November 28th, 1999
© Akhilesh Mithal

Why this Apathy for Culture?


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In India the cultural scene is no better than Pakistan. Urdu is now well and truly a "classical" language. Dead, mummified and buried. The Fort William people in the 19th century pronounced it to be a "Muslim" language or the language of the Mohammedans of India. They then proceeded to manufacture a language for the poor dumb Hindoos and called it Hindi. This was to become our rashtrabhaashaa after independence. All the patronage a government can provide has failed to enable it to take off, get up or grow up.

Thus the Indians of the North have a language called Urdu which was murdered by communalism and a still-birth called Hindi. The result is that for the first time in its long and chequered history there is no poet of Dillee. Dillee the beloved city has no poet to love it and sing its praises.

Even at its so called decadent worst, the fresh new lyrics (ghazals) recited by Zauq, Momin Ghalib et al in the Qilaa-i-Muallaa or the Red Fort of Dillee were carried from tongue to tongue. And when the poet returned home on many occasions he was regaled by the sound of his own verse being sung on the balconies and in the chambers of the great courtesans of the time. This was because Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Emperor of India, was not only a poet but also an accomplished musician. Culture definitely has a "trickle-down" effect.

We are ruled by a party which has no intellectuals or men or women who are creative in prose, poetry, drama, sculpture, architecture or town-planning. Not that the Indian National Congress was a shining example and endowed with nauratans like the courts of Vikramaditya and Akbar. But they were open to the Bhabhas and Vikram Sarabhais, the Mahalanobises and the C.V. Ramans.

The parivaar does not feel the lack. The sycophants of the regime rig up a pseudo Hindu temple on Vijay Chowk for Independence Day celebrations and have a lady wearing weird designer clothes belt out the Prime Ministerís poems on Doordarshan. What the eye is not sensitised to see or the ear trained to hear is not missed.

Itís in this context that the reader has to see "Dr" Murli Manohar Joshiís attempts at "doctoring" history to show that the Muslims and the Christians have brutalised Hindoos for a thousand years and must be made to pay. The slogan is: badmouth and make into objects of hatred and fear; identify, isolate, destroy.

The right wing of the Indian National Congress led by Vallabhbhai Patel drove out the "professional" singers from the All India Radio on grounds of public morality. He also made it impossible for Ahmad Shah Bokhari, a brilliant and creative man and the first Indian to become director general of All India Radio, to opt for India and stay on in Delhi. There was no other patron or platform for classical and semi-classical music, ghazals, dadras, thumris and the like except the A.I.R. Keskar completed what Patel started.

Great singers were treated like whores and ostracised. A whole heritage was killed by callous indifference and blind prejudices because the Patels and the Keskars were ignoramuses and prejudiced.

Who in the India of today can sing a ghazal? A host of women claim the throne (gaddee) of Begum Akhtar and call her Ammee or mother. In this area as in the Indian National Congress, dynasty is all! If Sonia is inept and unlettered in politics so are these ghazal singing ladies in the language of music and culture. Not one knows Urdu and Persian itís like a glint in a long dead eye. No one cares or misses the experience.

Being culture insensitive and poetry illiterate, music deaf and painting, sculpture and architecture blind our rulers have only what they think to be religion as expression for their urges in the aesthetic sphere. The way the Gayatri mantra is murdered every morning cannot be believed even by lacerated ears.

When Atal Behari Vajpayee was a member of Parliament from New Delhi, it was suggested to him that the paid priests of Arya Samaj Temples be formally trained in reciting the mantraas but he pleaded inadequate finances as an excuse for inaction. Hundreds and thousands of crores are being spent on building temples but there is no money for reciting the Gayatri mahamantra. Alas!


© Akhilesh Mithal, 1991-1999. All rights reserved.
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