Ramachandra Guha’s Brahminical Castelessness and Other Things
There is a thin line between being opinionated, and being prejudiced. Ramachandra Guha crosses this line quite effortlessly. He claims to be liberal and enlightened. But Saudi-religious-police-style ethnic and religious profiling of detractors is his scholarly pursuit, stereotyping them is his hobby. I still remember the newspaper column in which he denounced Punjabis because his Punjabi landlord allegedly stole electricity from his meter. That was Guhaite logic in its elemental crudity for you:
A. This guy stole from me
B. He is a Punjabi
C. From A and B it follows that Punjabis are evil
Most astonishingly, Guha thinks heckling and school-boyish putdowns constitute a valid form of argument. (Check out his repeated invocations to “cow’s milk” in his latest Outlook magnum opus). Here’s a guy who though in mid-50′s, can’t get rid of college-dorm left-wing polemic from his system. No wonder the UPA government honored him with a Padmabhushan. But I am rambling. On to the point.
The said magnum opus is an excerpt from Guha’s forthcoming book. Outlook doesn’t tell us if this is one contiguous extract or a carefully-sampled collection of strewn-about pearls of wisdom. This confusion arises because there is no discernible logic beneath its structuring into four parts, which could well have been two or seventeen expounding the same grand connecting theme (“Hindutva cyber-ogre and the existential threat it poses to world order”). I say this by way of explaining why my deep analysis of these four chapters to follow mirrors this structure.
Part One (In which Guha lets you know why he is superior to you ordinary people)
1. Guha was born in a “broad-minded” brahmin family
2. His father never wore a skullcap or a cross
3. His father’s fourth cousin fought the caste system bitterly, and beamed his anti-caste glory down the family tree directly on to Guha
4. His mother’s brother married a Maori tribeswoman
5. Despite all of this, Guha himself remains a Hindu (thank him for the favor), the sort of a Hindu who is better than even the twice-born
Ok, I admit I exaggerated slightly, having been carried away by the Guha bug I was bitten by (college hostel rhetoric). It was not skullcap that his dad proudly un-wore; it was the sacred thread. And his mother’s brother married a German, not a Maori woman. Etc. But seriously, I don’t get the point of Guha’s self-dabba (“own-trumpet-blowing”, for the uninitiated). Guha seems to want to claim that he is a cool, casteless brahmin, but I only see a cringe-inducing apology for having been born a brahmin. I conjecture that in his younger days, he was beaten up (figuratively speaking) by his Commie cohorts for his brahmin background, because brahminism is the #1 ace up commie ideologue’s sleeve for putting his brahmin opponents on the defensive (a trick the commies learned from Raj-era missionaries). So deciding to take the Bull by the horn, Guha turned anti-Cow (am I mixing metaphors?), bashed brahminism even more noisily than his Marxist pals, explained to them why he is not like those other brahmins, applied for exemption for himself from their regularly scheduled program of brahmin-bashing and pleaded to be taken into their Leftwing fraternity as one among the equals. If this is how it all played out, I am not impressed by Guha’s brahminical castelessness.
Part Two (In which Guha lays a claim to victimhood and lays out the contours of Hindutva email conspiracy)
In this section Guha produces three emails he allegedly received allegedly from Hindutva ideologues. (On the internet no one knows you’re a dog, but Guha can smell Hindutva types across his broadband connection). These emails definitely vicitmize the reader: mostly with bad grammar and incoherence. They also do a Guha on Guha, labeling him as this or that. This predictably makes Guha angry. There’s nary a labeller and name-caller in the whole world who can dish it out and can also take it; don’t expect Guha to be an exception. Stung by the misery the emails inflict, Guha goes on to lament that though only ten percent of his output bashes Hindutva forces, it is this ten percent that the Forces latch on to. But — this is what I find bizarre — he doesn’t ask and answer the obvious question: why? If only he had asked this question and explored the answer in the broad-minded fashion of his illustrious ancestors, he would have hit upon several possibilities, two of which I mention below.
1. Guha gets the reaction he does because he trolls. Yes. Look at social media. Trolls always manage to bait most successfully. I know a left-winger whose sole purpose in life is to get on to the net and get off on the reaction to his trolling. There is nothing surprising about strong political views attracting strong responses. Misrepresentation and mischaracterization, perceived or real, are bound to draw the affected party out. After all, what is Guha’s long rant about? That his critics would not see him as he sees himself : casteless son of a brahmin mother whose brother married a non-brahmin German.
2. “The first-rate hire the first-rate, the second-rate hire the third-rate”: this dictum from the corporate world has a wider application. For instance: First-rate writers gain first-rate critics and second-rate writers end up with spammers. Guha needs to introspect as to why his detractors love getting on his nerves.
Throughout our scholar’s rant, not for a fleeting moment you get the impression that he is capable of turning the gaze inward. Instead, he applies his superior intellect and analytical skills to unmasking the villain, who,
…gets up before dawn, has a glass of cow’s milk, prays to the sun god, and begins scanning cyberspace for that day’s secular heresies
… and is a brahmin or a bania, wearing a thread, whose second cousin did not marry an African. Wah. What insight. Guha the intellectual surely bestrides the world like a colossus.
The question on your mind is: if our scholar has such contempt for his critics, why can’t he just click the Spam button and move on? Here’s my speculation as to why: because even the crudest of his Hindutva missive-writers manage to deliver a blow that somewhere in his subconscious hits home and makes him swear vengeance, his sniggering notwithstanding.
Part Three (In which Guha does the Aakar Patel routine)
Mr Patel specializes in caste. Guha transcends caste, and descends into gender, place of birth and town of residence. In fact, it is quite amazing what Guha can do. In his own words:
“The sociological background of the Hindutva hate-mailer can be partially reconstructed from his name …”
Now you know why it is “Guha” and not “Iyer” — so that you can’t play the game he can. What sort of sociological background information can you gather from a name like “Guha”? Even Aakar Patel would be stumped. But a “Gupta”? You know where to slot a Gupta. Baniaaaaa! Bad guy!
Guha seems to see caste when he sees human beings. (And he thinks all Rao’s are of same caste; brahmin perhaps). Evidently, he excludes friends from this caste-profiling. He doesn’t spill the beans on why upper caste cliques dominate that mutual-patronage racket known as “mainstream media”. Guha is a favorite on the TV channel that (some say deliberately) botched Cash4Votes scam coverage. Whenever this channel manufactures one of those top-ten lists, (“Top Ten Bollywood Item Songs in Indian History”), Guha is bound to have pride of the place as resident expert on history. What caste does the surname “Sardesai” suggest to you? How about “Ghose”? “Dutt”? “Mehta”? “Goswami”? “Kasturi”? “Chatterjee”? See what I mean? Our casteless brahmin never calls any of his media and publishing buddies out by their caste! This world is dominated not just by upper-castes, but by baba-log types who got there for reasons other than skill and merit, and the scholar has nothing to say about it all simply because it is not in his professional interest. Surprising, no?
I find not Guha’s hypocrisy, but the man’s wholesale obliviousness to it, simply galling. How can anyone be so thick-skinned! He caste-profiles you only if you are a detractor, not if you’re a useful pal or a media accolyte!
Anyways, to get back to the point, we are in Part Three. If you are looking for the mandatory Narendra Modi mention, you will find it here, in Part Three. A little surprise is in store for you. Guha doesn’t vent brahminical bile on OBC Modi.
In this section, he also makes a claim which I agree with: that the Hindutva types lack sense of humor. (They are very similar to left-wingers in this regard). But I am astounded to see Guha claim that _he_ has a sense of humor. Really! He is humorous at times, agreed, but is that humorousness an intended effect? Go look up in Outlook the example he produces as illustrative of the funny bones in his body.
Part Four (In which Guha offers scholarly analyses of five Hindutva emails)
The first email stands out as an example of Guha’s sense of humor. It is from a guy who, Guha suspects, was paid by his employer in saffron-colored, lotus-shaped dollars. (Hint: humor. You may laugh). What is this jibe at? That the guy lived in the US. There you go. Guha’s inner Aakar straining at the leash again: now that he has nailed the opponent on caste, he has to move on to his place of residence. But Guha the casteless brahmin himself, however, is not obliged to boycott The Hindu, which remains firmly under brahminical control.
The second email is declared by Guha to be demonic, so I will not talk much about it. The third email, he tells us, is from a bully who is bullying him with demands for an apology. Of course, Guha is not going to be cowed down by guys who start their day out west in cowboy country with Cow’s milk. So the fourth exhibit is about triumphal paranoia. Wait, let me get that right. I think it actually sounds more dangerous. Yes it does. Paranoid Triumphalism.
The fifth one is most interesting because — you guessed it — it bears a resounding brahmin name. I can visualize Guha’s eyelids twitch, adrenaline pump up, nerves stiffen and pulse quicken, as he spotted this brahmin name in his in-box. Because BrahminName = comprehensive insider knowledge on socio-economic-cultural background of the name’s owner. So Guha proceeds to make mince-meat of this casteful brahmin.
Thus end four riveting parts.
What to make of this Email Exhibition? Guha gets worked up by silly emails, in my opinion. Anybody vocal on the net receives his share of flame-baits. I do. I am not claiming to be an equal of the intellectual giant that Guha is. I actually mean to say the opposite: that not being an important person unburdens me of the need to restrain myself from out-trolling trolls. What excuse does intellectual giant Guha have? Given how he quotes from the emails at length, and how, in fact, he has preserved them over the years (to put them all into a book!) I suspect that in reality he likes these “Hindu fundamentalist groups”. They serve a purpose for him. Does he sense kinship? Does he actually share a love-hate relationship with Intenet Hindus?
Another explanation for Guha’s passion for such emails is that he is technology-illiterate. Internet made communication easy. Right from its inception, the net carried a free-for-all spirit. Tech-savvy people quickly get accustomed to the communication model of the medium, and develop defences to work around its pitfalls. Those who can’t navigate the mine-field bitterly bitch about it, as if it is a calamity only they are struck with.
A third one is that Guha lacks wisdom. Look at Arun Shourie to learn how real intellectuals deal with trolling. They ingore it. Guha abused Shourie by labeling Arundhati Roy as “Arun Shourie of the Left”. (He should have actually titled that piece more honestly as “Arundhati Roy: My Soul Sister”). And yet, there is no evidence on record that Shourie ever took note of Guha’s existence.
I posit a fourth theory. This one springs right from personal experience. At the grand old age of 14, I was recruited by a left-wing student’s union group. I realized later, looking back at that experience, that what made the group look attractive to me was its airs of “intellectual” superiority. In every meeting I attended, some “class enemy” or the other was roundly condemned in colorful Marxist jargon. But there were also the petit bourgeoisie and other stubborn not-so-class-enemies whose opposition had to be accounted for. This was easy: the stellar creed of Marxism and the boons it bestowed on mankind were beyond the ken of the fool; ergo, his opposition stemmed from his intellectual inferiority. To sumarize: you had two kinds of enemies: class enemies because they were devious, and fools because they had no intellect. This all-knowing smugness was contagious.
I don’t remember the Hindutva guy ever cropping up as a target of those weekly ritual condemnations, because he had no local presence and was insignificant. But in St Stephens and in Calcutta, where Guha practiced Marxism like all up-and-coming intellectual stars of the time, the Hindutva dude must have been a favorite target of snickering. No doubt (ex)Comrade Guha had his bit of fun laughing at this enemy, just as my childhood study group got its jollies sniggering at its . Though Guha claims to be no longer a Marxist, old influences die hard. Time was when the leftwing cabal wielded the power to promote points of view with certifications and supress them with ridicule and disapproval. Intenet and other developments have put paid to that dominance. This is what, I believe, is driving Guha’s rage. The selectively-quoted email excerpts are a stereotyping ruse; they are the scotch-sipping neo-brahmin’s excuse for hating the cow-milk-drinking menial.