Saturday, September 20, 2008

Macaulay’s Children

Sunil K Poolani

When the commissioning editor of this magazine called me at 11am asking me to write this piece, after reading a news report mentioning two Indians have been included in this year’s Man Booker shortlist, I was fast asleep: after a night-long, neck-wracking work. I said, Yes, slit-eyed. When I woke up, I cursed myself, Oh! Why did I ever commit to do that? But promise is a promise, and here I go.... And, readers, you asked for it.
Convent-educated I am, as my parents were somewhat affluent; and I learnt a language that is now spoken and written in most of the civilised world (whatever it means). The Brits conquered most of the world in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and thrust this language, for their own benefit, down the throats of the gullible, especially those people, dumb in most cases they are, who did not have the luxury of weapons or any other means. So we learnt this great language, with great pomposity and glamour and people like the bhadralok Bengalis and Madrasi Brahmins took it as a status symbol, a feather in their cap, to escape from their the then-existent despondent lives.
Then the worst happened. We (now, I only include Indians in this category) started writing in this foreign tongue. And, the ever-grinning firangis wanted this: someone to lap up what they had shat behind. Thus manufacturing Macaulay’s Children. Nirad C Chaudhuri was one of the firsts to believe that the English way is the best in the world to live by. Not all were, to be frank, subscribed to that theory. R K Narayan, Raja Rao, Mulk Raj Anand and Kamala Markandaya did break the barriers to write in and write to the western audiences in their own language, without breaking away from the very Indian psyche and spirit.
So far, so fine. Then? Then came Salman Rushdie. He wrote — with tremendous success — Midnight’s Children. A path-breaking work, no doubt. Destroying the till-then norms of how not to write the Victorian, stiff-upper-lip, politically-correct English, and, to the Brits’ bafflement, chutnifying the English. The book did wonders and spawned hopes among thousands of aspirants in the Indian subcontinent. Till today there are few successful writers from this part of the world who could match Rushdie’s oeuvre. What did he achieve? Fame. Money. Fatwa.
No one could emulate Rushdie’s success story. Then descended a dame called Arundhati Roy, writing a mediocre novel called The God of Small Things. Hello, by then the global geopolitics had changed, for good or bad. India was no longer held a pariah. In India existed a great market; one of the biggest English-reading markets where the West can peddle their wares. (Why do you think India got so many Miss Worlds and Miss Universes? Is it because all of our damsels suddenly started looking sexy? No, dummy, just because here was a market for multinational fairness creams.)
Same thing happened in Indian writing in English. So, how do you get attention and reap in profits when the massive book publishing from the US and the UK has to be unleashed in this country? By awarding Indian writers, of course. Suddenly this over-inflated Man Booker Prize started short-listing or/and occasionally awarding their ‘great’ award to some of our mediocre writers. Kiran Desai, one to get celebrated recently, is an example. And mediocrity cannot stop there: a Pulitzer award to Jhumpa Lahiri, too.
It is all about market, honey. So when Rushdie, though he won the Booker of Booker for the second time this year for Midnight’s Children, has been dumped now, Amitav Ghosh and Aravind Adiga have been included among themselves in the final six novelists this year.
To give their respective honours, both Ghosh and Adiga write well and their works are good by any international standard. Should we complain, then? Shouldn’t we rejoice? Pick your choice. Some questions crop up, nevertheless. Why should we be overjoyed by some western award that is thrust upon us? A Ghosh or Adiga would not have been in our vocabulary if they were not promoted (for all the materialistic reasons) by the firangi critics. When will we improve? We will not.
Why? Giving Rushdie and Ghosh their due credit for the way they effervescently write in whatever language they might have imbibed, one thing is straight: we, Indians, have a rich literature which is still unsurpassed by any new-fangled European language. We should be, and have to be, proud of the great literary traits some of our stalwarts in Indian languages have left behind: be it in Bengali, Punjabi, Malayalam, Hindi or even Konkani.
We do not need any recommendations from and by any ex-colonialists and neo-imperialists. They, today, depend on us. But, we still think ‘good’ is better only if it comes from the west. What a pity.

Sunil K Poolani is Executive Director and Publisher, Leadstart Publishing Pvt Ltd, Mumbai. Write to him at: poolani@gmail.com
-- Sahara Time

4 comments:

abha said...

From one Macaulay's child to another, truer words could not have been put better.

fleuve-souterrain said...

After this post I thought we still had home to live and grow as Indian writers nurtured at home... then I read about the release of a new book called the zoya factor, and man, what crap is being promoted? of course the writer's pedigree is good!

Now I'm sure my manuscript on the backwaters of Maoist Bihar won't ever be read.

Anonymous said...

dear sri sunil k. poolani good morning.i am sudheer from hyderabad,working as senior officer in govt, sector.i also write poetry and short stories as a hobby.I published a couple of books too. I am reading your articles in deccan chronicle for the last two weeks .they are very good and also informative.These facts can not be known to people unless persons like you reveal it.please keep wrtting it.
I need some information from you.would you pl let me know the periodicals/magazines which accept and print short stories so that I can send my stories.
with regards
Jaladi Sudheer (jr_sudheer@yahoo.com)

Anonymous said...

How British Dominated Us (The Macaulay’s Children)

Satya Sista

I did not think that I would be drawn in to introspection so soon once again on the same topic, till I read what Macaulay said about Indians and the way, the Brits conspired to break the very core of the Indian conscience and existence. While going through frogbooks blog “How British Dominated Us” and Lord Macaulay’s Address to the British Parliament on 02 February, 1835, I had got an insight in to how Macaulay had showered praises upon Indians, keenly observed our weakness for anything western and plotted the best way to turn our society in to mental slavery. The praises reminded me of the patriotic songs, which we have consciously decided to air only twice a year, which depict our forgotten virtues, values and its nostalgic golden era. It also reminded me of our various folklores, epics and history full of valor and sacrifice. The net result was that I was filled with remorse, with my soul stirring, stomach churning, mind reeling and my heart full of anger and disappointment.

“If only the British did not set foot on the Indian soil”, I thought. “India would have been on top of the World Map, in every sphere. Its great inventions and practices in Astronomy, Geography, Medicine, Surgery, Astrology, Education, Spirituality, Philosophy, Aviation, Prose and Poetry would have retained their prominence and probably one of our most widely used language would have become the global language. If not for our penchant and crave for English in the early days of British rule, we would still be teaching our children Tulsi Das’s Dohas or Vemana Satakams or Sumati Satakams, couplets from Gurbani or equivalent literature of other faiths in their infancy rather than Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Jack and Jill went up the hill , Johny Johny, yes papa etc, which have no relevance to our heritage, culture and ethos. Let alone in our imagination, they do not fall anywhere near our wildest of the dreams. Our Santiniketans and Gurukuls would have been still in vogue and our rich tradition of Guru, Shishya relationship would have been revered till date”.

Thinking so filled me with sadness and I thought “If we were destined to become the children of Macaulay, how can my introspection and thinking change it?”. I know I can not undo the damage, but …… But, what went wrong with our society which was described as one which had no thieves, no beggars and was full of values, culture and conscience, to embrace an alien language, a distant culture, way of thinking and living so easily as a snake changes its skin? How could it bury its great languages, literature, knowledge and conscience so easily as if it was not its own blood? How could some of our forefathers plot the down fall of each other in favor of the intruders, forsaking their belief in brotherhood and sacrifice? How was the resistance put up by some of the true Indians overshadowed by the western influence? Were our values, culture and heritage only skin deep, waiting for someone from a foreign land to come and anoint it with some of their own white skin and make us thick skinned?”

The more I think, the sadder I become and my eyes, even when filled with a layer of tears, can clearly see the effects of what Macaulay did to us. He has succeeded in changing not only our education system but everything we call Indian. The English education nevertheless took our thinking and our countrymen to distant lands but also succeeded in distancing one Indian from another, children from their parents and our country from grass roots development and even distribution of well being. Any one clad in Indian ethnic dress and speaking in chaste regional language is despised and branded as “Desi”, whereas, someone dressed in western attire and capable of speaking in English is given a seat of respect. Macaulay has helped us in turning our face away from our own self. The very society, where greed and theft were unknown, has stooped to such low levels where corruption, mudslinging and personal gains have risen to the highest pedestal. There would be no answer, if someone were to ask “How did such drastic changes take place in such a short period?”.We continue to sink, singing praise of everything Western.

The story does not end here. If we were sold to Macaulay in the field of education and the resultant areas in the bygone era, presently we find ours deeply indebted economically to other western nations and from foot wear to headgear, from land to air and from food for the stomach to food for the soul, we are western, western and western. Only solace is that we are living on the Indian soil. We are proud to dawn bandanas printed with stars and stripes, wear Bermudas again printed in stars and stripes, but do not know our National Anthem from beginning to end. We proudly wear T Shirts displaying “ Chicago Bulls “ “NY Lakers”, etc, but hardly put on or display something which makes us proud of our Nation. Some of us are in the habit of neglecting own kith and kin throughout the year and have the audacity to celebrate Mothers’ Year, Fathers’ Year etc once a year. Why should we dump our own culture and ape the western world?

If Macaulay and his friends have succeeded in breaking the very backbone of our culture and spirituality, it is our duty to rise as one and prevent its total erosion. Let us rekindle whatever little glimmer of hope is alive and try to bring back our lost glory.

With the above, as my home grown food for thought, I started thinking of ways and means to contribute in my own little way and light up the imagination of the fellow Indians.

Satya Sista
snsista@rediffmail.com