Book Review: India – A Cultural Decline or Revival

Title: India – A Cultural Decline or Revival?

Author: Bharat Gupt

Publisher: D.K. Printworld (Dec. 1, 2008)

ISBN-13: 978-8124604595

Bharat Gupt book cover


In a letter sent to his brother in 1920, Sri Aurobindo wrote:

“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.””

The book under review compels us to see the truth of this statement as it remains relevant today. But more importantly, it compels us to give up this “inability or unwillingness to think” and this “incapacity of thought.” It provokes, rather compels us to think, and think hard.

Prof. Bharat Gupt who is currently a member of Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts, is a retired Professor of English from Delhi University. He is an Indian classicist, theatre theorist, sitar and surbahar player, musicologist, and a cultural analyst and commentator. For many years he wrote articles in several newspapers on issues concerning Indian culture, society and polity, many of which became the basis of his 2008 book titled “India – A Cultural Decline or Revival?”

The book provokes us to re-assess and re-think the categories in which we have been accustomed to speak, unintelligently and unquestioningly, of matters concerning Indian society and culture. We have been doing so because we don’t know otherwise.

We don’t know because we haven’t been taught in our schools and colleges to think and observe like an Indian. In that sense the book is about Indian education, particularly the socio-political culture that has shaped Indian education since independence, and the ways in which this culture of ignorance, this culture of ‘self-unawareness’ has led us to completely misunderstand and misrepresent India, Indian culture and values to ourselves and the world. The book makes us think why it is important to understand the Indian society and culture from the perspective of an Indian world-view, an intellectual framework that is rooted in the Indian cultural thought and way of being, if we are to contribute in any small way to the emerging Indian cultural renaissance.

The title of the book in itself compels us to think – is Indian culture going through a phase of decline or a revival? While at this point, we need not go into the term ‘revival’ itself – what it means or rather what it doesn’t mean – we must focus on the question itself, more importantly, we must focus on the answer to this question.

The answer, as the book seems to indirectly suggest, is to be discovered by each one of us. But at the same time there are some clear lines of inquiry given by the author which will help us start our own culturally grounded inquiry. The prerequisite, however, is that we first take the trouble to learn the essentials of a ‘culturally grounded’ framework which will help us observe, understand and know the Indian society and culture in a new light, and not merely from a West-centric intellectual ‘ethnographic’ perspective.

The book’s Table of Contents itself gives us the fundamentals of the framework or the lines of inquiry to be followed. Divided into six sections: Eka, Kula, Grama, Janapada, Prithvi and Aatman, the book presents a powerful critique of contemporary Indian society as well as the policies adopted by the Indian State after India’s independence from the British colonial rule. Prof. Gupt not only offers a lucid analysis of selected topics in each of the six sections, but also presents a practical way forward out of many challenges which continue to plague the Indian society and impede an authentic renaissance of Indian culture.


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