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The Uncolonized Mind:

A Post‑Colonial View of India

and the West


Rudyard Kipling (1862‑1936) thought he knew which side of the great divide between imperial Britain and subject India he stood. He was certain that to be ruled by Britain was India's right; to rule India was Britain's duty. He was also certain that, as one with a knowledge of both their cultures, he had the responsibility to define both the right and the duty. But is it the whole story? Or is it the last line of a story which began years ago, in Kipling's childhood in India?

Angus Wilson begins his biography of Kipling by saying that Kipling was 'a man who, throughout his life, worshipped and respected ... children and their imaginings.’1 Kipling's early life provides a clue to the childhood he worshipped and respected. He was not merely born in India; he was brought up in India by Indian servants in an Indian environment. He thought, felt and dreamt in Hindustani, mainly communicated with Indians, and even looked like an Indian boy.2 He went to Hindu temples, for he was 'below the age of caste', and once, when he visited a farm with his parents, he walked away hold­ing the hand of a farmer, saying to his mother in Hindustani: 'Goodbye, this is my brother.'

Young Kipling was deeply impressed by the romance, the

colour and the mystery of India. And the country became a permanent part of his idea of an idyllic childhood, associated with his 'years of safe delight' and his private 'garden of Eden before the fall' .3 To speak of this memory as the core of his adult self may seem overly psychological, but certainly no other non‑Indian writer of English has equalled Kipling's sensitivity to Indian words, to India's flora and fauna, and to the people who inhabit India's 6oo,ooo villages. The Indian peasantry remained for him his beloved children throughout his life .4

As against this affinity to things Indian, there was his close ­yet‑distant relationship with his Victorian parents. He inter­acted with them mainly when he was formally‑and somewhat ritually‑presented to them by the servants. When speaking to his parents, his autobiography states, he 'haltingly translated out of the vernacular idiom that one thought and dreamt in.’5 Overtly, his love, respect and gratitude to his parents, specially his mother, were immense. Yet, at least one biographer has pointed out the gap between 'the elevated, almost religious concept' of a mother's place in a son's life, as found in Kipling's stories and verses, and his own relationship with his mother.6 Mother Alice Kipling was not apparently a woman who en­couraged much emotionalism.

Also, it was through his parents that Rudyard was exposed to the most painful experience of his life. After six idyllic years in Bombay, he was sent with his sister to South sea in England, to one Aunt Rosa for education and 'upkeep'. Mrs Rosa Holloway belonged to an English family of declining fortunes, and with her husband, a retired army officer, she kept boarders. On the surface everything went smoothly. Some visitors found Mrs Holloway a loving guardian to Rudyard and she did relate well with his sister. But it transpired after Kipling's

death that his years at Southsea had been a torture. His posthumous autobiography describes Mrs Holloway's establishment as a 'House of Desolation', characterized by restric­tions, bullying, persecution and some sadism. The malefactors included both Aunt Rosa and her young son.

It must have been a lonely, hateful world for someone brought up in close proximity to nature, in a free yet capsulating world, peopled by kindly, warm, non‑parental figures. To Mrs Holloway, on the other hand, Rudyard was a stranger. Sold to the Victorian and Calvinist concept of a sinful child­hood that had to be chastened, she must have found the strong­-willed, defiant, uninhibited child particularly spoilt, unsaved and reprobate. Perhaps there was an element of jealousy too. At least one chronicler suggests that both Mrs Holloway and her bully of a son might have sensed that the arrogant deceitful little boy had spent his time in a world quite beyond their dreary horizon.7

To young Rudyard, the ill‑treatment at Southsea was a great betrayal by his parents. To requote a passage by his sister made famous by Edmund Wilson in the 1940s:

Looking back, I think the real tragedy of our early days, apart from Aunty's bad temper and unkindness to my brother, sprang from our inability to understand why our parents had deserted us. We had had no preparation or explanation; it was like a double death or rather, like an avalanche that had swept away everything happy and familiar ... We felt that we had been deserted, 'almost as much as on a door­step'. . . . There was no getting out of that, as we often said.8

Some have argued that such banishment to England was normal in those times and must be considered well‑motivated. Anglo‑Indian parents did live with the fear of servants spoiling their children, introducing them to heathenism and encourag­ing in them sexual precocity. Also, Alice Kipling's third baby had died and she was anxious about her surviving children.

But the issue is not whether Rudyard was justified in feeling what he felt about his parents, but whether he actually har­boured such feelings. His sister was the only person to know, and her evidence in this respect is conclusive. The other, and more serious evidence is the fact that he finally had at Southsea a 'severe nervous breakdown', made more horrible by partial blindness and hallucinations.9

At last, Rudyard was taken away from Southsea and put in a public school which catered for children of families of a military background, mainly children planning to enter the navy. The school emphasized the military and masculine vir­tues. Ragging was common, the cultural compulsion to enter sports enormous. But Rudyard was a sedentary, artistically­ minded child who hated sports, partly because of his danger­ously weak eyesight and partly because he was already sure that he wanted to live a life of the mind. In addition, Kipling looked noticeably a non‑white (at least some Indians have observed that Kipling had a tan which could not be explained away as a result of the Indian sun). The result was more misery. If his parents showed him the other side of English affection and Mrs Holloway the other face of English authority, the bullying and ostracism he suffered as an alien‑looking 'effe­minate' schoolboy gave him another view of the English sub­culture that produced the ruling elites for the colonies.

In sum, reared in the company of doting Indian servants who desanitized the Victorian though non‑Calvinist and non­-church‑going Kipling family, young Rudyard found England a harrowing experience. It was a culture lie could admire‑the admiration was also a product of his socialization‑but not love. He remained in England a conspicuous bicultural sahib, the English counterpart of the type he was to later despise: the bicultural Indian babu. Others sensed this marginality and the resulting social awkwardness, and this further distanced him from English society in England and subsequently in India. His writings were to reflect this remoteness later, and he never

could write about England as captivatingly as about India.10

Yet, his oppressive English years inevitably gave Kipling the message that England was a part of his true self, that he would have to disown his Indianness and learn not to identify with the victims, and that the victimhood he had known in England could be avoided, perhaps even glorified, through identification with the aggressors, especially through loyalty to the aggressors' values.

Kipling himself had been effeminate, weak, individualistic, rebellious and unwilling to see the meaning of life only in work or useful activity (he was bad at figures in his school at Southsea and could not read till he was six). These were exactly the faults he later bitterly attacked in Westernized Indians. Almost self‑depreciatingly, he idealized the herd and the pack and the kind of morality which would hold such a collectivity together. He never guessed that it was a short step from the Westernized Indian to the Indianized Westerner and he never realized that the marginality he scorned in the pro‑Indian intellectuals and the anti‑colonial liberals was actually his own.

What were the links between the two Kiplings: between the hero loyal to Western civilization and the Indianized Westerner who hated the West within him, between the hero who inter­faced cultures and the anti‑hero who despised cultural hybrids and bemoaned the unclear sense of self in him?

It was blind violence and a hunger for revenge. Kipling was always ready to justify violence as long as it was counter-­violence. Edmund Wilson points out, with a touch of contempt, that much of Kipling's work is remarkably free of any real defiance of authority and any sympathy for the victims.11 Actually there is more to it. Kipling distinguished between the victim who fights well and pays back the tormentor in his own coin and the victim who is passive‑aggressive, effeminate, and fights back through non‑cooperation, shirking, irresponsibility, malingering and refusal to value face‑to‑face fights. The first

was the 'ideal victim' Kipling wished to be, the second was the victim's life young Kipling lived and hated living. If he did not have any compassion for the victims of the world, he did not have any compassion for a part of himself either.

But Kipling's literary sensitivities did not entirely fail him even in this sphere. He knew it was not a difference between violence and nonviolence, but between two kinds of violence. The first was the violence that was direct, open and tinged with legitimacy and authority. It was the violence of self‑confident cultural groups, used to facing violent situations with over­whelming advantages. The second was the violence of the weak and the dominated, used to facing violence with over­whelming disadvantages. There is in this second violence a touch of non‑targeted rage as well as of desperation, fatalism and, as the winners or masters of the world would have it, cowardliness. This violence is often a fantasy rather than an intervention in the real world, a response to the first kind of violence rather than a cause or justification for it.

In Kipling's life, the first kind of violence happened to be the prerogative of the British rulers in India; the second that of Indians subjugated in India. Kipling correctly sensed that the glorification of the victor's violence was the basis of the doctrine of social evolution and ultimately colonialism, that one could not give up the violence without giving up the concept of colonialism as an instrument of progress.

The cost of this moral blindness was enormous. The centre­ piece of Kipling's life was a refusal to look within, an aggressive 'anti‑intraception' which forced him to avoid all deep conflicts, and prevented him from separating human problems from ethnic stereotypes. Remarkably extraversive, his work stressed all forms of collectivity, and saw the bonds of race and blood as more important than person‑to‑person relationships. As if their author, he hoped that the restlessness and occasional depression that had dogged him since the Southsea days could be driven off‑scent by the extraversive search for cultural roots, through the service he was rendering to the imperial authority. He lived and died fighting his other self‑a softer, more creative

and happier self‑and the uncertainty and self‑hatred asso­ciated with it.

Simultaneously, the only India he was willing to respect was the one linked to her martial past and subcultures, the India which was a Dionysian counterplayer as well as an ally of the West. Probably, at another plane, like Nirad C. Chaudhuri and V. S. Naipaul after him, Kipling too lived his life searching for an India which, in its hard masculine valour, would be an equal competitor or opponent of the West that had humiliated, disowned and despised his authentic self.

Some critics have spoken of the two voices of Kipling. One, it seems, has even named the voices the saxophone and the oboe. The saxophone was, one suspects, Kipling's martial, violent, self‑righteous self which rejected pacifism and glorified soldiery, went through spells of depression, was fascinated by the gro­tesque and the macabre, and lived with an abiding fear of madness and death. The oboe was Kipling's Indianness and his awe for the culture and the mind of India, his bewilderment at India's heterogeneity and complexity, her incoherence and ancient mystery', her resistance to the mechanization of work as well as man, and ultimately her androgyny. The antonyms were masculine hardness and imperial responsibility on the one hand, and feminine softness and cross‑cultural empathy, on the other. The saxophone won out, but the oboe continued to play outside Kipling's earshot, trying to keep alive a subjugated strain of his civilization in the perceived weaknesses of another.


This long story tells us a number of things about the world of the men who built, ran, or legitimized empires, about the experienced violence which became in them a lifelong fear of and respect for violence, and about the attempt to give meaning to private suffering by developing theories of extraversive vio­lence. This in turn, underneath all the attempts to identify with the aggressor and despite singing the praise of the powerful, was also a matter of 'turning against the self': a defence touching

in this case the very margins of self‑destructiveness. Such processes provide vital clues to the fates of polities and cultures.

For the moment, however, I shall focus on a dilemma in Kipling's personal life which was common to all colonial ideo­logies and could be so to most post‑colonial awarenesses. This dilemma is important because while the economic, political and moral results of colonialism have been discussed, its emo­tional and cognitive costs have been ignored. Arid as Freud has reminded us in this century, what we choose to forget has a tendency to come back to haunt us in 'history'.

Kipling's dilemma can be stated simply: he could not be both Western and Indian; he could be either Western or Indian. It was this imposed choice which linked his self‑destructiveness to the tragedy of his life: Kipling's avowed values were Western, his rejected under‑socialized self Indian, and he had to choose between the two. Had it been the other way round, he might have managed as a brown sahib or as a babu at least to ac­knowledge his bicultural self and reconcile however crudely the East and the West within him.

This apparently trivial, hypothetical difference is the first clue to the way colonialism tried to take over the Western con­sciousness, to make it congruent with the needs of colonialism, to take away the wholeness of every white man who chose to be a part of the colonial machine, and to give him a new self­-definition which, while provincial in its cultural orientation, was universal in its geographical scope.

In retrospect, colonialism did have its triumphs after all. It did make Western man definitionally non‑Eastern and handed him a self‑image and a world view which were basically responses to the needs of colonialism. He could not but be non­Eastern; he could not but be continuously engaged in studying, interpreting and understanding the East as his negative iden­tity.12 The 'discovery' of the Orient, which Edward Said has so elegantly described '13 was designed to expel the other Orient

which had once been a part of the medieval European con­sciousness as an archetype and a potentiality. That other Orient, too, was sometimes seen as an enemy but it was re­spected, even if grudgingly. It was seen not merely as the habitat of an alternative world view but also as an alternative source of knowledge about the West. Voltaire's China, for example, was not the modern anthropologist's East; it was the humanist's alter ego of the West. The medieval Middle East was the place where many Europeans went to study Aristotle. And even among the first generation of colonialists in British India ­among those who were actually the greatest empire builders­ there were those like Warren Hastings who felt that they had more to learn from the civilization they ruled than they had to teach.

This other Orient ' the Orient which was the Occident's double, did not fit the needs of colonialism; it carried intima­tions of an alternative, cosmopolitan, multicultural living which was, to change the context of Angus Wilson's expression, beyond the dreary middle‑class horizons of Kipling and his English contemporaries. They forced themselves and every bicultural Westerner to make his choice.

On the other side, colonialism tried to supplant the Indian consciousness to erect an Indian self‑image which, in its op­position to the West, would remain in essence a Western con­struction. If the colonial experience made the mainstream Western consciousness definitionally non‑Oriental and re­defined the West's self‑image as the antithesis or negation of the East, it sought to do the reverse with the self‑image of the Orient and with the culture of India. Colonialism replaced the normal ethnocentric stereotype of the inscrutable Oriental by the pathological stereotype of the strange, primal but predict­able Oriental‑religious but superstitious, clever but devious, chaotically violent but effeminately cowardly. Simultaneously, colonialism created a domain of discourse where the standard mode of transgressing such stereotypes was to reverse them: superstitious but spiritual, uneducated but wise, womanly but pacific, and so on and so forth. No colonialism could be complete

unless it 'universalized' and enriched its ethnic stereotypes by appropriating the language of defiance of its victims. That was why the cry of the victims of colonialism was ultimately the cry to be heard in another language‑unknown to the colonizer and to the anti‑colonial movements that he had bred and then domesticated. That is why the rest of this analysis has to seek to understand the colonial legacy in post‑colonial India in a language which, while it incorporates the language of the modern world, also tries to remain outside it. The shifts from the past to the present tense in the following pages, and from the present to the past, is a part of the same effort.

India is not non‑West; it is India. Outside the small section of Indians who were once exposed to the full thrust of colonialism and are now heirs to the colonial memory, the ordinary Indian has no reason to see himself as a counterplayer or an antithesis of the Western man. The imposed burden to be perfectly non ­Western only constricts his, the everyday Indian's, cultural self, just as the older burden of being perfectly Western once narrowed‑and still sometimes narrows‑his choices in the matter of his and his society's future. The new responsibility forces him to stress only those parts of his culture which are recessive in the West and to underplay both those which his cul­ture shares with the West and those which remain undefined by the West. The pressure to be the obverse of the West distorts the traditional priorities in the Indian's total view of man and universe and destroys his culture's unique gestalt. It in fact binds him even more irrevocably to the West .14

In this respect, there is a perfect fit here between many ver­sions of Indian nationalism and the world view of the Kiplings. Both share what the Mddhyamika might call the tendency to absolutize the relative differences between cultures.15 Both seek to set up the East and the West as permanent and natural

antipodes. Both trace their roots to the cultural arrogance of post-Enlightenment Europe which sought to define not only the ‘true’ West but also the ‘true’ East . And both have produced social critics who share the naïve belief that the resulting cultural poverty has hurt the East more than the West.

Yet, if there is another India, there is also another West. If the former has been the forgotten majority, the latter has been, even more tragically for the globe, the forgotten minority. If the former has been the never‑fully‑defeated East, the latter has been, at least in this century, the fully subjugated West. That West survives as an esoterica in the West and perhaps, just perhaps, as a living reality at the corners of the non‑West. 'Indians are the only surviving Englishmen', Malcolm Muggeridge once reportedly said, in equal exasperation and deri­sion. It can read as an unwitting recognition that the Indian society has held in trusteeship aspects of the West which are lost to the West itself.

Let us, however, for the moment, shelve the problem of the West and concentrate on the Indian predicament and on that other India which is neither pre‑modern nor anti‑modern but only non‑modern. It is the India which has survived the Western onslaught. It coexists with the India of the modernists, whose attempts to identify with the colonial aggressors has pro­duced the pathetic copies of the Western man in the sub­continent, but it rejects most versions of Indian nationalism as bound irrevocably to the West‑in reaction, jealousy, hatred, fear and counterphobia. That other India lives as if it recog­nized that, culturally, it is a choice neither between the East and the West nor between the North and the South. It is a choice‑and a battle‑between the Apollonian and the Diony­sian within India and within the West .16 As this century with its developed ability to translate utopias into reality has shown, if such a distinction does not exist in an oppressive culture, it has to be presumed to exist by its victims for maintaining their

own sanity and humanness. Thomas Mann, I am told, affirmed after the Nazi experience that there were not two Germanies but one. Perhaps it is for the Manus to own up the singleness of Germany. For the victims of Germany, at some plane there have to be but two Germanies interlinked if necessary by a single cognitive and ethical discourse.

In the modern West, this battle between the Apollonian and the Dionysian has only marginally involved the East‑whether it should have involved the East or not is an altogether different issue. In the East the battle has involved the West. Main­stream Indian culture does implicitly recognize that, in terms of the themes central to it, it is not a matter of adjusting to or fighting the might and the world view of the West as an outside agency. Because while the West, in spite of all its theories of martial races and ignoble and noble savages, does not probably incorporate India, India does incorporate the West. T. K. Mahadevan quotes an odd statement of Gandhi which dra­matizes this predicament:

Everyone of the Indians who has achieved anything worth mentioning in any direction is the fruit, directly or indirectly, of western education. At the same time, whatever reaction for the better he may have had upon the people at large was due to the extent of his eastern culture.17

The absolute rejection of the West is also the rejection of the, basic configuration of the Indian traditions; though, paradoxi­cally, the acceptance of that configuration may involve a quali­fied rejection of the West.

This is the underside of non‑modern India's ethnic universal­ism. It is a universalism which takes into account the colo­nial experience, including the immense suffering colonialism brought, and builds out of it a maturer, more contemporary, more self‑critical version of Indian traditions. It is a univer­salism which sees the Westernized India as a subtradition which, in spite of its pathology and its tragi‑comic core, is a 'digested' form of another civilization that had once gate‑crashed

into India. India has tried to capture the differentia of the West within its own cultural domain, not merely on the basis of a view of the West as politically intrusive or as culturally inferior, but as a subculture meaningful in itself and important, though not all‑important, in the Indian context. This is what I meant when I said that Kipling, when he wanted to be Western, could not be both Western and Indian, whereas the, everyday Indian, even when he remains only Indian, is both Indian and Western.

If the East and the West never seem to meet in India, as both Kipling and E. M. Forster seem to argue, it is because of this internality of the West at different levels and areas of Indian life.18 Familiarity can breed distance, too. If most of the society is spared the problem of handling the West at the deepest levels of consciousness, if there exists a prior endogenous West or a West with its own limited place in Indian cosmology, there is no reason why the Westerner should be seen as a total intruder or, for that matter, as the all‑important intruder. Nor is there any reason why the cultural conflict between the East and the West should be seen as the central conflict in Indian life. True, in the process the exposed sections of Indian society have been left to themselves to work through their fears of liminality and rootlessness‑'awkwardly suspended between two worlds', as V. G. Kiernan puts it. It is also true that the low concern with the East‑West issue in large parts of the society has left these exposed sections doubly concerned with the differences between the Indian and the non‑Indian, and the 'us' and the 'they' and forced them to fight a running battle with their feelings of self‑hatred and powerlessness. But even the exposed Indians, with nearly four hundred years of exposure to the West, have not been fully deprived of their self­-confidence vis‑a‑vis the West; even they carry the intimations of an inner conviction that they would not be swept off their

feet and that they could use the Occident for their own purposes. Even the crafty babus, as Kipling recognized in utter disgust, know how to use the white man: they too have a theory of the West.

Only recently have we caught up with the full implications of this. I find J. Duncan M. Derrett saying in 1979:

It was supposed, and the author of this paper used to suppose along with his elders and betters, that Indians had learnt English ways and values as they had learnt the English language, and that, as a race of would‑be parrots they 'have done remarkably well. . . .' One per­ceived with pained surprise the conflict between profession and per­formance. Indians trained almost exclusively in Western arts and sciences reacted as irredeemable orientals in any crisis. They re­inforced this feeling again and again by their lack of confidence when faced with a new problem, their pathetic desire for foreign advice (which they would shelve when they had paid for it), and their 'going through the motions' like a tight‑rope walker who walks his rope for the sake of walking it, or like a somnambulist, avoiding desperate accidents but unable to say why.... Very late in the day the present writer woke up to what he believes to be the fact, namely that Indian tradition has been 'in charge' throughout, and that English ideas and English ways, like the English language, have been used for Indian purposes. That, in fact, it is the British who were manipulated, the British who were the silly somnambulists. My Indian brother is not a brown Englishman, he is an Indian who has learned to move around in my drawing room, and will move around in it so long as it suits him for his own purposes. And when he adopts my ideas he does so to suit himself, and retains them so far and as long as it suits him.19

Derrett could have added, 'In right understanding (dharmdndm bhataprayaveksa) not only is revealed the determinate as deter­minate but there is also in it the indeterminate or the uncondi­tioned.’20 Like all devious Orientals, the Indians, even when they seem totally controlled, do retain some indeterminateness and freedom. It is another matter that the carriers of the tradition of the babus, the lowest of the low among the brown sahibs, whom Kipling so obviously hated, could never take

pride in the fact that while they could dare to be part‑Kiplings, Kipling could never dare to be a part‑babu.

What about the subcategory called the martial Indian, the one who was Kipling's truest Indian? And what about Kip­ling's authentic imperial ruler, the over‑burdened white man, with his civilizing mission and his fear that, unless careful, he would regress into the savagery of the people he was ordained to rule? Were there native constructions of them, too, or were they merely seen as strange, archetypal anti‑gods who had become a part of one's fate? Evidently, there does exist within the living traditions of India the Dionysian aspect of the modern West as an identifiably Indian subtradition, as the demonic self or asura prakrti:

Idamadya maya labdhamidam prapsye manoratham,

Idamastidamapi me bhavisyati punardhanam.

Asau maya hatah Satruh hanisye caparanapi,

lsvaro'hamaham bhogi siddho'ham balavdn sukhi

Adhyo'bhyanavdnasmi ko'nyo'sti sadrso maya.21

Asuratva may be generally a negation of virtues in Indian society, but it can be seen sometimes as the pathology of Ksatriyahood. It is a Ksatriyahood which has run amuck.22 Probably this is the framework within which Kipling's imperial consciousness‑including the British construction of the native ideology of the martial races‑was fitted. Kipling, provincial more by choice than by circumstance, thought that the ideology of Ksatriyahood was true Indianness, apart from being con­sistent with the world view of colonialism. He missed the limited role given to Ksatriyahood in traditional Indian cosmology and

the vested interest his kind had in denying these limits in a co­lonial culture organized around violence and counter‑violence, manhood and maximized potency, and a tbeory of history that saw all civilizations in terms of the high and the low and the justifiably powerful and the deservedly weak. It is the different weightages given to the martial and the non‑martial in the Indian culture that Kipling knew but required to forget.


Consistent naturalism or humanism is distinct from both idealism and materialism, and constitutes at the same time the unifying truth of both.... Only naturalism is capable of comprehending the action of world history.

Karl Marx23

I have argued that the Kiplings sought to redefine, on behalf of the modern West, the Indian as the antonym of the Western man and the Western man as a legitimate conqueror and a ruler. I have also argued that unlike in the West, these new definitions were not deeply internalized by most Indians who already had their native analogues of the modern Western man. They saw the Western man as a transient ruler who like all transient rulers tended to live with illusions of permanence. However, the imperial consciousness did manage to take over some parts of Westernized Indian consciousness. I shall now briefly tell one part of that story, using as my example the way the experience of colonialism has forced the Westernized Indian to first split the Indian self‑image and then reconstitute it by showing one part of the image to be false.

India has 'always been a separate world, hard for any out­sider, Eastern or Western, to penetrate.’24 Such a culture becomes a projective test; it invites one not only to project on to it one's deepest fantasies, but also to reveal, through such self‑projection,

the interpreter rather than the interpreted. All interpreta­tions of India are ultimately autobiographical. Predictably,a subgroup of Kipling's Indian brain‑children have set up the martial India as the genuine India which would one day defeat the West at its own game. They wait for that glorious day and are quite willing to alter the whole of Indian culture to bring that victory a little closer, like the American army officer in Vietnam who once destroyed a village to save it from its enemies. They demystify the ordinary Indian as a pseudo­alternative to the Western man: hypocritically spiritual while being shrewdly materialistic, violent and self‑interested; neither a dedicated counterplayer of the West like Japan, trying to defeat the West at its own game, nor clearly Oriental like Confucian China, which, while manifestly hostile to the West, shares with the West some basic values like performance, organization and instrumental rationality; neither a person who meets the norm of civility in the West, nor openly a noble savage. The cultural ideal of these new Ksatriyas is a hard Indian state backed by tough this‑worldliness.

In reaction, others have identified the spiritual India as the real India. To them, therefore, all deviance from spiritualism is a deviance from Indianness itself. As against the materialism of the modern West, they see India providing an axis for a dis­senting global consciousness. The West, according to this view, is already defeated by the superior Eastern civilizations; it only obstinately refuses to admit the fact.

Is the perception of such contradictions undetermined by culture? Must a society always choose between materialism and spiritualism, between hard realities and unreal dreams? Or is the perception of such a choice itself a product of Kip­ling's imperial mission?

True to the description of ethnocentrism in some contem­porary studies of the authoritarian personality, the British colo­nial attitude to Indian culture was always inconsistent. On the one hand the British saw the Indian as overly this‑worldly ­exceedingly shrewd, greedy, self‑centred, money‑minded. On the other hand, they also despised the Indian as overly other

worldly‑not fit for the world of modern science and tech­nology, statecraft and productive work. (The colonizer in India thus proved, if such a proof was necessary, that an op­pressive system seeks legitimation in all available ways. Spiri­tualism in British India was never the only opiate.) This is a split which has persisted in India's modern sector. Once other explanation's of India's problems are exhausted, the modern Indian is always tempted to fall back upon either the stereotype of the spiritual Indian or on that of the pseudo‑spiritual.

It is doubtful if most Indians look at India this way. India is not merely its spiritual self. The society does give an important place to spirituality, but it is hardly the overwhelming aspect of Indianness. The plethora of empirical studies done from Marxist as well as structural‑functional vantage grounds should have at least made us aware that underlying much Indian spirituality lie this‑worldly choices, hard self‑interest, and reality‑testing. This however has not stopped anyone, not even the scholars who have done these studies, from exhorting the Indians to be more this‑worldly and more realistic. Even a scholar as erudite as D. D. Kosambi has a touch of innocence about him when he accuses the Gita in the same paragraph of ‘slippery opportunism' and of admitting that 'material reality is a gross illusion'.25 Similarly with Indian materialism. After all the materialist interpretations are exhausted, there remains an irreducible element of spiritual concerns which informs the toughest materialism in India. Sometimes this element is seen as the residual irrationality of a person whose flesh is willing but whose heart is weak‑a reversal of metaphor which has its own story to tell. Sometimes it is seen as simple hypocrisy, a political compromise with the superstitious Indian masses who have more power than acumen. But the fact remains that from rationalist social critic Rammohun Roy's (1772‑1833) prayer­ful last days at Bristol to agnostic Jawaharlal Nehru's (1889-­1964) mystical last will and testament it is the same story of time travel through the asramas of life.

Perhaps only in a Cartesian consciousness does the India of

Ananda Coomaraswamy and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan negate the India of D. D. Kosambi and Devi Prasad Chattopadhyaya, only within the modern awareness do the two Indias become two ideologies competing for the minds of men, instead of being two strains within the same life style, dialectically inter­related and complementary. 26 This is another way of saying that the two Indias which the ideologies project are both pro­ducts of Western intrusion and both are attempts to reconstruct Indian culture according to categories which would seem internally consistent to the modern Western mind. Both are attempts to convert levels of living‑or aspects of selfhood- ­into types of ideology.

In the Indian world view, as in most world views once we have unlearnt to see them as objects of professional study, even the most recalcitrant of ideologies can be read as a level or phase of living or as a response to a specific ontological or existential problem. A plurality of ideologies can always be accommodated within a single life style. Fittingly so; a living culture has to live and it has an obligation to itself, not to its analysts. Even less does it have any obligation to conform to a model, its own or someone else's. Modern scholars of course have their own obligation to their disciplines; they cannot afford to grant the convertibility between life styles and ideo­logies. They have to reconcile the self‑created 'contradiction' between the materialist and the idealist India by unmasking one of the Indias as false.

Thus one is caught in a peculiar dilemma in modern India.

On the one side, there are the modern cult figures who stress the spiritual India to exclude the materialist India from India. As they themselves become commodities in the Western market­place of spiritualism and instant salvation, as they become more and more dependent on major structures of the modern world, as they legitimize ancient thought through modern science, and as they adapt traditional knowledge for solving modern prob­lems at the risk of trivializing both, these gurus reportedly rediscover for the Indians their true spiritual destiny!

On the other side are those who 'see through' Indian spiri­tualism and find underneath only second‑class materialism. Only by debunking the spiritual India can the Nirad C. Chaudhuris and the V. S. Naipauls become the counterpoints to the modern maharsis and acaryas.27 Only as professional debunkers are they a part of the modern world of the pro­fessional godmen. Like the godmen they reject, they also use the modern world to propagate their versions of India. Only instead of selling the spiritual India and explaining away the materialist, they vend the materialist India and debunk the spiritual. Being inverted modern gurus, they cannot forgive India for not being either a true copy or a true counterplayer of the West. They hate the confused self‑definition of the Indian more than what they see as the society's major failures. The Hindu, for instance, is aggressive while talking of pacifism, dirty in spite of his ideology of purity, materialist while preach­ing spiritualism, and comically Indian when trying to be Western.28

Persons can be hypocrites. Can cultures also be so? Does the hypocrisy of cultures on closer scrutiny turn out to be a con­tradiction in the human condition itself? For that matter, is a hypocrite only a casual cheat? Or is he someone who reaffirms the basic human values in a world hostile to such values, while

himself succumbing to worldly temptations? Is a hypocrite an unwilling critic of everyday life whose personal failure signals a larger cultural crisis?

Probably the answers are less complex than the questions. India after all is not outside the world. Certainly, for centuries, it has mounted the same chaotic, part-sincere search for a humane society that other parts of the world have mounted. Certainly, many of India's experiments in civilized social life, too, have been makeshift efforts to survive enormous odds. Many of these experiments have failed and many of the cul­ture's dreams, too, have turned into nightmares.

In addition, in recent centuries, the society has had to make major compromises with outer forces of oppression, backed by the powerful ideology of modernity and by an all‑conquering technology, and it is still struggling to work through that ex­perience. It has been forced to cultivate the creative self­-protection which the victims often show when faced with an inescapable situation: a slightly comical imitativeness which indirectly reveals the ridiculousness of the powerful; an in­strumental use of the ways of the powerful, which overtly grants their superiority yet denies their culture (this may involve the rejection of values such as work, productivity, masculinity, maturity or adulthood, rationality and normality); an uncanny ability to subvert the valued skills or traits which may ensure one's adaptation to the 'system' (such as intel­ligence, creativity, achievement, adjustment, personal growth or development); an over‑done obsequiousness which indirectly seeks to limit the options of the target of ingratiation; and a stylized other‑worldliness which can disarm at least those who see it as a denial of self‑interest.

The pathology of the Westernized Indian's personality, which Kipling so cleverly identified, was rooted in India's encounter with the ego‑ideals of Kipling in the first place. The Chaudhuris and the Naipauls are not only critics of an inevit­able mode of self‑defence, they are also a part of it. They provide 'secondary elaborations' of a culture designed to hide

the real self‑the deepest social consciousness of the victims ­from the outsiders.

The determinate is not that determined after all.


Probably in such a world, once the codes of both Indian materialism and Indian spiritualism are cracked, both can be shown to share the same or complementary concerns. Let me examine this mutuality in the life of Sri Aurobindo (1872­-1950), who in many ways was a counterpoint to Kipling. I hope to show that between Kipling and Aurobindo, the latter's response to colonialism included a cultural self‑affirmation which had a greater respect for the selfhood of the 'other' and a search for a more universal model of emancipation, however sick or bizarre that search may seem to many of us. In fact, it could be argued that the 'sickness' or the 'bizarreness' was itself a product of the colonial culture, telescoped deep into the personal life of Aurobindo. Aurobindo's spiritualism can be seen as a way of handling a situation of cultural aggression and to that extent it was a language of defiance, seeking to make sense out of the West in Indian terms. It is a matter of judge­ment how far the attempt made sense to his society and how far it remained a reductio of the West's version of the other­worldly Indian.

Kipling was culturally an Indian child who grew up to become an ideologue of the moral and political superiority of the West. Aurobindo was culturally a European child who grew up to become a votary of the spiritual leadership of India. Kipling had to disown his Indianness to become his concept of the true European; Aurobindo had to own up his Indianness to become his version of the authentic Indian. However, while both could be seen as products of the psychopathology of colonialism, Aurobindo symbolized a more universal response to the splits which colonialism induced. He, after all, did not have to disown the West within him to become his version of

an Indian. To the end of his life Western culture remained a vehicle of his creative self‑expression and he never thought the West to be outside the reach of God's grace. Even when he spoke of race and evolution, two of the most dangerous themes in Western cosmology, not once did he use the concepts to divide humankind; he always had the human race and human evolution in mind. And during the Second World War, when he made the stunning claim that his yoga was determining the course of the war in Europe and deciding the fate of Japan, he knew on which side in the climactic battles he wanted to be and which strain in which civilization he wanted to save through his psychic powers. Nazi Germany to him always re­mained a satanic force and, though the rebirth of Asia was one of his fondest dreams, he abhorred Japanese militarism to the end.29 One is forced to conclude that, compared to Kipling's 'sickness of soul', Aurobindo's sickness of mind was a superior cognition of the human predicament and it did show, long before the R. D. Laings entered the scene, that even the deepest feelings of grandeur and depersonalization could carry intimations of an alternative political morality.

The point can be made in another way. While Aurobindo belonged to the tradition of the most deeply reactive of the Indian responses to colonialism‑the one which partly drew inspiration from Bankimchandra and Vivekananda‑he always had, like Bankimchandra and Vivekananda, a genuine place for the West within Indian civilization. For Kipling on the other hand, India was not a civilization which enjoyed equal rights; it was a geographical area one could love and a sociological

space where you, if you were a real 'man', could find yourself. This certainly was not accidental. Aurobindo was above all a victim who had fashioned out of his victimhood a new meaning for suffering and a new model of defiance. As a victim, he protected‑and had to protect‑his humanity and moral sanity more carefully because, while the colonial system only saw him as an object, he could not see the colonizers as mere objects. As a part of his struggle for survival, the West remained for Indian victims like Aurobindo an internal human reality, in love as well as in hate, in identification as well as in counter‑identification.

Aurobindo Ackroyd Ghose‑the Western middle name was given by his father at birth‑was the third son of his parents. The Ghoses were urbane Brahmos from near Calcutta and fully exposed to the new currents of social change in India. Father Krishnadhan, a doctor trained in England, was in government service. He was well known among his friends and relatives for his aggressively Anglicized ways. He forbade his children to learn or speak Bengali; even at home they had to converse in English. Their dress and food, too, were English. In addition, Krishnadhan was an atheist and he tried hard to protect his children from the ill‑effects of Hinduism. For some reason, young Aurobindo was the favoured object of his father's zealous social engineering. Krishnadhan 'took the greatest care that nothing Indian should touch this son of his.'30

Mother Swarnalata, about whom 'official' biographers seem reticent, was the daughter of Raj Narayan Bose, the renowned scholar, religious leader, social reformer and nationalist. She herself was known mainly for her beauty. Though coming from a reformist family and married to a highly Westernized man, Swarnalata was an orthodox Hindu, and it is almost certain that she did not fully relish the Western manners of her husband. Nor must she have enjoyed the charade of communicating

through English in the family. However, what disturbed human relations in the family more than the oppression of language was the illness Swarnalata fell prey to early in Aurobindo's life. Called hysteria by her contemporaries, it was obviously the early stage of something more serious. Though her father took her to his house at Deoghar to convalesce, she gradually became more and more 'unmanageable'. Meanwhile Krishnadhan installed a mistress at home.

Time has erased the details of Swarnalata's illness; we merely know that her side of the family had a number of 'hysterics' and that her illness was associated with occasional bouts of violence towards her children. (There was at least one instance when young Aurobindo stood, stupefied and fearful, witnessing his mother beating his elder brother .31) We also know that either as a response to her or as a general response to the environment at home, young Aurobindo showed signs of mutism and interpersonal withdrawal, which his admirers were to later read as an early sign of spirituality.32

The West continued to oppress Aurobindo in other ways, too. When five, he was sent to a totally Westernized, e1ite con­vent at Darjeeling with an English governess who served as a surrogate mother. His co‑students there were mostly white. English was the sole medium of instruction and the only means of communication outside school hours. The resulting sense of exile found expression, even at that age, in a statement made in the third person: 'In the shadow of the Himalayas, in sight of the wonderful snow‑capped peaks, even in their native land they were brought up in alien surroundings.’33 When he had his first paranormal experience at Darjeeling, it carried the impress of this loneliness and depression. He had the vision of a heavy,

palpable darkness speedily descending on to earth and entering him. The darkness stayed with him for the next fourteen years.

Aurobindo was seven when his parents took him and two of his brothers to England and left them there. They were now to be exposed, not to the Westernized life style of Indians but to the Western ways of the English. At London, the brothers were put under the tutelage of an English couple, the Reverend and Mrs Drewett, who were given 'strict instructions' not to allow the children 'to make the acquaintance of any Indian or under­go any Indian influence. These instructions were carried. out to the letter.'34 The Drewetts were also told by Krishnadhan to spare his sons all religious education. (The Reverend Drewett's mother, however, being more consistent in her Christian evangelism, worried about Aurobindo's soul. One Sunday she did manage to get him duly baptized as a Christian.)

During his days with the Drewetts and later at an e1ite school at London, Aurobindo was exposed to the classical heritage of Europe, especially to Latin and Greek. He also began to write and publish poetry in Latin, Greek and English.35 Afterwards he took a scholarship to King's College, Cambridge, where, too, he did brilliantly in the classics, winning all the relevant prizes for one year. He also dutifully learnt French, some German and Italian. There was still no rebellion in the air.

Scholarly success however was no protection against the deep economic and nurtural anxieties to which Aurobindo and his brothers were sometimes subjected in England. Their father, though wealthy, stopped sending them money for no clear reason‑ And the three brothers lived in acute poverty. Added to this was Aurobindo's loneliness; he had no close relationship with anyone in England.36The result was an 'inward depres­sion' which in middle age Aurobindo was once to mention

casually.37 The other result was more predictable. For years he had been taught to view England as an ideal society; now England was re‑invoking his early anxieties associated with the West.

At last Aurobindo began to look for alternative ways of handling the Occident and to defy the model of success as­sociated with the Anglicism of his father.38 Thus, after taking the first part of the Classical Tripos with a first class, Aurobindo did not take the degree. And worse, though he did very well in the Indian Civil Service examination, he missed the riding test and got himself disqualified, knowing fully that 'his father was very particular' about the examination.39 Finally, Aurobindo delivered a few fiery nationalist speeches at the Indian Majllis in Cambridge and got involved with an incipient secret society pursuing the cause of Indian freedom.

As if to symbolize his break with the West, Aurobindo dropped the Ackroyd from his name during this period of his stay in England.

After fourteen years in England and after thorough denational­ization‑the expression was his‑Aurobindo came back to India. He found his father dead; he had died heart‑broken on hearing the rumour that the ship carrying Aurobindo home had sunk. And Aurobindo was soon to find out that his mother, now in an advanced stave of insanity' could recognize him only with difficulty. However, by this time he was already moving towards new parental figures. Already, on touching the soil of India, the darkness that had haunted him since his Darjeeling days had lifted and he had had the experience of being envel­oped by a deep calm and silence.40 After all, he had come back

to his motherland, to learn his mother tongue and, as we shall soon find out, to discover the primal authority of the mother.

Aurobindo started his life in Baroda as a bureaucrat and a language teacher. He had learnt some Bengali and Sanskrit in England from an English scholar; he brushed these up in Baroda and also picked up Marathi and Gujarati. He had been always good at languages and public speaking; now, as he turned quieter in personal life, he became more expressive in his formal communication. He began to write for nationalist journals and gradually became a ma or public figure. It was at Baroda again that he first found out his spiritual powers. Once he saved himself from an accident when a divine, luminous self separated itself from his own body and took control of his horse‑drawn carriage; another time he saw a living presence in an icon of Kali.

In 1901, Aurobindo got married. His bride Mrinalini Devi was, to go by her father's account, an attractive but otherwise ordinary girl of fourteen. She was made to pay for her ordinari­ness. Though Aurobindo chose her himself, he was soon to lose interest in her‑when it became clear that she would be unable to live up to his expectations. Mrinalini died childless, lonely, heart‑broken and perhaps unlamented in 1918, some years after Aurobindo renounced the world. By that time, she had suffered from Aurobindo's long absences from home and from expectations that he would come back and take her into his new life. Till the end, she was innocently to try to become acceptable to him through her religious activities, relying on his vague hints that he might return to her.41 He never did. The pathetic essay which her father wrote after her death, though doctored by the Aurobindo Ashram, brings out the tragedy of a simple, doting wife, crushed by forces of which she had no comprehension.

Neither his spiritual quest nor his marriage stopped Auro

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