Is culture the way forward?

Social and cultural innovation remain the keys to freedom and wholeness.

August 14, 2010 04:42 pm | Updated November 16, 2021 10:32 am IST

Showing the world: A spirit of unity. Photo:R.V. Moorthy

Showing the world: A spirit of unity. Photo:R.V. Moorthy

With its rich heritage and culture India can show the world the path to freedom, peace and enlightenment. Though that path is long and arduous the journey must begin. Nations rise and prosper because of the clear direction they choose. With the unmistakable impact of globalisation, India must not be merely a taker from other countries but also a giver. If it can give the path to freedom by its own example, the world will be a freer and happier place. When a nation is free it can be influenced only by culture. If only Indian culture can carve out the path to freedom, the entire world will follow it spontaneously.

Widening horizons

Indian culture, as it embraces modernity, has to be a liberating force. It should not get stuck in the material mindset placing its focus on economic development and narrow identity. Technology will take care of development with its own accelerating logic. Identity has proved to be so divisive in history that we have to see India as a place of reason to avoid its destructive consequences. To be Indian, therefore, is to be a seeker of truth and bliss. This state of mind requires a high level of cultivation and that is where Indian culture has to play its critical role which absorbs the entire world in its embrace. To be an Indian is to be citizen of the world. When that spirit of Indianness pervades we will never have Gujarats and Babri Masjids in the future.

The era of political power play is over. Nations are saddled with their own human problems in the fields of education, health and environment and resources. No country has successfully solved those problems. Therefore the national mind has to be trained to tackle those problems. That is why politics has to give place to culture which alone can focus the national mind on those pressing issues. Today the race among nations is not who produces the maximum number of cars but who is the greenest, most peaceful, talented and healthy in the world. Standing armies no longer earn admiration but Nobel Prizes and Olympic Gold Medals. If only we can make India completely literate, we will have taken a major step towards making it a cultural super power.

Literacy is not to be viewed in the minimal sense. To be literate is to be wise, productive and creative and perfect. When we talk about mass literacy we should talk about mass perfection. The Chinese call it ‘yu' or ‘how to flow.'

To create mass culture is not easy. Masses get accustomed to what they get by minimum effort. Everyone is a hero in mass culture. The Indian hero has to place the emphasis on culture, not on wealth.

The West is wealth oriented. Why should India tread the trodden path? Culture based on originality is a path not chosen by others. Because it is difficult and heroic. But once achieved the results will be beneficial on a wide variety of fronts. Mass Indian culture will be democratic, green, peaceful and socially innovative. Material comforts will be there but not in a stifling way.

It is now clear that the industrial revolution of the West has been easy to copy by other countries. India is no exception. The Indian economy has been doing well for the past decade. But to deal with the side effects of industrialisation like global warming is much more difficult. It requires unity of approach, which only a strong cultural base can give. Thus development means a parallel ability to keep the show going on all fronts. The Industrial revolution can give us prosperity but we have to decide by our intellectual vitality what kind of prosperity that will be. The environment and resources have to be conserved if development is to be meaningful. Creative aspects of development have to be answered by culture. To exchange the boredom of poverty for the boredom of affluence is not wise. It requires a greater intellectual effort than that required for material progress.

Our world is prosperous but not orderly. This disorder comes from fragmentation. In the atom particles are in their place. If they fly in different directions, the atom cannot exist as a whole. In the atom, nature has provided for spontaneous unifying forces to keep the order that is implicate. Man has not found that wholeness and freedom. The Industrial age demands a new faith which only culture can provide. To go beyond the fragment and see a unity that binds all human beings is the work of culture that liberates. To be rich and frustrated is a waste of human potential. A new prosperity should include the spirit too. Indian culture must put together different strands of its intellectual strength to arrive at the spirit of freedom and anchor itself there permanently and gracefully.

Many aspects of Indian culture are now universally accepted. Yoga, ayurveda and vegetarian food , music and dance have found increasing number of adherents around the world. They like them because they are beneficial. There is a big element of voluntary acceptance. For example, yoga has reached mainstream American population with 17 millions practicing it. This is a case of free flow of ideas and cultural practices. Cultural relations among nations flourish only when they are voluntary and spontaneous. There is no coercion or resentment. In a world made unstable by terrorism and violence a space for peaceful and happy exchange must be diligently promoted. Yoga and ayurveda are authentically Indian and Indians have a big reason to be proud of them. What promotes freedom will promote happiness also. And peace certainly. Indian culture thus will thus contribute to a holistic life-style that is universally relevant and functional. That is what an ideal cultural leadership should be.

Cultural base

A new world order is trying to emerge. In this order no one is a super power, or even a power. All countries are equal. This equality of relations is something new in history. This new order is based on universal laws. It is culture that prepares people to act by rule and law. The mind needs to be cultured to accept voluntarily a world that must be run by consensus. Consensus emerges out of good relations based on mutual benefits. A free world is possible only when people come together for common good. Culture is the embodiment of commonalty. In this environment human effort becomes creative as its goal moves away from desire fulfillment to spiritual bliss. A car satisfies a want. Great music elevates the spirit. Both are products of human effort. One is constructive, the other is creative.

A world government may be a political utopia. But in culture a unity of spirit is already there. Shakespeare and Kalidasa may belong to different countries but in their creative works they give a satisfaction that is universal. Steven Spielberg and Satyajit Ray occupy the high world of art whose audience is global simply because they have transcended all barriers. Culture is the tool with which human beings belong to the world voluntarily. A space for freedom is created spontaneously by intellectual brilliance. We must push in that direction by promoting culture in all possible ways. In an atmosphere of song and dance men will drop their arms and forget their fights. Thus culture and peace are inextricably linked to create a world of harmony and freedom.

Freedom that comes from understanding at the very source of a thing is a long and arduous process. This is the inexorable logic of history. If only India can follow this logic and act accordingly progress will be spontaneous and smooth. Without a strong foundation no edifice can last. Indian freedom, if it is to endure must be deep and strong, based on reason and justice. Only then power will pass ultimately to the citizen, making India a genuine democracy.

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