“Home and Away”:  Colonialism and AlterNativity in India 


I: Colonialism and Consciousness

      I would like to begin most humbly, even practically, by asking what we mean by “home” and the “away.”  It would be impossible, at least for a contemporary Indian with literary leanings, to escape from the allusion to Rabindranath Tagore’s Ghare Baire, rather the English translation of this text by Surendranath Tagore The Home and the World. I do hope to come back to this text, which whether I like it or not, may very well assume the status of a sort of recurrent motif in an essay on such a title. 

      A very quick clarification would point to the obvious difference in the original and the English version.  While ghare may well be rendered as “home,” how could we justify baire being translated as “world”?  Baire, more properly, suggest “outside,” rather than the world.  The contrast in the original, then, is more between the inside and the outside of a home, rather than between the home and the world.  The word, “away,” on the other hand implies that a person is outside the home, perhaps at large in the world, but is likely to return.  As in:  “She’s away but is likely to be back at some time.”  In either case, the crucial category on which the contrast would hinge is the word ghare or home.  Accompanying that word are of course its very rich and connotative possibilities, some of which it might be useful to unpack.

      Does “home” refer to one’s specific home or to something larger?  Does it refer, for instance, to a region, such as Calcutta, as when we would say that Calcutta is my home?  Or to Bengal?  Or to India itself?  Or to any place where we feel at home, however far away we might actually be from home?  As Sankara says, “Svadesham bhuvanam trayam”—all the three worlds are my home.  But what about a home in which we do not feel at home, where we feel alienated and out of place?  A home in which we experience dislocation and even death?  This also begs the question of what we mean by “away?”  Is being away the same is being settled elsewhere, being an exile or expatriate or a diasporic person?  I don’t think that “away” quite has that connotation of being elsewhere permanently; rather it suggests that one is away or traveling or outside one’s normal habitation for some time.  Some time doesn’t mean for ever; it means, rather, a limited, rather than indefinite time.  But what of someone who is always away; he, as Dom Moraes once considered himself, is Never at Home—which is actually the title of his autobiography.

      Our home may actually be something rather small, like our bodies, though we may feel peculiarly uncomfortable with/in them.  Is the home, our home exclusively or a place we share with others?  Our home may be a very small part of the real world, confined in fact, just to one building, or even more restrictively, to our physical bodies.  On the other hand, our home, our real self may be very inclusive, embracing many others.  As Whitman announced in “Song of Myself”:  “I am vast; I contain multitudes.”  Or it be an even wider, ever expanding space, akhanda brahmanda mandala, as the seers of the Upanishads proclaimed, an infinite arrangement of galaxies.

      It is obvious from these rudimentary reflections that both home and away have many levels of meaning from the ontological to the sociological, from the cosmological to the utterly mundane, from the metaphysical to the metaphorical.  What is more, none of these meanings can be set aside entirely, no matter how restrictive we choose to be.  Questions of colonialism, culture, and change, such as I wish to address, are therefore implicated in larger universes of meaning and signification from which we can only rescue them into our smaller intellectual grids at our own peril.  These questions are, I would submit, ultimately questions of consciousness.  That is, the level and the kind of consciousness that we bring to bear on them will influence, if not determine, the directions we take and the conclusions we reach. 

      My first suggestion, then, is that the literary and cultural encounters I hope to discuss are about a certain kind of phenomenology, an understanding of which is crucial to any notion of who we are or how we have come to be that way.  I bring this up at the outset because academic endeavours are, or ought to be, not just about understanding our world, but about changing it as well.  Curiously enough, this is one point on which we might actually have a convergence between diametrically opposed ideologies such as Marxism and practical Vedanta.  Because to change the world also means to change our consciousness.  I believe that what happened in Bengal in the 19th century was precisely about changing the consciousness of this country.  And at the very heart of this clash of cultures, the collision between British imperialism and Indian society, were questions of autonomy, self-hood, or to use a Gandhian word, svaraj.  I would even go so far as to say that the whole project of imagining or forging a nation was but a subset of this larger question of autonomy or svaraj. 

      Power and resistance to power, which might be seen as the dominant tropes of the encounter between the colonizers and the colonized, embody, in the final analysis, a struggle for autonomy, for selfhood, and for svaraj.  These exertions over the meaning of a new individuality and a new collectivity were really about imagining into being the condition for the creation of a economic, political, social, cultural order in which the humanity, dignity, equality, and autonomy of the individual could be maintained. That is why it seems to me important to get the vocabulary and the idioms of these struggles right, not to annex them to other discourses because were we to do so, we shall have lost our own autonomy even before we begin to explore the principal actors and texts involved.  Words like svaraj have a resonance and dimension, which is irreducible to any other synonym or substitute.  While we need to be critical in the usage of such words, to reject them altogether is tantamount to a cultural suicide, especially for multicultural and multilingual people like ourselves.  In other words, not only is it important for us to define the terms of discourse at the beginning, but also to frame them in a culturally responsible and rooted manner, given our context and location.

      And here the issue of translation is at the very core of our concerns.  To deal with literary and cultural encounters in colonial and post-colonial India, then, is to confront the question of translation.  That is because we have to grapple with two or more languages of being, two or more ways of seeing the world, two or more systems of cognition.  To erase this multiplicity and difference is to deny the complexity of this encounter, to reduce it to this or that usually political motive.  It is to do violence to our own past and present, not to speak of irreparable damage to our future.  What is needed, therefore, is to be cognizant of two or more modes of being and reference, without collapsing the one into the other.  This requires a kind of critical perspectivism that has a sort of double or multiple vision, the capacity simultaneously to have a dual focus.

      If so, what is the relationship between the ghar and the bahir, the inner and the outer, the private and the public, the personal and the political, psycho-spiritual and the socio-economic, the native and the colonial, the Indian and the Western—in a word, between the home and the away?  It is clear that there is no obvious conflict or dichotomy between the two, that they are not mutually exclusive.  Instead, there seems to be continuous interrelationship between the two.  The personal is the political, as is all too familiar to us by now.  The quest for conjugal happiness in Ghare Baire is thus directly lined to the struggle for a new India.  Why is this point of such great importance?  That’s because the world is out of joint and to set it right requires the kind of reorientation which will also transform the most personal of relationships.  This is what Tagore suggests to us.

      But we must see these two poles as not being related dialectically as much as dialogically.  In dialectics, one side cancels or supercedes the other before it is in turn cancelled or superceded.  Such a mechanism of endless opposition does not produce the kind of breakthrough in which both can not only co-exist but get transformed.  I would prefer to see the interpenetration of opposites in a manner which is dialogic so that what is produced is not antithesis versus thesis but a sort of third space.  This third space is not Bhabha’s interstitial space between the nation and nationlessness a sort of grey area that the diaspora is supposed to occupy.  Rather, to me, it is the possibility inherent in the here and now of every situation of conflict or competition, a finger of hope pointing to what is neither oppressed or oppressive, neither victimizer nor victim, neither dominant  nor subordinate, but something else, something autonomous without being either subservient or repressive.  This is the space of non-violent action, of autonomy, and of svaraj.

      To sum up this section, the encounter between the colonizers and the colonized is marked not just by the exercise of power and of various kinds of resistance to power, but also by the struggle for autonomy and selfhood, the aspiration for svaraj and dignity.  Always, such a struggle is not just about changing material conditions and structures of being, but also about the creation of a new consciousness.  Also that talking about such a consciousness is only possible through some type or the other of translation or multilingualism, in which more than one set of terms or  discourse styles will have to be engaged with.  Finally, a successful marking of issues and insights will produce in a sort of third space that is neither colonizer nor colonized, neither oppressor nor oppressed, neither victimizer nor victim, but something else that defies such binary categories. 


                                                                                II. Some 19th Century Types

      Having suggested what I see as the crucial tropes or recurrent motifs of the encounters between the colonizers and the colonized, I would like very briefly to examine how they are played out in 19th century Bengal.  Such an exercise is, not doubt, fraught with the great risk of over-simplification or reduction, but we still need to attempt it for heuristic reasons if for nothing else.

      It would be good to start with Rammohun Roy, an emblematic figure who appears at the very beginnings of the Bengal renaissance and the creation of Indian modernity.  Placed at the very beginning of the Indo-British encounter, his life and work offers a telling narrative of the progress of colonialism in India.  What I find most interesting is that in Roy we find greater possibilities of autonomy and svaraj than in a later figure like Micheal Madhusudan Dutta. .  This is because imperialism is not yet established and instutionalised in Rammohun’s time.  Those who wish to see a unilinear progression of imperialistic hegemony will therefore be disappointed.  Just as the conservatives who ruled Britain had a greater respect for native cultures of India than the liberals and utilitarians who followed them, the beginnings of British paramountcy in India actually afforded greater spaces for native agency than the later decades of empire. What makes Bengal so interesting is that if offers the entire colonial spectrum in graphic clarity. 

      But to revert to Rammohun for a while, I would characterize his letter of 1823 to Lord Amherst as a substantiation of a certain position in the Indo-British encounter.  I would call this the insufficiency thesis.  Rammohun’s basic argument is that traditional knowledge in India, whether it is vyakaran (grammar) or Vedanta (a branch of classical philosophy), is inadequate.  What is required for the progress of India, therefore, is the infusion of Western knowledge, which can only be done through English.  Of course, it is crucial to distinguish Rammohun’s position from that of Macaulay’s.  Rammohun by no means indulges in a blanket condemnation or dismissal of all the intellectual traditions of India as did Macaulay.  Yes, the tone of his description of traditional learning in India is satirical bordering on the contemptuous.  He does discredit this knowledge is being inconsequential to the point of being farcical and ridiculous.  But unlike Macaulay, he does not believe that the solution lies in absorbing European literature.  Rather, he asks for Chemistry, Astronomy, and other practical arts and sciences.  Rammohun wants a revolution in India not too different from what happened in Europe.  He is therefore an indigenous champion of an Enlightenment that cannot, when we examine world history, be considered the sole preserve of Europeans.

      This insufficiency thesis finds its most vocal supporters in what came to be called the Young Bengal group.  Though its members were rather different and distinctive, we might pick up Michael Madhusudan Dutta as a good representative.  While Rammohun resisted conversion to Christianity, but Christianized, rationalized, and modernized Hinduism, Madhusudan went over completely, even losing patrimony and community in the bargain.  His return to Bengal and Bengali after an unsuccessful foray into complete Anglicization has often been seen as the classic embodiment of the recurrent pattern of the loss and recovery of the self under colonialism.  Whether the loss was total in the first place is debatable as is the question of the nature and extent of the recovery.  What is more certain, however, is that there is no simple passage possible between the world of the colonized to the world of the colonizers.  Is Madhusudan’s rewriting of the Ramayana more than simply a critique of tradition?  By making the manly Meghnad the hero who is outwitted and defeated by the more effeminate and devious Rama and Lakshmana, is he doing more than just inverting the power structure of the traditional epic?  Can’t Rama and Lakshmana also be seen in place of the British in India, who came in to trade but stayed to rule?  While these questions remain, it is clear that by and large Madhusudan considered Hindu society to be morally bankrupt and culturally decadent.  A new creation could take place only with a substantial rupture with the past.  The rotten trunk of the old Hindu civilization would have to be cut off before something new and better could grow. 

      Sri Ramakrishna, on the other hand, an unlettered but vastly gifted spiritual genius, who was also endowed with a definite sense of a grander purpose, may be seen as exemplifying the opposite position of the cultural and intellectual self-sufficiency of India.  From a rustic and non-literary background, he nevertheless shows a great erudition in the older tradition of oral wisdom.  That this was actually a classical tradition, not just a subaltern one is clear when we see the number and quality of his preceptors, starting with the Bhairavi Brahmani and ending with his formal Vedantic guru, Totapuri.  The order of sannyasins that he inspired was thus an offshoot of the much older tradition of intellectual leadership instituted in the Sankaracharya order.  That he could tame, domesticate, and transform a modern positivist like Narendranath Duta in the “volcanic” and cosmopoitan Swami Vivekananda, can be read as the allegory of the triumph of tradition over modernity.  I once heard a swami of the Ramakrishna order pose an interesting question.  All avatars, said he, came to slay some asura (demon) or the other.  Which one did Sri Ramakrishna slay? The answer was the asura of materialism.  Whether we agree with this assessment or not, we can be reasonably certain that one of the causes of the decline of the Brahmo samaj was its reintegration into a modernized and reconstructed Hinduism that Sri Ramakrishna was instrumental in inspiring.  Not just Vivekananda, but Keshub Chandra Sen, and a whole generation of Western educated “progressive” young men came in Ramakrishna’s influence.  Not just the dignity but the inventiveness of Indian traditions was demonstrated.  Ramakrishna reinvented Hinduism in terms of the sarva dharma samabhava, that Gandhi and Vinoba later made the fulcrum of a new nationalism consciousness. 

      Between these two poles of insufficiency and self-sufficiency are a host of interesting and challenging figures.  Bankim, on the one hand, who is seen nowadays as the progenitor of a certain kind of Hindu communalism, but who was more properly a modernizer and anti-colonialist, not to speak of the father of modern Bengali prose.  Not just Bankim, but Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, and Subhas Chandra Bose all represent a certain masculinist  type of resistance to colonialism.  Aurobindo’s project, ultimately, went much beyond revolutionary anti-imperialism to a kind of transformative futurism or spiritual evolutionism that would result in a mutation in human consciousness and unalterable metamorphosis in terrestrial life.  Bose’s authoritarian militarism still has its adherents, but was unable to dislodge Gandhian pacifism as the dominant ideology of the nationalist bourgeoisie.  But perhaps the most interesting intermediate figure is Tagore.   

      In Tagore’s work and thought we see an attempt to attain a balance between these two positions.  Cultures are seen neither as sufficient or as insufficient in themselves but always in a process of negotiation and evolution.  The static, the rigid, the fixed, the mechanical come under disapproval.  In his lectures on nationalism, for instance, Tagore attacks the mechanistic and aggressive urge to power that he saw as the European nation’s characteristic and defining feature.  Of course, we must also keep in mind that what Tagore means by nationalism in these lectures is actually that extension of the national that expresses itself as the imperial.  In other words, though the lectures criticize nationalism, their real subject is imperialism.  Tagore was one of the several makers of modern India.  Like Gandhi, Nehru, and Maulana Azad, Tagore wanted the Indian experiment in nation building to be somewhat different from the European one.  The nation that he envisaged would steer clear of the narrow and exclusivist prejudices of states defined by a single identity, whether of language, religion, or ethnicity.  At the same time, the universalism that he promoted did not imply either a capitulation to Western culture nor the erasure of the local, regional, or the national.  An authentic cultural position did not mean a fanatical rejection of the Other, nor an ingratiating submission to it.  Neither collaboration nor conflict was the sole recourse of a vibrant and self-confident culture, but rather a continuous engagement with the particulars of a given situation.  Coercion, consent, and resistance did not exist in different compartments for Tagore, but were deeply intertwined.

      Such a careful and critical mediation between political extremes is seen at work in Gora.  Through his eponymous protagonist, Tagore rejects both the extremes of Hindu fanaticism and comprador elitism.  The first of the book shows the inadequacy of the former, while British imperialism comes under attack later, somewhat indirectly.  It is only when Gora goes to the countryside that he finds the brutal face of British rule.  The oppression of the peasants and the economic pauperization of the villages opens his eyes to the structural realities of imperialism behind the rather polite façade of paternalistic collaboration offered to the native bourgeoisie.  From being a “good subject,” Gora become as bad subject and finds himself in jail.  When he returns, he is disgusted to discover that he has become a national hero.  Gora long disappearance from the text serves to give the other characters the space to resolve their complicated personal and social relationships.  Gora, in turn discovers what has been his own fatal flaw—the suppression and disregard to the other half of India, its woman.  It is now that Suchorita’s face appears in his mind’s eye, merging with that of his mother, Anandamoyi, who is of course Mother India herself.  He clearly understands that a new India can only be created by including and recognizing its women.  This will have to be a collaborative and cooperative project, harnessing the agencies and energies of both the sexes, not a hyper-masculinist imposition of the will of a strong man on the passive and compliant masses.

      Gora is an earlier text than Ghare Baire.  Tagore uses two couples to work out his vision of a new India.  Binoy and Lalita serve not only as foils to Gora and Suchorita, but are perhaps the mainstay of the book.  Binoy, not Gora is the real hero, because Binoy is closer to the average person.  The character of Gora is later transformed into that of Sandeep.  The extremism of both comes under disapproval.  In Gora Tagore tells us that the what appears to be most Hindu is actually least so.  It is a foreign element masquerading as the authentic internal one.  The West that we internalize is the real enemy, more dangerous than the West out there.  Tamed of its Semitic zeal, such an element may coexist with the others in a larger rainbow of many cultures that is India.  But when it strives to dominate, taking over the whole spectrum of political and cultural possibilities, it must be tamed and neutralized.  This only Suchorita’s feminine sexual energy can do.  Without her, Gora’s cultural nationalism would turn pathological and destructive, not only to his own household, but to the nation in the making.

      Gora ends with the major characters preparing for a long journey outside Calcutta.  Their actions have raised a storm which must be allowed to subside before they can return.  The seeds of a new society are to be nursed in another soil before they can be transplanted back.  Tagore explores three formulae of nationalism in Gora.  Hindu nationalism, based as it is upon an unrepentant and unreformed tradition is rejected as is the slavish and imitative collaboration with British raj that is represented by both Varadasundari and Pani Babu.  The latter is an especially inapt, not to speak of inept, prospective groom for Suchorita because he would stifle and obliterate her self, not for some higher cause but for the sake of his own already bloated ego. Such idolatry is intolerable to Tagore.  Gora’s own formula for what constitutes a true Indian is not cumulative.  It is not the Punjab plus Sind plus Gujarat plus Maratha and so on that we celebrate in our national anthem penned by none other than Tagore himself; instead, it is arrived via negative, neti neti, neither Punjab, nor Sind, nor Bangla, nor Brahmin, nor Dalit, and so on.  What is left, of course, is a sort of basic common denominator of humanity, shorn of all caste marks or identity tags.  The real Indian is simply the essential man or woman. Paresh Babu, Anandamoyi, and the two young couples qualify as the inheritors of an authentic Indian tradition as well as the progenitors of the new Indian nation.  Together they form the basis of a new society that is yet to emerge fully as the novel ends.

      Today, after he has been canonized and idolized so incontrovertibly, it is difficult to imagine just how much Tagore was reviled and abused in his life time.  In one of this last essays on Tagore, Nirad C. Choudhury describes the poet’s life as a lonely struggle against personal loss, economic difficulty, and public scorn.  He was not spared even when he died; his funeral turned into a fiasco, with unruly mobs disrupting the solemnity of the occasion.  Certainly, Ghare Baire too invoked decades of criticism and abuse from varieties of readers and critics.  Tagore was accused of having written a book promoting immorality and adultery.  He was dubbed anti-national and anti-Hindu.  Yet, I believe that it is only in this kind of intrepid and sometimes unpleasant mediation with various aspects of our complex realities that the quest for autonomy, whether personal or social, can be sought.

      While proposing these three paradigms of our interaction with the colonizing West, I do not wish to valorize any particular approach as more valid or effective. Each paradigm is, moreover, much more ambivalent that it appears at first.  This is because the whole field of culture is complex and involved.  Neither Indian attitudes to British rule, nor British attitudes to India can be encapsulated into any easy formulae.  Yet, there are these broad patterns that recur repeatedly, which I have tried to identify.  Our discussion cannot be complete, however, without invoking a person who does not figure as prominently in the Bengali imagination as he does in the national.  I refer, of course, to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.  With Ashis Nandy and others I believe that it is in Gandhi that all the currents of India’s quest for modernity and nationhood intersect most graphically.  While I have written elsewhere about Gandhi’s approach to these questions, I might just say that what he embodies is the curious paradox of an upholder of tradition also being its greatest critic and a critic of modernity who is also the most radically modern person of his times.  Gandhi’s modernity was, I must put it somewhat curiously, already postmodern.  He wanted to create a modernity that was not so much anti-modern, but drastically nonmodern.  Of course, he failed, but before that he had thoroughly reengineered Indian traditions so profoundly and irrevocably that not only is there no going back, but the way forward is also unalterably civic and secular.  Gandhi tried to reworld the home in ways that would at once make us at home in the world and also make the world a non-threatening, homely place.   


                                                                     III. Dominant/Subaltern AlterNativity

      Before I end, I want briefly to confront what I admit may seem like a deep conservatism informing this paper.  All the protagonists of my narrative are Hindu, upper-caste men, such as I myself am.  Where are the subaltern voices, one might rightfully ask?  Why have I not dealt with women, religious and ethnic minorities, dalits and other subalterns?  Today when the marketing of margins has become almost de rigueur, what I have attempted is certainly risky if not unfashionable.  However, I hope the mine is a critical conservatism, not an unthinking one.  Without attempting an elaborate defense, I will simply say that it is only in the light of a certain kind of “progress” over 150 years that we might today consider the makers of modern India as conservatives.  In their own time, they were all of them pretty reformative, if not radical.  They were driven by an energy that can only be considered subversive in its own time.  That they were mostly concerned with upper-caste, Hindu India must be admitted, though, again, here Gandhi is an exception, which is precisely why he is so threatening to a certain brand of Dalit politics.  Gandhi comes closest to an upper-caste leader assuming the mantle of leading the lower castes out of their oppression. He therefore negates a certain kind of oppositional and exclusivist identity politics which is the mainstay of a special brand of Dalit self-assertion.  While we might sympathize with such a self-assertion, we must be prepared to engage with it critically.  The crucial question in this regard is whom as it most benefited?  There is no denying that a certain vocal, educated, and upwardly mobile section of the Dalits have wrested greater benefits by adopting such a confrontationist posture, the vast majority of the really oppressed underclass whom they claim to represent has actually suffered.  Caste jealousy against the dominant, even privileged Dalits is wreaked upon their more unfortunate and helpless brethren.  What the vanguard has gained is arguably at the expense of the majority; worse, these bitterly fought gains have resulted in an incalculable loss of sympathy, producing greater divisions and alienation in the body politic. Whether it is a question of dalits, minorities, or women, Gandhi is the most consistently proactive and responsible among the protagonists of modern India.  While this question needs further debate, I would simply submit that the very fact that subaltern voices and criticism has become the mainstay of public culture proves the success, rather than the failure of the nationalist project.  Such devolution of cultural power was built into the very mechanism of our anti-colonial struggle.  Greater democracy and freedom is thus the natural fruition of the very conception of the Indian nation rather than its unmaking as our postnationalists are wont to argue.

      The dominant culture of modern India whose contours I’ve tried to sketch was, I admit, primarily concerned with the terms of India’s relationship with British imperialism in specific and Western modernity in general.  Once this relationship was defined so as to ensure a certain modicum of dignity and autonomy for India in the comity of nations of the world, other, intra-national readjustments were bound to follow.  The builders of modern India were trying to right a relationship of structural inequality with the West.  Once this was effected, they were sure that gender, class, caste, and religious equalities could also be achieved as an irreversible consequence of an anti-imperialistic nationalism.  That is why, when we turn from the narratives of dominant culture to that of, say, the women, we find a distinct shift in the emphasis.  The role, status, position, and subjectivity of women within the Hindu patriarchy is the central concern of the women writers, rather than questions of colonialism proper.  Similary, dalit and other subaltern texts are primarily concerned with justice and equality within Indian society, even if this means going outside the Hindu fold.  However, I would argue that these micro concerns are inextricably interlinked with the bigger questions that I’ve alluded to of autonomy, selfhood, and svaraj in the context of British imperialism.  There is no former without the latter.

      Dominant cultures need to be studied not just for their absences and erasures as is the prevalent practice today, but also for their presences and additions.  From Rammohun Roy to Mahatama Gandhi, the dominant intellectual and cultural tradition of Hindu India has tried to forge not so a counter-modernity, but an alternative modernity that while it was distinctly Indian, also had universal aspiration. This they did not so much by synthesizing the East and the West, the home and the world, the inner and the outer, the traditional and the modern, the spiritual and the scientific, the female and the male, and so on, but by constantly mediating and negotiating between the two to produce something other than them.  This other was not a hybrid, not some kind of mongrel inbetweeness, but a third world, without the pejorative associations of that term.  A crucial methodological instrument in this process was translation, but as an actual practice and as a metaphor for a larger way of apprehending our reality.  Translation was a way of reworlding the home and of domesticating the world.  That is why in our contemporary postcolonial practice, I consider translation to be crucial, not just in our reading of translated texts, but also in our preserving the double vision that comes from having more than one register of thought. 

      The makers of modern India tried to rewrite the monolinguality of modernity and imperialism in our own multiple tongues and voices.  The cacophony that ensued had the capacity of transforming modernity itself, rendering it polyphonic and chaotic.  From the universe of rationality, the attempt was made to create a multiverse of wisdom.  In the process, various paradigms of coping with the dominant West were tried out—of these, the insufficiency and the self-sufficiency thesis are significant.  But even more significant was a position that refused to argue from either of these positions, but included them both. Tagore and Gandhi, in their own rather different ways, can be cited as examples of this method.  But what they share with their other contemporaries and predecessors like Rammohun Roy, Bankim, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Bose and others is a deep and abiding concern for the autonomy, self-hood, and svaraj.  The habitus of this new society is provisionally the nation state, but also civil society and community life based on equality, justice, and plurality.  Gandhi’s ram rajya, I would thus argue, is a deeply secular idea that is at once designed to capture the imagination of the masses in a vocabulary comprehensible to them, but also to present the vision of a new, radically modern state.  This intermingling of an apparently unworldliness with a this-worldliness becomes the habitus of a new home for an India that has broken its colonial shackles and is ready to assert her own sense of selfhood and dignity once again.  Because it is only upon the restoration of our selfhood and dignity that we can say that we are at home in this world, not beggars, slaves, or aliens in it. 

Note:  An earlier version of this paper was first presented as the inaugural address at a seminar on “Home and the World:  Literary and Cultural Encounters in Colonial and Post-Colonial India,” University of Calcutta, Calcutta, 17-19 December 2002.  

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Ray, Satyajit, dir.  Ghare Baire. Feature film, 1983. 

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Tagore, Rabindranath.  Ghare Baire. In Rabindra Rachanabali.  Vol 8.  Calcutta: 

      Visvabharati, 1941. Trans. Surendranath Tagore. The Home and the World

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---.  Gora.  In Rabindra Rachanabali.  Vol. 7.  Calcutta:  Visvabharati, 1986.  Trans.

      Sujit Mukherjee.  New Delhi:  Sahitya Akedemi, 1997. 

---.  Nationalism.  1917.  London:  Macmillan, 1985. 

  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape