Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Intellectuals and Culture Wars

There is a streak of anti-intellectualism in me that I try to keep under wraps. Occasionally, though, it gets the better of me. Deep down, I can see myself just giving in and unabashedly loathing “them,” in a serious sort of way. Actually, to be frank, I do dislike intellectuals already--myself included. And I am going to try playfully to show you why in the next two or three posts.

So we are going to role play tonight. We’ll make nice to begin with and subsequently grow to be nasty. If you are easily offended, please move on.

And we are going to do it without demonizing Muslims and Jews, or Israelis and Arabs. Too much of that already going on everywhere! It’s going to be Persians and Indians for a change. And I am going to elicit the help of an Indian fellow blogger who has a wicked sense of humor and someone with whom I have lightheartedly jousted in private correspondence. I think he’ll be happy playing along.

So, I am going to be a Persian nationalist who adores India to start with. All things Indian, from people to movies and food and culture to the ancient texts and philosophy, literature and languages which is easy enough, really. We used to be joined at the hips, so to speak.

Our common heritage is hard to miss. Soma or Haoma, Rta or Asha, Daevas or Devas and Ahuras or Asuras, you name it, we both have it. And I have studied a bit of Sanskrit to boot-- a beautifully complex and rigorous language and I have also enjoyed my limited exposures to their famed grammarian, a Panini who wrote about the subject when most of the rest of the planet had no clue what grammar was. The studies have helped me better grasp the structure of our own old ancient languages which hardly anyone pays attention to anymore. And for those opportunities I remain grateful.

Exposures to other cultures do that for you.

If you sympathetically engage with other cultures and their rich heritage--with an open mind and with your critical faculties fully operative, chances are that in due time, you will not only come away awed and humbled, but also will grow to appreciate the elements of your own culture which you might have been taking for granted all your life.

So I have enjoyed laboring over some of the original texts of Hinduism, The Rig Veda and the Upanishads which have helped me better understand our own ancient Zoroastrian tradition as well as Manichaeism and I have learned a great deal from those formidable Indian logicians such as Nagarjuna, and Dharmakirti.

I have been moved by the sensual poetry of Kalidasa and marveled at figures like Shakuntala and my body and mind feel a bit healthier and more serene after encountering Pantajali and heck, even my love life—what little I still remember of “normal” sex at any rate-- has been rendered more enjoyable thanks to those celebrated Kama Sutras.

And of course, even a brief exposure to the magnificent and complex epic of the Mahabharata with so many engrossing concepts such as Brahman, Avatars, Maya and Karma along with seekers and myriad duty bound with exotic names such as Brahamacharya, Grihastham, and Vanaprastham could be sufficient to rock anyone’s world.

And on a more personal level, I remain grateful to our Indian neighbors for having offered sanctuary to those purest ancient Persian communities—the much loved and respected Zoroastrians, after they were forced to migrate in order to escape the hordes of invaders who changed the face of our culture forever.

And gratitude has a way of pulling at one’s heart.

So the emotional attachment colors everything positively for me. Indians might have their own set of problems, but they can do no wrong as far as I am concerned. I am on their side.

Even the more obscure news items rile me up and move me to offer support. So when I read some group is using Christianity to undermine the influence of Hinduism in a region with a history of ethnic strife, I remain vigilant and when the news briefly hits of this same group producing “revolutionary pornography” to fund their struggles, I highlight the report put out by the Tripura Police to show what despicable creatures the Indians are up against. Shame on those porn peddling Christian terrorists in India, I say.

I just love and adore Indians. They are my allies. I wish them success. I am rooting for them. I want to see more jobs for them. And easier access to universities and educational opportunities for their students. As well as greater mobility for their workers and my endless, profuse praises for their democracy, tolerance and hard work. More power to them everywhere, I say.

But there is a catch.

Remember I am a Persian nationalist. What’s good for me I feel grand for everyone else. If someone is nice to me, naturally that means the person is obviously O.K. Everyone is great as long as I get my way and just so long as I get to hear what I want to hear.

But something odd begins to happen.

India votes against Iranian aspirations to harness peaceful nuclear energy. This, I find, especially offensive as they have been trying to gain access to “our” cheap oil. I know my country. I represent my country. What I think is good for my country, I know is really good for the country. Dastardly Indians.

And then some Indian blogger shows up to my blog and writes a comment on my post about the eight years of a devastating, brutal war. He writes:

In terms of Reagan’s support for Iraq, Iran somewhat reaped what it sowed by first humiliating Jimmy Carter and then deliberately waiting till he lost the presidential elections before releasing the hostages on the day Reagan took office.

Which is, indeed, perfectly reasonable, I know. He has kindly reminded us of a chain of events which has been no secret to anyone. Iranians took some Americans hostage. Then some Americans got tired of a president they deemed weak and indecisive. They voted for Reagan and wanted him to act on those nasty feelings most everyone had come to develop for the Iranians. And when the war dragged on and on, Reaganites didn’t think twice about siding with Mr. Hussein.

But the war and revolution were also particularly difficult for my family, friends and classmates among so many other millions. Loved ones died and some were poisoned and others were purged and some landed in jail or were executed or assassinated. It wasn’t the best of times for any of us.

So his comment doesn’t sit well with me at all. Is he implying that my family and friends deserved to be gassed and bombed and killed simply because some other miscreants took a few diplomats as hostage?

So my festering wounds break open. All the negative emotions that all of us have which remained under control for so long are suddenly set loose. I don’t know what they are exactly or where they come from. But it is all focused now on India.

Perhaps it is all those movies I saw when I was a kid with Indian foot soldiers under the leadership of British officers trying to wreak havoc on my country. Or perhaps it is a few bad encounters I have had with all those Indians who seem to be everywhere these days I visit or am ever likely to visit-- from Europe to the Americas and Africa, Asia or even Guyana.

Indians are taking over.

Perhaps I got sick one day eating at an Indian restaurant. Or maybe the Indian Goddess I adored dumped me one day and my inner masochist is feeling deprived of the spanking she used to administer mischievously. Who knows, really, why any of us come to finally snap and react the way we do?

Now India is on my manure list. And so is my fellow Indian blogger. Perhaps, finally that last of one too many callous comments from a brash young Australian of Indian descent about Persians has gotten me so annoyed that I am now fed up with all Indians in toto.

So, from here on, you will notice, “objectively” as the old Soviets used to say, nothing much has changed.

Only now my perception of Indians has. But it’s not “politically correct,” to come out and say exactly how I feel in public. So being a half resourceful intellectual, I’m going to pull at the threads of my universe--one strand at a time-- until there is nothing left of that colorfull tapestary which was my love for India and Indians.

I am going to radically reconstitute my experience of the Indian presence in our universe and you’ll see how in my next post.

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