Friday, May 24, 2024

Tagore said the same – mingling of all races and colours in Bharat Tirtha


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Sam Pitroda was not wrong, only his presentation was defective

By Anjan Roy

If the noblest could be compared with the plebeian, the infinite with the infinitesimal, the dignified with crass, then the underlying sentiments expressed by Sam Pitroda were in the same veins as Rabindranath Tagore’s great poem “Bharat Tirtha”. All this hyper reaction by the BJP leaders including the Prime Minister calling Pitroda as ‘ racist’ ignores the very basis of what he actually said. He was correct in his sense of history , but the presentation was a bit defective.
In the midst of the freedom struggle, Tagore wrote a rousing poem on the inherent greatness of his country which evolved out of centuries of intermingling of streams of Humanity which had poured into the Ocean that was Bharat.
Sam Pitroda’s crude comments on racial parallels of people from various parts of the country are to say the least offensive. But Tagore in his poem had referred to the confluence of Humanity in creating the Indian identity, taking the entire reference to a high philosophical vision.
Poet Rabindranath Tagore had made similar references to different races mingling into one whole that is India, as Sam had put in his silly ways. Tagore referred to the millennial comingling of religions, races and ideas for creating the nation that is Bharat .
Rabindranath wrote in his famous poem “Bharat-tirtha” how waves of races from different corners of the earth had reached India only to lose their separate identity into the great Indian narrative. Let me give a free translation of a few lines, but not the cadence or the beauty of the language:
“No one knows at whose invitation/ Unstoppable flows of people/
Arrived into the Ocean that is India/ Here the Aryan, the non-Aryan,
The Dravidian, the Chinese/ The Sakas, the Huns/ The Pathans and the Mughals/ Merged into the Whole”.
No one took exception to the poem and its references to different races and identities of people arriving into the sub-continent to melt into the Indian idea. But then why now?
And if Sam Pitroda can be condemned for his racist views, the reaction to his comments about divergent profiles of Indians is equally damning. This also reflects a racist stance. Greatest umbrage was expressed about some comparisons rather than to the other comparisons.
To be honest, there is underlying racism within India. Pitroda has compared people from the eastern and more specifically north-eastern regions resembling the Chinese in their features.
This is nothing new. In Delhi, there have been umpteen number of incidents when boys and girls from the north east have been intimidated and sometimes rudely evicted from their rented residences. Violence is not unknown. To the people from north eastern states for having a different look compared to the north Indians.
Pitroda has compared the west Indians to Arabs. As a matter of fact, India’s historical links with the Arabs, Central Asians and the Iranians could not have been repudiated by any stretch of imagination. In the late Mughal period, Afghanistan was often ruled by Rajasthani princes.
Throughout the medieval period, scores of fortune seekers and even brigands from Central Asia, Persia, and the broad areas now known as the Middle East had come into India. They had often ended up as raiders and usurpers to power.
By the time of the late Mughal period, India’s nobility, those who occupied high positions of state, were sharply ranged between Hindustani or Indo-Moslem party, that is those who were sons of the soil or domiciled for long in the sub-continent.
“To this group belonged the Afghan nobles, the Sayids of Barha, and Khan-i-Dauran whose ancestors had come from Badkhshan.” They comprised the Hindustani party. These Indian Muslim nobles depended for their survival on the help and support of Hindus.
The foreign nobles were of diverse origin, generally opposed to the Hindustani party. They had their own divisions. Those who came from “Transoxiana” and other parts of Central Asia, formed the Turani party. They were mostly Sunnis.
The Irani party, on the other hand, were those from the Persian territories and were of Shia dispensation. Under different Mughal emperors, competing factions were more powerful in their turn. The competing groups had in their times, controlled the key positions of state.
I had once the opportunity to meet one of the key chief secretaries of Rajasthan, a highly well-read person who boasted of a library at his home running into over 40,000 volumes. He had claimed his ancestry from the nobles of Iraq. One can hardly differentiate him from any other Indian.
These numerous descendants of the migrants from centuries before now comprise the Indian population. It will not be incorrect to say that people from different parts do still carry their original traits.
Of all the offending parts of Pitroda’s comments were those linking the south Indians to Africans based on skin colours.BJP leaders of South took up the issue with Pitroda by saying yes ‘We are dark coloured. but we are proud Indians’. As such, there is a delusional attitude about the colour of the skin among us Indians. Anyone conversant with ancient Indian history knows that the Africans were the first lot of humans who came to India. A good section crossed the Vindhyas and settled in South India. Who can deny this history? No other country, to be honest, is as apartheid as India and fair skin is always extolled.
In fact, no other country, to be honest, is as racist as some of the Indians are, including the ruling party leaders. Once again, I had a very improbable insight into this while speaking to one of the sales and marketing gurus of the Indian corporate world. Shunu Sen. He then was the marketing and sales director of Hindustan Lever. .
Levers had a beauty treatment product, “Fair and Lovely” created for ladies. The company was severely criticised for selling false dreams to gullible Indians. The skin creams did not lighten the colours. So, the board of directors tasked Shunu Sen to devise a strategy for withdrawing the product from the market.
Sen embarked on a sales trip across the country to ascertain the use of the product. In that search, Shunu Sen had reached a remote village in Uttar Pradesh where he went to the local groceries shop. Prominently displayed on the dusty shelf, were a couple of packets of “Fair and Lovely” cream.
Curious, Shunu Sen asked the rustic shop-owner why he was keeping that fancy cream. Promptly, the shop-owners replied, Fair and Lovely was the most fast-moving item in the shop. Every week, fathers of marriageable daughters would buy the cream for their daughters. A little lightened skin could save them a hefty part of the cash dowry claims. Shunu Sen had advised the board of directors of Hindusthan Levers not to withdraw the product. That was India three decades ago and the same attitude remains even now in the year 2024. The only fault of Pitroda was that he could not package his words properly. (IPA Service)


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