In just a few days, the first e-book of Matriwords, “The Thinking Indian: Essays on Indian Socio-Cultural Matters in the Light of Sri Aurobindo” will be released.
Matriwords is not a commercial venture, all our works are driven by one simple goal – to study, research and share the pearls of wisdom found in the social-cultural-educational-political thought of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, as applied to different facets of our individual and collective lives in contemporary contexts.
This e-book fits with this aim. It is priced very reasonably, with the hope that more people will be interested in pursuing it. It is our hope that the topics and themes explored in this volume will be of special interest to educated and open-minded Indians who are interested in understanding the Indian experience in an Indian way.
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Why the title – The Thinking Indian? I take my cue from a key message given by Sri Aurobindo in a letter he wrote to his brother in April 1920:
I believe that the main cause of India’s weakness is not subjection, nor poverty, nor a lack of spirituality or Dharma, but a diminution of thought-power, the spread of ignorance in the motherland of Knowledge. Everywhere I see an inability or unwillingness to think—incapacity of thought or “thought-phobia”….
Almost a century has passed since he wrote these words. Are we now somewhat cured of this ailment called ‘thought-phobia,’ this ‘inability or unwillingness to think’? I am not so sure. Perhaps some improvement is there, there are some signs of recovery. Some of us have started to realise the dire need for thinking, the urgent necessity to think for ourselves, to develop independent and free thinking, outside of the borrowed and discarded intellectual categories that we are burdened with, thanks to our colonial and colonising mainstream education.
In one of his essays Sri Aurobindo said unequivocally that one of the most important reasons for the decline of Indian civilisation and culture was the loss of free intellectual activity. Today we surely see some signs of an intellectual awakening. We hear a few voices that challenge the hitherto accepted ways of thinking about India and everything Indian. These voices try to present a more authentic, culturally rooted, indigenous and a forward-looking view of understanding India’s past, present and future.
It is heartening to see that such voices are resonating with many open-minded and curious learners and citizens, thus broadening the circle of influence. But a lot more work is needed for an all-encompassing, a wide-ranging renewal and renaissance of Indian society. All who are concerned about India’s future as a nation, as a civilisation can play their part in this intellectual awakening. This book presents one such attempt in this direction.
This book is a result of some of my intellectual activity over the last few years. It is my humble attempt to remind my fellow Indians and all those interested in India – let us start thinking, and think deeply and widely.
It should be obvious that I am not suggesting to continue with the merely mechanical, repetitive thought that is a function of the lowest rung of our physical minds. We need not become passive consumers of information, mindlessly accepting or rejecting what others have said just because they have been given the label of ‘thinkers’ or ‘experts’ or ‘intellectuals.’ We must continue to critically examine, evaluate and think through all the observations, opinions, analyses, reflections that come from various sources – academics, journalists, opinion-makers, think tanks, policy experts, celebrities, everyone.
Let us start thinking on our own. Let us investigate carefully what is said about India in the social-cultural-political discourse and come to our own conclusions. If we want India to rise to her full potential we have to start thinking, freely and independently of all ideological preferences and academic theories that are currently in fashion. We have to start examining all the data points in the light of the truth of the Indian spirit. We have to start a personal journey of discovering the Indian spirit, in the Indian way.
To remind ourselves of the words of Sri Aurobindo from the same message quoted earlier: “It is the one who can fathom and learn the truth of the world by thinking more, searching more, labouring more, who will gain more Shakti.”
It is with this hope of gaining more Shakti, more energy to continue my thinking and searching, and to facilitate, in some small measure, the same in my readers that I offer this book.
Writing this introduction in a way that would somehow thread together the disparate collection of essays in this book was a challenging task. I kept delaying it for many weeks because I just couldn’t figure out what I wanted to say. As the table of contents of this volume shows the essays included here cover a variety of topics. There is one essay dealing with a hugely popular Indian TV show from the past, another one speaks of some thoughts inspired by a Hollywood film. One essay investigates the possibility of inter-religious harmony in India (and the world) while another attempts to examine the deeper purpose there might be behind the outer consumerism wave in modern-day urban India. There is one which compels Indians, particularly the educated Indians, to first understand what the word ‘culture’ means before making any comment on what is right or wrong with Indian culture. And there is one more which analyses a modern telling of a classical Indian epic (Itihasa would be a more appropriate word) in the light of literature’s role in inspiring the youth of today. The opening essay is a personal reflection on what Sri Aurobindo refers to as the “master-key of Indian mind,” while the last essay in the collection explores the question if the outward search for a collective identity by a group hides in itself a search for a group-soul.
All these essays, though widely divergent in the themes explored, issues investigated, topics examined, have one thing in common. Which is what brings them together and gives them a sense of unity. That common thing is my interest in exploring how the high-as-Himalayas, deep-as-ocean and wide-as-sky vision-thought of Sri Aurobindo can be a source of light and insight to help me make sense of some contemporary sociological and/or cultural observations, experiences and ponderings on various topics that catch my interest in this ongoing personal and intellectual journey.
In Indian social-cultural-political discourse there is a general tendency to ignore deeper, intellectual thought, and the sensationalist mass media has actually contributed to a great dumbing down of even the educated masses. In this climate where any and all intellectuality has been mostly confined to a few ivory towers of academy, it is difficult to get even the educated and socio-economically privileged section of the society interested in the idea of exploring any deeper intellectual thought. It seems as if the trinity of pop-sociology, pop-psychology and pop-culture has taken over the general mentality of the society leaving little room for any serious, intellectually rigorous discourse on social-cultural phenomena. If at all, there is any serious attempt to think through and understand the observed phenomena, it is almost always done using the intellectual theories and frameworks developed in the Western academic circles. But this habit of non-thinking or thinking only in terms of borrowed categories must change if we want India to awaken to her innate intellectual potential.