Revisiting the children of Macaulay


Many years ago I wrote an essay for the magazine called “The Children of Macaulay”. Thirty-five years later, I’m pleasantly surprised to still think essentially the same way. The main ideas of this essay were the need for roots, the English educational system that made us Brown Sahibs, the alluring appeal of the English literature I teach, and the need for an Indian perspective on that literature. I asked for a historical review that would allow us to read ‘Indianly’. On this last point, I now have a different point of view, as we will see.

This essay started with my meeting with Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, the 68th chief of Kanchi Kamakoti Matham. He asked me about my origins and about my family, to which I knew no answer. I reflected on our indifference to history and our old traditions. The sage was a collection of spiritual and secular knowledge, and enlightened me on the community of Palaghat Brahmin from which I come. The Acharya said that we came to Kerala originally from Tanjavur in Tamil Nadu as Purohits or as usurers. Later, I found out that the Brahmins of Palaghat were also expert cooks, musicians and bureaucrats. We speak a mixture of Tamil and Malayalam and observe Tamil and Malayali customs. It’s my past and I should have known more.

I was separated from these roots when I was sent at age 11 to a boarding school – Bishop Cottons, Bangalore – to escape to Calcutta, influenced by Naxal, where my father served. I think this separation has been instrumental in shaping my personality. I spent five crucial years at Cottons, learning to beware of my mother tongue (we had to use only English at school), despising my customs and even my eating habits. I learned English, absorbed Western mores, sang pop songs, forgetting the Carnatic music I had been exposed to, literally from my mother’s womb. I did the foxtrot and went to social activities, made fun of our Hindi and Sanskrit teachers. It had nothing to do with the strong religious upbringing at home and the rich cultural life which included celebrating our festivals, attending temples and Tamil movies. I have become quite the brown Sahib of Macaulayan, the “native”, brown in color, but English in taste and sensitivity. We were taught the history of British sponsored India and I knew more about British monarchs than Indians. This Macaulayan education system grieves us sadly even so many years after independence. The British are gone, but their influence remains.

The university only reinforced this anglicization. I studied English literature, earned a doctorate, taught for about 40 years, and had a satisfying career. For that, I thank Cottons. It gave me material prosperity, but you have to count the costs. After leaving school, I returned to our way of life, including continuing my musical education, exposing myself to our Sanatana Dharma, but my “English” was at odds with that. The seduction of this Englishwoman is such that the search for roots is conditioned by it. This hybridity is what makes us “Macaulay’s Children”. I was part of that elite, but more and more uncomfortable with our alienation from Indian reality and its great culture. Indian universities are dominated by left-wing liberals, who are deeply the offspring of Macaulay. Their sarcastic references to Sanatana Dharma, their denigration of Sanskrit, their divisive discourse on the class struggle, began to trouble me more and more. Their repetition of the formulations of the British colonialists with a few variations made people like me realize that they were doing what the British did – exploiting the fault lines in our society – race, caste, community, religion. Some of us have watched this takeover from the left with growing anxiety. The left with its sophisticated network keeps away people who are not of its persuasion. But I, like others, clearly in the minority, who held university jobs, I quietly challenged the left, its way of reading literature and its vision of Indian history. It didn’t do me any good at first because the students were avoiding an old-fashioned teacher, but slowly my persistence paid off and I started to attract them. The students knew that I was spiritual and that I was not afraid to mention God in class or to speak of literature as literature, and not as a political tool for the continuation of the utopian Marxist agenda. It took extraordinary courage from them. That I survived the toxic atmosphere is a wonder and certainly the grace of God.

So when I come back to “Macaulay’s Children” and find that I use the term “historically minded critic”, I’m amused, because I think differently now. I still think we are male imitators, but my crucial realization is that the left is part of this imitation activity, and to be Indian you have to resist them, their categories and their division. Their dominant narrative, like that of the British, exacerbates the dividing lines of castes and classes, exploits the Hindu-Muslim divide, the Aryan-Dravidian distinction.

To be Indian, we must affirm the continuity of our more than 5,000 years of civilization and bring that realization into the classroom. Whatever subject we teach, our point of view should be rooted in an appreciation of our values. They are the acceptance of the religious in our lives, our unity and our equality before God, the creative organization of our culture of the society where the castes were interdependent and our tolerance of difference. Sanatana Dharma is a way of life and not a set of dogmas. We certainly have doctrines, and every aspect of life is covered by the notions of dharma, karma, and rebirth. The historical spirit does not only concern dialectics, class struggle and revolution. It is about recognizing and honoring the Rishis, Srutis, Smritis, Itihasas and Puranas, who have valuable historical information. Our culture tells us how to lead a good and righteous life. It is different from Abrahamic religions like Christianity and Islam. For them, history is linear, for us it is cyclical – and our Yuga theory makes us engage in life from the point of view of eternity, and elevates speech to dizzying heights and an expansion that no religion. organized can not deliver.

It is far from the history of division that we are still taught today because of the domination of the left. How amazing the left has been influenced by British historians and theirs is supposed to be post-colonial history! We must denounce this evil. The periodization of Indian history into ancient, medieval and modern is a British heritage, and has the effect of playing on the discontinuity of our traditions when they are in reality a continuum. Leftist history glorifies the Mughals, ignores their repression and does not deal with Hindu kingdoms like Vijayanagar, or icons like our freedom fighters who, since the arrival of Ghori and Ghazni, have offered resistance to the invaders. until we have achieved independence.

The leftist elite collaborate with Western scholars who bait India and hate Sanatana Dharma. By calling it Hinduism, they reduce its expansion. With the active help of NGOs and evangelicals, they appear determined to complete the unfinished British colonial program of converting India to Christianity and destroying the Sanatana Dharma. Like the British, they try to make our religion look bizarre and our customs backward. But there is no point in screening, and we must act to produce a discourse that corresponds to the left in the organization, research, methodology and commercialization of ideas. Unfortunately, our cause is taken over by lumpen elements, who destroy mosques, ransack churches and lynch suspected cow thieves. This is at odds with our proverbial tolerance. After all, Christians, Jews, and Zorastrians have found a home in India. We cannot blame our Muslim brothers that their ancestors were cruel and oppressive. We can do better than that.

A strong learned tradition must be built on the foundations laid by Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Gandhiji, C. Rajagopalachari, S. Radhakrishnan, VS Srinvasa Sastri, Ananda Coomaraswamy and RC Mazumdar. We must draw inspiration from the cultural stories published variously by the Ramakrishna Mission and the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. Slowly and steadily this is happening. Academics like Rajiv Malhotra, Meenakshi Jain, Kapil Kapoor, Professor Nagaswami and Vamsi Julluri, to name a few, come up with a new cultural history, drawing on the work of the great scholars I have listed. . Their initiatives put an end to the Aryan invasion theory and vicious racial politics based on the Aryan-Dravidian divide. Neither Aryan nor Dravidian is a racial term. One means noble, the other is a region. They brought Sanskrit to the fore as the unifying language that it is, showed how Tamil and Sanskrit had a symbiotic relationship, and reclaimed our findings in science, mathematics, and the art of appropriation through West. Above all, they have recovered the sacred in our literature thanks to the intervention of left scholars like Sheldon Pollock and Wendy Doniger and their Indian acolytes. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are religious texts, not simply a source for the political agenda of the left.

Finally, our academic practice must appeal to the so-called “layman”. The Sanatana Dharma is, unlike the Semitic and Abrahamic religions, inclusive, tolerant, tolerant and broad-minded. When the Jews fled Rome, some came to Cochin, which still has a small Jewish community. When Zoroastrians fled Islamic tyranny in Persia, they found refuge in Surat and Mumbai. Christianity has over a thousand years of history in India. Islamic invaders came to India and stayed, and Muslims in India contributed music, art, and sport. Their Indianness must be accepted and they must be detached from their cruel ancestors who oppressed the Hindus. All of this can be done and is possible because the Sanatana culture of this country has been hospitable. She is secular in the best sense of the word. This is true secularism.

There is a need for us to rewrite our history with greater balance and fair coverage of the Hindu kingdoms. Sanatana Dharma must survive. There should be an acceptance that we are all Indians, that our DNA is the same, that our culture is Hindu, which actively promotes, and not just tolerates, religious pluralism. This is India and Macaulay’s children, the leftists, cannot offer anything worthwhile. They must be challenged and replaced by academics with a national mind. This is how the future is.

(The writer retired as an English professor at Hyderabad University in 2014. Opinions are personal.)

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