A humble response to the “Cultural Illiteracy” post in Swarajya

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-9-36-04-amSo after Amit Shah tried his Vamana Joomla on the Indian people I made a video that went viral as I think Amit Shah tries his Cheap politics in every possible opportunity. So the Video went viral may be because it resonated the sentiments of many Keralites who felt the Vamana Jayanthi reference was tearing into the secular theme of the Onam festival. I used the (now as per many) the unparliamentary ‘F’ word, which many of them do not feel when they share Rajneesh’s video on the usages of the ‘F’ word (Oh! sorry that might be part of Bharatheeya Sanskriti as he is a Sant Sadhu). Anyway ‘F’ words in public are not cool and so I made a second video on the line that we need to always draw between Myth and Reality. So that rests there.

Now coming to Swarajya’s post “Please Go On About ‘Hindutva-Isation’ Of Onam, It Only Exposes Your Cultural Illiteracy” by Aravindan Neelakandan. I am sure the author is at a much higher level in terms of knowledge and reach as he authors on a popular online magazine, and I am on my personal blog. And he might be more knowledge in what he and many would call Hindu Culture that he calls many of those like me who spoke against Amit’s message as ‘Culturally Illiterate”.

What is Culture?
Well first let us look at some meanings of how the word culture is being used
– Culture is the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively. (this is what probably the Author refers to)
– In Biology Culture is “the cultivation of bacteria, tissue cells, etc., in an artificial medium containing nutrients.”

Some other possible way of using that are
– the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time
– a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc.
– a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization

Let us also take a sentence from the wiki which many people consider the collective shared information “Culture is defined as a social domain that emphasizes the practices, discourses, and material expressions, which, over time, express the continuities and discontinuities of social meaning of a life held in common.”

Also I will take one more point from the wiki “Some aspects of human behavior, such as language, social practices such as kinship, gender and marriage, expressive forms such as art, music, dance, ritual, religion, and technologies such as cooking, shelter, clothing are said to be cultural universals, found in all human societies.

I quote these now because before you use the word “Cultural illiteracy” we need to get some definitions of culture as illiteracy is a much more powerful word than culture and I hail from Kerala which is considered a 100% literate state in India. And I am sorry I do not understand Sanskrit (considered as a cultural pin for many) and have not come across people who use that for communication and did not feel the need to learn it though I have been in recent times bombarded with sanskrit slogans by many (probably to prove their Cultural Literacy)

Who Am I?
Though this is my blog I think it is important to say a few words on who I am. Born in Kerala I lived, studied and worked a major part of my life outside India. As a kid sitting in his class, in a muslim country wide eyed when my Muslim teacher told us amazing stories of Ramayana and Mahabharatha and taught me the relevance of stories in human development. As a teenager whose Dad died on his way to Sabarimala (in the sannidhanam) and sat with tearful eyes as people went about saying how lucky he (my dad) and we should be that he got to die so close to the temple of the lord. To being a young man who took a bumpy trip in the leftist ideology in india and found it impractical as a political set up (after spending a good amount of time discussing about it with friends from china and Russia) and then stepped into a spiritual Bandwagon (thinking west is spiritually bankrupt) and got down somewhere to be immersed fully in the rational quest of the world around that slowly made me an atheist, humanist, secularist and a feminist. Entering the mid life (yes with my own midlife crisis; a concept I always scorned at as a kid) with the strong opinion that man does not need a religion or culture to find his moral values and the fact that he has the intelligence to self correct himself and every unknown in the world does not have to be defined to lead a happy and contented life.

Why is literacy (or illiteracy as the author puts) such a strong word?
It is so strong word as there are many in this world who are not literate and the illiteracy has made powerful people take advantage of them. Having been part of the iconic literacy drive in Kerala as a young man I witnessed a 80+ year old muslim women read the opening speech in Kozhikode Mananchira Maidanam and saw that literacy (the ability to read and write and communicate) is more important and any so called Cultural literacy. The fight for years in India has been against the illiteracy that kept the caste system intact and the upper caste through their joomlas kept the other castes always under their feet. The caste system that thrived on promoting illiteracy while keeping them succumbed to what I would call “cultural literacy”. Literacy is a very powerful word and to know that one should see the tears flow off an illiterate person when he or she picks a piece of paper and reads it for the first time in their life, like being able to see after having lived in a state of blindness that was thrust on them by the social framework. That my friend is Literacy.

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-6-55-48-amThe Politics that some people push and other people run to defend and the politics of claiming people as Culturally Illiterate

Amit Shah’s Vamana Jayanthi post had a picture very different from the one the Author shared in Swarajya. I am adding that here. Either Amit shah is culturally illiterate posting that or the Author is painting Vamana dark (with a beard) to mirror image something. May be it is taken from somewhere, since he put up that picture without the source for it I cannot comment about it. Would love to know where that image originated.

The politics to push Myth is the age old way to keep people under covers so a few have an upper hand. Making stories look like they are real. It is not a conspiracy theory but a political tactic.

Let us leave Vamana for a bit and talk about Beef. It is understood that beef being red meat is not good for health if consumed in large quanties on a regular basis and with a sedentary life style. The rational thought behind a balanced diet is to have a mix of meat, lot of green vegetables, drinking plenty water and eat less (or avoid completely) sugar. Now if there was a progressive movement to a balanced diet would have been promoted; I am sure you will find more people eating lesser Beef (but then here only cow and not buffalo or Mutton is an issue right?) This is the politics of the diet. And for Sugar, well saying bad against Sugar will make a lot of festivities really diet unfriendly 🙂

Now take Yoga (I do practice Yoga and feel good about it). Yoga mixed with weights Training and aerobics and outdoor lifestyle is a better option if the aim is health, but I get that practicing Yoga is cheaper without the heavy Gym bills and stuff. But was the agenda health or a political or marketing one to again put the cultural literacy aspect into the mix? Let us for now leave the large sums of money spent on big Yoga events and the marketing money spent on that. When you have power to promote something your ethics is defined by where you spend them.

Now to the politics of Vamana, As we know Vamana is a Myth; something only Hindu’s care for. whether you agree or not, it is part of a religious story and when you wish Vamana Jayanthi to everyone in India and Bakrid and Christmas just to those sect of people ( I don’t even think Amit has wished folks on Bakrid) you are putting the politics that irrespective of your religion, your ancestry is sealed to people who believed in the Vamana Myth. If we go by ancestry we should be finding festivals in Africa that date back to myths and celebrate them as the human race can trace their ancestry to people in Africa. Also may be Christmas and Bakrid wishes will make Gau Rakshaks unhappy as beef is a major dish Right?

Now for the argument that Amit Shah did wish Onam for Keralites the next day. Who knows if he would have done if the backlash was not there. We can debate. Will have to see if he has ever wished Kerala people on Onam before. Let’s find.

The problem here is meddling Religion and Politics and then on top of it adding the myth elements to it and then people try to defend the Myth. Even in your article what you have done is put various versions and interpretations of a story, nothing else. Here Vamana is not the issue alone, it is Amit Shah’s dirty political tactics and people defending politics in the pretext of defending culture of the Majority.

The Need for Philosophical discussion
Beyond science there are aspects of life which many people look into as part of religion, spirituality and philosophies that try to explain the meaning (or meaninglessness) of life. Eastern Philosophy is a definite part of the study of philosophy and it should stay like that; as a study and discussion topic, except that it comes with these mumbo jumbos like Vamana Myth and praying to him etc… You cannot and should not Ritualize philosophy and it looses its credibility. But the problem with Eastern philosophy positioning is also that it has been politicized (at least in India) and in the recent times being more and more ingrained into the politics of the parties making it difficult to be in an eastern philosophical discussion without political underpinnings.

From where it was a discussion topic in the wide thoughts of philosophy it has become just like the Abrahamic Religions with people striving to be Zakir Naiks of Hinduism. It is just funny. While I am on a Rational Quest where science is the base I think Philosophies eastern and western are examples of the human ability to think and try to comprehend about life. I believe poetry and philosophy even if it does not have a scientific rational tells us about the way people think. In that way I welcome people to discuss religion as well but without being touchy about figures and people and books.

What is My Culture? And Closing Notes
Many might say well you are ‘cultureless” and “Cultural Illiterate” 🙂 Can’t help that. There is a book by this Berkeley Professor Jacob Needleman called “Why can’t we be good?”. That question is in my opinion the foundation of my culture as a human being. And culture is what you build as you grow and not inherit in its whole.

Good and Bad are something we human beings through our ability of thinking created. And this is one place where even hard core rationalists and atheists get it confusing. Following a scientific quest has also rendered people in a position that they look at things just based on science and forget the important question”Why Can’t we be good?” In this 21st century of modern society saying there is nothing called good and bad is in my opinion not right (as I have had it in my discussions among rationalists).

May be good and bad is something human’s created and religion also has a hand in it. Discarding that completely and living in the primitive animal world structure is not the right way to progress (in my opinion). But since good and bad is a human creation, the question “Why Can’t we be good?” is even more relevant to us as humans. So that is my culture (still building) and I should say for now I am pretty literate in that question to even know and correct myself when I know more.

And now coming to the initial definitions of ‘culture’ that I added at the top. We have grown into a thinking as a society of human beings, the earth we inhabit and other living beings and creations of living beings encompassed into our triumphs and fall backs as a species. We have done things that we are proud of and done things that we are not so proud of and there are things that just are there and nothing to be proud of yet we like saying we are proud of (even if we did not do anything about it). We are far advanced than we were in the past and we have reached a stage where each one of us can self correct our future actions and build our thinking on. That is the culture we have and that is the only culture we have. And yes in that aspect there is more to be done to be “Cultured” as Rational human beings.

To add to this I want to say something, a thought that has been in my mind and I have been contemplating about it “The words Atheist and Feminist that I use to define myself is also putting me in a bracket, creating a boundary to have an inability in sometime understanding the psych of some people. May be I will tomorrow write a post and drop that from my reference but for now I hold on to them. May be that is why I am always leaning towards the word “Secular Humanist” A world full of Atheists or a World full of Feminists might not be possibility but a world full of “Secular humanists” where religion takes a back seat and myth stands just behind Reality for entertaining purposes is a possibility.”

Thanks to Swarajya for allowing me to pen this long post and whether it makes sense to folks or it fits well in my personal blog, the personal blog of an imperfect human being you knows there is nothing called a final state of perfection.

Vinod Narayan

Categories: Articles, Articles & Opinions, Opinions, Society

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2 replies

  1. They are two separate festivals . Tiruvonam on the Shravana (Tiruvonam) nakshatra day of the solar month of simha masa celebrated primarily in Kerala and vamana jayanti on bhadrapada shukla dvadashi celebrated in central India. This year they happened to fall consecutively. (In anycase Shravana nakshatra has always been sacred to Vishnu) As for Vamana’s colour Mahavishnu is traditionally depicted as dark, the colour of a rain cloud. As for politicization it is the leftists & abrahamist forces that have been attempting to use festivals politically. The rise of Hindutva politics is only a counter reaction to this. Take the politicization of Vijaya Dashami for example by the leftist forces particularly in JNU to divide Indians along caste lines. When the falsehood behind these narrations was called out Leftists said it was part of the freedom to interpret.

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