Hurdles in Discovering the Real India
One of the most interesting pieces I read recently was the post by Harsh Gupta about discovering Thiruvalluvar. Harsh Gupta rightly laments that we do not get taught our own giants. We rather discover them accidentally. It is a real pity. The reason is not far to seek. For decades for the State the standard narrative and content for the history of India was set by the mediocre ‘Discovery of India’ by Nehru.
It was a linear narrative – the kind of narrative where events flatly anticipate the emergence of Congress as the people’s movement and the crowning of Nehru-headed Congress government as the achievement ultimate of Indian history. Anything that does not fall into this narrative was left out – however crucial it may be to the regional pride of a people and however important the phenomenon may be as a mighty contributor to the evolutionary matrix of Indian civilization. Dhananjay Keer an extraordinary historian of nation-builders’ biographies points out this notoriously perverted aspect of Nehruvian history weaving:
Have you come across any history of England that does not speak of Trafalgar and Waterloo? Have you come across any history of India without the mention of Chitor? Behold, it is Nehru’s Discovery of India.
Discovery of India set the tone for the historiography of India. Delhi-centric rendering of Indian history and Euro-centric evaluation of Indian culture form the two axiomatic pillars for Nehruvian history. Marxist historians, who systematically captured the educational institutions, promoted this historiography with glee for it served their own vested interest of devaluing Indian culture and nation.
Is there then an alternate system to bring our vast pluralistic yet organically unified Indian cultural heritage to our children? The system needs to be radically different. It cannot be any aping of the West even if one borrows elements from Western pedagogy. But then let us not rediscover the wheel. One man has thought it all decades before.
Anant Pai and his Amar Chitra Katha!
Uncle Pai as Anant Pai was affectionately called had done a wonderful job of bringing the great Indian heritage to the coming generations. Using the comics form as medium, Uncle Pai brought mythology, brave hearts, epics, folk tales, literary master pieces, biographies of the visionaries from every region of India to all regions of India.
Bhaga Jatin of Bengal who fought the British knowing very well how the battle would end, Yellapragada Subbarao the scientist from Andhra Pradesh who discovered wonder drugs to alleviate pain and suffering, Rajput freedom fighters who gave their everything for the liberation of the motherland, Sri Narayana Guru of Kerala heralding a socio-spiritual revolution, the myth of Jagnnath of Puri which harmonizes the tribal and non-tribal elements, the different local versions about the sons of Pandavas, the supreme sacrifices of the Sikh Gurus, heart-rendering story of Angulimala the mass-murderer turned saint – who calmly accepted his own stoning to death! One wonders if there has been any other comic house in the world that has done so much variety and more importantly so much meticulous research in the issues it brought out.
Amar Chitra Katha is essentially a unique Indian phenomenon of child literature. It is both an experiment and an achievement. It is one of the few things an Indian can be legitimately proud of in modern India.
(Nehruvian) Empire Strikes Back
Interestingly how can then the vested interests of the leftist academicia lay idle? The anti-Indic academics have been quick to hurl abusive and brand Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) as portraying ‘Brahminical’ values, presenting only the ‘dominant narrative’ etc. Almost all ‘academic’ analysis of ACK talks negative of the effort in academic lingo. Here is a typical the typical half-baked academic rant from Hyderabad University researcher against ACK:
Nationalist discourse automatically excluded under the sign of Indian non-Aryan and lower class ‘lower’-caste people and cultures. In the case of the freedom struggle, for instance, the role of the ‘lower’ castes gets assimilated into that of the urban, middle-class upper-caste, Hindu role. Dayananda’s efforts at assimilating ‘untouchables’ into Hinduism -specifically Brahminism, he is shown distributing the ‘sacred thread’ – are highlighted. Only one panel is allotted to showing Brahminical oppression of ‘lower’ castes, while the assimilation of these castes into mainstream Hinduism -there is no discussion of tribal/Dalit lifestyles at all-gets four. (Pramod K Nayar, Reading Culture: Theory, Praxis, Politics, Sage 2006, p.119.)
How factually hollow and vicious in its content this attack is, can be gauged if we bring together the different issues of ACK. In the case of ‘Dayananda’ (Vol.624) there is not ‘one panel allotted to showing Brahminical oppression of ‘lower’ castes. At page 13 ‘the oppression’ is shown in three panels and the plight of the poor is shown in the next page in three panels. At page 20, where it is alleged that ‘assimilation of these castes into mainstream Hinduism’ gets four panels. Actually there are again three panels which show the violent opposition of orthodoxy to Swami Dayananda’s efforts. If this is the case with Dayananda in ACK, prior to Dayananda ‘Baba Saheb Ambedkar’ (Vol.611) had been published by ACK. Here the Dr.Ambedkar has been shown as both the nation-builder as well as the champion of the rights of the oppressed. The ACK does not mince words when depicting Dr.Ambedkar’s sharp attacks on Smrithi based Hinduism. Similarly ACK issue on Basaveshwara (with an introduction by Dr.B, D.Jatti, Basava Samiti, Bangalore, 1980) also depicts the tyranny of the upper classes on the Dalit communities in various panels. Similarly the title ‘Narayana Guru’ (Vol. 792) has its first four pages with twenty one panels depict the notorious ‘lunatic asylum’ condition of Kerala under the stagnant casteist oppression.
Even more bizarre and blatant falsehoods are stated by acdemicia and re-quoted without verifying even the primary sources to portray ACK negatively. The same ‘scholar’ states:
Further as Srilata points out, in the attempt to construct a pan Indian woman, ‘the clothes of a local heroine from the south, say Kannagi, is very often like those of the clothes of the heroines from the North, like Padmini of Chittoor’. (Pramod K Nayar, 2006, p.122)
One just has to look at the covers of ACK of the issues Kannagi (Vol. 666) and Padmini (Vol.605) to know the utter falsehood of this statement made by the academicia for maligning the ACK. The Nehruvian establishment and its evolutes not only have produced and profited by cultural illiteracy in India but also venomously attack any attempt to remove cultural illiteracy.
Other Attempts in Bringing India to Indians
Apart from Uncle Pai, another attempt is also worth mentioning. RSS has a morning prayer – Ekatmata Stotra a veritable ‘who is who’ of all great seers, saints and nation builders of India. RSS tried to imitate Amar Chitra Katha. However they could not bring out in a sustainable manner except for one or two issues. However Karnataka based Sangh Parivar publishing house – Rashtrotthana came out with another novel idea. They published small booklets – attractive and in simple English about the great men and women of India. So far as this writer knows theirs is the only children book publication house which has published a biography of Ashfaqullah Khan – a revolutionary mentor of Bhagat Singh and a martyr for nation’s freedom.
We further need Bhagirathas
Thus if one wants to know India in her all richness, to feel the unity in diversity of this unique heritage, then one has to depend on private players and not state. A market-oriented uniquely Indic dedicated attempt of an individual like ‘Uncle Pai’ has made realizing the grandness that is India a real possibility for every Indian child. Taking that possibility to every child needs further dedication. Translation into regional languages, subsidizing the cost for accessibility to all economic strata (in 1980s one issue was Rs 3.00 and today it is Rs 50.00) are just some of the gigantic tasks awaiting the new Bhagirathas who want to take this Ganga of Indic heritage to the next generation, so that one need not encounter his heritage from Diaspora cab driver in an alien land.