Dr. Bharat Gupt


The Sahitya Academy each year awards Indian writers with a taamra-patra (citation on a copper plate) and a cash amount of Rs 40,000. If the copper is turned into gold by the Academy, the authors would gain something, but they would lose little if the cash is substituted by paan-supaari (betel leaf and areca nut). The Academy would at least succeed in making their awards purely honorable. So could the other academies for plastic and performing arts, namely the Lalit Kala and the Sangeet Natak, do well to follow suit. Why does the Indian State not declare that it cannot patronize the arts?

A good book or a song is indeed a priceless creation, but the one who creates it can be rewarded with a tangible recognition, which the aforesaid pittance hardly provides. That we have not thought of increasing this sum, at least 10 times, only speaks of the low esteem in which we hold creativity and the arts in particular. Our business corporations are no better as they have not even woken up to the idea that the mercantile world has a duty towards arts. They are not even aware that the vaishyas of yore were no lesser patrons of the arts than the kings. Nor have they learnt from contemporary Euro-American states where the government and the corporates invest heavily into education and art sustenance. India 18 ndia : A Cultural Decline or Revival? The biggest prejudice against the arts in India has been generated by its modern educational system that inculcates a diametrically opposite attitude to their worth as posited in the traditional Indian psyche. So-called makers of modern India, assiduously preserved the schooling system left by the British and only allowed the American educational jargon (propagated mostly by PL480 money financed professors) to modify the shape and size of text books leaving the content untouched. They have also maintained the hegemony of the printed word, the paper exercise book and the written examination over all other means of instruction and evaluation. Reading print and reproducing it in examinations remains the hallmark of our educational methodology. Our modernists have been so enamored of it that they are scared to consider another method, such as vocal expression, capacity to conduct reliable work projects, teaching of junior students by senior students and so forth. As a consequence, in this culture where the spoken word, intonation and gesture, signs, symbols and rituals had been developed as superb media of communication for thousands of years, now mere reading, cramming and reproducing prevails as the only method of passing examinations from nursery classes to the IAS. If the arts, except for music that still rests upon traditional training and Hindu ethos, have not touched great heights in free India, the sin lies at the doors of our education Ministers.

Ancient Respect for Creativity

The prime purpose of education is to ensure creativity in individuals. It is the best way to subdue their destructive instincts. When the ancient poet Bhartrihari said that a person without education is an animal (vidyaa-viheenah Education Without Art 19 pashuh), he was not disparaging the animals, but showing the difference between the mentally innovative homo sapiens and the instinctively driven animals. Societies with their immense variety are products of Man’s mental creativity, not just of the gregarious instinct also found in lions and fish. Hence it was said by Aristotle, “man is a cultured creature” (O anthropos politikon zoon) wrongly translated under the impact of materialistic behaviorist theories, as “man is a social animal”. Man the cultured creature continuously creates using his past for his future. Education is the methodology that ensures this creativity. Societies, which are less emphatic about creativity, or are scared of it, such as ours at the present moment, tend to define learning in terms of short-term objectives. They value education systems by the materially productive work its students are likely to accomplish. They project role models of the glamorized achievers and preach competitiveness and survival of the toughest. Its jingles are: jo jeetaa so sikander “whosoever wins is Alexander” and “nothing succeeds like success” and so on. The Gandhian skepsis about means and end is already considered futile.

In the Indian, or rather in the Asian tradition, the trained (samskrita) or the educated individual has been the cornerstone of creativity, and hence of action and leadership. The notion of rustic simplicity, or lack of training as a mark of purity and naturalness, of the “mute inglorious Milton” is a Euro-Romantic concoction. In India, “graamya” (crude) or “praakrta” (natural) was regarded as impure, being untrained. However, the very notion of individualistic creativity in the whole of the ancient world was different from modern Euro-Romantic or post-modernist ideas of a India 20 ndia : A Cultural Decline or Revival? shopper-like free floating self. Ancient individualism was rooted in community obligations and was meant to enlarge itself towards bigger entities.The shloka from Mahabharata quoted by me earlier was repeated in the Kaakolooyikam portion of Panchatantra:

Tyajedekam kulasyaarthe graamaarthe kulam tyajet

Graamam tyajetjanapadasyaarthe aatmaarthe

prithveem tyajet.

Give up the individual for the family, the family for the habitat, the habitat for the land. But for the Self, give up the whole earth.

Such giving up of “the whole earth” for the “self ” really ends up in the self belonging to the whole earth, so different from the modern globalist-consumerist egocentricism. Also, the ancient “self ”-seeker, was not always the moksha seeking wanderer, or the renouncer; he could also be a bread-earning family man, rooted in a village or city. He/she could be a creative “self ”-seeker, pursuing any of the 64 kalaas, the arts, and could regard his pursuit as his liberation. After all, this has been the proclaimed faith of the Indian artist through the ages.

Art, no more Sacred

All this thinking has gone out of the modern Indian educational system. Art has come to be looked upon as nothing more than entertainment, whether refined or popular, highbrow or mass-mediotic. It is no longer sacred or liberating, shubham or mokshadaa. We have lost a major cultural faith and the fountainhead of our sustenance. The ancient Greeks too, regarded the non-utilitarian arts such as Education Without Art 21 music, painting, poetry, dance, and theatre as builders of ethos (moral fibre). For this reason they made these an essential part of their educational system even for soldiers. But the modern West chose to discard this attitude. This idea was not considered worthwhile when Europe drew upon the intellectual inheritance of classical Greece. The arts though not dispensable, were only ornamental in the post Enlightenment education. This thinking was imposed on India by the colonial educationists. What was worse, it was reinforced by the socalled Indian Renaissance by its fabricated picture of ancient Indian educational values. Puritanism, abnegation, and aggression were valorized in opposition to satisfaction (tushti), abundance (samriddhi), aesthetic softness (laalitya) and joy (harsha), which are described as a citizen’s hallmark in our classical literature. During the Independence struggle, and soon after, art was in effect, set aside by the puritanism of Gandhi, as much by the staunchness of Hedgewar, and the economic myopia of Jai Prakash Narain, Lohia and other socialists. The Marxists with their antireligious bias and their propagandist approach to art further damaged the traditional concept of sacredness and creative individualism in Indian art. Almost everybody presumed that India was too enslaved, poor and illiterate to think of art. Now that we are independent, the affluent among us are the crudest, even though the poor retain some traditional aesthetic sense. Under the impact of Nehruvian scientific rationalism, the Government agencies responsible for making policy, curriculum as well as textbooks, like the National Council

India 22 ndia : A Cultural Decline or Revival?

for Education Research and Training have been promoting a wooden version of science. There is an excessive emphasis on mugging “objective facts” about the physical world instead of imparting the skill of inductive logic. The quiz wiz-kids that every uppish school tries to produce are info-parrots only good for TV shows. Worst of all, in the name of modernity, contempt is planted in young minds for all the sciences and arts that prevailed before the Euro-Renaissance. Consequently our allopathic doctors have generally no dialogue with Ayurvedic or Unani practitioners; very few legal luminaries have acquaintance with ancient codified or customary laws; and not many physicists have studied ancient astronomy or music; hardly any modern psychologist has delved deep into theatre. The dichotomy between art and science, ancient and modern is made complete. Tagore and Aurobindo who presented healthy and exploratory methods to bridge this chasm were systematically marginalized and denigrated as too aesthetic or too spiritual by Nehruvian ironjacket modernity.

Pop Art and Performance

Since the nineties, a vast expansion of television, films, advertisement and fabrics has created a new performance industry. This performance business is largely conducted through electronic and digital media which could have wonderfully harnessed the new technology to spread education and emotional health to every nook and corner of India at astonishingly low costs. But the result has been the opposite. The films have descended to sensationalism, the television channels to misinformation, advertisement to sweet lies, and fashion shows to flesh mongering. The Indian elite Education Without Art 23 that manages this new media has no other interest than commerce. Education is furthest removed from the aspirations of this class. The whole enterprise apes the Western media and has failed to posit any values other than those of consumerism. It is like selling Mcburgers with coriander chutney as the only Indian content. This failure is not of means but of mind. Indians have come to accept the Western dictum that mass media can only have popular content, that is, it must descend to the lowest demands of taste. Any attempt to elevate and educate taste is considered anti-democratic.

The challenge before the Indian policy makers is how to create educational channels that provide attractive alternatives to crass commercialism. So far there is no thinking about it as the Indian political and intellectual elite is too colonized to depart from Western models of development. But a serious enterprise that forges the traditional elements of popular culture with modern social needs, can be both viable and elevating. The de-regulation of Indian television from State control and the monopoly of Doordarshan has seen the emergence of certain traditional discourse but only in the field of religions. India being a heavily religious culture perhaps thought of religions first of all. Let us hope that it shall think of art and social morality (niti) soon. And let us also hope that electronic media catering to religion and art shall not fall a victim to money making and power struggle. These channels like ‘Samskaar’, ‘Aasthaa’, ‘God’ could come into existence as religious Gurus and Kathaakaars had an institutional existence independent of state patronage. But for educational channels to come into business is a remote possibility as all higher education is state financed. Private education at school level is also groaning under the yoke of India 24 ndia : A Cultural Decline or Revival? state controls. Once there are a few dozen private universities and decontrolled education at secondary level, the emergence of educational channels on television and big digital publications would be a reality. A concerted effort needs to be made to reinstate the arts as a creative, therapeutic and moral force in our educational system, print and electronic media. In schools the arts should be among the main subjects of study and not mere extracurricular activities. Five to six years of regular theatre classes in native language can develop clear speech, healthy and graceful carriage, and a direct familiarity with literature, myth and poetry in an easy way. It is more gracious and delightful than the present system of cramming through print. It has been demonstrated that theatre, dance, painting, and music are the best instruments of personality development for children. Why can there be no marking, promotion and academic recognition for them? Why have they been relegated to the lower category of ‘vocational subjects’ meant to be taken by duller kids? When will we stop thinking of art as a handmaid of business, diplomacy, or infotainment and recognize it as an elevating experience that distinguishes humans from animals?

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