In An Antique Land SHONAR The Times of India Monday, January 2, 2006
The drums roll and from inside the temple comes a short yell; out jumps the body of the Sun, huge and wide, dancing with flaying arms, eyes blackened and stark, darting here and there, terrifying. It is the night of a Theiyyam performance outside a kavu in one of Kerala's umpteen villages and our orange-hued man is now no longer the toddy-tapper he was an hour ago. In trance, consumed by the spirit of his deity, he is now God, and God moves on earth to dance and bless his people. They believe in him, they touch his feet, they touch his hands, they hold their ears and bow before him. He is God and he has come to them on this special day. For one hour he showers love and blessings, collects in return tokens of gratitude, and then retreats just as suddenly into the temple. The Deity leaves man and goes back into the stone image, where it will remain, worshipped with milk and honey, until another special day arrives, another Theiyyam begins, another toddy-tapper becomes God for just one hour, and lets the devout touch him, touch God.... Bhakti cannot be completely annihilated from a people who have survived on it as a principal nourishment from the day of inception.
Bhakti is still there, but dormant. And all it needs is a shake, a little poke, and it shall rumble out of its latent state, to come cascading from the dark grottoes within our souls, pushing ahead, drenching every slumbering cell — the millions of cells in our body are just the same as the millions of people that make the body of this nation. If the wake-up call begins in us, the trumpets will echo into the air and under the seas until each and every soul is wide awake and ready to blow into the dying embers which are waiting to be refuelled once again. We have a historical past that has outlived other civilisations and is still coursing through our blood. But we cannot piggyback on the achievements of the bygone eras. We have to learn from them, better them, and move one step ahead. And in this, our education plays the biggest, most crucial role. It is the most widespread, albeit still not sufficient, instrument that we have in hand by which we can paint vivid pictures of the values, the ideals, the forces that drove this country to a status of superstardom. We have to tell each child who grows on this soil everything about this soil. Not just what pertains to his religious background or his regional placement.
He must be as well informed about the other areas of his country as about his own. Without having to go there, he should have a feeling of awe for what exists there. Konarka in Orissa and Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu, Alchi in Ladhak and Golden Temple in Amritsar should all be familiar to him. He should feel the currents which flow into the sculpting of gods, of the painting of cultures, of the spinning of yarn. His eyes must see the diversity, his ears must hear the multitude of tunes that mingle with each other across the valleys. He should hear not the sounds that break the silence but the sounds that make it. When this is imparted to him, then all else will follow. Once he has even the faintest glimpse of that eternal beauty, the beauty that we have lost contact with, then all that the ancients have discovered and left behind will be swept up in his arms and carried forward with love and tenderness.
He will improve all that they have done — not to outshine them but make them proud as a son who vies for his father's approval. The past has left us many lessons to learn and if we wish, we can dip into our reserves and let them act as constant reminders, or we can simply closet them in the darkest cupboards, and plunge into the wrong once again... To highlight the achievements of today's India is not our concern because we live in the present and we know; we know the leaps we have taken in science and technology... We know of the foresight that has led our businessmen into crafting empires... We know that our brothers-in-arms are tough as nails and save this soil, laying their lives down in sacrifice. We know we have the dedication of teachers, the skill of craftsmen, the enthusiasm of children. We have all that it takes to make a perfect nation. But we are not perfect yet. And that is what we need to look into... (India's) culture sits inside a genie lamp, always ready to spring out a new surprise. But she is also restrained and confused, suspicious and insecure. These are evils that rankle any growing soul. (If we do not) jettison such negatives, we will travel... with the pace of a snail, not the gallop of a cheetah. Excerpts from the author's Of Past Dawns and Future Noons: Towards a Resurgent India