November 16, 2015

India: Hindutva isn’t interested in Hindu culture (Aakar Patel)

livemint.com - 14 November 2015

Hindutva isn’t interested in Hindu culture

Who among the Hindu right can talk about its rich, diverse culture with interest and erudition?

Aakar Patel

Why is Hindutva not interested in Hindu high culture? Serious question. Who among the Hindutvawadis can or wants to speak about dhrupad and khayal with any interest, forget knowledge? My friend Amitbhai Shah looks like he knows a thing or two about second helpings, and I have never denied that. But what about encores and when it is appropriate to demand them? I doubt he can say, and I know the Gujarati Hindutva gang better than most.

That is, I think, one of the biggest unexplored problems of Hindutva. It is interested only in some aspects of our faith and culture, and those, to me, are among the less interesting aspects. That is to say, whether another temple should be built and whether someone should take three wives or one and so on.

If one wants to discuss whether the harmonium is an appropriate instrument for the reproduction of “Hindu” music (it was banned from All India Radio as a solo instrument by a bureaucrat who decided it was too foreign), who does one turn to? America’s Christian conservatives are debating the decriminalizing of pot and the legitimizing of gay relationships. What is Hindutva’s position on this matter of cannabis indica, one of the defining issues of tradition and faith for many Shaivites? Whose writing among the glittering offering that comprises intellectuals on the right should we look to for illumination on such things?

Not L.K. Advani, a man whose preferred reading is Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People, according to his autobiography (no, I am not kidding). I love reading memoirs but Advani’s is, how to put it politely? Very put-downable. Not Atal Bihari Vajpayee either, a good man, but a writer of frighteningly banal poetry.

Not, sadly, the prime minister. And I can speak with authority here, being the only person to have translated his books and his poetry. He is also a good man, and I have no doubt he is well meaning, but we are not talking about that. He is not well-read and has no interest in history or literature or, indeed, in what anyone else writes or says. Like a prophet of old, the wisdom resides within.

I have left one of his works, Sangharsh Ma Gujarat, untranslated. It is on the bookshelf right by my door so I am forced to remind myself that I must either finish the thing or return the money to the publisher (if someone else is willing, I will share the money).

But it is so boring a work that every time I spot its spine on the shelves I have to turn my thoughts elsewhere because the idea of reading it again, a tract devoid of any redeeming quality, makes me want to give up reading entirely.

Now the prime minister, exactly like Swami Vivekananda, says he left home and spent a year in the Himalayas and elsewhere as a sadhu. Would it not be wonderful if he spoke at length, or wrote down a piece, on what that was like? How it is to live off the land in a nation that has supported the mendicant and the saint for 3,000 years?

It would be pure gold anecdotally, but we are instead subjected incessantly to other bull.

So who else in power is capable of speaking on Hindu issues that are interesting and not merely laced with complaint?

Rajnath Singh? No. Mohan Bhagwat? No.

When I ask them what they have to offer on the civilized side, I am not talking about things like picking out Bach’s BWV 1007 from the sad opening of the cello, which they cannot do, having neither interest nor exposure to the finer things abroad, but what about the finer things here (of which we have many)?

What about knowing something like Kumar Gandharva? Was he right in dismantling the gharana tradition? This is a very serious question which will affect our music for centuries if the state has no view on it.

Does any minister of this fine government know anything about the traditions of Dharwad? About how yaman is sung in the Kirana tradition? About how Hamsadhwani, a Carnatic tune, was brought to khayal through the Bhendi Bazaar gharana? I know that Hindutvawadis don’t know but I worry that they don’t care.

What will happen to Hindu high culture if it is left to this lot? It’s a disturbing thought. U.R. Ananthamurthy said Hindus should reclaim the word “saffron” from Hindutva, which had appropriated our sacred colour and made it akin to a term of derision if not abuse. I totally agree.

A few days ago, my mother sent a couple of boxes of Surti ghari (if you have not tasted it, you have missed something, I assure you) and the correct masala for making tapelu, a rich garlicky dish of mutton that the caste of Gujarati Khatris eat. I looked online for a recipe for it and could not find more than a couple of links, one of them a column on the dish written by my sister Ashlesha. The reason khatri mutton tapelu is almost invisible is of course because it is “non-veg” (a word that only Indians use).

Their stress on saatvik food means that such things are not the concern of Hindutvawadis either. What about those of us who are interested in the rajasik and the tamasik?

Another thing: Our proud traditions of sexual deviancy, Vatsyayana downward, are under threat. Hindutva stresses celibacy and is liable to be angered at even the use of the word “missionary”.

Why is Hindutva boring and resentful? Why are its defenders so predictable and whiny? Where is the joy? What exactly is the cultural benefit or point of all this for the rest of us?

What happens after the Muslims have been put in their place? I worry.

Aakar Patel is executive director of Amnesty International India. The views expressed here are personal.