Culture germs in Doctor Mahesh Sharma’s clinic
The very strength of our culture has been openness; the votaries of Hindutva themselves have repeated it to the point of cliché.
- Total Shares
Of all the recent utterances by the minister for culture and tourism, Mahesh Sharma, the one about “contamination” of Indian culture is the most worrisome.
Social media has fried black his other statements, like calling the mob murder of a Muslim man in Dadri over beef “an accident” or frowning on girls’ nights out, but politicians everywhere say such crass stuff to keep large sections of supporters happy. This is unsurprising and facile; damaging, but aimed at short-term gains.
But when a politician talks about setting right “vaicharik pradushan” or pollution of thought and promises to embark on cultural cleansing, what he says must be examined closely.
Sharma is a relatively new entrant to politics and has done remarkably well for himself in a short time. He does not have the stature or reason to make these statements on his own, going against his mentors, who happen to be the nation’s ruling establishment.
Which makes his use of the word “pollution” or “contamination” disturbing.
The very strength of our culture has been openness. The votaries of Hindutva themselves have repeated it to the point of cliché that this land has embraced and integrated different people, religions and customs into its way of life.
Swami Vivekananda famously said in his Chicago piece, “We have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny.” And about “fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation”, for instance.
Discourse after discourse, he drew, compared and cited from other cultures, whether it was about ancestor worship among Egyptians, Babylonians, Christians and others or some other subject.
Nowhere does “cultural pollution” feature.
Even RSS icon and thinker Deendayal Upadhyaya’s philosophy of integral humanism extends the journey of an individual’s broadening consciousness beyond family, community and nation to humanity, universe and parameshthi, or the universal soul.
Upadhyaya, in fact, warns against glorifying and living entirely in the past. “We do not consider that everything old is gold. We do not wish to be the guardians of an archeological museum. Our duty is not merely to protect our culture but to make it dynamic and efficient.”
It is indisputable that India’s past needs much greater focus, deeper research, and wider dissemination free of colonial guilt or Marxist monopoly. We need funds and fellowships to attract the brightest minds for such research. We need our school curricula to reflect a lot more about our knowledge traditions.
But Mahesh Sharma, any individual, group or government can’t decide what our culture should be, just as logs or pebbles don’t decide the course of a river. What he calls pollution is really assimilation.
By his definition, the entire emerging global culture is “contaminated”. Our PM can’t get a Facebook or Google to be part of Digital India without letting that ocean of contaminated water in. In fact, it has been there, no government has the power to drain that water out.
Not only is it impossible to take India back to its past (glorious it may have been), but it is destructive to even try. We know what cultures that tried to remove “pollution” and revert to an imagined, pristine existence hundreds of years ago have done to themselves.
But we can bring our past to our present and future by honest research. We can pick up unfinished threads in the quest of knowledge, take lessons from mistakes, and equip ourselves for the future. We must acquire tradition, as TS Eliot says, instead of blindly inheriting it.
From Hellenistic influences in architecture and coins to Persian inscriptions to Islamic domes and delicacies to a whole new language from the Brits, Indian culture has absorbed it all without losing its Indianness. It only got stronger and has survived the longest.
Mahesh Sharma is an accomplished doctor. He should not see contamination where there isn’t.