Ode to my mindset: The Baniya approach

Written by Meghalaya Times. Posted in Writers Column

K.D. Chaturvedi
Aristotelian Parallel
This article is not an insult to the intelligence of the great nation of ours, but an exercise in self catharsis by true reflection of ourselves to us. Before I seem to offend -with the use of the word “Baniya”-which least is my intent, I would like to draw a parallel with the Aristotelian theory of Universals, as in language there are proper names and adjectives.
Proper names apply to “things “or “persons”, each of which is the only thing or person to which name in question applies example the words Napolean and France. On the other hand “cat” and “dog” apply to many different things.
The problem of Universals is the meaning of such words and also of adjectives, such as “white”, “hard” and so on. Superficially, Aristotelian doctrine is plain enough as what is signified by a proper name is a “substance”- a “this”, while what is signified by an adjective, or class name as “cat” is universal- a “such”.

Be as it may be, while not giving precision to the theory further, the use of the word “Baniya” resonates with the metaphorical adjective usage of it. It symbolizes a mindset, a characteristic which is typical of collective  Indian thinking; having ingrains of “Personal Entitlements” or the  “Individuality Essence” as it’s keel. Here I can’t help but to borrow again from the metaphysics of Aristotle- the term “Essence”, meaning “What you are by your very nature”.
Though a wedge has been drawn philosophically between “Universal” and “Essence”, however for our consumption “Baniya” subsumes the parochial: “Me Mindset”, “Living for Self”, “Jugaad” or “Sab Chalta hai Attitude” use whichever phrase interchangeably with all meaning the same. The same mindset resonating at the centre of concentric circles of increasing thresholds of: Caste, society, language, race, religion, state, politics. Just fit in yourself at whatever level you may be functioning!
Revisiting the past
Blame me for re-visiting the term “Baniya”; but for suffering from a peculiar psyche which makes us passive watchers. For, if list of events by which  India has been  greeted in the ensuing weeks of  the New Year- starting with the New Year gift from our neighboring country,  in the shape of a militant  attack, and our responses therein at all levels- the term aptly appropriates itself univocally.
Ancient civilizations as ours have long stabilized in their richness of appropriateness; in the multifarious dimensions of human consciousness as it can exist, that a parallel with the rich past is a natural corollary. More so, when narrative of Matter is in continuum for last five thousand years .Though as per Bertrand Russel, a distinction is to be made in Aristotelian metaphysical concept of “Form” and “Matter” ,for “It is in virtue of Form that the matter is some Thing”.
 Loosely borrowing the analogy, our Matter (unbroken culture )is in continuum and it is only the virtue in Form ,the “Political India” which now differs .But doesn’t  that continuum of “Matter” need a re-alignment with the  changed “Virtue of Form”?Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes, but not anymore.
The division of past Indian society into the Four “Varna “ is a Socio Historic legacy. The “Vaishya” symbolized  the trading community-the historical economic powerhouse, of the Indian community- the colloquial “Baniya”.
While not getting into the mythological past, as  of how Lord  Krishna advised the ancient ancestors of the Mahuri village near Mathura, to engage themselves in trade and commerce, the term “Baniya” slipped  into a rhetoric symbolism .It  indicates  an overall thrust of: Self Preservation ,self  Aggrandizing , unforgiving Meanness  of Self  Interest and the Interest  groups; with all having imprints in typical Indian mindset.
While reasons for above can be argued at structural, spiritual and historical  levels, as our unifying elements underlying Indian mentality are of - Caste, hierarchical tendencies, contextual sensitivity and the thinking  that anything can happen as per karmic principles. Spiritually, it can be argued that Hinduism lays emphasis on individual elevation of the Soul rather than collective upliftment. Structurally for the society, a need was to preserve itself in the face of hordes of foreign invasions.
Whatever the reasons for the “Baniya” approach, the above however has culminated for our preference to In-Action rather than Action .This in spite of brilliance of Bhagwat Gita! For once, one really wonders for the need of Bhagwat  Gita arose due to our historical tendencies of inaction? And  hence the masterpiece on philosophy of karma by Lord Krishna?
A surviving civilization in its long historical narrative ,automatically leverages itself to detail scrutiny. India’s point of inflection to a thinking mind is the strategic blunder, in recognition of the importance of securing Khyber Pass; the historic  gateway to all foreign invasions which our nation has witnessed. Instead we should be grateful to our geography for having secured our three other flanks; as we take pride in continuity of our culture, for history would have been different otherwise .
The dilemma a rich continuity provides is the propensity to superimpose our current political identity, to the fractured identity of the past –of feudal confederacies- fully knowing we were a union of culture and not a political union. Unlike the recognition of a Political identity as a State by China; and its securing  the state by  the Great Wall.
Mahatma Gandhi’s movement was successful because it found an exact fit for the  Indian  mindset of “Self Acquiesce” .For consciously we have to be reminded that  love for In-Action ;as a verb,  is subconsciously an ingredient of toleration and non-cooperation(leave aside the philosophical depth  as nations survive on state craft. Unluckily here too we had a masterpiece in Arthshastra!).We were lucky as not to have been colonized by French/Portuguese or Spain .History is privy to the bloodshed the colonies under their occupation witnessed. For all we know the Mahatma prematurely may have been a martyr denying mankind his vast canvass? These colonizers were masters in removing such obstacles without moral scruple.
Present perspective
Is our present thinking any different from our “juggad” approach now that we are a vibrant modern democratic nation? Revisiting our New Year Gift from Pakistan as a case study (The militant attack on the Defense establishment in Pathankot). To me it posed some embarrassing soul searching questions. How many of us Indians felt the  involving hurt? To how many it was a conscientious shake? Is it not fact that much of India just glossed over as my house was safe and not involved?
Doctrine of  Matter and Form in Aristotelian philosophy are connected with a distinction of Potentiality and Actuality. Potentially, our Nation is on the path of its own version of  hundred  year war (between England and France) with Pakistan, having already travelled sixty eight years since our independence. The nation ought  to have integrated response systems: Of surveillance, intelligence gathering with deliverable platforms.
In Actuality though skeletons are tumbling everyday; highlighting but the “Narcissist Self”- with elements  responsible to respond in the chain emerging but covering their flanks- from  “Individuals” to “ Organizations”. With all responsible seemingly perfecting to professionalism, one is only made to believe, is the aggregate  lesser than the sum of its constituents?
Historically, the likes of Mir Jaffar, Jaichand and Vibhishan have not limited themselves to a time frame with their ever relevant virtues of Aggrandizing  self and the vision of Self and Self only. Incidentally it continues-and  not accidentally, as investigations are revealing a web of Smuggling racket, insider stories, spies and to top it up, the in tacit accomplice of organization responsible for maintaining law and order is emanating as a modus operandi. Does it not make a sad thriller for our thinking citizenry?
The beauty is the cascaded speed with which other  events too have unfolded in  the national discourse  in the New Year, highlighting but one virtue - preference for  hyper  “Self Selectivity” in an immune system. Only the actors have changed from the subsets of National security, Political  Expediency  to  Vote-Bank appeasement.
For how else can one explain the Pathankot attack, Central  Government’s notification to lift Supreme Court ban on Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu; just because elections are due and  the  violence in Malda ,West Bengal; and the subsequent state government’s response?
Best love affairs are those which we never had. Long pending issues of: Autonomy of institutions(CBI), political parties under the ambit of RTI and the issue of providing thirty three percent reservation to women in parliament; are all not indicators  of conflicting perceptions of Options-Actions and the Outcomes, but expediency for narrow gains.
Inculcating Intellectual and Moral virtue
Good - we are told - is an activity of the individual soul and is the most important ingredient in character building of self, society and a nation. As per Aristotle, soul constitutes of Rational and Irrational element. Correspondingly there are two kinds of virtues - Intellectual  and Moral. Intellectual virtues result from teaching  of which we have an expansive range of scriptures of all religions with evolved accompanied philosophy, dwelling into the deepest.
Moral virtues result from habits, which Aristotle precluded was the duty of the Legislator to imbibe as they were the   central binding institution of the erstwhile Greek state. But in our country with fragmented and fractured regional affinities of: Caste, language, race and religion, can we assign that duty to our parliamentarians, our elected legislators? With the answer foregone, what then is that central binding force for our nation? An antidote to “Self Synchronized Callousness”?
There are no “Fit all size” solutions. To my mind the problem can be approached by taking recluse in one of the four pillars of democracy; the Judiciary. Strengthening it by imbibing best judicial practices of the world, ranging from fool proof and transparent system of appointment of judges, to imparting efficiency to existing judicial procedures, will all result in faster and judicious dispensation of justice with quality. Justice should not only be delivered but should also be seen to have been delivered.
Firm Judicial system will enforce amongst us the Moral virtues arising from improved habits ; for fear of law will loom before we commit a wrong and will discipline our psychology ;slowly but gradually .A Law common to all, enacted  democratically in parliament with swift deliverable platforms, will subconsciously entail amongst us a culture  of  ethical values; having  a telling effect on our individual character .We will rise slowly from Good of Self to the  Good of Community and finally the  feeling of “We the Nation”.
For  as per Aristotle ,by compelled to acquire good habits ,we shall in time come to find pleasure in performing  good actions .I am reminded of Hamlet’s speech to his mother:-
Assume a virtue if you have it not.
That monster, custom, who   all sense doth eat,
Of   habits  devil  ,is angel, yet in this,
That to the use of actions fair and good
He likewise gives a frock or livery
That aptly is put on.


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