In support of independent thought
BOOK REVIEW: QUEST
The perception of north-eastern culture and society, to a huge extent, has been blurred by the continuing tradition of colonial scholarship. Many disciples, like anthropology and history, continue to follow the colonial pattern; they carry and strengthen the myths created by Western scholars, who were mostly made up of functionaries of the colonial powers. The fact that this kind of colonial anthropology continues till date, even after six decades of Indian independence, should be taken as a matter of great concern.
This year’s first edition of Quest, which touches on and examines a host of such thought-provoking and highly relevant issues, begins on this very note. A biannual publication of the Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture, I have been receiving the issues of Quest for the past couple of years and going through the compilation of well-researched articles has always been a fruitful exercise for me.
Moving on to this issue of Quest, the editorial rues the hold of colonial scholarship over Indian scholars, who continue to carry on with the “distortions” and “myths” in their academic discourses, totally ignoring the facts disproving the same. With the tone set in the editorial itself, the issue of historical distortion is later examined in detail by Michael Danino, a French-born researcher who has been living in India and writing on Indian culture and civilization since 1977. Quoting Sri Aurobindo, Danino stresses the need for Indians to learn to think independently about themselves. He notes, “The Indian mind is by nature supple and progressive; it has been crippled by centuries of stagnation, and now rootless education. To look at ourselves afresh, we first need to re-intellectualise ourselves.”
The chief editor of Quest is BB Kumar while Prof Dinesh Chandra Barooah, Dr. Dipanka Saikia and Sujatha Nayak are the other members of the editorial board. The journal is published by the Vivekananda Institute of Culture in Guwahati. An editorial member said that the publication of the book stemmed due to two primary objectives: firstly, to explore the country’s ageless wisdom with special reference to Northeast India and India’s cultural spread in different countries, and secondly, to examine misleading theories of Northeast India, seeking to rebuild confidence and respect towards our cultural ties.
Talking about cultural ties, it was especially a delight for me to go through Basanta Kr. Bora’s well-analysed piece on the underlying unity between the Rabhas and the Garos. Taking into consideration the recent clashes between the two communities at Boko near Guwahati, the relevance of this article need not be explained further.
From time immemorial, due to the physical proximity of the Garos and Rabhas, both communities share an inexplicable culture bond between them; a “relationship which reflects in the socio-cultural arena of the communities as well and which began to wither away once the Garos converted to Christianity”. In this regard, Bora talks about the similarities between the Hanaghora dance of the Rabhas and the Wangala dance of the Garos. In his write-up supported by audio-visual documentation, Bora talks about the tragedy of conversion for which a beautiful religo-cultural traditional understanding between two communities collapsed.
Eminent scholar and twice-elected member of the Indian parliament Professor Lokesh Chandra also contributes to the compilation with his timely and apt take on human solidarity. At a time when claims of possessions of divine mandate, seeking to abolish existing multiplicity of religious systems and liberal cultures, are destabilizing societies and causing reactionary violence on a global scale, Chandra’s take on solidarity amongst human beings was thought-provoking.
Quest also touches on another important issue – that of unity amidst the immense diversity that is the cultural fabric of India, and the same has been beautifully dealt by Mananeeya Nivedita Bhide in another timely write-up. Touching on an issue of vital importance and relevance in our very own vibrant region, Bhide rightly says that one can celebrate, adore and nurture diversity only if he or she has the vision of Oneness. “It is this vision of oneness that the Indian communities share and can thus integrate, relate with each other keeping one’s uniqueness intact. Only vision of Oneness enables us to see the unifying bonds,” the author notes.
Ram Swarup, Dina Nath Mishra, Shankar Saran, Dr. Gajen Adhikari, Madhuri Santanam Sondhi and Sandhya Jain are the other well-known writers whose works grace the pages of this wonderful and highly relevant issue of Quest. My heartiest congratulations to the editorial board for bringing out such a well-planned compilation of intriguing write-ups.