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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 38, September 7, 2013

The Making of an Indian

Sunday 8 September 2013, by P N Haksar

In the citation which the Vice-Chancellor has just read out, some flattering things have been said about me. I was rather pleased hearing it all. At the same time doubts began assailing me. I asked myself: What led the University of Kashmir to honour me? Was it because by accident of birth I am classified as a Kashmiri Pandit? But there are many such Pandits. And there are quite a few who are, if anything, more distinguished than I am. So being a Kashmiri Pandit could not be the real reason. Nor indeed could I fall back on my achievements which are merely by-products of trying to earn an honest living. Not being satisfied, I have been searching for an answer.

My mind began wandering through the corridors of time. Reviewing the time lived and the time spent, I thought of the year 1947. In that year, I got involved, by sheer accident, with Kashmir. The involvement deepened. I was included in our delegation to the Security Council. And so I arrived in New York in January 1948. It was bitterly cold. The only memorable thing which happened to me in the long wintry months spent at Lake Success was the meeting with the Sher-i-Kashmir—my very first.

The word secularism was an abstraction. It was something in the realm of the desirable. Partition had made me spiritually sick and had eroded my faith in secularism. And when January 30 came in New York, dreams so tenderly kept alive turned into a nightmare. But for the voices of Jawaharlal Nehru and of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah one would have never had the vision restored. Thus at Lake Success, Kashmir became a symbol of hope and faith instead of being a Question inscribed on the agenda of the Security Council. All this is old history. I could not persuade myself to believe that the University had dug it all up and decided to honour me for whatever part I might have played. It was, in any case, a minor part. I was a junior functionary.

I would have gone on ruminating but an idea crossed my mind that the authorities of the University, probably, have affection for the prodigal sons of this Valley. And I am certainly one. But then I must truthfully say that this prodigal son of Kashmir has changed in the course of his wanderings through life. He has become, as Iqbal would have said, a Hindi. And with Iqbal he often sings—Hindi Hain Ham Watan Hain Hindostan Hamara. This might be regarded as an act of treachery on my part, made more heinous coming as it does so soon after being honoured with the Doctorate of Laws Honoris Causa. But I owe it to my new Alma Mater to speak the truth. As I stand here speaking to you, moved by a deep sense of gratitude, I do so as a Hindi or, if you like, as an Indian. And I do not feel any conflict within myself. Should I explain? Perhaps I should.

Some time in the early part of the nineteenth century, the ancestor of mine of whom I am the direct descendant bade farewell to the Valley. Why he left, I do not know. But he left. It is laconically recorded in Mattan that Sita Ram—that was the name of my ancestor—“Hindustan gaya”. Since that fateful day, he, his children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren and those born thereafter have been wandering over Hindustan in search of an honourable living. They had no assets except those which their genes gave them.

After leaving the fair Valley, Sita Ram’s first home was Delhi. And from there my ancestors wandered to Indore; some went to Gwalior and some to the old Central Provinces. And from my mother’s side, they settled in Punjab. One of them—Raja Dinanath—earned fame and fortune as Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Finance Minister. All this would explain why I was born in Gujranwala and brought up in UP. However, it was in UP that I was mostly educated.

In the course of their search for a living in the wide expanses of the plains of India, Sita Ram and his descendants had to adapt themselves to their new environment. Instinctively, they followed Darwin’s law of evolution. They adopted new languages, new clothes, new food habits, news codes of conduct and new ethics of work. They became Kashmiris of the plains forgetting even their language but acquiring new ones with meticulous care. It was Urdu and Persian and then English. And yet they clung to their identity as emigres do. There was nothing larger to identify oneself with. However, things began changing and by the time I became concious of the world around me, the First World War had just ended.

I grew up in the midst of a vast turbulence. Gandhi had appeared on our horizon. And he grew larger every day, until he covered the entire sky. Simultaneously, Jawaharlal Nehru appeared as a luminous star. Our minds opened up. And our hearts too. Our vision got enlarged, India began taking shape. I came out of the cocoon, took wings and fluttered in the fresh winds which were blowing about me. I began wandering over the surface of Hindustan.

I stood at our land’s end; I saw waves upon waves of the Indian Ocean eagerly rushing to meet the Arabian Sea. I canoed over the trans-parent back waters of Kerala between Kottayam and Alleppey and smelt the fragrance of cardamom and pepper; I saw the graceful arecanut and coconut palms swaying in the gales; I saw the lush green coffee, tea and rubber planta-tions. And then wandering from Thekaddy to Coimbatore, thence to Mysore and Mercara, contemplating the beauty of the Nilgiris I became possessive about the Southern part of our country as I was of its Northern, Eastern, Western and Central. India thus became a reality and not an abstraction.

On this mother earth of India, our ancestors had laboured and created a fabric of civilisation weaving together its various threads. The monuments alone which they built and carved and chiselled kept me enthralled. The temple at Martand, the mosques, the forts, the city at Fatehpur Sikri, the caves and frescoes at Ajanta, the Temples in Konarak, Khajuraho and Madurai, the Taj at Agra, the ruins of Hampi—all showed the creativity of our forefathers. And I feel possessive about them as I feel about the entire land so laden with gifts of Nature.

I respond to the songs and dances, the music and the folk rhythms of our country. I am moved by Tagore as by Iqbal; I am moved reading Kural and Vallathol, even in their translation. The chanting of Vedic hymns and of Zend Avesta stirs my soul as does the haunting call of a muezzin’s azan at the dawn.

Thus the descendant of Sita Ram returned to the land of his forefathers transformed. I first set eyes on this Valley in 1968. And I came here to attend a meeting of the National Integration Council. And though I could, even with my closed eyes, see Kanyakumari from Dachigam and feel the restlessness of the Indian Ocean pining to meet the waves of the Arabian Sea, the mountains of the Valley blocked the view for many. And I said to myself: Oh! So much remains to be done. And it remains to be done all over this land of ours. So many still see reality distorted by caste and creed, region and language.

I see that I have been far too preoccupied with myself. I forgot that this is a solemn occasion. I forgot that I have to deliver a convocation address. By custom, convocation addresses in our country must groan under the weight of good advice. But I do not know what advice to give. I am not even certain if good advice helps. We all have to learn from life. And I do not know if your University and your teachers have equipped you mentally and morally to cope with life and its problems. You might ask why I should entertain any doubts on this score. I should not, really. It is a fine University. Your teachers have apparently a sense of calling. You have an experienced Vice-Chancellor and
a distinguished Chancellor. But then I cannot help observing, as I look at you, that as you came up to receive your degrees and as you are now seated, your backs are turned towards the majestic ranges of the mountains which I see from where I stand. Shouldn’t you be facing them? Perhaps, the idea was that you would start facing them as you go out after your graduation. That of course you will do. But the question is: How?

Would you have the curiosity to explore not only the foothills of the mountains but also its peaks? Would you be satisfied only by exploring the ranges, or would you be led to explore what lies beyond? Would you be looking at life with unending curiosity or would you be happy being a caged bird—secure and fed by others? Would you be striving for something beyond your immediate reach or would your major obsession be with yourself? I have asked so many questions. Life too will pose these questions. On the answers you give would depend whether you prefer the life of a bird in a cage or fly and flutter in open skies and face its hazards.

Man’s humanity, his courage, his knowledge, his wisdom and his yearning to reach out for something larger than himself are abiding sources of mankind’s strength and of hope. I said, larger than oneself. The continuing strength of religions is that each postulates a God. And God is larger than oneself. Religion goads man on to attain something larger than himself, surrender to it or to merge with it. But supposing one’s God is called Bharat or India or Hind or Hindustan. Then what happens? A new religion will be born—a secular religion devoted to service of fellow men. That religion and God would not contradict each other. That religion will not make one lay an assassin’s hand on a fellow human being but to have love and compassion and a striving to create society permeated by humanity. Only a society so structured and motivated will overcome the baser instincts of human beings—brutality, greed and selfishness.

How do we reach the new society? Obviously, we must understand the reality we wish to change. We should know our country. And we should know the world around us. Knowledge is a powerful instrument of change. And knowledge comes from unceasing questioning. It does not come by accepting the conventional wisdom of our forefathers. At one time the conventional wisdom told us that the earth was flat, that the sun went round the earth, that earthquakes, sorrows and sufferings were caused by God’s wrath, that mankind was created and so on. We know now that all these beliefs were wrong. However, the beliefs which persist about our society are more difficult to cope with. For, in the realm of social sciences proof is difficult; so is experimentation. And yet social evolution is as much a fact as evolution of Nature. Both have a history.

Our country too has been evolving. We do not have dynasties any more though images of the dynastic era persist. We have democracy. This is ensured by the consciousness of our people of their rights. But, as Iqbal said:

Jamhooriyat Hai Ek Tarze Hukoomut
Jis Men Bundon Ko Gina Karte Hain
Tola Nahin Karte.

(Democracy is a kind of polity in which men are counted but not weighed.)

Now, counting is necessary. For all men are equal. And so far we have certainly learnt to count. The day, however, we learn collectively to weigh, we shall have made a qualitative advance. But weigh against what values? That is a difficult question.

We must learn to weigh every person as a fellow human being whether he lives in Kashmir or Kerala, in Nagaland or in Gujarat. When we have achieved that we shall come into our own. But to generate that consciousness we must create a social, economic and political order inspired by equality and motivated by cooperation. Cooperate or Perish—that is the message of our contemporary times both for India and the world.

It is now late in the evening. Soon night will fall on this beautiful and majestic Valley. But there will be the dawn. And you will wake up with parchments in your hand. And I too will carry the additional responsibility of being Doctor of Laws. Shall we then together begin a new life? And begin it by singing together Iqbal’s immortal song:

Mazhab Nahin Sikhata
Apas Men Beyr Karna
Hindi Hain Ham Watan Hain
Hindostan Hamara.

Thus fortified, we shall face the challenge of our times which is much harder than over-coming the mountain ranges and the peaks with which we are surrounded.

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