Sunday, February 6, 2011

A book for a confused Indian

Indian culture and India's future.

By Michel Danino

Publisher: D. K. Printworld (p) Ltd. (2011)

“We talk so much about Indian culture and values! What are these values?” demanded my friend on my first visit to US three years back. “Look at people here (in US), they always follow civic rules. You don’t have to pay a bribe for every small thing. Nobody jumps the line and each life is considered precious” he continued. “Do Indians really have anything to be proud of?” he asked. There was a genuine sense of concern in my friend’s initial question. He had stayed in US earlier and had been both dismayed and puzzled at such things, like most Indians of our generation. But the last part of it was indeed a confused diatribe. Within my heart, I disagreed with him, but found myself not knowledgeable enough to be articulate and confront these questions. My friend and I probably belong to a generation that Michel Danino calls ‘the confused young Indian’ in his book ‘Indian Culture and India’s future’. The book brings forth the questions that this ‘young Indian’ is asking, is confused about and is often dismayed at. He traces the basis of these questions, debates them and puts them in the larger context of our civilization and India’s future.

There is something remarkable about our generation. We were probably the first direct beneficiaries of the  clearing cobwebs of the socialist era. Our generation could take on the challenge of proving that Indians could be hardworking, enterprising and efficient, shaking off many socialist stereotypes about Indians. But Globalisation also brought with it the cultural invasion which furthered the rootlessness of Indians. On the one hand Indians were becoming more confident about themselves and on the other, a sense of confusion was getting deeper and more pronounced. 

This ‘Age of confusion’, as Danino calls it, is probably a consequence of our Colonial legacy, but he points out that it breeds due to our own intellectual laziness. He is dismayed to see what the Colonial education system has done to successive generations of Indians. It has deprived Indians of a legitimate pride and a true sense of history. It has also created simplistic notions that obfuscate the true culture and history of India to the Indian mind. 

Indians are hardly told about the civilizational legacy that they inherit; about a civilization that gave many leaps to human thought with the ‘Concept of Zero’, the ‘Decimal System’ and numerous other things. The book by Danino tells the stories of many such scientific discoveries and systems of India, in varied fields from Mathematics to Medicine, and which unfortunately do not form a part of our curriculum in our schools. Being a Historian himself, Danino is appalled to see how colonial prejudices and euro-centric viewpoints still dominate our textbooks and how it has completely failed to capture the genius of India; but more importantly how very few things seem to be changing even after sixty years of Independence.

Throughout the book there is an anguish and a concern about the state of affairs in India – about corruption, deforestation and education system; an anguish that makes Danino so very Indian (despite his French origin). He is dismayed to see how Indians whose scriptures and culture have unparalleled love for nature, do not concern themselves in conserving their forests and how they travel to far off pilgrimages with all devotion but also litter around these very sacred places.

“Indians have given up thinking and speaking for themselves” Danino writes. We are either lazy or are hesitant to confront controversial issues. That is also probably reflected in the lack of practical action for the changes required. Danino does not shy away from dwelling into controversial topics such as Religion and Secularism, which most Indians would find politically incorrect to debate. He wants Indians to take these questions head on.

The book rumbles despite its civility. Danino is disconcerted at the state of India as many young Indians are, yet there is a clarity that runs through the book that helps separate hope from helplessness, intellectual rigor from political correctness and practical action from confused diatribe. The book addressed to the young Indian has an essay on the message of Gita. Danino probably knows that Indians are as confused as Arjuna himself was. Hence the message of Bhagavad Gita for practical action finds a central place in this book.


  1. Nice review. Hits the right chords and tells what you intend to tell. What amazes me is the power of education system. Although I am very convinced about it's capabilities I am still skeptic about the education system's consequences on a civilization. However, I think I should read this book to understand more on my doubt.
    Thanks again for a great review.

  2. Let me check out the book. Thanks for nice article even I faced such situations in my past.

  3. Finally got the book and reading it :-)


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