeying together in treading the paths and accepting broader understanding for marching ahead.

Their pilgrimages are collective symbols of our historical continuity. It is a narrative of incorporating ‘Multiple- Modernity’, which can save the humanity from the guilt of meaninglessness. It is just a plunge into the cultural river; the Ganges. Immersed in celebration of historical memory and its symbolic representation, diversity is blending without framing ‘self and the other’.

Faith is a plank to spirituality. Gandhi ji would draw his spirituality from Hari  Bajans and from the identified Hindu traditions, which were organically glued in the civilization journeying. Ram is its civilization kernel, a metaphor that can give meaning from point to its circumference cutting time-space contextual distinctions. Ram temple revival should be taken in that stride.

It is a respect for our Hero, honor to ‘Imam e Hind’, a space for reconciliations and movement round togetherness for dignity, parity, justice and self actualization. It is spiritual capital that becomes a collective as well individual anchor, which is not a fragile identity, but sustainable with   time’s tests, its inner actualization.

The ideal type Ram is a perfect purified personal conduct, what Gandhi ji says ‘if you want a change, then change yourself first’. There is no ritualism or religiosity attached to it. Hence, Prime Minister Modi’s ownership of this capital repertoire, which can encompass diversity with parity, dignity, security and sustainability, is new mantra for nationalism; technically invoking cultural strength, but in actuality, governance with ownership and accountability.

This unbelievable spectacle at Ram Janambhumi is a historical moment to the legitimacy that Ram is our civilization hero, manifesting of righteousness, compassion, trusteeship, parity and strength. It does not give you name or codifications for outside manifestations, but invokes your inner spirituality with outside circumference.

There is consensus in contesting communities, who otherwise are seeking share in power and resources that Ram is  ‘Imam E Hind’, an image of ‘Muryada purshotam’, the Preserver of the cherished traditions.  Gandhi ji, looked to be utopian, but he proved an agency in History, round which structures altered for national transformation.

If diversities are given dignity, what else is then sustainable nationalism and just governance? It is here that there is no exclusive triumphalism of the event, but a serious and sensible message for inclusive reconciliation to reinvent our civilizational strength in togetherness of historical journeying that will define our secularism in lived religion, where respect for personal religion and faith remains intact. No impositions, but willful acceptance of shared cultural symbolism.

Prof. Ashok Kaul, retired Emeritus Professor Sociology, Banaras Hindu University