I’d love to see us stop the suffocating Vedic flatulence. Among my country men and women, there’s a tendency to inflate the past beyond reasonable limits. If someone can draw a thread from Vedic literature, Vedic mathematics, Vedic astronomy, Vedic quantum mechanics and Vedic levitation it’s considered a mark of distinction – or so it is assumed. So, let me call it what it is: Bullshit.
I am not an iconoclast. Past casts a long shadow. Without respect for history, without empathy for those who lived before us, we’ll never understand the present. However, getting irrationally and romantically hung-up on a glorified past is just silly. Every culture, given sufficient time, has produced men and women of distinction. Subcontinental culture is not special. History has recorded great Arabs, Greeks, Chinese, Indians, Africans, Europeans and many others.
In the past few weeks I have been reading Arthur Ryder’s translation of Kalidasa. It is fabulous even in translation, especially the Cloud Messenger. However, often when I searched for more material, articles/commentaries by Sanskrit scholars would turn up, and most of them would split Vedic hair and would spin tales of grandeur about the past. Man! I felt nauseous at times!
There’s pride in mastering something, particularly if it is literature in a classical language with exquisite poetic tradition. But, if this accomplishment turns into vanity, it douses off any spark that might have been there. In a pissing contest, nobody comes off clean. This obsession with the Vedas belies the notion that once upon a time on earth there lived gods; and that since that golden period civilization has been going downhill due to human corruptions (the same idea is present in Christianity in a more virulent form – those awful things called Sin and Repentance). Glorifying the past unconditionally is the mark of someone who refuses to engage with the present. All romantic notions of the past are just that: romantic. There is as much tragedy, suffering and folly in the past as there was romance. So, can we please stop talking as if our ancestors were infallible gods.
As part of the sudden (well, not sudden really) interest in classics, I have been searching for re-interpretations of old Indian literature within modern context. I have not found much that’s interesting (probably because I am completely uninitiated in this regard. Help me). My ignorance leads me to ask: Is re-interpretation a problem with Indian literature because of the pedantic and religious nature of most of it? Is it relatively easier to re-interpret/recast Chaucer and Shakespeare than, say, Ramayana?
Oh, I hope not. We really need some fresh air.