In the Interstices of Tradition and Modernity:Exploring Ashis Nandy's Clandestine and Incommunicable Selves 


             Ashis and Nandy

            This essay is itself split into two parts, mirroring a certain fragmentation in my approach to Ashis Nandy and his work. The first part, which is a personal appreciation of Nandy, is motivated not only by an urge to repay a debt, but by the desire to notice and applaud a presence like his in Indian academic life.  The second part shifts discursive gears to critique Nandy's work by recovering what I stumbled upon quite inadvertently--a secret self which lurks beneath much of his writing.  These two selves that I shall expose may be termed Ashis and Nandy respectively.  I hope, however, that the two parts of the essay, which are meant respectively to reflect these two selves, together overcome, somewhat like the integrative doubles so dear to Nandy, the discontinuities that such a structure might convey.__1__  My modest project here is to not only to articulate the ambiguities and contradictions in my response to Nandy, but to uncover what is see as a schism in his life and work.  In other words, I am interested in investigating the kind of "self-representation and self-engineering"__2__--to use words Nandy's words again--that go on in his work. 

            Part I

              Inspiring Presence:  The Importance of Being Ashis

            I first met Ashis-da on 20 June 1991 to give him a manuscript copy of a book I was working on.  Several friends had told me that he was the best person to respond to a book like this.  What amazed me when I called him up, was his eager willingness to see me.  There is something about intellectuals and academics which makes them the more remote and isolated the more famous they get. Ashis-da was just the opposite.  He was utterly approachable, though he was probably busier than most of his peers.  He thumbed through my manuscript and commented in his typical way, "Very interesting...!"  The unmistakable overlay of the Bengali accent, the broad, bearded Socratic face, and the light, dancing eyes--all these set me at ease instantly.  There was nothing forbidding or formidable about him.  If anything, he was unassuming and disarming, with a subtle sense of humour and a robust and easy laughter.  Here was a man who seemed to have a special relationship with ideas; he knew each of them by name, as it were; he invited them into his mind and into his study; he introduced them to his friends and visitors; and he was actually excited by them.  Clearly, Ashis-da's intellectual imagination, was extremely fertile; here new ways of looking at the world jostled for space with wisdom gleaned from age-old traditions. I felt considerably reassured after our forty-minute meeting.

           After a few months when I called him up again, he said, "Makarand, I _liked_ your book.  It's very unusual, quite refreshing."  He paused for a minute, then, in closing said very casually, almost as an afterthought, "I asked a couple of friends to look at it--I hope you don't mind.  You may hear from them soon."  I had no idea what he was hinting at until I received, quite out of the blue, a letter from Primila Lewis, then the commissioning editor of Sage Publications, expressing an interest in my book.  To say that I was taken aback would be an understatement.  The fact was that I was at my wit's end trying to think of which publisher to send my book to.  The book itself was an attempt to rethink the idea of Svaraj in the present Indian context.  It tried to create a neo-Gandhian space on current debates on decolonization and development.  What is more, the whole of it was written in the form of a dialogue between an imaginary student and teacher, not only as a take-off on the dialogue between the Reader and the Editor in Gandhi's _Hind Swaraj_, but also as a conscious attempt to bypass, if not subvert, the dominant academic discourse.  This discourse, I had long realized, denied validly or legitimacy to any form of dissent which did not meet its own specifications and terms.  Who would, I wondered, countenance, let alone sponsor what was obviously my "unripe cognition"?  One had, it seemed, either to be a Gandhi, who didn't mind resorting to _The Indian Opinion_, a periodical which few Englishmen would be expected to read, or be one of the "official" critics of the West, fed and maintained by it. So, when the letter from Sage came, I had been bracing myself for a long and frustrating engagement with the publishing profession, if not an outright rejection, in an attempt to find a taker for a project like this.  The book, as it happened, had already been turned down by Gandhi Peace Foundation, which I had approached first.

           One of the things which Primila wanted, if Sage were to publish the book, was some kind of an Introduction by Nandy himself.  Of course, I would have to respond to the comments of referees and to make some of the changes they might suggest.  I readily agreed to the second condition, but was not sure about the first.  , I asked Ashis-da if he would help. Again, the alacrity with which he gave his consent was as unexpected as it was gratifying.  From that point, things moved pretty fast.  The comments from the referees came, the book was accepted by Sage, and, finally, Ashis-da's Foreword also came in. It was what he called a "Trialogue," a conversation between three generations whose participants were Gandhi himself, his son Harilal, and Nandy, who stood in the place of a grandson and reclaimed the bruised and battered legacy of his putative grandfather after the reaction and rejection by the son, Harilal. I have often felt, in retrospect, that Ashis-da's masterly Foreword was the best part of my book.

           I have begun on this personal note not only to acknowledge, once again, my debt to Ashis-da--a debt, which is not just intellectual, but personal--but really to suggest that what he did for me was not an isolated instance of his kindness but the usual manner of his functioning.  What makes Ashis-da's role in contemporary Indian academics so unique is not just the impact of his ideas, which is indeed considerable, but his personal and professional presence.  He has inspired, nurtured, and launched several papers, seminars, books, and, even careers.  He has encouraged and shaped scores of young minds, enabling them to develop, prosper, and flourish, even to the point of outgrowing or rejecting him.  There is in him a remarkable lack of animosity towards those who disagree with him, though any normal person would consider the actions of some of these detractors to be nothing short of a betrayal.  He has consistently taken unpopular positions, subjected himself to unprecedented risks, faced hostility and criticism with unfazed indifference, and consistently fought for causes he's believed in.  But, what is more, he has helped create a room for an authentic criticism, a middle ground, a form of dissent which requires neither the extraordinary personal courage of a Gandhi or the knee-jerk conformity of most postcolonial academics--a space, as it were, which is neither left nor right, neither entirely traditional nor assertively modern, which can help ordinary intellectuals dare to make a meaningful intervention without compromising their dignity or self-respect.

             Ashis-da, a soft-spoken, unassertive, even gentle person, may not, in himself, be a formidable personality, but the range of his intellectual interests is indeed profound and formidable. Political theory, psychology, biography, literature, cinema, urban sociology, colonialism, science and technology, governance, communalism, cricket, disarmament, global futures--there is scarcely an area of contemporary Indian culture that he has left untouched.  His approach, moreover, is always innovative, interdisciplinary in a manner which is quite different from the usual connotations of word.  Interdisciplinarity, ordinarily, only means "perpetrating the follies of more than one discipline in one's work," as my friend Vinay Lal would put it.  What, then, is Ashis-da's discipline?  It is, in my view, the whole challenge of living in the contemporary world.  To lead an authentic, meaningful, proactive, and compassionate life in world such as ours requires an enormously complex and multifaceted wisdom, which Ashis-da's work has come to embody.  That is why to say that every book of his cuts new ground is not enough; actually, he epitomises both the need and the validity of a new academic paradigm.  Lal has placed his work in the rubric of Cultural Studies, but even that has a narrowly Anglo-American ring to it. Perhaps, Nandy can best be described as a critic in the broadest sense of the word, a critic of culture, society and knowledge systems.  This is not all.  His work combines ideology and activism in strange and purposeful ways thereby transcending the gulf between theory and practice.

           All these factors make him an unparalleled presence and force in contemporary Indian academics.  Not only is he easily the most gifted, innovative, and versatile of our social theorists, he has also exerted a great and beneficial influence on the course of India's intellectual enterprise in the last three decades.  He has made a difference to our lives. 

             Part II 

            Espousing Tradition:  Nandy's Modern Dilemmas

            Arguably, a good deal of the charge and impact of Nandy's work derives from his critique of modernity.  But what makes his dissent so interesting, even unique, is his ability to defy, as he himself puts it, "the given models of defiance."__3__ For instance, Nandy fights colonialism and neo-colonialism, but not from the usual, largely Marxian positions.  Instead, the fabric of his resistance seems to be cut from a different cloth--call it _khadi_ if you like.  Nandy rehabilitates Gandhi, but not from the usual moralistic, pious, or hagiographic motives; instead, he gives us a Gandhi who is a sharp, savvy, contemporary, and incorrigible gadfly, a clever, inventive, innovative, and playful Gandhi, an inveterate dissenter, in brief, a thinking and thinker's Gandhi--a born postmodernist, almost.  Again, whether it is _sati_ or the destruction of the Babri Masjid, Nandy's outrage springs from what might best be termed the resources of tradition, not the prejudices of modernity.  Similarly, whether he trains his critical sights on science or the state, Nandy seems to draw sustenance from non-modern sources.  The modern condition for Nandy is a deeply flawed one, marred by great hubris and ignorance, unspeakable violence and triage; it sports islands of affluence surrounded by oceans of suffering and deprivation, a handful of victors and a legion of victims.  And yet, Nandy has consistently argued against the victims turning victors, the oppressed emulating their oppressors, the downtrodden in turn treading down on others:

           This century has shown that in every situation of organized

          oppression the true antonyms are always the exclusive part

          versus the inclusive whole--not masculinity versus feminity

          but either versus androgyny, not the past versus the present

          but either of them versus the timelessness in which the past

          is the present and the present is the past, not the oppressor

          versus the oppressed but both of them versus the rationality

          which turns them into co-victims. 

           (_The Intimate Enemy_ 99)  Consistently, Nandy advocates a third way, the way of reconciliation and compassion, of bearing witness and assuming responsibility, even of courage and self-sacrifice, to the point when both the victors and the vanquished may be transformed, seeing themselves in a new light.

           In the process, like Gandhi, he has invariably espoused the cause of the rejects of development, the outcastes of modernity, the untouchables of our times--including demonised minorities, peasants and workers colonized by communalism, even the so called terrorists, the most loathed figures in the vocabulary of the arrogant and self-serving nation state.  The source of Nandy's optimism is the strength of "living traditions" ("Cultural Frames" 416) or what he calls a world view "rooted in ancient wisdom and inherited cosmology" (_The Intimate Enemy_ 100). This, for him, is the source of the sanity of the common folk.  These millions of unsung heroes and heroines, for Nandy, are the genuine protagonists of history, because it is they who exemplify the compromising Indian of "fluid self-definition," who seeks to be not the hero, but the survivor of history.  This is how the majority of the colonized, with their yielding, "feminine," undivided, and plurali-cultural selves, whose "secret defiance" saved our culture from annihilation.  It is precisely such unself-conscious resistance which modernity seeks to undo and destroy.  The process of modernization, then, is nothing short of a violation and disruption of this integrated self, yielding, in turn, violent, fragmented, ever dissatisfied entities that seek completion and solace through violence and destruction. This, in a nutshell, is how I read Nandy's cultural psychologism, the perennial current from which he draws his intellectual nourishment, the sponsoring agency, as it were, of his theoretical expeditions.

           It would, I think, be quite uncharitable to consider Nandy's valuable locutions to be nothing more than an echo of the West's own critique of itself.  Such, indeed, has been the reductive accusation of some of his numerous detractors.  Others have, of course, accused him of worse--intellectual hypocrisy and chicanery.  My friends in the Left tend especially to be dismissive--"Nandy is a fraud"--they say sneeringly; and, as if to clinch the point beyond argument, they add:  "he only sells abroad, not in India."  When confronted with some of these diatribes, Nandy's reaction has been characterised as much be devastating candour as by wry humour:  "The problem with the Left is that they are not democratic; the only way they can survive is by debunking and discrediting all those who disagree with them." Besides this, the criticism is wrong:  Nandy is among India's two or three bestselling academic writers, as Oxford University Press, his publishers, would testify only too readily.

           Let me, therefore, leave these tired and worn-out animadversions aside.  Instead of attacking Nandy for not being modern or secular enough, let me interrogate him for not being traditional or spiritual enough.  Secular modernity, admittedly, becomes the number one enemy in most of Nandy's work, bearing the brunt of much of his ire.  To its door are laid most of our present-day ills.  The breakdown of tradition social orders, the emergence of massified and deracinated elites, the cynical abuse of a semi-modern lumpen class by these elites for their own purposes--these would be some of the causes of our contemporary disorders.  If so, what might seem to be the logical solution? Wouldn't it be the kind of spiritual turn that most modern Indian leaders are supposed to have taken?  Not so, for Nandy.  Anyone who takes that kind of turn immediately becomes suspect in Nandy's eyes, even more so if this individual seems to endorse some form of high Hinduism:  "Defiance need not always be self-conscious.  It need not be always backed by the ardent murderous, moral passions in which the monotheistic faiths, and increasingly the more modern and nationalist versions of Hinduism, specialize" (_The Intimate Enemy_ 98).

           In the process of creating his unique critical credo, Nandy has, without question, moved way out of his liberal, though strictly Protestant upbringing.  Coming from a family of Methodists, Nandy has not only grown out of the religion of his forefathers, but reverted to what might be termed a kind of non-denominational, non-believing "Hinduism."  I say "Hinduism" because I cannot call Nandy anything else--not Methodist, not Protestant, not Christian, not Muslim, not Jewish, and not secular modernist either.  This makes him a kind of Hindu--sort of like a convert who has lapsed back into the faith of his ancestors.  I say "faith" and not religion, because Nandy has little use for organized religion of any kind.

           While Nandy cannot be considered a practicing Christian, he is also distinctly uncomfortable, as I said earlier, with any overt kind of Hinduism:  "to use the term Hindu to self-define is to flout the traditional self-definition of the Hindu, and to assert aggressively one's Hinduism is to very nearly deny one's Hinduness" (_ibid_ 103).  The very word, Hindu, for Nandy is sort of contradiction in terms.  About his own identity, Nandy would say that he is not a traditionalist, but a "critical traditionalist" ("Cultural Frames"  415).  That is why, for instance, he says that Gandhi interests him, but not Vinoba__4__. Again, I suspect, that explains why he has not be enthusiastic about Pandurang Shastri Athavale's Swadhyaya movement. I reckon that Nandy does not find such movements intellectually stimulating.  About Swadhyaya, he told me, "It's OK as long as Dada is around.  After that it'll peter out."  It was as if he was trying to avoid coming to terms with it _because_ it was a charismatic movement, inspired by the presence and personality of Dada, as much as by the latter's ideas.  Similarly, I have perceived a distinctive discomfort in Nandy when it comes to figures like Ananda Coomaraswamy, Raja Rao, or, even, A. K. Saran.  The purism of these traditionalists does not appeal to Nandy.  A bit like Salman Rushdie, what inspires Nandy are hybrids, mixtures, overlaps--different kinds of impurities. As he says in his Preface to _Intimate Enemy_, "I have deliberately focused on the living traditions, emphasizing the dialectic between the classical, the pure and the high-status on the one hand, and the folksy, hybrid and the low-brow on the other" (xviii).  He believes that the impurities save us because they humanize us.  It is to be expected, then, that Nandy reads Gandhi in this "impure" fashion.  The Gandhi who was the ascetic, moralist, purist, faddist, and so on, is of little interest to Nandy.  It is the Gandhi who was a rebel, iconoclast, reinterpreter of tradition, critic of modernity, the Gandhi who was Hindu, Muslim, Christian at the same time, who was no doubt a traditionalist, but also a radical modernizer, in short, the maverick Gandhi, who appeals to Nandy.

           The difficulty, however, is that these two strands, the Great and the Little traditions, if you will, or Marga and Desi, cannot be, properly speaking, separated.  True, one can be played off against the other, but both together, in all their interpenetrations, constitute the _parampara_ of _sanatana dharma_. I fear that Nandy's rhetoric often blurs this fact and creates binary oppositions between them.  Thus, "high" Hinduism, with its hyper-masculine, semitising, and militant tendencies becomes the villain, while the feminine, folk, culturally rooted, reasonably self-confident, living Hinduism of the masses is the savior of Indian pluralism.  In practice, however, this dangerous and distorted "high-Hinduism" is almost impossible to find; so much so, that it seems like a creation of our intellectuals, who require a well-defined enemy.  These same high-Hindus, it turns out, usually accept multiple self-definitions, worship at numerous shrines, accept Sri Ramakrishna, Sai Baba, and Gandhi, and are not known to maintain prolonged periods of rage against their favourite adversaries.  The mass-hysteria and frenzy that was the precondition for the destruction of the Babri Masjid could not be sustained for long afterwards; clearly it was something alien to the Hindu psyche and artificially whipped. This has been proven time and again by election results which show that Indians cannot be mobilised around any one divisive issue like religion, caste, or community.  Even the politics of creating vote-banks must constantly adjust its hate-manufacturing engines to this fact.

           Yet, while it is true that aggressive, fanatical, intolerant high-Hinduism is a shaky and unstable entity, always on the verge of lapsing back into its more amorphous, placid, and non-aggressive stable state, it is equally true that the Hindu psyche does suffer from a sense of insecurity that comes from its sense of having suffered centuries of humiliation and injury.  It is this wounded psyche which needs to be healed but finds its hurts further aggravated by what it sees as the self-deluding, intransigent minoritarianism of Muslim leadership in India.  No wonder, the revivalism of the 19th century is seen by most Hindus as necessary step in a process of self-recovery.  To valorise Ramakrishna and Gandhi but to critique Bankim, Vivekananda, or Aurobindo does not solve the problem because most Hindus accept both sides.  Yes, it is indeed possible to draw a line when it comes to Savarkar or Golwarkar, but even this line gets blurred when we discover that cultural nationalism of the latter embraces most of those who opposed it; indeed, unlike the rationalist and "non-believing" Savarkar, Golwalkar was a "practicing" Hindu, who had received his spiritual initiation from a senior monk of the Ramakrishna order. The fact is that the overlap between Hindutva and Hinduism is can be considerable; it is only a very narrow and sharp-edged version of the former which is incompatible with the latter.

           I would argue that Nandy's work does not take adequate cognizance of this overlap.  A book such as _Creating a Nationality:  the Ramjanmabhumi Movement and the Fear of the Self_, co-authored with Shikha Trivedy, Shail Mayaram, and Achyut Yagnik, best highlights some of the difficulties in Nandy's approach.  The "bad guys" are clearly identified:  nationalism and communalism, broadly speaking, but more specifically, the breakdown of cultural and social ties across communities, the emergence of a modern, massified, elitist version of religion, and the ascendancy of a politicised modern and semi-modern middle class.  Nandy's hatred of modernity and his deep suspicion of social and cultural elites is obvious in a book like this.  But the problem is that elite religious practices have a close and complex relationship with the "everyday faith" which Nandy eulogises.  Laying the blame for the riots at the door of secular modernity only shifts burden of guilt.  Redefining terms and boundaries does help in clarifying one's concepts and beliefs, but does not necessarily make the problem go away.

           Whether it is communalism or modernity, both interrelated problems of course, there is a certain hard core to them which I fear that Nandy's thought does not engage with adequately.  This hard core has to do with certain struggles between incomensurables which must be resolved, at times, the bloody and difficult way.  Gandhi was aware of this and did not hesitate to engage with it.  He knew that there was enough ammunition of accumulated hatred and misunderstanding between the two communities to create a terrible conflagaration.  He knew, first-hand, how horribly violent a struggle to resolve their differences might be.  That is why what he proposed was nothing short of a new faith for Hindustanis, a faith which would take Hindus and Muslims beyond the conventional boundaries of their respective religions and allow them to embrace one-another on common theistic and cultural ground.  This invitation was accepted only partially. Unfortunately, large sections of both Hindus and Muslims chose not to participate in Gandhi's solution. The result was the blood bath of partition. But the struggle between the stubborn elements in both communities has not yet been resolved.  It has a deadly logic which, it would seem, will be played out.  It is my fear that Nandy's social and political theories evade this hard core precisely because they celebrate and exemplify a femininity and softness which are so crucial for the survival of a civilization.  But, what this entails is that in place of Gandhi's purposeful and effective androgyny, we have Nandy's emasculated and ineffective theoretic.

           When we move from Nandy's work to his life, some of the contradictions that I have outlined become even more evident. Nandy loves technology--that is, he loves playing with the latest gadgets, whether these are laptop computers or electronic diaries.  Similarly, he enjoys computer games and net-surfing. Moreover, there is an evident relish in his approach to certain aspects of the modern, cosmopolitan experience.  At the same time, Nandy has little or no attraction actually to living a traditional life--whatever that might mean.  That is, he has no tradition to speak of with which he himself can be connected, except the modern, bourgeois tradition of the Westernised Bengali elites. There is hardly anything prior to that that is a part of his life.  The practice of any overt spiritual _sadhana_, too, would be alien to his personality.  I cannot imagine him doing _japa_, or Yoga, or meditation, or going to any guru or ashram.__5__ Rather, he is more comfortable discussing politics over scotch, with a half-smoked pipe in his hand.  To put it simply, there is nothing remotely traditional or spiritual about Nandy, though he constantly speaks on behalf of tradition and of what might be termed the truly religious approach to life. The fact is that Nandy is located both personally and ideologically in the realm of the secular and the modern, both of which he criticises consistently and mercilessly.  It would appear that he is allergic to the dominant versions of both modernity and secularism.  To oppose them he takes recourse to tradition and its religious resources.  And yet, he cannot be seen as a traditional or religious person himself.

           Now, unless we find a way out of this paradox, a good deal of the work that Nandy has done will be open to question on precisely the grounds that he uses to critique modernity and secularism.  If his life and work do not display a consistency and coherence, the very space that his criticism occupies will be suspect.  After all, one way to characterize modernity is that it creates a dichotomy between the personal and the public, thus giving rise to ideologues, not exemplars.  The traditional person, on the other hand, shows a consistency between _anubhav_, _vichar_, and _achar_--between experience, thought, and deed.  That is, a traditional person's thought is consistent with his experience, and his actions are consistent with both thought and experience.__6__ Without clarifying Nandy's own relationship to the traditional and to the religious, the viability of his own position will be undermined. 

             Conclusion:  Nandy's Modern Tradition

           I hope to reconcile the two selves of Ashis Nandy by proposing that Nandy's redefinitions and reappropriations of tradition are fairly modern.__7__  That is, Nandy's episteme is a modern one, but rather different from the predatory, dominant version.  The key to Nandy's mind, in my view, is the word "criticism." Nandy's work is, above all, a form of criticism.  It helps us rethink categories, change our perception of things, and, eventually, look at the world afresh.  Criticism of this kind is very much a modern thing, a child of the European Enlightenment.  It is not that critical rationality was entirely absent in traditional societies.  As Nandy himself says, "Indian thought, including many of its folk elements, can be and has been used as a critical base, because critical rationality is neither the monopoly of modern times nor that of the Greaco-Roman tradition" ("Cultural Frames" 415).  Yet, the crucial difference is that traditional criticism was usually soteriological, linked to _moksha_, _jnana_, _kevalya_, _nirvana_, or some such goal.  Or else, it was "practical wisdom" as in the Panchatantra or the Hitopadesha.  No doubt, there is much critical discrimination in Buddhism, as there is in Sankara, Basava, Kabir, Tukaram, Vivekananda, and, of course, Gandhi.  But when it comes to Nandy, it is the criticism that is appealing to him, not the spiritual idealism.  If Nandy had to choose between tradition and criticism, he would, I believe, choose the latter. A tradition which has lost its ability to critique itself, for Nandy, would be no living tradition at all, certainly not a tradition worth saving.  That is why sometimes I feel that it would be more accurate to describe Nandy as a critical, if not crypto modernist, than a critical traditionalist.__8__

            The fact of the matter is that Nandy doesn't conform to his own self-definitions:  neither a critical traditionalist nor a critical modernist, he is something in between.  As I said earlier, it is his criticism that is crucial, not his traditionalism or modernity.  On deeper examination, it is even possible to make a tentative formulation of what might be termed Nandy's faith.  For I believe that Nandy does have a faith of his own, a version of his own identity which takes into account the supra-rational and the supernatural.  I think Nandy's faith is a type of humanism which has the following features:  1)  it is sensitive to its pasts; 2) it acknowledges both its local and civilizational heritage; 3) and, yet, it is nonsectarian and nonritualistic.  If Nandy had his way, he would invent a new, non-denominational ritual and liturgy, even using Sanskrit if necessary, for himself and other people like him.  In fact, the beginnings of this were evidenced in the wedding ceremony of his daughter, Aditi.  The Sanskrit mantras, chosen by Nandy himself, were spiritual without being religious or denominational.

           At this juncture, it might be fruitful to invoke another of tradition's prodigal sons, Ramachandra Gandhi.  Ramu-bhai, who started his intellectual life as an analytical philosopher was reclaimed to by the greatest mind-slayer of this century, Sri Ramana Maharashi. Ramu-bhai once told me that unlike many other traditional people he does not believe that secular modernity affords no enlightened space for an individual, but, he added that space is rather rare and difficult to occupy and also that it is certainly not the only enlightened space that there is in human experience.  I believe that Nandy's position approximates this enlightened space within the secular and the modern.  Unlike a _sanatani_ Hindu, Nandy has inherited no ritual that he can continue with ease from his own Methodist background; at the same time he has not felt a necessity to cross over to the rituals of any other tradition. Perhaps, this is the real difference between someone like him and Ramu-bhai.  While the latter found more than one ready-made path in his own tradition to which he could revert to, Nandy discovered that his own secular profession more engaging and rewarding than any traditional _sadhana_.  That is why, it seems to me, he has accepted the rituals and protocols of his position as a modern academic--an intellectual street-fighter, as he sometimes calls himself.  That is where his passion and penance find their _raison d'tre_.

            Ultimately, if I were to describe Nandy in a couple of words, I could call him an inverted reformist.  He best belongs to the tradition of social reformers in India, but unlike those of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, he does not use modernity to reform tradition, but tradition to reform modernity. Like Gandhi, he believes that it is modernity that has gone too far in its violence and rapacity and that it is tradition which needs to be restored to its rightful place as a source of wisdom and sustainable lifestyles. It was Gandhi who reversed the direction of reform, but Gandhi was equally critical of both tradition and modernity and used each against the other.  Nandy does little to critique tradition but instead wages war against modernity; yet, unlike Gandhi, he does not use a religious or traditional idiom to do so.  Indeed, I would call Nandy the Brahmo or Protestant among Hindu intellectuals.  He shares a traditional, even spiritual and theistic space with the latter, but refuses to go all the way to succumbing to any prescribed rituals of _sadhana_ or self-culture.

           No wonder, beyond a point, Nandy's collusion with modernity is rather deceptive and misleading.  As he himself says, "What looks like Westernization is often only a means of domesticating the West, sometimes by reducing the West to the level of the comic and the trivial" (_The Intimate Enemy_ 108).  Nandy is a cultural hero precisely because he fights against a mighty adversary but emerges undefeated, even if not obviously triumphant.  "Seemingly he makes all-round compromises, but he refuses to be psychologically swamped, co-opted or penetrated" (_ibid_ 111).  Nandy continues to receive lucrative offers from the metropolitan academy, visits abroad regularly, but refuses to leave his home, India.  His career, unlike that of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak or Homi Bhabha, is thus not a metropolitan success story, but an Indian, homespun one.  Hence, his biculturalism is of an enabling, empowering kind for the Indian academy, unlike that of the others who make good abroad, only by paying the price of joining the dominant system.

           Yet, however much Nandy respects traditional wisdom, his means and methods are primarily intellectual.  So, though he is aware of deeper wellsprings of strength and inspiration, he does not attempt to find sustenance in them. As D. R. Nagaraj put it, Nandy has difficulties "in getting into the symbolic and philosophical universes of Nagarjuna, Shankara, Sarhapada or even of pre-Enlightenment Christian thinkers and mystics" (quoted in Guha x).  This has lead me to wonder if his work has reached a plateau, if not a dead end:  has his creative curve turned into an asymptote, the dreaded flattening-out after a long and exponential rise? It seems as if his project is not moving ahead or up, but spreading itself sideways or horizontally.  A publication of a volume like this is itself a sign not only of a certain level of intellectual attainment, but of the achievement of a completion of thought. Perhaps, the things that have guided and inspired him so far may now be insufficient to propel or produce new work of the same caliber, intensity, or profundity. Restless as he is Nandy is sure to reinvent himself, to find fresh pastures for his foraging mind, but if he can touch what is really _sanatana_ or eternal in tradition, I think even his work on alternative futures will have the kind of ripeness and potency that will promote him from the brotherhood of reformers to the fellowship of sages and boddhisattvas.  The latter, for me, is only true tradition of the human race, the only tradition, that, in the ultimately analysis, is worth belonging to. 


          Notes   __1__  For the idea of integrative doubles, see "An Intelligent Critic's Guide to Indian Cinema," in Nandy's _The Savage Freud_. My novel, _The Narrator_ (1995), which, incidentally, was published in the same year as Nandy's book, can be read as an extended illustration of Nandy's thesis; of course, I hadn't realized this until I read Nandy's essay much after my novel was published. This is just one more instance of how powerful and "true" Nandy's ideas are; you don't realize you've been living them until he points it out.   __2__  The phrase occurs in the essay "Themes of State, History, and Exile in South Asian Politics:  Modernity and the Landscape of Clandestine and Incommunicable Selves" (104).   __3__  This phrase, which I believe is rather obviously self-reflexive, is from Nandy's dedication in _Traditions, Tyranny and Utopias."   __4__  "I've always been fascinated by this issue of 'hard' versus 'soft':  thus my interest in Gandhi.  I am not interested in Vinoba Bhave" (_Emergencies_ 63).   __5__  Even the way he uses a word like "self-transcendence" is entirely secular.  See _Emergencies_ 31.   __6__ I owe these concepts to the late K. J. Shah, a philosopher that Nandy also admires.  His daughter, Anuradha Veeravalli has used the notion of the exemplar in the MPhil thesis "Science and Religion:  Issues, Differences, and Perspectives" (Department of Philosophy, University of Delhi, 1991)   __7__  I believe my friend, the late D. R. Nagaraj has made a similar point in his Prologue to Nandy's "Exiled at Home."  I haven't read the piece itself by a reference to it appears in Ramachandra Guha's tribute to Nagaraj in _The Literary Review_ of _The Hindu_. Nagaraj asks for a "critique of the project of modernity from those intellectual, emotional, symbolic and semiotic structures which exist beyond its reaches" (x).   __8__  Nandy calls this tendency "the modernist's dislike for modernity" which is "a unique feature and mark of modernity"; similarly, he says "modernity at its most creative cannot do without its opposite:  anti-modernity" ("Cultural Frames"  412). Nandy uses the term "critical modernists" in a rather limited sense of those who "do not challenge the content of modern science" and "take for granted the modern nation-state system" (_ibid_ 413).  Certainly, Nandy isn't a critical modernist in this sense, but then, he is not an outsider to modernity either as were Blake, Carlyle, Emerson, Thoreau, Ruskin, Tolstoy, or Gandhi, whom he mentions (_ibid_). 

            Works Cited

          Guha, Ramachandra.  "From one universe to another."  _The Hindu Literary Supplement_, 6 September 1998:  x.

          Lal, Vinay, ed.  Special Issue:  Plural Worlds, Multiple Selves: Ashis Nandy and the Post-Colombian Future.  _Emergencies_.  Nos. 7-8 (1995-96).

          Nandy, Ashis.  "Cultural Frames for Social Intervention:  A Personal Credo."  _Indian Philosophical Quarterly_.  11.4 (October 1984):  411-421.  Also in _Alternatives_ 12 (1997):  113-23.

          -----, with Shikha Trivedy, Shail Mayaram, and Achyut Yagnik. _Creating a Nationality:  the Ramjanmabhumi Movement and the Fear of the Self_.  Delhi:  Oxford University Press, 1995.

          -----.  _The Intimate Enemy:  Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism_.  Delhi:  Oxford University Press, 1983.

          -----.  "An Intelligent Critic's Guide to Indian Cinema."  In _The Savage Freud and Other Essays in Possible and Retrievable Selves_. Delhi:  Oxford University Press, 1995: 225-227.

          -----.  "Themes of State, History, and Exile in South Asian Politics:  Modernity and the Landscape of Clandestine and Incommunicable Selves."  _Emergencies_ 7-8 (1995-1996):  104-125.

          -----, ed.  _Traditions, Tyrannies, Utopias:  Essays in the Politics of Awareness_.  Delhi:  Oxford University Press, 1987.

          Paranjape, Makarand.  _Decolonization and Development:  Hind Svaraj Revisioned_.  New Delhi:  Sage Publications, 1993.

          -----.  _The Narrator:  A Novel._  Delhi:  Rupa and Co, 1995.

          Shah, K. J.  "Philosophy, Religion, Morality, Spirituality:  Some Issues."  _Journal of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research_ 7.2 (1990):  1-12.

  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape