Man is basically a gregarious animal and this factor entails many vulnerabilities. We want to care and to be cared for, we want somebody to love and to be loved and we want the dream of a rainbow on the horizon to be on the move. But above all, we are weighed down by an invisible burden, the burden of dignity, integrity and self esteem. These three abstract parameters define the finger print of our being what we are. These three factors, in varying measures, preside over our actions and reactions. Culture is a social conditioning which sets certain invisible red signals where we have to stop. Being cultured is to know where to stop. This programming makes us conditionally compassionate under the guiding influence of the three invisible burdens aforesaid.
We cannot yet take the whole vibgyor of humanity as our own, as our brothers and sisters. The yawning hiatus of ‘our people’ and ‘their people’ always stands in the way. No matter what our leaders and demagogues blurt out in the fury of their rhetoric, clay and clay differ in dignity. In plain language, people are not equal. People are not equal in terms of aspirations, potentialities, attainments and intellectual prowess. We could possibly escape from many disturbing things in life, but we cannot escape from us. There lies the spice of life. We are indelibly branded by our colour, anatomy, heritage and aptitudes. We have to fight it out within these fastidious constraints, it is a subtle linear programming problem. Furthermore, in our wheeling–dealings with other people these inescapable personal coordinates play a seminal role. We are consigned to appropriate demographic matrices based on this racial and cultural finger prints.
Anti-Semitism had, for very many centuries, been a national hobby of the western world. Rather than historic and religious reasons, the real cause for this was jealousy. Jews, being banned from owning lands, became uncanny financiers, bankers, academics and bureaucrats. Hitler, at his time, lamented that every Jew was a clerk and every clerk was a Jew. When the psychopathic inner circles of the Nazi movement had their way in Germany, Jews were not even treated as human beings. At a hair pin curve in the Austrian Alps, the sign board read, ‘Dead slow, for Jews 200 miles/hour.’ Here sheer jealousy stood in the way of being compassionate.
But the western society, by and large, is compassionate, tolerant and considerate compared to other geographical regions. The basic reason for the same is, apparently Judeo–Christian value systems and progressive socio cultural evolution often punctuated by knee jerking revolutionary paroxysms. Being a Good Samaritan became a cherished virtue in the social fabric. Greco-Roman jurisprudence, thoroughly humanized by traditional Christian values, respected and cared for each soul as a precious molecule of divinity. However, this does not mean that everything was well and good on the western front, the evolutionary process emerged into the sunshine of humanism, probably after 1789, the cataclysmic year when France parted with her hoary past in which ‘clergy prayed, people paid and nobles fought’. Liberalism, fundamental human rights and democratic ideals had been progressively evolving among the masses through a subtle social engineering actuated by a galaxy of visionaries who could rise above the rut and think beyond the wonted scholastic grooves. Compassion is essentially a Christian virtue and legacy, which was perfected in the western world only after the modern industrial democracies were well entrenched- established church by and by gave way to a climate of humanism. Compassion springs from an angst which provokes a flight of fancy: oh god had I been in his shoes! Only in relaxed societies such flights of fancy are possible. Technological efflorescence, access to cheap natural resources from the colonial hinterland of Africa-Asia and Americas, advances in health care, emergence of industrial democracies and the spread of humanism engaging the vacuum left behind by organized church contributed to the formation of this desirable social climate.
The touching story of the Happy Prince and his conceited robin by Oscar Wilde, which is a celebration of selfless compassion, could happen only on the western cultural theater. Similarly ‘The last leaf’ by O Henry, in which Behrman, the decrepit failed painter lays down his life with his single master piece only to save the life of Joanna, is an epic of absolute compassion. The western concept of god itself is that of an abode of love forgiveness and compassion.
However, this happened at the expense of Afro-Asian melt down. The so called white man’s burden should be re-visited with some degree of remorse and consternation. Indeed, humanity cannot revolt against the ghost of its past and turn the clock back. But the writing on the wall is very much there that what the west did to the tribal mosaic of nations of America and Africa is a heinous crime. Africa, once a pristine Sylvan mystery, interspersed with and inseparably knitted into it, were the black African tribes. With the advent of colonial masters came artificially carved out countries, cities, centralized governance in place of a working autonomy dictated by the imperatives of nature and above all deforestation and desertification. Populations exploded in Malthusian proportions, as the impeccable checks and balances instituted by nature were obliterated by anthropogenic manipulation. Clans and nations fight, swaths of land are laid waste, famines take their toll. Democracy artificially slapped on them by the colonial legacy, is pushed under the rug and garish dictators and megalomaniacs rule the roost. People forfeited their timeless cultural moorings and value systems, imported value systems and religions pushed down their reluctant throats banished them to the no man’s land of cultural bastardry. The ilk of Bokoharam creates new epics of intolerance and xenophobia. The original primitive socialism of the pre colonial African nations had been compassionate and considerate at least to own clans, more so as collective ownership of natural resources and need based sharing of facilities were in vogue. A panic stricken nation mired deep in existential woes, cannot be tolerant, cannot be compassionate, especially when its original cultural roots and value systems have been eroded. No imported ideology will be a viable substitute for an indigenous one evolved naturally. When we imitate a borrowed culture we altogether fail to assimilate the value systems there from.
Cultural alienation put the black population of the new world in a quandary. They were not able to compete with the white intellectual “sophistication” or its “refined” thought process. They had to resort to the brute force they were inherently endowed with, to make their voice heard. Since they had no access to the rarified academic, intellectual and technocratic circles, the black minority appropriated itself to shallow little pleasures like alcoholism, criminality, bootlegging, drug trafficking, and many other hazardous activities. Violence became their shield against the world when being hunted down to the wall. Initially they could not do any better than their brethren from the African mainland or India. Violence and brutality were their only natural defenses against the white man’s purported intellectual superiority.
India is, for all practical purposes, the African enclave in Asia. In fact the peninsular India is a slice of Africa that divorced and floated away from East Africa as part of primordial plate tectonics. The tribal nations of the Andamans and the forest dwelling tribes that remained insulated across time from racial dilution, still retain the salient African characteristics. All the tribal communities which have been catapulted into modern life and culture, are in a disarray. They take to drugs and drinks to drown all the incompatibilities and inconsistencies to oblivion. They lost their stout moral and cultural foundation nurtured and designed by the hands of nature. They have to behave like knaves as their tribal cohesiveness is lost. They cannot be compassionate, they are at war with themselves. Tribal societies, when denied their self esteem, become a suicidal incoherence and they cannot be compassionate.
India’s melt down had started long before 1498. India’s history is, in real terms, a history of invasions and subjugations. The repressive caste system, which effectively prevented the hybridization of water tight demographic compartments, was shattered by later day invasions after the last spasms of Aryanization, through further waves upon waves of invasions across the Khyber Pass. We are a cacophony of races religions and creeds which are mutually exclusive. When we come to the present, our value system is a collage of many things left behind by a tattered past, bequeathed to a collage of dazed nations held together by a vague residual memory of a jingoistic common denominator. An average Indian is smothered by and addicted to numerous invisible strings. The Good Samaritan dormant in him can come to the fore subject to many considerations including but not limited to the religion, caste, sub caste, touchability, language, social status, food habits and crass economic prospects of the prospective beneficiary. You may lose your caste and position by helping a casteless Hindu. India is probably the only country in the world where bleeding motorists are left on the road to die. Nay, the passersby will be feasting on the hapless victims to feed the whatsapp circles.
There is more to it than meets the eye. India’s spiritual traditions do not envisage a collective salvation. Salvation and spiritual progression, if at all, are at an individual level. The famous and oft quoted quatrain in the bhagavat gita ‘uttaraed atman atmanam..’ proclaims that you are the only friend you have and you are the only enemy you have, hence let every soul strive to elevate itself. This dignified egocentricity or barricaded individuality defined by karma, possibly keeps an average Indian from being altruistic, compassionate or sensitized to the lateral damage in the long march of the individual. Then suffering is a delusion, it is the orchestration of maya, the phantasmagoria brought out by the fallacy of time and space. Both time and space are nonexistent, suffering itself is nonexistent. The killer does not kill and the slain is not slain. In such a social climate compassion by far loses its pertinence and platform. Buddhism is a religion that took shape on the premises of infinite compassion. But the remedy prescribed by the great master is not rooted on compassion, but on renunciation and shutting out from the mesmerizing world. In other words, Asia failed to inculcate a culture of compassion. In classical Indian tradition, every atman is treated as a trapped divinity. People bow to each other acknowledging the divine element in the individual. But this acknowledgement, at the brass tacks, does not translate to compassion.
The cultural amalgam that India is, has left behind many disgruntled cultural refugees in utter knavery and abomination. They are just like the African Diaspora which forfeited its moral strength and identity. In many parts of India, when a train accident happens, the locals take it as a field day, they loot rape and plunder at will. They chop off the bangled hands that stretch out for help and succour. In 1987 when a passenger express train plunged into a river in Kerala, eye witnesses say that many drowning high society women were raped. Once Kuttippuzha Krishna Pillai, a writer from South India related an anecdote in the depths of his despondency: a child had fallen into a well and the men and women around were crying out for help. An Englishman, passing by stopped his motor cycle, came to site and plunged into the well. He rescued the child and came up all wet. In the meantime some locals had stolen his watch and purse. Yes, compassion is inseparably linked with couture. Society tends to be innocent of compassion in the absence of hope. Today-ism leaves no room for compassion and tolerance. Given a chance we cheat, loot and rape because tomorrow is a frowning chimera any way. (….to be continued)