Post-colonial Indian Culture: A Quest for Harmony

By Prof Chhote Lal Khatri
Prof C L Khatri
The term ‘post-colonial’ refers to a period after the end of colonial rule. Obviously 1947 is the starting point in India. But what about the finishing mark? Is it endless in time span? Some scholars wonder if we have really come to a post-colonial phase interpreting coloniality in a wider perspective and not just a political phenomenon, and they talk of decolonizing the mind and neo-colonial situation in this context. On the contrary, some scholars strongly argue that the ‘post-colonial’ phase came to an end in 1990’s with the rise of globalization and the post-colonial theories were taken over by theories pertaining to technology, electronics and cyber. The syllable ‘e’ has become the buzz word in this cyber age that has made real time data, connectivity and accessibility possible and ushered in an age of transparency, digital and virtual reality.
Whatever may be the theoretical predilection, I begin with this presumption that the post- Independent India from  1947 till date is viewed as post-colonial and take into account major developments over the years particularly in the twenty-first century that have greatly impacted our literary and cultural discourse. Post-colonial studies are primarily concerned with European Imperialism and its effects: construction of Eurocentric master discourse, its resistance, identity, gender, class, migration and subaltern. Feminist and Subaltern or Dalit discourse as well as activities at the level of society and governance be it enactment of law for their fair representation in democratic and administrative bodies, for their safeguard and empowerment or mass awareness campaign in the society for their enablement launched by various social and cultural groups from within and outside have been in the centre stage. Post-colonial theories at the world level challenged the Eurocentric notion of the third world, ‘cultural viscosity of Europe’ that addressed third world countries as ‘others’ of Europe.
In India Feminist and Dalit discourse, theories and activities were used as a potent tool to challenge and subvert the patriarchal and Brahminical order of society and to claim not just equal right for women and Dalit castes but also seek compensation for the injustice meted out to them in the name of caste and sex hierarchy. Unfortunately they are still victims of the flawed social order. Consequently, the institution of marriage, Varna system, classical literature, scriptures and the entire social system have come under attack. From time to time it also resulted into bloody conflict between Savarnas and Dalits and tribals and non-tribals. But the consistent Feminist and Dalit movements have borne fruit. They have not just led to the development of aesthetics and rich body of literature but have mitigated to some extent the untouchability and discriminatory hierarchy of caste system, and victimization of women in the family. Their position at all levels of human index has significantly improved. Until 1980’s and 1990’s legal, political and social interventions have been redressing their grievances, safeguarding and empowering them despite the fact that reports of atrocities against minorities, women and Dalits have been coming in. But now they are becoming headlines and are being strongly protested at national scale by all sections of people. This is a major shift in the later post-colonial phase. Thanks to hyper active social media, vibrant and easily accessible print and electronic media, aggressive posturing of social and political groups, student unions and pro-active judiciary.
This age can be characterized as the age of technology, all pervasive technology – Robotics, Artificial intelligence, genetic science, synthetic organisms and bio-mechanics, Information Communication Technology (ICT), Computer Mediated Communication (CMC), digital and virtual existence – that has greatly impacted life on this planet in all manners, physiologically, psychologically and theologically. There are both positive and negative fallouts of this development. But we have reached to a point where going backward or standing aloof of this current is no option at least for a society or a nation. Besides physiological changes which are too obvious, technology has brought out changes in our behaviour, attitude and perspective to life. The fast speed of technology world has induced a sense of urgency and impatience in us, and has made our life machine-like. The corporate/ market sector that is spearheading technology has led to the corporatization of all facets of life including even religion, ethics, aesthetics, art, agriculture, pastoral life which were innocent of it. We tend to be more pragmatic in our outlook. Consequently we do not write for posterity or swantah-sukhaya (soul’s satisfaction) but for result in the present.
Market ethics has taken over religious ethics and our priorities in all walks of life have shifted. For example, art has become a market product; knowledge based education has given way to skills oriented professional education; personal communication is being replaced by hypertext/ machine communication; in the domain of sex, which is no longer a taboo, cybersex has made its entry; relationship is not made in heaven but in Facebook, not for seven births but for convenience. Practice of live-in-relationship, contractual marriage and discourse on LGBT are on the rise. So we have a dynamic value system rather than a universal code of conduct. The postcolonial challenges of ‘otherness’ and ‘difference’ are more effectively countered by technology of today subverting any ‘universal or normative postulation of rational unanimity’ (Leela Gandhi: Postcolonial Theory, 27). Everyone has his own take and is being heard by the target group as well as vehemently opposed by the opponents. Multiple voices in literature/ art/ cinema/ media have come to be recognised. Even the concept of a uniform standard language has changed and we come to accept many Englishes within the English language – British English, American English, Hinglish, Tamil English, etc. and we also talk of English for special purposes. The centre has broken into multiple centres ‘where centre cannot hold’ (Yeats: “Second Coming”). We are in for a world of perpetual conflict and contradiction and each dissenting voice has a place in the public domain. Each talent has a platform to prove, and a tea vendor can be the Prime Minister. It offers a world where knowledge is free for all and accessible from all places, thanks to social media –Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube, web portals, e-library, Wikipedia and the like. It is all positive and uncomplaining. You are driving a car and you take a wrong route. Your GPS does not complain of not following its direction, rather adjusts itself and suggests the right way from there. Above all, technology is non-discriminatory, and devoid of human follies. It does not differentiate on the basis of caste, class, religion, race, gender, region, nation or relation. It can prove to be a game changer for the deprived ones.  It offers a platform for all business, art, literature, film and media to all and at all places without discrimination. E-learning, M-learning, virtual class with the help of ICT and CMC are transforming teaching-learning process, making education/ courses dam cheap, more effective, interesting and open for all.
Nonetheless, everything has its own pitfalls. Technological development has indented the human capacity and has posed a threat to human autonomy and authority and led to a jobless growth with the growing craze for automation and now artificial intelligence in the corporate world. It has adversely affected interpersonal relationship, communication and conventional social fabric. A child can be seen glued to his smart phone even while sitting before the family members or guests. Communication between man and machine is a new dimension in communication theory. Combination of man and machine into a cyborg is the current project in tech world. Now relations are made not in heaven but in Facebook, Linked-in, Instagram etc. So we are losing personal touch in our interpersonal relationship. Email cannot generate the same feeling that a handwritten letter used to do. Similarly virtual class or video conference cannot be a substitute for personal meeting and real class. A serious sociological concern is our overdependence on technology for addressing social and psychological issues like fundamentalism, communalism, intolerance, social and economic divides, terrorism and poverty  For example, the state invests far more on surveillance, electronic means of communication, infrastructure and on weaponry than on socio-psychological measures like education, counselling, communication with people, recognition of their dissenting identity and investing  in the human capital. It is a matter of concern that human values and cultural mores and seriousness of art are being diluted in this cyber age.  
This socio-technological background of Indian society sets in the basic premises of the recent developments in Indian English literature.  As a matter of fact literature or literary and cultural theories draw upon the contemporary society and the tradition, for narrative feeding and critical postulation. On literary front, India has witnessed rapid increase of creative and critical output with mushrooming growth of online journals, publication houses of e-books and conventional books in the last two decades. Some big publication houses like Penguin have launched self-publishing schemes with professional packages for editing, designing, publishing and marketing. It has been fueled by the UGC policy of ‘publish or perish’. Since publication platforms are easily available to all even in the remote places without any screening, writers particularly poets have outnumbered the readers; and poems of umpteen tastes, and scores of other writings are pouring in. There is hardly any benchmark or yardstick of quality to guide this longing for romantic chaos. We have come to an age of complete freedom where every writing—scurrilous, frivolous, flimsy as well as marvelous are raining in the public domain. The only preconditions it requires are one’s urge for publication and access to internet. Keki N Daruwalla rightly maintains, “The best thing about Indian poetry in English is that there is no “school”, no poetic congeries, no Gurus and no disciples” [(Daruwalla (Ed): The Decades of Indian Poetry, 1960-1980: XXXV].
Indian English Novel has witnessed an unprecedented growth of pulp or popular fiction meant for casual, time-pass reading so much so that the serious literary novel has gone to the back seat. It has all happened because of a shift in the philosophy of writing. Earlier novelists used to speak their own mind, and created taste and gave direction to the society with their writings. Now writers are guided by the market forces – agents, editors, publishers and PROs. They are rarely masters of their own texts particularly the emerging ones. Chetan Bhagat is said to be the pioneer of this popular trend with his Five Point Someone and other novels. Interesting divisions of popular literature have come up like chick-lit, lad-lit, tech-lit, and campus-lit. Chatty style of college goers, SMS lingo and contemporary popular colloquial expressions have made their way into English fiction. Take for example a sentence from Varsha Dixit’s Right Fit Wrong Shoe: “Irritating life out of him was as natural to her as salt to a Bloody Marry or kanda to paav bhaji”; or look at the titles of Gautam Malkani’s Londonstani, Soma Das’s Sumthing of a Mocktale, or Smita Jain’s Krishna’s Konfessions.
However, our hope lies in what is being threatened – our dynamic culture. It is the strength and beauty of Indian culture that it does not give up its core strength even while assimilating new things. It has been proved time and again in history be it the long history of foreign invasions or the global recession in the recent time. Jawaharlal Nehru said about Indian culture that ‘it is ever flowing, ever changing, yet ever the same.’ We are passing through a transition phase and we can hope that a time will come when technology will forge harmony with sociology for a better world for all its stakeholders to live in; and that a more techno-cultured trained human resource navigates through differences, dissents, conflicts and contradictions with a smile on the face.

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