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Mainstream, VOL LX No 11, New Delhi, March 5, 2022

Ambedkar, Mulk Raj. Where’s That India? | TJS George

Saturday 5 March 2022, by T J S George



Why is it that we don’t have writer-intellectuals like Mulk Raj Anand any more? Why is it that we don’t have reformists like B. R. Ambedkar any more? The impolite answer is that Anand’s and Ambedkar’s India no longer exists, the India whose ideology was India. When ideology took on political postures, things changed. What exists now is an India that thinks things through as per the single ideology that is identified as patriotic.

In the old days religious and cultural differences were considered part of India’s strength because, through it all, people grew into a co-existing pattern of give-and-take, of mutual appreciation and accommodation. So Mulk Raj and Ambedkar could meet and exchange ideas like civilised adults. The records show what happened at such a meeting.

Mulk Raj said: Namaskar, Dr Ambedkar.

Ambedkar: I prefer the Buddhist greeting, Om mani padme ham. May the lotuses awake.

Mulk Raj: I agree. We inherit words without questioning their meaning. Of course, Namaskar means I bow before you.

Ambedkar: Bowing perpetuates submission. May the lotuses awake is a prayer for enlightenment.

What a beautiful approach to words and phrases that normally we use without thinking about their meanings. Mulk Raj and Ambedkar saw life’s subtleties in the inheritance of words. They saw the hidden meanings and the additional beauty the meanings acquired by being hidden. Ambedkar and Mulk Raj were men who had developed beyond the ordinary, so they could see beyond what was visible — and were the wiser for it.

J. R. D. Tata figures in a similar episode where the nuances of words mattered. Romesh Thapar, known as a Marxist ideologue, was publisher of the weekly Cross Roads when he gave JRD’s name as reference in his application for a foreign service post. When Tata’s clearance was sought, the tycoon said he had no objection "although I do think it is a sad commentary on the present condition and frame of mind of the proletariat that its leaders are reduced to asking the support of blood-sucking capitalists such as myself."

Thapar had addressed Tata as Jay. JRD said that Jay was a noisy bird of the crow family which in practical usage meant a simpleton. He then wrote: "For future reference please note that my name is spelt Jeh, in abbreviation of Jehangir, and that any resemblance between me and the bird is purely coincidental." Romesh Thaper who saw himself as superior to ordinary mortals, must have felt differently when he saw JRD’s note.

The no-nonsense Tata had a similar encounter with Russi Karanjia, powerful boss of the powerful weekly, Blitz. Russi wrote to him asking for an appointment to interview him. JRD replied: "There is such an abyss between what you and I stand for in the things that count in life that there is no possibility of a meeting of the minds." After saying that a meeting would make them "waste each other’s time," he wrote: "Life is short and difficult as it is and there is enough tension between individuals and peoples without creating occasions to add to it." It is clear that JRD was a fully evolved persona. Alas, the same cannot be said of the journalists he confronted, although they were leaders of the profession at the time.

Nevertheless, the journalism Blitz practised was bold and beautiful. Karanjia’s readers had great fun watching his trug-of-war with D.F. Karaka’s weekly called Current. Of course Current was nowhere near Blitz in reader appeal, but Karaka was a social bigwig and carried on the fight with ardour. At one point, Karanjia floored D. K. Karaka by calling him Damn Fool Karaka. Journalism was fun in those days. Or perhaps we must say, Life was fun in those days.

It was fun because the yardsticks applied for judging people and events were based on human qualities. Now everything is based on political ideology. Either you are with the BJP or against it. Perhaps Indian history will some day be written in terms of pre-BJP and BJP. (And a third period called post-BJP? Ah, some hope!)

Ambedkar and Mulk Raj Anand were lively political beings. Blitz and Current wallowed in politics. And politics was largely a gentleman’s game during their times. With ideology grabbing the game, it became a rogues’ engagement. What is disparagingly called Bhajapa changed everything. Now politicians do not accept the idea of defeat. They go on and on. Look at Lalu Prasad. Repeatedly sentenced to jail, but he goes on as though Bihar’s future depends on his leadership. As someone said, our democracy is "defeat proof." We must add: Our defeats are democracy-proof.

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