Modernism in India

At the bus-stop, a few weeks earlier,

: Bhaskar?

: Khurideu, How are you?

: I am fine. Long time no see. How are you, son? You seldom come to the neighbourhood now…

: Well, Aunty… You know with Himangshu gone and his wife left alone. It doesn’t look well.

:  Hmm… Going to Guwahati?

: Ah, yes, Aunty… working with the smart-city stuff now. We are getting ‘modern’.

Privileged to exist in the new millennium we often consider ourselves modern to our predecessors. Is this a fact or a trickery of living in the moment? Let’s stop for a while then, and live in the retrospect for a bit and ponder over the question.

Our parents often speak of the childhood they grew up in, playing with coconut shells as make-believe toys and pomelo fruit as football; reading under the lanterns or the 100-watt bulbs. Our grandparents speak of an even distant childhood where lanterns itself were only affordable to the rich and the others were sufficed by earthen lamps; the childhood of their grandfathers must have been even more incomprehensible for our modern minds. We, however, were privileged to play with real and sophisticated toys and study under the florescent lights, but apart from that and a few other fancy tweaks, are we really that different or modern?  We may have evolved to live in a concrete jungle dotted with its electrical trees but the devils of the jungle have remained the same or rather grown. For in the medieval ages, a widow was ostracised by her family and the society as she is now. She was also perceived as a readily available sex object by other men; forbidden to stand in the vicinity of men for the fear that she might inadvertently ignite their loins by merely breathing the same air. The honourable men who had no evil intentions and just genuine compassion towards a fellow human being and tried to show their compassion towards them were labelled as perverts trying to have a shot. This happened then and this still happens now in the larger part of the country; the only difference being then there were laws which supported it and now there are laws which oppose only to be conveniently ignored. The one striking similarity that has survived the ages, however, apart from the ugly malpractice itself is that of people still refusing to speak against it out in the public. People are afraid of speaking against because speaking against means speaking the truth; history never forgets to remind the people of the horror that one draws upon himself when he speaks the truth. People are not afraid of speaking the truth, just its after-effects.

In the medieval ages, kings had their bards who wrote scrolls of praise of the king and the kingdom but there was always one ‘notorious’ storyteller out in the woods somewhere who would dare to sing the truth and irk the king. The king would then merrily send his assassins to not just split his tongue but to stop his beating heart in fact. Sounds familiar, eh? Parag Kumar Das, Rajdev Ranjan, Michelle Lang, Charlie Hebdo are just a few names in the long and inexhaustive list of journalists, writers and cartoonists killed across the globe for just speaking out or trying to speak out. These atrocities that have been committed since the earliest of ages, have been continued until this very day and are unlikely to stop any time in the near future. This heinousness has helped in crafting a sense of fear in the minds of the people to speak up or against. Segregation existed when a black man was the leader of the free world in which black lives did not matter much. Female foeticide did not stop to flourish even when a feisty woman sailed through the Emergency. People still cannot accept that a Dalit could have topped the toughest competitive examination of the country even when the constitution which grants them the very same right to disagree and not accept the same was written by a Dalit. Unfortunately, this fear has been the constant in this multitude of change that has swept over the human race. Having said that, fear in itself is necessary for any substantial act of courage. For as Roosevelt quotes, “Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” Although one should bear in mind that the assessment only doesn’t achieve the ‘more important’ thing, it is the led-up action of the assessment; achieving the ‘more important’ thing resolves the fear.

Summing up, are we really modern? Are the acquisition of fancy technology and lofty apartments the yardstick of modernism? Should we call ourselves modern just because we can crush multicoloured candies on our smartphone but cannot accept inter-caste marriage? Or should we confer upon ourselves the tag because we are the world’s best virtual farmers on Farmville but despise any job other than the mainstream professions and never even considering agriculture in this regard? Or maybe because we write long rants about modernism and stuff but be hypocrites in real life? Modernism is not a physical entity rather it’s more of a mental state. In these four or five thousands of years that we have come to exist on this planet, we might have achieved modernism in superficial terms but we’re nowhere near achieving it in its true form. I can hardly guess when we will do so, that is to say if we really do so. We could always try to. I’m no educationist or social reformist and thereby I don’t have a concrete or fool-proof plan but as far as I am concerned I would start with trying to resolve this very fear on a personal level, then speak up and then take action. I may fail and if I succeed I might even be forgotten but at least I’ll have tried.


  • Khurideu – Assamese word for Aunt.
  • The image in the feature is sourced from here.

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 © A. D. Konwar | | 2016



17 thoughts on “Modernism in India

  1. Boarded a bus from Golaghat to Dimapur recently, I can’t bear to see an old adivasi woman ordered to go to the back seat because the Assamese “gentleman” wanted to seat in her seat. The man, who ordered her, I believe, is a college lecturer. Poor “gentleman”

    Liked by 1 person

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