On the occasion of India’s seventy fourth Independence Day, I have been forced once again to wonder if we are really free. It may be that the riddance of a race that never came here to stay has made us feel temporarily independent but the actual realization of it has not yet been achieved. I am writing in English and am well aware that it is not my mother tongue. In many homes I have also heard mothers say that they speak to their children in English so that they learn it as their first language. I feel thoroughly cheated and encumbered when I use English as the language of communication, especially when I cannot summon expressions in my mother tongue to suit my purposes, written as well as spoken. With the casual use of English gradually we are estranged from the Indian ethos as well. One of those that haunt me every time I encounter the word freedom is the philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.
The Sanskrit phrase means the whole world is one family. Probably in bringing the majority of people in the world to speak English this philosophy is indirectly achieved. After all, one language is likely to be one identity. A regional language must be a regional identity. For years Indians have prided in keeping regional differences at bay with the use of English as a unifying language. This pride comes from the fact the peoples of 22 modern Indian languages have not split up like the peoples of 24 modern European languages. If we look at the map many European countries are just a small speck on the globe.
We could do even better if Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma had been together with India. We could do better if religious differences had not come in between. A religious identity seems to create a deeper impact on a human mind than any other and luckily, our language clusters are not marked by any religious identity. Adopting a new language seems to be far easier than adopting another religion. In fact, many people take pride in knowing how to speak and write in more than one language.
So here I am writing in English for the world to read. But are we happy with this? Do we not feel sometimes that we have distanced ourselves from the wisdom conveyed in our ancient languages? The concept of advaita for instance has been haunting me ever since I first read on Swami Vivekananda a few years ago. According to the history of this metaphysics, the physical world is unreal and our presence here is an illusion. Each of us living creatures is one with the universe, called Brahman in Sanskrit.
In case today the whole world had been learning Sanskrit, instead of English, as studiously, we would have coolly stumbled upon the philosophy of renunciation ingrained in the advaita theory of godliness. We would have swiftly accepted vasudhaiva kutumbakam as a reality in place of words like sovereignty or nation-state.
In case we had been teaching everything in Sanskrit in the universities we would have not treated it as just a language. We would have quickly learned the astronomical and biological wealth of the ancient scholars and improved on them. We would have coined our new knowledge in Sanskrit terms instead of what we do now with nonchalance: we make a joke of looking for the Hindi term to name a new microbe or a new phenomenon in space.
Thus I feel India is still not free. All Indians feel the discomfort of having to learn a foreign language but still diligently learn it. Those who take pride in having mastered English and thereby landed up in foreign institutes of advanced learning are even less free. Their mind is completely transformed and they dream if they could just slip into some other skin overnight.
If Indians had paid more attention to the morals ingrained in Indian languages, if Indians had industriously disseminated the Indian ethos abroad, today instead of words like ‘pagan’ or ‘kafir’ we would have words like brothers and sisters spread all over the world. I learned from books that Swami
Vivekananda was welcomed in Chicago with a deafening applause for two minutes when he called the Americans his brothers and sisters, his kinsmen precisely, a clear translation of kutumbakam which even today in electoral rallies Indian leaders use to win everyone’s support. He had not coined the address on his own. He had only translated the common terms of public address prevalent in the Indian languages. He was just being an Indian.
I think, on this I can extend another argument very easily. Just being a natural Indian would have saved us the cost of buying weaponry. The other day a US citizen was lamenting the use of an atom bomb at the end of WWII. The common man had never wanted war. The common man still doesn’t want war. The egoists who spread hatred watered their interests by perpetrating war. If more Indians had gone about speaking in Sanskrit about the universe as brahman and all living and no-living things are only manifestations of that Brahman, no one could have spread any kind of hatred. There would have been nothing in the vocabulary to water the self interests of egoists.
I think with the complete absence of egoists our only enemies would have been the microbes and the extra terrestrial beings. Our only fears would have been about asteroids and the atmospheric pollution. Our only god would have been mother Earth.
It would have been true independence for us if we could live without warfare, without calling anyone an unfaithful, without learning to classify races and without learning to compare and contrast achievements in terms of earthly possessions. We could have even dug out the date when the term Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam was first used and celebrated that date as Independence Day.