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The brown Pandit's Brown can everyone and welcome to another episode of the Brown pundit's broadcast we have with us today, Celtics. Darren Ketek is an author and a columnist for the magazine Open. He is here. His book, The Turmoil Forest, just came out in December. I think it's still not available in the US, but we'll have to tell us more about that. So can you just introduce yourself and tell us a little about yourself?
Thank you. So, Mark. What I would say is, well, I am, as you mentioned, the author of the newly published book by Penguin called The Dharma Forest, which is part one of a trilogy and am in the past, I have written columns for The Hindu for about two or three, two and a half years. Then thereafter, I started writing slightly longer columns for the Open magazine, and I was educated in Canada and I and my parents originally from Kerala, but I grew up in northern India, like many, many South Indians of a certain generation.
And I live in New York City now.
So I think this should be enough.
Know that that should be enough. So, of course, we'll start by discussing your book. But before we get there, you said you were educated in Canada. Did you come to the to Canada after high school or college or or.
I came to Canada for high school, actually. For high school.
Yeah, but you were but you're fluent in Malayalam and what I can if you can speak and understand Malayalam power in Gujarati in the extreme, but, you know, it depends on on the context and situation. So my my parents probably think that I should improve my Malayalam, but I can get on with it.
OK. OK, so we'll get to your book. Now, the the Dharma Forest is an interesting book. I just have a PDF that you were kind enough to send me, but it doesn't seem to be available in the US yet. So can you tell us a little more about the book, what it is about?
The book is basically the first book of a three volume series, at least that I have in mind. And it is it's sort of set in the loss of the sort of the meat of the book is set in the last days of the Great War. That happens in the Our Time, which is the vast Indian epic. So one of the things that I wanted to do was obviously the war. And there were sort of preeminently figures in almost any major interpretations of the Mahabharata in the sort of in the 20th century in the novel form best.
It is sort of like the end part of a much more dramatic things that happened early on. So if you look at novels that are written and say right from Malayalam to the north to Canada to various other languages, what you will find is that there's a lot of drama and theatre and intrigue that happens.
That largely is what most people associated with the mob after which which is what happens before the war. And then everybody sort of says, look at the great war happened, the good guys won. And then, you know, the story goes on.
What I thought was, how about I take what is essentially if you look at the actual text of the world, that is like essentially what I call 18 borrowers on 18 books, if you want to call it that and write approximately five or six borrowers, which is right in the middle of the book, are entirely more chapters. Now, many people sort of skim over it or don't look at it, etc. So I thought, why not take that relatively underexploited piece and then go back and try to explore it in a sort of a fiction or a novel kind of form.
So this particular first book has three main characters. The next book will have three main characters, and the last one will also have three candidates. You'll have nine characters. And these nine characters are linked to what in Indian theatre traditions are usually called the Navarros or the nine emotional flavoring, if you want to call it that.
And so so the idea of the book is to talk about each of us through the perspective of one particular character who then also moves the story of the war forward.
So it's a sort of an effort to mix and match a couple of formats, both from a sort of an aesthetic point of view as well as a sort of narrative point of view and so on and so forth. So I think that's largely the book. And so this is the first book and then the second book hopefully will be out at the end of this year as well.
That's a very interesting move because you're right, I have obviously not read the entire Mahabharat or anything, but I read a couple of the English versions that are out there. The first one I read, those are in fact, I want to ask you what you think is the is a good English version that's out there. But yes, in all of them, the world doesn't figure that as a major thing.
But when you look at the original, it's like half the book, although it's the longest sort of or rather the most intriguing and the most interesting parts of a great many philosophical puzzles and debates. And all that stuff happens in the sort of the war books of the MOLVAR, if you want to call it that.
But if you look at it like somebody wrote to me saying that every time he had tried to read the original, he often ended up skipping the war sections. And that is true even if you look at like the Greek, Iliad, etc., because a lot of these more chapters are in the original are often list chapter. So basically says so-and-so kills so-and-so, so-and-so, so-and-so, and it goes on for a while, then it stops. Then there is a some sort of a philosophical puzzle or a particular move made by the author for whatever reason.
And then it's another set of lists that happens. So in that sense, the war is quite unexplored. And so and especially I think in in the present context, in a novel form, I think there's a lot to be done there. And I'm sure. Hopefully other people will do different things with it as well going forward, so that's my my my hope was to do something like that, right.
And in coming to what you would recommend as a as a sort of a quick introduction to the Mahabharata as a whole, if somebody wanted to write in English, I think it entirely depends, I suspect, from where this particular person is coming from.
So the one that taught me most Indians, I think, read as a child or as a young person. You often see Rajagopalan apologizes. Mahabharata so he had a job as a Governor-General and then major Indian politician thinker. So his Mahabharata is very popular. One that I like quite a lot is an American person, I think.
But he's from California, really about a million bucks that I don't think is very nice. Very it's not super loyal, you know, any sort of in the way that most Indians would like. But I think it's written in a of great Felicity and great sort of joy in the English language and stuff like that. So I think I think if you're not an Indian who is sort of born fully into that sort of cultural matrix, William Buck is a very nice introduction.
And I think it's a it's an introduction that can last minute can you can read it again when you're 60 or 70 years old. And I think you'll still feel fresh.
So I would I would say something like that.
Right. And for your book, obviously, for people within India, in fact, there's this dialogue in the beginning of the book where the the guy telling the story is told by Krishna to go on because he he doesn't have to know the story. He will know it because he's heard what he's heard in the marketplace, his wife, the forest, whatever. I don't remember the exact quote, but it was a good way of saying it. So for an Indian, it may not be difficult to jump into your book, but for a foreigner or an outsider and maybe for also for modern Indians, is it as do they need another book before they read your book to me?
I don't I hope not, because the idea was it was not written on it. It's rather written to hopefully stand alone as is. But at the same time, if you are familiar with things, obviously it helps. But the idea was a.. Ramanujan, the the great translator slash poet. He died somewhere that no Indian hears the Movado Ramayana for the first time, you know, mean you don't know when you heard it the first time. So by the time you actually actively listen to it, you have already heard many parts of it before.
So that was the sort of cultural sort of landscape out of which I wrote this. So the idea was that it can stand alone on it on its own, much in the same way the mid 20th century European novels and Roman Empire could stand alone.
For example, Marguerite, your of this great French novelist, she writes memoirs of hatred, of hatred and and you don't necessarily need to know Romulus and Remus and all that kind of story before you get to Adrian and his letter to Marcus Aurelius. And you don't even need to necessarily know who Marcus Aurelius is, because in the grand scheme of things, nobody almost remembers adream except for his role today. But the novel is spoken from Hadrian's perspective.
So similarly, you know, like a soldier, as long as it is written in a novel, kind of a format which is hopefully written in an interesting way, then I think it can be read as sort of a cluster of novellas, if you want to call it that.
Yeah, I think it can be read by someone who knows nothing about the story itself, but at the same time, someone who is a little bit familiar with it will know, you know, like it starts off with Bhishma lying there and telling us a lot of things. But who is Bhishma is not to explain sort of the first. Right.
And it may help them because then the book, if one tries to get into that kind of narrative, it quickly becomes, I think, and become very didactic.
So the hopefully the idea is that as you go along the pages, the the reader slowly gets to get a sense that, OK, this is this great war, General. He's old. He is. You know, people want him dead, but they don't know how to get it. Right, although the fact that he has to choose his own death and so on, these are things that anyone would know, but maybe an outsider needs a little introduction.
Yeah, I mean, I'm like and, you know, will it mean these are things that are thrown in and in assorted places? And so hopefully hopefully it works.
In fact, I opened my copy, the paedophile library. We we're talking just now and I see that on that page where the earlier court was. There's another very nice court where Krishna says, speak that which you can remember. Do not worry if it is true or false. Do not worry if it is brimming over with excesses or if it has been obscured by time. Let me, the listener, find my own way through the forest of your words.
So is the Dharma Forest a reference to this? Maybe, but in some sense is also a reference to a tradition which basically says what what is often called modern, which means the forest of Dharma, which has been used in the cross, I would say for millennia in different context, because the forest is obviously a very sort of potent metaphor in Indian thought. So right from Predator Nego Punisher to the most of the grandest of Upanishads, if you want to call it that, to something as simple as like our which is a form of narrative form that follows the Vedas.
So the forest is in some sense everywhere in Indian thought, and I guess it was true in Western thought to well up to at least 12 to 13 century then, or maybe even 70 in countries like France, for example. But in this particular case is that a forest is a natural place where many things live, coexist. You can get lost and you have to find your way through it. So this particular idea was that something similar to what what we think about what what is in the in the larger context as well?
So so Dharma is something that is not particularly visible, but we have to find our way through it. So like I was just thinking yesterday that modern India for the Republic of India, for example, has the symbol that is used, Ashoka Chakra. So it's basically the wheel of Dharma. And for example, in Malayalam, when you go and give alms to a person, it's called to give Dharma to give basically. So it's sort of like the equivalent of Descartes, for example, is in some sense is called to give doctor ideas, things, so to speak.
So across Indian languages, this is like even secularism is called Tharman, that picture some according to some people. So that which you are sort of equidistant from all kinds of Dharma's, that the state is equidistant from the old forms. So so we saw India or Indian thought is sort of immersed in this sort of ocean of concepts that come from this particular one particular word. But, you know, so so then if you ask what is Dharma, then it becomes more problematic and you have to then start thinking in a certain way.
So that is the idea is that the forest and the marriage of these particular metaphors, which brings us to the fact that this is actually a very philosophical book.
Right. It's not a one off in that sense. It's a it's really a book of philosophy. And we so we can ask you, what is your view of what is Dharma?
I wish I had a good answer, but no, I'm I'm glad you see it as because there are people who have read this and who have essentially said this is a fantastic averbuch and I'm quite happy that people think like that. But at the same time, because then that means that the narrative is moving. But at the same time, my my real goal was to sort of marry part with action. Right. So it's not just a storytelling. There's more or less everybody knows the story.
So the idea was to put stuff in there in a certain way that thought and reflection is sort of precipitated by the words and the pages.
So with regards to what is Dharma, I think the very simplest sort of in a in a very simple form, what I wanted to do was to go back to its oldest and most sort of ancient root of this of this word. And the ancient root of the root of the word is the the s the root is or which is often used or deployed as something like that, which holds something together. Right. So in the regulators, typically the harmony is often used in the context of the early part of the determined, often used in the context of God's holding the earth and the skies apart.
So as I said, it's a kind of an action that keeps the world together or we're both stable.
So that which allows you to flourish in without the world around you or whatever that world around you, without it, without it collapsing. Is Dhamar to that particular. Actor or partner moment, etc. Now, of course, this idea very quickly or not quickly, but or say six or seven centuries, by the time you get to the second century, B.C. quickly becomes sort of a concept that is put into scripture, is put into ritual form. It goes undergoes all kinds of transformations which result in schools of the books Kandhamal Sutras that are much astros' with famous names associated with it.
So it becomes codified more and more. And then, of course, when you ask people today, modern day Indians about these things, there is a certain view that Dharma is that which allows them to persist in the ways of their own ancestors. Right. So if you ask a sort of a lot of people who speak about Dharma, it is that which allows them to flourish in a way that is in accordance with their own thought and their own, their understanding of their past.
I was writing a novel, so my goal was obviously to go back to its very old roots and ask, how does this work in a novel form? So in the novel form, it's basically actors and sort of characters. And then to ask where does what is it that they're doing which holds their world together? And that is in this particular form of the novel. That is the idea of Dharma have it is the pursuit of things that hold the story together for them or in the way they see the world right.
Of the property. Who is married to five men? The world she wants to hold together is a world of sort of marital harmony in some sense. But during the time of war, for all know, it's a very different kind of his goal is in some sense to persist during a time of great doubt and struggle internally while going through the motions of violence and so on and so forth. Now, this is not something that traditional Indian understanding of Dharma in the moral or the context usually thinks about, because they think in terms of sort of groups of clans and or maybe even so Adamah, which is of one's own Dharma once in a while.
But that is in concordance with the narrative needs of the of the mob. But I was writing a novel sort of the way I interpreted it was from a perspective of the individual. So I don't know if that makes sense, but that is roughly.
Oh, OK. But then I thought Indian tradition itself, you have you're obviously very well read about it and have written about it. I think I saw an article in the magazine Open about the search for truth. What is what was that about and how do you feel about the importance of the search?
It was something about truth, the role of yes, probably the origins of of of Indian thought and truth, etc., because so what I saw in that particular context, because I so that's part of I have another book contract that I'm supposed to be thinking about.
I mean, I've been thinking about these things. So this was part of a way to flesh out some ideas in my own head. Is the so typically when we will win, when people talk about the origins of Indian thought ET, they quickly go back to the way I did in the previous section about the Rigveda and so on and so forth, which is all fine, which is sort of a sort of a textual history of Indian thought, if you want to call it that.
But where does in that particular piece? What I was trying to say was that there are stories inside the Indian sort of texts from antiquity where it itself asks questions about the canon in which it belongs. Right. So that one particular there was an example that I was in there, which was about a woman called Jaballah. And so her son basically goes up to her and says, Mother, I would like to go and study with a teacher far away from Europe who will teach me about Burgmann and Ottoman and all that.
But at the time when I go and present myself to him, the teacher will ask me, who is your father? What is your lineage? And so on. So it's a very sort of very typical Tugun type question. And at that point. For all means and purposes are still sort of a male dominated or a patriarchal society. The expectation is that you will go and name your father and his father and so on and and so and which is also visible inside the media.
So basically, you have male teachers teaching another male student and so on, a chain of these kind of on one side that are female shaddick interlocutors at the side. But the male metres of the of the situation is always still sort of male centric. So in that particular example, Jaballah turns around and tells her son, When I was young, I am absolutely saying this. What I don't know with whom. All I have been with or I said, I don't remember who your father is anymore because I was young and I had I was a maid in a particular place.
And so I don't know who could be a father. And she says, don't worry about what happens, this is the truth, and you go out and say this to whoever your teacher will be. So within within the punishment itself, I mean, there's a story of a woman who either was free spirited in her own ways or may have suffered from assaults because she was a servant or whatever may be the case she emphasizes to her son or about the importance of trying to speak the unvarnished truth about a particular situation.
And from that particular situation, she wants to be so in some sense. She's also basically telling the son that if you you may go and find Burgmann and Ottman and all that kind of thing. But the real story, the real teaching that you have to learn is the one that I'm telling you, which is speak the truth, that which becomes and then it becomes a sort of an aphorism in the opening credits, a certain weather thermometer, etc., to be such a drama, that kind of thing.
So so the truth of the Indian intellectual history of Indian intellectual tradition in some sense could be understood as its primordial lesson is speak truth and everything else will whatever may happen will happen now from that particular sort of story, the trickle down into situations like the Mabahith, etc., where there are situations where the embodiment of of of God, of Dharma, whatever you want to call it, they themselves encourage concerned people to speak untruths in order to win in a sort of a larger context.
So that evolution is something that I am interested in. And so that was the idea. So I was I was trying to explore whether, you know, it's only for 12 or 13 other words. I could only do so much in that. So that was a piece.
So when did you learn Sanskrit and how did you learn? I am not by any means I have. I learned of partly some of it when I was a child from my father, who sort of taught me what I knew. And then thereafter I've been learning some in school. And then over the last five to 10 years, I've been interested in small and amateurish ways myself. But it's basically that which I learned whatever in the in the early part of my childhood, which is what's largely still holds me together.
So now I'm going back to, you know, like I've been reading on one side, the original Mabahith and the big DeBerry's translation on the other side. Who I think you should get on this show, I'm by the way, but and so it's a it's a great it's a lesson that I'm still learning. So and it's it's it's kind of fun, but I'm not a scholar, so I wouldn't I wouldn't take my word on anything in Sanskrit.
What do you think of the devil's translation as a translation?
I think I think I, I think it's only after you write 100 pages for whatever it is that you write, that one should really have an opinion on something like what he has done, which is, I would say the first full English translation as far as I know, in the last hundred years. That's number one. So there's a certain kind of stamina he has shown, which I don't think almost anybody I know has. Number two is the when you go back to Sanskrit and look at what he's done, he has made he's on one side very truthful to the original.
At the same time, he's also tried to make it as, I guess, something that that speaks to a common person. So yesterday there's a word somewhere and he says basically it is so what the translators remember Dharma, and it's a very simple little phrase fragment. But how to turn the word Smetana, which is a sort of a word of it, has a lot of sort of a lot is packed into that and how to make that into remember.
So that choice is something that can only come from somebody who really is comfortable with what he's trying to tell you. Like, if I was translating that, I would be flummoxed by, like, what is the appropriate word, how do I do this, etc., etc.. So I think what he's done is astonishing work, especially in the name of art, which I'm still dealing with. And also as far as I can make out from some of the Puranas, he's translated.
So and I think I think we are living in a Sage Lytham business, but we don't recognize that that's nice.
But in the end. So I say so in the in the public domain, there is an old translation by Kim Ganguli that was that's available online. That's the translation. I sort of dip into it when I can, but I have never really known. How good is that. How true is that to what you would consider the consensus original?
My understanding is at the end of last century or maybe even early part of the century, I don't know.
Yeah, I think it was 1893, 1888 that he wrote it for something like that.
So there's clearly a certain date next to it.
There's no question that the language itself is sort of archaic and it's like the like somebody you have to write the King James Bible or something. But yeah, it is it is the text that he used considered accurate.
So so there is also the other question of so from what I remember, what Dr. Libro uses is the critical addition of the Movado. So which is basically and a vast exercise done by sort of truly selfless people in some sense from nineteen I think nineteen eighteen to early nineteen seventies, which is basically an immense exercise in editing and trimming away certain excesses and bringing manuscripts from all over India and create what is called the critical edition of The Master. And I think that is what he uses to to translate.
In contrast, I think you said Mohan Ganguly uses some other or older form of lobar, that which may even be there may be portions separated or different from or not in the critical edition or in excess of the critical issue. So I think that is what we believe the has done, I think is taken the critical addition and worked on it. And so so in that sense, his is a what could now be considered a more standardized form in some sense.
And is there is there a difference in like measure like in the Rahmi? There is there are two different endings to the story, supposedly writers, and they are completely different. What happens to sit at the end is different in two different major words. Is there other settling differences in the them, so the ending for saying the more generally is not considered to be different to basically all of these guys go to to the heavens and they all fall by other families except for the dictator and his dog who is harming itself.
So that kind of story is largely held true. But what is different is true throughout throughout various extensions of the laboratory. So so basically, if you look at the Maratha in Telugu or somewhere, and then if you look at the Morada as as the the traditional Malayalam Obata, they are different. In what kind of episodes are there? How many chapters? There are substantial chapter differences in some case and in some cases there are entire episodes that are missing.
So, so so the critical addition was an example, an effort to make in some sense of certain kind of agreeable archetype, often of an older form of a form from which most people can agree that this is probably the true form. But then there are I mean, there are all kinds of variations across versions from depending on what language, what particular century the descension manuscript is coming from and so on and so forth. So. So, yeah. So the long and short the answer is there's a lot of variation if you look at local or regional languages.
But so, so in the you know, when you if you read about the Mahabharata from like an American University professor or whatever, generally it'll be presented as a text that took shape over a thousand years with additions and subtractions all the time. On the other hand, there's obviously a traditional sort of Hindu view that it's one person, whereas I wrote the whole thing. What what is your opinion about that? To be my general feeling is that the particular Viarsa that we speak about is the author of the of the Malverde is somebody called Do by Innovest.
So so the dark skinned BioServe who was born on an island. Can you all the NBA saying that sense here? It roughly refers to an editor of sorts or a collector or something like that.
My feeling is that the kind of work of this sort of humongous size be done, maybe not by one person, but clearly it was done under the guidance of one, largely a certain kind of mind at work in the form of a sort of what we could call loosely call a committee, if you want to call it that, of people who are under a certain kind of tutelage of a certain person or so on and so forth.
But by the time techs become sort of written down, there may have been addition and subtraction. But I think there is a great case to be made about the underlying structure being largely, I wouldn't say homogenously inspired but inspired by us, a certain commonality of of ideas emanating from a subsection of schools or group of people put in in general.
When you when we talk about traditional Hindu texts and philosophy and religion and so on, we in English at least mostly are talking about it from what you might call a Western point of view. Right. And how much of that is conscious and how much is unconscious? There's going to be endless debate about that. But do you think that there is such a thing as a Western point of view and looking at it and the Indian point of view of looking at it, or it's just that a matter of power that, you know, the India is a relatively poor country and the West has dominated the world for 400 years.
But when India gets rich, it will be the Indian point of view.
But philosophically, they are not going to be that different or rather that different, that there is a power differential and results in a particular kind of interpretations, surviving and thriving when it's a fact, when it's you just need to look at the kind of works that vishwa the uni and join the party and more and more recently have done to show the kind of influences of Singerman Orientalism on how the Molvar that were studied in the 19th century, which was sort of mimicking structures that were relied upon in Homeric or biblical studies.
So that kind of replication of what you know, in order to speak about that, which you don't know, is not I mean, I would say it's a natural thing and it's a function of some kind of political economy in play.
The question truly is that and in and in the 20th century, there are people who rely on sort of providing psychological gloss to act to to people in in in the Mahabharata as much as psychoanalytic theories or Freudian theories, et cetera, became important in the early part of the 20th century.
So then people started trying to marry that with mythology. And so that's kind of a strand of thought also happened. I think the real question is.
Is what is Indian traditional talk on these things and is that actually vibrant and is that growing and how do we do that? And I think that is the real question, which I think the answer at this particular point, as far as I know, is quite pessimistic. So whether India becomes richer or not, the question of whether we have a vibrant political thought in play on these matters from a from a I wouldn't say traditional, but in a in a domestic or an Indian context is hard to say, largely because of of of various other historical reasons.
But that is, I think, what is really, truly interesting, the Americans or the the Europeans, etc., eventually will stop ceasing to matter. But it's there is an element right now in Indian politics or Indian society, there's a sort of a culture war going on and you would fall in an interesting position in that war because you are and you're probably not alone in this, but you are very interested in what people would consider traditional Indian thought and Indian and Indian intellectual traditions.
But at the same time seem to be something of a liberal. There is. Do you think this clash will have an impact on how how the study of Indian thought and the and Indian thought itself progresses or doesn't progress?
I don't I don't think I think you in part will survive people and generations, and they will always be somebody who is trying to do new and original things. So the idea that Indian thought or is is beholden to one person or to a generation of thinkers is is probably not the case. I think the the issue truly is, are we actually do we have Army dedicating resources to actually study that which we claim is important? Army look like, for example, something something that I find sort of is close to my heart.
But I mean and I don't have the resources to do it.
But is the extraordinary amount of manuscripts that are just lying around in Indian libraries and which are just and it's not even out of willful effort. It's just simply moisture and time and erosion and decay that these manuscripts are just simply going away. And we have depending on who you ask, the this 30 million manuscripts, there's 10 million manuscripts, seven million manuscripts in Sanskrit or in certain languages which are simply lying in in in libraries ranging from in Tibet all the way down to Kerala.
So, ah, what are we doing about these things? I think those are the kind of. And then are we make. So that's one side. So that's sort of the material side of knowledge. The other is do we have enough people who are interested in in in languages that are relevant to these studies? Right. So these are the kind of things I think we should really worry about and think about. And I am not particularly sure that the.
That is happening because there's the issue of institutionalization. That is an issue of social capital. So like if you get a grant from a Western university, you are elevated within the academic academic circuit. And in order to get the Western grant, you are you have to speak in a certain way. You have a right in a certain way. So the incentivization structure is also very different.
So so I think I think we are in a way, unless there's.
Money or resources or two or three generations of people who dedicate themselves to these things, we are in a very difficult place, I think. So so the culture war is trivial, I mean, that would come and go and the deeper problems are are in place and there is seemingly no end to it right now.
I brought up the culture war because as a sort of default of my circle is mostly left liberal people and I see regularly people. It's not just very tiny fringe. I see regularly people who would react to someone even studying Sanskrit as being somehow reactionary.
Sure, sure. It doesn't matter. These people will vanish. So when they stop, you know, and it's a it doesn't come from the other side.
There is the thing with sort of how much of a uniform tradition you can create. People there are obviously people who are pushing to make it more like what you might call them. And, you know, like the more like Islam or Christianity, for that matter, they are pretty diverse themselves, but they're not as diverse as Hinduism.
I I think I think this a separate political projects, which are part of a sort of a history of the structure of the nation state and so on and so forth, with fear that Hinduism will become homogenized. I, I see no evidence of it. What will happen is there will be certain parts of public expression which will become common to people. Yes. But right from basic rituals to festivals to like last week there was due to something in our culture now.
Now, if you go to somebody and graduate from Yale, she will never understand or most likely would not have heard of it. But if you go to if you take the same festival and go to Malaysia, you probably have never been to India, but who still carry on with that tradition. So I think the the way tradition works and we're taught works at a sort of cultural level is very different from the very same person may ascribe to certain political symbolism, because that is the way he communicates with other persons in other parts of India.
So I think we have to keep those two aspects separate. So it's a lot of people take a political project for homogenisation. I mean, that I think that two separate homogenisation of Hinduism, the two separate, fundamentally separate things.
And you don't feel sort of that it's a major threat of any kind. You think it's not actually. No.
I mean, I do ism or what we call Hindu is an archipelago of of rituals and of of of customs that live in small and large rooms, in clusters. And of course, there will be borrowing's and they will be copying and stuff like that with which comes from other parts of India and which goes from this part to the other part, et cetera. But that is still not something as long as regional languages are spoken, as long as we have some form of caste still running through India.
I think these kind of problems of homogenization are very, very difficult to achieve culturally for for for the simple fact that people are different people have different conceptions of where they come from or what they are, what their ancestors did. At the same time, it is also the fact that there are political projects in play that rely on symbols which across the board people adopt. And so that that shouldn't be surprising. And people have done that across when Pakistan came in and did all kinds of, you know, contentious people who would otherwise be competing on on on on discourse have agreed to suddenly say, put that temporarily to the side till they get some other political project going.
So I think we have to keep cultural. So we could very well still have political homogenisation, as with cultural heterogeneity.
What is your view about this whole Arion migration dispute kind of thing?
Yeah, I believe I don't know enough because so many people speaking about it all the time and I'm writing a book of this sort, to be honest, it doesn't really matter to me because it's a novel and the novel is an individual. But what I do find surprising is the amount of energy that goes into all that, which I don't know, maybe it matters to people in some different, but it truly doesn't make any sense, because I grew up in the South Indian who grew up in North India and speaks all kinds of languages.
So it doesn't make emotionally mean anything to me. So maybe it does to other people. But and plus, I don't know enough genetics and all that kind of thing to speak about it intelligently. So when I see people talk about interactivity and this and that on the show or whatever, what do you want to say? It doesn't change anything.
And maybe that's a good perspective to have, because for for some of us, it's like it seems to be a big deal that people will reject what seems to us to be sort of standard information about the past, our standard sort of genetics. And I think no amount of scientific evidence will change anything, how people think the world where they came from. So. May have happened in the immediate decade or two decades, it may happen in a hundred years from now, maybe South Indians will have an entirely different story of where they came from, which is possible.
But, you know, in my lifetime, I don't particularly feel that any like people in my family. I mean, I do I think that they will change their perspective of who they are or how they came from or where they came from on the basis of some archaeological or genetic study. I'm very skeptical.
So this you don't have to give us your sort of personal background on this. But just as an observation, when you look at your contemporary Indian people, what is their relationship to religion? What how much do they seem to follow the various rituals of their own caste and their own tradition? And how much are they giving up or replacing with something else? That's entirely a function of the degree of urbanization, at least as far as I can make out.
So I think in a sort of first order, I think a move to a city environment does result in dilution or result in amendment of what would have been done if you had in a village or a rural setting. That said. Coming to a city is not a predictor of any kind of sort of sort of unimpeded secularization, on the contrary cities and lead to a greater need for people to carve out identities in ways that do interesting things. I mean, it's a game in some sense.
The on one hand want to be part of this urban slash, for lack of a better word, modern socio economic structure. At the same time, there is an effort to hold on to the place that they came from. So if you look at, say, for example, dumbell Brahmins in America, in California where you live, there are people who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars teaching their children Carnatic music through Skype with hiring the best gurus they can run in Carnatic Idol exercises and so on and so forth.
So it is a certain kind of understanding of who they are and what is part of their sort of identity in some sense.
But that has that has not changed or that has taken different forms by virtue of coming to America. The same kind of thing is happening in India, too, which is that when people move from villages to cities, there is a transition in how they understand what religion matters. And in some cases, of course, they give up some of the things that that their mothers or fathers did. But. It is not it's not a it's not a linear period, it's not a first order predictor, so to speak, that this will result in an entire end of attitudes towards religion.
On the contrary, it becomes, I think, more complex and more interesting going beyond sort of what rituals or prayers they say every morning there is that in the Indian tradition, there is a way of looking at life itself. For example, there's like there are stages in life where the student has different responsibilities. A householder is something different. And then as you go on and as I get older, I find this more and more sensible way of thinking about life.
But it is sort of in conflict with modernity. Modern life seems not to want to accept that. I don't know how many people actively anymore think about what is called the ashram system, which is basically a pragmatic, realistic, is it in conflict with modernity as long as you think modernity is directly in sync with increased consumption. So if you think modernity means consuming more and more, I would say yes, because to consume more and more, you need to be part of the the great chain of wealth production and so on and so forth.
But if you think of modernity as something like sort of a sudden self-conscious understanding of who you are and if you think of it in terms of understanding, life has been contingent on certain events and structures and so on, a sort of a psychological view of modernity. I think that there are enough people who have progressively shed their commitment to to sort of an active life. So in that sense, it's it's very much linked to. As a sort of attitude towards what we mean by modernity, and I think many people don't generally feel that modernity is consumption, and of course, if that is how you think about it, then clearly it is directly in conflict with any kind of philosophic system that asks for, I wouldn't say sort of end, but at least progressive reduction in in what you consume and what you how much you participate in the world, etc.
. So I, like India, for example, is a gerontocracy in many ways mean our politicians are like 70, 80, 90 years old in some cases. Should they be actively working in public space if they were truly traditional in that kind of questions are no longer possible. Right.
But beyond that, I agree with the consumption part. But also there is a there is a very strong element in modernity of like individual choice. And the ideal is it doesn't seem to be you know, there's something about the traditional ideal that also involves limiting individual choice. So so this question of whether individual choice.
I think I think it's. It's not, of course, is the question of choice, but it's more a question of recognition of what are the limits to which I want to do certain things. And modernity in that sense consistently sells you this idea that there are no limits for for you as an individual. And and that, I think, is the fundamental thing that sets you up for potential sense of despair and odd feeling that you haven't done much and so on and so forth, because that essentially is what the book that in some sense says desire is the root of a whole lot of trouble that will come to you.
So that desire started the unending desire in this particular socio economic framework is at the heart of a lot of problems and tradition traditionally. I mean, is this idea that. We would encourage you to go in a certain way, nature is providing a framework, it's not necessarily saying on the first day of your birthday you will now give up and now you will go into this other. So it's not a huge say. It's a sort of an erosion of your previous commitment and a discovery of new ones.
But the ideal is sort of out there and the ideal in modern society, at least the modern societies we are familiar with, the law seems to be quite opposed to that. Yes, because because the entire system is set up to to live off ideas of growth rate in India can grow at seven percent, but then immediately there will be people who say, why can't we grow at 10 percent? Because if you grow at 10 percent, we will double our GDP in seven point two years as opposed to 10 years if you grow at seven percent.
Now, the flipside to those kind of arguments is that there are many systems of traditional ecological social support that are being upset by these massive growth economies. Then who are we to say you can't do X or Y? Because, you know, if you don't have running water and if you if growth of 10 percent is promising you that, then I think people will choose that. And so so it's a I mean, I think I think over the next 50, 100 years, I mean, we are in four transformations which will force us to rethink what tradition actually was saying in the first place.
Tradition for sure. So then the questions can be reinterpreted in ways that would make sense to for the choices that we have already made. But there's another very strong element in Indian tradition that seems to be that the world is an illusion, not in the literal sense necessarily, but that there is a mistrust of language and of concepts and and a sort of insistence that the mind is sort of an unbridled horse. It'll just never get to settle on anything true unless you can discipline it.
Yes, but I think those ideas have largely come from texts written by people who are, for lack of a better word, towards the latter half of their lives. So there are people who are for sort of moksha or the people who are engaged in practices that lead to some form of moksha Dharma. Right. So so that is the but there is equally a vast tradition of of household rituals and household commitments and things that families have to do and so on and so forth.
So so that a commitment to gaining wealth and a commitment to having children and things like that. So that is a equally materialist point of view. I think this general feeling that much of Indian thought is some form of metaphysics or some form of esotericism is something that came or has emerged largely from the late 19th, early 20th century when the English were starting to explore Indian philosophy. And then there are a lot of entrepreneurial Indian thinkers who saw that the English were interested in this defendant and pushed Indian law solely to the fore because then that leads to professorship in Oxford and places like that.
So but there is a there is a very strong logic and very strong tradition of like highly elaborate and complex reasoning based argumentation. So so I think there is a real challenge over the next 50 to 100 years is sort of saving or I would say retrieving Indian pot from this sort of general feeling that a lot of it is just sort of gooey and not clear, but it's not necessarily gooey.
I mean, you can take it seriously that there is a difficulty with language and we are sort of prisoners of of language and we have to mistrust it a little bit.
Sure. But but there's a lot of effort and the dimensions of these fifth to seventh century were basically fundamentally engaged with with problems contained within the language and how well it has meaning itself to the side. And so so so there's a huge tradition. And that tradition thinks about language in a very analytical way. So the need to think of Indian thought as like we are as much business to language as the West is mean. Immanuel Kant was presented to German in some sense, much in the same way.
So are we. But often when that is summarised, we are often sort of seen as people who have other problems as well with language and concepts that the West somehow did not have, which I think is probably not true.
That may not be true, but there is a I'm just thinking about, like all our poets and writers, not just very old people in, for example, Punjabi poetry, Punjabi Sufi poetry is like every single one of those classical poets who are famous is saying pretty much the same thing about it's not not I'm saying they're bullish.
I for me to speak Chinese and it is there is a strong sort of, but might be not a direct, you know, non dualistic kind of philosophy that is that has very wide acceptance and at least in this kind of in poetry and in intellectuals. So I think there is clearly that kind of a strand, a strand of the slash, what later on when it gets Islamicized in some sense, also becomes at least in India, it becomes some form of Sufism.
So that is clearly there.
But that is and that is the thing that has been elevated or often been represented as a representative of Indian thought. So, but what what I think and what I feel is that there is this other fundamentally more analytical tradition as well on the side, which has got less play because it's much more I mean, it is it is emotionally, obviously not. And it's hard to get very emotionally aroused about, you know, the particular inferential principle you use to understand whether reality exists and so on.
But so so that it has a sort of, quote unquote, a marketing problem in some sense. And that, I think is I mean, there are people who have worked on it for, like pretty much their entire lives, including in the West. And so it's not just Indians with Westerners who have done fundamental contributions to these kind of things and who have who are trying to still revive and tell people the rest of the world that there is a very strong, formidable analytical tradition within India.
Well, I think we're running out of time.
So, yeah, it's been an hour. And it was very interesting. It was fun talking to you. And I hope we do this again at some point. And as you suggested, maybe we'll try to get Deborah on.
I don't have his contact or anything, but I think it will absolutely help you if you can get in touch with him or sort of connect us.
We would love to do that and we would love to talk to him. And it was great talking to you. And I hope people read the Dharma Forest. I think it's a fascinating book. And and well, what is the sort of book that you would sort of dip into and out of many times? And I would highly recommend it.
Thank you. I'm glad you think so.
So tune in next week for Brown Cast.