My India: Escaping 'Self-Colonialization'
My journeys abroad was to make sense of myself, to see from the outside what can't be seen from the inside. Perhaps predictably, but at once ironically, I ended up in England, mother country of modern Indian imagination, hawking - as I can't find a better word - English manners and experiences to the fawning middle classes. Admired simply as I live in England, it became increasingly difficult for me to leave, as all suggestions of my intent to return were invariably met by premonitions of something being wrong, as no one really ever wants, or should want, to return. Even the rather satisfying moments of canvassing India's economic progress were almost always punctured by grossly embarrassing proclamations of 'special relationship', in full knowledge that the affectations flow only one way; in my stock of trade, Kolkata wants to be London without ever London wanting to reciprocate.
Therefore, 'self-colonialisation' as a concept appears real from my vantage point. I recognise that I live in a rapidly changing world, where technologies and mindsets are rapidly reconfiguring for an economic, political and even geographical shift. As the promises of end of history recede into oblivion, and the fault-lines of flat world come into view, a new imagination is emerging to challenge the order of the world. An Asia pivot in ideas, the Eurasian Plain appearing at the centre of the world after a half-millennium hiatus and with the young and hopeful East confronting a self-doubting West, new possibilities of discovery and understanding excite me; and yet, the phenomena of 'self-colonization' keeps the supposedly broken edifice firmly in place, limiting what could be thought or imagined, bottling the idea of freedom in a decorous, official way, from which there seems no escape.
There are indeed those who sees globalisation, and this reconfiguration, as a top-down process, with the Americans, rather than the English, setting the agenda. This is entirely reasonable, as the global turn is inextricably linked with WTO, global flow of Capital, Internet and the like. However, I am all too conscious of being a child of that same process - a migrant of the global age, after all - and therefore, the description of it as a passive process of domination appears too pretencions from where I stand. Therefore, rather than envisioning globality as manifestation of will of a hegemonic power, American or a disembodied one of financial capital, this appears to me to be one of complex collaborations, many players trying to create multiple possibilities, each giving in a little to gain more, adjusting rather than constantly dominating, living in a dynamic form rather than one of unquestionable superiority. And, in this setting, there are no gunboats in the horizon, or, rather, they are exceptions rather than the rule; rather, the architecture of subjugation is very much a voluntary servitude, a process of signing up, or rather a sequence of sign-ups, in a never-ending quest for the crumbs.
This, then, was our tryst with destiny: A walk back to the past horizons, or discovery of a labyrinth without an escape. The Indian imagination, defined by the Queen's language and limited by the contours and frontiers of imperial geography, has become an ex-nihilio affair, or, at least, one that emerged from a dark age of non-beingness. In an active act of remaking, we have torn India out of the geographic continuum of Asia - to which it belonged for centuries - and erased a good eight-hundred years of history to start with the reign of Hastings or Bentinck as year Zero of Civilisation. In a geographic sleight of hand, the porous Himalayas suddenly rose up as a defining end-point of our being, and the Ocean, the limiting frontier for centuries, has become the theatre of connections. Giving up the philosophical traditions of non-attachment, we discovered an India of rituals and religion, just as the English saw: And, just as they imagined, we curated ourselves in castes and sects, arraigning ourselves as indicted, into little cubby-holes of identity. Dislocated from Asia, Disconnected from history, Disengaged from ourselves and defined as an individualised mass of consumers, all too eager to spend lives as little clerks in the service of Threadneedle Street, or some other street in the Anglo-sphere, colony is no longer a top-down affair, but the centre of our very being.
This makes a mockery of the debating chamber arguments such as Shashi Tharoor's, as the common-sense list of follies of the empire hide the collaborative nature of the same. While demanding an apology from Britain makes a good pitch, the deeds of an English speaking Indian inflicted on his own countrymen are certainly more troublesome. And, yet, unless those are tabulated and accounted for, no new possibilities can emerge. Blaming the English, and with them, their language and culture and science, is popular, but this is only a trick to deflect from the issue of self-colonisation, the unquestioning acceptance of the morals of the empire and the unabashed attempts to continue its business of relegating a billion people in the margins of consuming misimagination.
And, escape, as I must look for one, is not tearing the English out of our imagination, nor in renunciation of its language or science, but to reclaim back India's own history and reconnect back to Asia, to visualise it not as a disconnected 'sub-continent' hanging precariously into an Ocean, but an integral part of Indo-Persian continuum, more of a bridge between greater Eurasia and the ever-connected Oceania, a civilisation formed as a theatre of connections, built around the opposite of the 'exceptionalism' that shapes the Anglo-American imagination: An 'anti-exceptionalist' civilisation - universalist is certainly the better word - India is not shaped by an unfulfilling quest of artificial uniqueness, but the peaceful realisation of being at one with the world. And, with history, without broad-brushing the defeats, the violence, the injustice it contains, but looking beyond the momentary and at one with the broad swathes of time, defined by Man's journey to be in harmony, with one another, and with the world. This view, unfashionable now, subsumes the Colonial Past, not forgiving its injustices but exposing its temporalities and limiting its legacies, provides a possible - and only, in my view - route of escape from the perpetual servitude of 'self-colonialisation' that we inflict on ourselves.