This wide-ranging book sweeps away several religious, cultural, social and historical cobwebs. Fashionable correctness in all its forms is firmly rejected. Many received notions are proved to be false and famous iconic figures are shown to have had failings that affected the region’s future. Encountering South Asia: Definitions and clarifications, therefore, may be shocking to some and uncomfortable to others. Nevertheless, all who read this book will be impressed by its rigorous research, cogent arguments and lucid logic. It will certainly provoke wide debate. Written in engaging and persuasive prose this book is an education on South Asia.
Of All The World’s Major Regions South Asia is surely the most misunderstood and misinterpreted. Worse still, India lovers embrace India with little or no understanding of the country. The ancient Hindus, much given to philosophy, mathematics, art and astronomy, seem to have had no time for the writing of history. Hence one’s dependence on Greek, Chinese and later, Muslim sources. The arrival of the Europeans, however, was a turning point in India studies. The pioneering researches of the Orientalists cannot be overestimated. It is no exaggeration to claim that European scholarship bestowed on the Hindus a definite distinction, even, tragically, a sense of haughtiness and self righteousness.
Europeans besotted with India in general and Hinduism in particular, a prize example being Annie Besant, beheld nothing but the wonders of India and the supreme excellence of its civilization. On the other hand, a number, of Muslim and other commentators, notably the first Mughal emperor Babur, found the subcontinent extremely unattractive. They perceived India as a caste-ridden country inhabited by idolaters steeped in stygian darkness, sin and superstition. The truth, perhaps, lies in the chasm between Besant and Babur. India, moreover, is finally on the move. The rate of economic and social change accelerates each year, a phenomenon that will be discussed in the author’s next book.
Since 1947, ‘India studies’ and ‘Pakistan studies’ have become exercises in political spin and vilification. Myths and legends are held up as facts and prejudice is buttressed by so-called historical research. In the cause of creating a national identity and a particular vision of greatness, dangerous doctrines and unpalatable events are either ignored or nimbly explained away. Truth is being sacrificed at the altar of expediency.
This wide-ranging back sweeps away several religious, cultural, social and historical cobwebs. Fashionable correctness in all its forms is firmly rejected. Many received notions are proved to be false and famous iconic figures are shown to have had failings that affected the region’s future. Encountering South Asia: Definitions and Clarifications, therefore, may be shocking to some and uncomfortable to others. Nevertheless, all who read this book will be impressed by its rigorous research, cogent arguments and lucid logic. It will certainly provoke wide debate.
Reginald Massey has authored many works on India. His books on Indian classical music and dance are required reading for all those who study these subjects. He wrote and produced Bangladesh I Love You, a film which starred the boxing phenomenon Muhammad Ali.
Azaadi! , his collection of stories and histories concerned South Asia after 1947, the year of Indian’s independence and the creation of Pakistan. His poetry collection Lament of a Lost Hero and Other Poems chronicles subcontinental society in the post-independence period.
Born in Lahore, in British India, he lives in Britain where over many years he has been journalist, critic, director-producer, broadcaster, lecturer and activist, He is currently completing South Asia: The Twenty-first Century and the Future, a sequel to this book. In 2008, he was Writer-in-Residence at the USB think tank at Wolsberg chateau, Switzerland.
His wife, actress Jamila Massey, collaborated with him on three books: The Music of India, The Dances of India and The Immigrants, a novel. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Why yet another book on India? Such a question might be asked with justification. Thousands of books on India have been written over the centuries. Most aspects of the Indian subcontinent have been commented upon and, quite often, misrepresented by propagandists posing as writers and experts, each with his or her own particular axe to grind. The perpetrators have been both Indians and foreigners. The Worthy and authoritative books on India (and they are many) have, however, tended to concentrate on a particular subject and are thus narrowly focused and of use only to specialists.
This book is an attempt to present a wider scenario so that a clear, unbiased, overall picture emerges. There are no hidden agendas. Political correctness and politeness have been ruthlessly jettisoned in the interests of truth. No deliberate attempt has been made to humiliate or downgrade any person, ethnic group, society, state or religion. But facts are facts and it is not until we are in possession of facts that we can hope even to approach the portals of truth.
The epidemic of hate, greed, unashamed corruption and immorality that engulfs the whole of South Asia at the present time is due largely to the lies, misrepresentations and prejudices that have been systematically poured into the minds of successive generations. We known what our parents taught us; we are what our parents were. To echo the Bible, we have, verily, inherited the sins of our father. That is not our fault. The guilt must also be shared by teachers, mentors, politicians and religious leaders. Indeed, the guilt lies everywhere.
History is being rewritten to massage and bolster the national ego. In India there is a constant outpouring concerning the greatness of the Hindu past; in Pakistan the marvels of Muslim civilisation are likewise trumpeted. The words of Tod, historian of the Rajputs, spring to mind: “Historic truth has, in all countries, been sacrificed to national vanity; to its gratification every obstacle is made to give way; fictions become facts…” Those, such as me, who were born in an undivided British India, that is before1947, were members of a subject race. Every Indian – even the fabulously rich Nizam, the powerful Maharajas and the cultured Persianised Nawabs – knew too well who wielded absolute and ultimate power in South Asia. The British were the superior race; indeed, many Indians believed (as did most British people) that the British were the most advanced race on earth, morally, politically and scientifically. This belief will certainly embarrass members of the present British government. Today, it is not the done thing to harbor such dirty thoughts, although, secretly, some still most certainly do. Public memory is notoriously short by “British is best” was on most lips when I was a boy.
The educational system that the British Raj implanted in India was primarily aimed at producing a subservient army of clerks, or ‘babus’ as they were called, whose sole purpose was to pen-push in the lower ranks of the complicated bureaucracy that administered the vast British Indian Empire. These ‘babus’ were not required to think; they had to learn to follow instructions, to work according to strict rules and to write English in a set pattern of Victorian officialese. After forty years of following instructions from their white bosses these men were well and truly neutered. They had little or nothing to bequeath to their sons in terms of intellectual nourishment. What they did pass on to their progeny was an unshakeable belief in the British Raj which meant, in effect, that everything Indian was inferior. The children of the ‘babu’ class were thus infected with a deep-seated inferiority complex. Their reading of Indian political and social history was limited, their ideas regarding Indian philosophy hazy and misleading. And since the ruling power was masterly in its ‘divide and rule’ policy, the Hindu-Muslim divide was actively encouraged. Animosities were instigated by the rulers and, to the delight of the British viceroys and governors, both the Hindus and Muslims foolishly participated in stirring up age-old hatreds. The British, therefore, were by no means solely to blame.
Such was the situation up to the middle of August 1947. The carnage was already in full swing before the creation of Pakistan (August 14) and the independence of India (August 15). The massacres, pillaging and raping continued with renewed ferocity after those dates. The whole gory business of blood has been well documented. The end result has been a complete impasse between the two countries. They have been abusing and blaming each other every single day for well over half a century, Currently, however, a game invented by their former white ‘sahibs’, masters, is being used to thaw relationships. ‘Cricket diplomacy’ and the restoration of air, bus and rail links coupled with trade talks might mislead many into believing that things are on the mend but the underlying core problems have hardly been touched.
India and Pakistan have fought wars against each other and have been involved in several major and countless minor skirmishes. Billions upon billions of dollars and pounds, not to mention trillions upon trillions of rupees, have gone down the drain. Some of the finest young men of the subcontinent have been sacrificed to the god of war. He is an ever hungry, voracious god and who can tell what he will demand in this new century? The corrupt ruling elites of both India and Pakistan have done an excellent job in that they have succeeded in fooling the masses of their respective countries. Their success in this enterprise was, of course, assured since the majority of people on both sides of the border are poor, superstitious, gullible, illiterate and an easy prey to state propaganda and the poisonous rantings of religious bigots. One set of oppressors, the British have been replaced by another, more dangerous, set of oppressors. To make matters worse, the elites of the entire subcontinent and the upwardly mobile classes have sold their bodies and souls to the multinationals.
The Brown Sahib has proved to be an unscrupulous bloodsucker; the White Sahib who represented a distant imperial power could on a personal level be just, even benign. Many British district officers had an acute sense of noblesse oblige. This statement will not be greeted with applause by the rulers of either India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh. Even the good White Liberal will chip in with the trite slogan: “Good government is no substitute for self-government’’. But go to any part of South Asia and speak to any poor landless labourer in his seventies or eighties. Ask only one question: “Were you happier under British rule?” I am quite sure of the answer you will get.
Those born after 1947 can have no idea of what it was like to be living under British rule in India. They have been told tales by their elders from one point of view or another. Let us be frank. The British were there to rule and to exploit. Only a minority were motivated by the altruistic desire to ‘civilise the natives of Hindustan’. They were certainly not in India because they loved the snakes, the mosquitoes, the malaria, the torrential monsoons, the cholera, the dust and the scorching heat.
Having said that, let me give you one true example of Pax Britannica. In the 1930s, any Indian woman of any religion could be settled into a ‘Ladies Compartment’ of a train at Howrah Station, Calcutta, without the slightest concern about her safety or security. After a couple of days the woman would be received by her relatives perfectly safe and sound in the city of Pashawar in the distant North West Frontier Province.
In Peshawar the food, the language, the dominant religion, the dress and the culture was, and still is, radically different. The different between Calcutta and Peshawar could be compared to that between Paris and Cairo. It is not my intention to sing the praises of British rule, but it is worth pondering the following: Which imperial power in history has been able to achieve anything like the above for its subject peoples?
Today, over sixty years after the demise of the Raj with two boastful nuclear powers at each other’s throats, no woman is safe on her own even in broad daylight in any city of the subcontinent. What, you might ask, is the price of independence? And who pays that price? It is certainly not the new ruling classes; they are the wealthy beneficiaries of the post-British era. Those who pay are the poor, the homeless, the despised, the oppressed.
The post-1947 generation has been taught nothing that would take away in the slightest from the glories of independence and the greatness of their respective national leaders. The ignorance even of those who ate fairly well educated is appalling. This is because, immediately after 1947, in both India and Pakistan history began to be rewritten, twisted and mangled and presented in the form of a policy statement. The erstwhile imperial masters meanwhile patted themselves on the back; they believed that they had planted democracy on Indian soil and, indeed, had bequeathed to India a marvelous legacy. India was now ‘the world’s largest democracy’. Few, however, take the trouble to point out that it is an exceedingly odd democracy in which Brahmins vote for Brahmins and Dalits (the latest euphemism for outcastes) vote for Dalits and that votes are a saleable commodity.
In India, History initially became an anti-Pakistan exercise with Jinnah as the Satanist, the arch enemy. Later, after the Nehru dynasty, it became distinctly anti-Muslim. Here it must be made clear that the Nehruvians were always at pains to point out that their Pakistan phobia was certainly not anti-Muslim. Thus, in order to prove their secular credentials the Nehruvians made Muslims ministers, governors of states and ambassadors (especially to Muslim countries). There were a few Muslim generals and the air force was once even led by a Muslim air chief marshal. How much all this was a matter of principle or a measure of expendiency is open to debate. I personally believe that it was largely a matter of principle and caused Pakistan extreme embarrassment on several occasions.
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