World Politics Indian Politics The Undercurrent Protecting India's history from a Distant land
NRI's living in distant lands are a heritage of India as they are doing their best to preserve the culture of the Nation. We present one such Indian from Paris, France Shri Prithwin Mukherjee, the grandson of one of the greatest revolutionaries of Indian Independence movement Shri Bagha Jatin or Jatindra Nath Mukherjee (1879-1915). Regards, The Undercurrent Team 18th May, 2008 6:18 AM
Shri Prithwin Mukherjee
As a patriot, I had never thought that I could stay abroad for such a length of time (more than forty years). But, had I remained home (or if I went elsewhere in the world), no university would grant me the facility of writing such a thesis. In France, too, in order to write the thesis, I had to live on expedient solutions such as part-time teaching jobs at two Paris faculties, part-time producer for Radio France for broadcasts on Indian culture, free-lance journalist, till I was admitted at the C.N.R.S., French National Centre of Scientific Research (in Human & Social Sciences: Department of Ethnomusicology). My study on the Scales of North & South Indian Music, published by the Indira Gandhi Centre of New Delhi, has been acclaimed as “monumental” by Pandit Ravi Shankar in the foreword.
Among my achievements as a poet, I feel proud of having been selected by the veteran composer Henri Dutilleux who set to music my French poem “Danse cosmique” (Homage to Shiva Nataraja) as the opening movement of his opus Correspondances for Voice (Dawn Upshaw) and orchestra (conducted by Sir Simon Rattle), the other movements having been penned by Solzhenitsyn, Rilke and Van Gogh; played regularly in major concert halls of the world, the poem has been already translated into more than twelve languages. I have another recent satisfaction to have been consulted assiduously by the French writer and politician Jaques Attali while writing his biography on Gandhiji, published in 2007.
The number of my book-form publications is more than 50, in addition to about 350 articles and papers that have appeared in encyclopaedias, symposiums and periodicals, a dozen LPs and CDs, a couple of documentary films (published by the C.N.R.S.-Audiovisual). Other than the C.N.R.S. medals for my professional efficiency, among recognitions I have been awarded a special medal at the Unesco by the Society Encouraging the Advancement of Knowledge (Paris). The Governor of West Bengal has honoured me with the annual Sri Aurobindo Award, recognising my contribution in the understanding of the Master’s vision of the Future. My French biography of Sri Aurobindo ordered by a famous publishing house, had been a much expected work in France.
2. Is India forgetting its history ?
The immediate and impertinent counter-question that comes to my mind is : Which history ? Fertile inventors of myths, we have deified, down the centuries, human types and their gestures in the name of history. Fortunately Indian literature has preserved enough documents rich with social, ethnological and philosophical details of our past, enabling us to utilise them according to the needs of contemporary scientific historiography. Very often it seems that kings and their exploits were the key preoccupation of our history. In addition to reminiscences, first-hand information and, at times, official papers, as practised by Muslim writers, we had also discovered non-Indian sources left by Greek, Latin, Chinese and Arabic observers before the recent Euro-centric officials wrote on the rise of the British power in India. On joining the Commonwealth Seminar, for example, Professor Tapan Raychaudhuri mentions the degree of his surprise with the welcoming inscription on a board : “It takes a great mind to appreciate a great empire.” Flabbergasted by the cult of the British Empire, he could not believe his ears when he heard people claiming the Raj to have been the peerless model of a benevolent Empire. He could not, however, forget the sleepless nights he had spent on viewing photos from a proscribed book showing the flogging of a band of school students, handcuffed, in the streets of Punjab, near the Jalianwalla Bagh. Some exponents of the Cambridge School of history hold that the Raj – even if it had been primarily concerned with the interests of the Empire – had the benevolent merit of injecting mobility in India’s political life. It tried to prove that the national struggle in India was no conflict between the people and the Empire; but, rather a clash between the elite (native or not) and the subaltern.
The greatest danger for future researchers on Indian history will be probably the phase representing the struggle for freedom and its interpretations. Trying to forget the genocide that accompanied India’s independence, we are still taught to glorify the Mahatma’s tactics of a bloodless non-violent action.
3. Are people who fought for the country recognized and rewarded? How do the western countries take care of their heroes ? What are lessons for India ?
Those who are recognized and rewarded had been supposedly by the side of Gandhiji, no matter whether they fought for the country or not. Others belonging to the pre-Gandhian phase (1893-1918) had known the message of ma phaleshu and sacrificed all they had – in certain cases, up to the last drop of their own blood – for the cause of the Motherland. Though they cared a two pence for recognition and reward, it was the Nation’s duty to protect their memory jealously.
The presence of the former Jugantar revolutionaries (brought up by the spirit of Sri Aurobindo and Bagha Jatin) as members of the Central Government after 1947, insisted on sparing a modest monthly allowance to the families of those martyrs and political sufferers; fond of spurious glory, too many impostors littered the list. Descendants of genuine heroes had expected recognition otherwise. While writing about Bagha Jatin after having met major personalities of the contemporary world, M.N. Roy mentioned that these were great men whereas his Jatin-da was a good man; good men are seldom given a niche in the galaxy of the great; Roy concluded that such will be the state of affairs till goodness is recognised as the very basis of greatness.The glorious contribution of the Harkis – Algerian soldiers who chose to fight on the French side in the 50s – received next to nothing as far as recognition is concerned. Their descendants are still expecting a remedy to this historical injustice.
As far as lessons are concerned, when I came to Paris in 1966, Indian students were fond of selecting for their doctorate theses certain themes palatable to the French ego, such as “Baudelaire’s influence on Tagore”, “Debt of Bengali literature to France” etc. My attitude disturbed them, when I held that as adults we were supposed to bring something from India as contribution, instead of flattery. Painter friends wasting their time on producing pseudo Picasso, were vexed when I asked them what they thought of the shadanga theory by Abanindranath Tagore. India has plenty of lessons in store for people who care for them. The only lesson I can think of is that sooner or later, Truth shall prevail, challenging the justification of a series of more or less adequate monuments and tons of printed trash.
4. What do you think are the threats facing the preservation of India's history ?
The question of preserving India’s history does not arise as long as the hush-hush concerning the pre-Gandhian period of our freedom struggle persists and leaves a truncated story which is far from convincing...
6. Tell us about your efforts in helping the next generation know about Shri Bagha Jatin
[...] In Bengali, French and English, as and when I have a chance to write on these findings, I keep on publishing; I have written at least ten books (including a PhD thesis) and more than one hundred papers and articles on the subject. Ideas keep on travelling. Unawares, tomorrow’s historians learn to cast a new glance on what is what.
7. Who in the government you think is working best to safeguard India's history?
Fortunately for India, every major political party has had a sense of duty towards the people, and a genuine – intuitive - esteem for pioneers like Sri Aurobindo, Jatin Mukherjee, Subhas Bose. Because, unquestionably, they loved India, they lived and died for India’s glory. No government has as yet had chances of offering to the public any concrete picture of the degree of sacrifice these people made so that Future India could lead a dignified life. Unfortunately in the list of freedom fighters supplied by the Congress via internet omits lamentably Jatin Mukherjee’s name (whereas several of his followers are cited). Whereas the Congress assisted the abolition of the privileges enjoyed by the princely states, certain vested interests seem to care more for fulfilling dreams of a dynasty than safeguarding any authentic history. The twist has begun with the deification of Mahatma Gandhi. I am not there to forecast other catastrophes.
9. What other case of neglect by the government comes to your mind?
It is easier to criticise than working out a remedy. Sri Aurobindo had found out the key to a new system of education for post-colonial India, based on original thinking, fed as much on India’s traditional wisdom as on various other traditions and Western progressive approach to a changing world. Our sudden but well-deserved success in Bangalore must compulsorily teach us to be convinced about our specific greatness as a Nation. Our system of education has to save us from the dangers of a hybrid superficial living.
10. What do you expect the government to do in response to your efforts?
Without any claim whatsoever for any glorious role, I have lived and worked humbly as a solitary researcher. What our forefathers believed to be the key to a decent work – act, without expecting remuneration – has guided my efforts all through. I should indeed be happy if in my life-time I saw the Government snatching Bagha Jatin out of the status of a regional hero, and duly considered him as an All-Indian revolutionary philosopher and leader, with a statue or a portrait at the Parliament, streets, townships and universities named after him in the Capital and in various States, authentic biographies in all the regional languages, feature and documentary films on his life.
11. What do you think are the most serious threats that India is facing now ?
A gradual ignorance of its own values, an increasing attachment to the synthetic standards and ways of material living, hushing the deeper aspirations of the human soul, losing sight of a destiny that is our own, in keeping with the becoming of other nations.