Thoughts on ‘Becoming Indian’ by Pavan Verma
Book reviews can be daunting. To review, critically analyze, summarize, an author’s work of research or literature seems an incredibly courageous task.
I won’t call this a review but rather an experience. An experience that at times boiled my blood with anger, opened my eyes to the genesis of present-day Indian problems but most of all, it has inspired in me a newfound cultural patriotism. It has left me both, angered and educated.Pavan Verma has conveyed with profound conviction (and research) the systematic dilution of Indian culture by the British. He has discussed facts forgotten and people misconstrued (History textbooks can lie). He has attempted to unearth a culture that was meticulously rubbished by the British.
India had, over centuries, absorbed myriads of external influences, but this interaction with the British was different because it was based not on dialogue but on dictate, on rejection rather than interaction, thereby obliterating the possibility of a synthesis that would enrich both cultures.
With detailed explanations, examples and excerpts, Pavan Verma has highlighted the facets of Indian culture that underwent a destructive transition. Architecture, art, music, dance, received condemnation from the Brits for being uncivilized, superstitious, and primitive.
Foreign art was brought into the country and portrayed as modern and supreme. There began the end of originality and the birth of Western imitation as they were not entirely unsuccessful in their attempts of proselytization. There were welcoming artists that embraced ‘new styles’ with open arms and shed artistic ways that had evolved and amalgamated over centuries.
Percival Spear once insightfully wrote that India broke ‘her British fetters with western hammers’.
The most tragic to me is what the British did to our local scripts and education system. They taught English in schools, not for teaching or benefit of learning, but to replace (read erase) what we had. Their intention of introducing English in schools was for their own selfish reasons. It was done to make us one of them but not enough that would lead to empowerment over them. Funny how there are still some that believe the British deserve praise and applause for their efforts in civilizing India by teaching us a foreign tongue.
Of all the superstitions that affect India, none is so great as that a knowledge of the English language is necessary for imbibing ideas of liberty and developing accuracy of thought.
English is the language of convenience. In a country like India, where language changes every hundred kilometres, English is often a unifying factor for matters like governance. It is common ground for people from different regions of the country.
However, is this happening at the expense of our own scripts? Perhaps.
Knowledge of English may be important but is it the be-all end-all?
What needs to change is the attitude of people towards languages that are their own. English is not the vehicle of knowledge or progress. No doubt, English is an important language but what it has become today is a status symbol. Knowledge of the English language is considered the basic premise of education. One who cannot or does not speak English is often considered uneducated and looked down upon by the supposedly “more educated”. What needs to be instilled in every Indian is a sense of pride. Pride will come when there is awareness of truth – the truth of history. Maybe Indians even need to take up some responsibility to avoid the extinction of what belongs to them.
Panini’s majestic work on Sanskrit grammar, the Ashtadhyayi, with which the history of linguistics begins, was written in the fourth century BC, at a time when the British were centuries away from speaking a coherent language.
To every Indian, you are not even aware of the legacy you are carrying forward. And that is the tragedy.
PS: If you think the British abolished Sati, you are grossly mistaken, my friend. Read the book for more!
Get the book on Amazon – https://goo.gl/3Wi4nZ
Written by Radhika Sethi