As I read more and more in my spare time at Saifai, I am realising that I know so little about this world and outstanding human beings inhabiting it, who are enlightening us everyday through their work and knowledge. Socrates was not only humble but bang right when he confessed that he knew nothing except his own ignorance. I am no Socrates of course, but am gradually realising that I know almost nothing. Exposed of my limitations, I got to learn about following pearls of wisdom this week;
1. About the idea of “Imagined Communities” given by Benedict Anderson through a book published with the same title in 1983 and revised in 2006. He says that nation states are basically imagined communities with real political boundaries but with intangible entity like air or weather. While you can’t see air or weather they are there. Likewise nation states have been created by grouping a people-community within a specific boundary and by selling the idea to people that they have common language or culture or cuisine or religion. People start identifying with nation after they are consistently bombarded with the symbols of nations in form of a common flag, common cuisines, common language, common anthropology etc. These symbols try to gloss over subtle differences in practices of culture from one area or region to another. He says advent of press and media have particularly strengthened the idea of nation-state as they have effective medium (the representative images) to posit before a common clientage as the ubiquitous and pervasive symbols. These symbols in turn handicap their vision of alternative ideas and visions of uncommon things and diversity which otherwise is the hallmark of the human diaspora. He introduces the idea of ‘Print Capitalism’- a marriage of capitalism and mass printing technology and says that the growth of vernacular languages like English and Dutch vis-a-vis classical languages like Latin and French led to gradual depletion of class boundaries and enriched the concept of common identities which in turn help build the idea of nation states.
2. Read an article ‘Pakistan without Tears’ published in ‘Independence Day’ issue of magazine ‘Open’ written by historian Ram Chandra Guha. Enriched by his own 3 personal visits to Pakistan, he eloquently dissects the idea of Pakistan and compares it with the idea of India. About Lahore he writes, “Lahore is the Salonica of the East, a multicultural city in living memory that is now dominated by people of single faith.” Lampooning the lopsided history writing of Pakistan which crudely disassociate itself from the non-islamic past of the country, expresses his doubts whether India would also repeat the mistake if the respect for diversity of opinions and multi-ethnicity continued to decline due to political compulsions. He says unlike India, Pakistan was created as a homeland for Muslims and thus the faith of the majority had, in lesser or greater degree, to be reflected in the policies and practices of the state.
3. I read about First Anglo Afghan War (1839-42), one of the worst defeat of England (East India Company) exemplified by gruesome killing of ex British origin Indian Civil Servant, William Hay Mcnaughten and his troops while fleeing Afghanistan. Author William Dalrymple says that Afghanistan has always been surrounded by big powers like Russia, China and India and has been a hostile, inhospitable and least productive territory inhabited by one of the most fiercely independent minded Pashtuns which remains relevant even in 21st century. He says that unlike in Iraq, in Afghanistan you would not find oil to finance your conquests and costs of holding territory in such a scenario. He says whoever tried to occupy and rule Afghanistan has bled away to defeats and death as exemplified by failed Anglo attacks in 19th century and aimless attempt of USA in 21st century during 2001 to 2014. He says, eventually Osama Bin Laden was captured in Pakistan and not Afghanistan and America suffered a huge economic cost and loss of face (not for the first time; remember Vietnam?). It has also led to destruction of any semblance of law and order in the Afghanistan leading to more chaos and export of terrorism in all shapes and sizes. Very interestingly, USA is negotiating with same Taliban in 2016, destruction of which was the raison detre of pounding with bombs every inch of Afghanistan in the name of finishing Taliban in 2001 (post 9/11)! The world would have been a better place, only if America had read about Anglo-Afghan War!!
4. I read about Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and Space X, the only private person except USA, Russia and China with capacities to launch satellites into space and then retrieve them too. He has vision of affordable space mission and though has suffered some failures including destruction of Falcon 9 this week, is planning a mission to Mars. Elon was born in South African, had schooling there before migrating to USA through a stint at Canada. He has a single big campus where he designs and constructs and then assembles all parts into a space rocket. NASA has multiple units to design different parts and later assembles them at Cape Canaveral. Musk has employed ex NASA pilots and recruited other team members to realize his goal of non governmental entrepreneurial mission to Mars and beyond. Musk is also producing most efficient electric cars for daily use and is using his experiences of space technology of building lightest but stable vehicles to run on the road. This man not only dreams well but has the guts to realise them too.
5. I am reading about India’s best known sociologist, Andre Beteille’s ideas on Indian society and liberal democracy and various contradictions plaguing it. Ram Chandra Guha writing about Andre opines, “Beteille has written insightful about all the major questions of the days: India’s encounters with the West, the contest between religion and secularism, relationship between caste and class, the links between poverty and inequality, the nurturing of public institutions, the role and responsibilities of the intellectual.”
About democracy he says that India adopted Westminster model of democracy as it(India) had seen that in practice in colonial times. However our growth and perceptions about that are different from British model and he says that this is normal also. We are bound to follow our own growth model through our intricacies and experiences. He says in India, we have the qualitative arguments but we lack in the sound institutions of democracy and that will be helped by social movements and growth of other democratic institutions. He says social movement like ‘India Against Corruption’ proselytizing into the political party as AAP, is normal and welcome. He says there will be and should be more social movements for our growth. He also says that growth curve can not be a sign wave, it may be tumultuous too. We should not be over worried by the unexpected growth trajectories. A lot more has to happen before we mature as a democracy.
Though I know little, I will continue to strive to know more till I am here….