• kewal sethi

a  few simple questions

a  few simple questions


(this piece was written in 1975 when i was in charge of youth services . this was written for talking to the youth coordinators of nehru yuva kendras, a scheme started two years before. no corrections have been made. but i have taken out the capital letters which i feel are not necessary. after all, all indian languages do without them.)


in this presentation, we shall discuss a few very simple questions. they are so simple that they may appear ridiculous. you might, as well, ask why we should ask such simple questions. this is because although they are simple questions, they are the basic ones. and if you really think about them, you will find that you had never asked yourselves these questions. the answers appear so obvious. but are they sufficient? do they express what exactly is meant? this is what is to be seen. it is to stimulate thinking that these questions are being asked. they may not be answered fully here or, may be, anywhere else. still it will be very useful to think about them.


first question is 'what is india'? `you may say that india is the country we live in. is this enough? is india just a piece of land? is it just so many rivers? is it so many mountains? the answer will be 'no'. india is not just a piece of land; it is thousands and thousands of years of experience. this experience has added up to something very definite which colours each one of us. we know it instinctively. yet it is difficult to describe. during these thousand  of years, the people who have lived here, have known the same skies and the rest. they have waited for the same rains, they have heard the same birds singing, tasted the same fruits, smelt the same flowers, seen the same colours. the banyan tree, the peeple and the bamboo are the trees known to indians over the past thousands of years.


so to say that india is a country will not be enough. perhaps, the answer to the question will be that india is the country where indians live. but who is an indian? if you think of you- who an indian is, you will come across a thousand pictures. the shepherd in the snowy lands of kashmir, the fisherman of kerala, the camel driver in the deserts of rajasthan, the peasant in bengal bent over his rice seedling, ankle deep in water, the worker in the blast furnace, the engineer examining the road, a project or a building; the teacher, the clerk and the small shopkeeper, the leader of a procession shouting slogans; the research worker peeping into his microscope; the bare-footed adivasi in his colourful costume who has never seen a train. all these are pictures of indians. you can go on adding portraits to this picture gallery. the picture could be that of lonely farmer working in his field with a small village of mud-houses in the background or a worker working in a factory where three thousand other persons work amidst the noise of the machines overlooking the big, wide roads full with cars and other modes of conveyance lying between 10 or 12-storeyed buildings. so in answering a question about who is an indian, we may come to this answer:"that an indian is a person who has something special of india about him. we may call it indianness.


but the question will arise "what is indianness?” once again we will find it difficult to answer this question. we have the saying" the lamb is innocent; the picture is colourful; the fox is clever; the swan is graceful." but can we define indianness in the same way? we cannot list the qualities which will make indianness stand out. we can make an attempt.


indianness may be defined as indian culture. this takes us nowhere near the answer. indian

culture itself is indefinable. all through indian history, the indian culture has been accepting new influences and has still managed to remain what it was. people have come to .his land to settle, to travel, to learn, to loot and to conquer. the new ways of life they brought with them were absorbed by indians and made their own. but still the basic things remained. indian culture is stable because it keeps moving. thus, we have still the same old culture even though the ancient cultures and civilizations of egypt, greece, messopotamia, rome and elsewhere have vanished.


a beautiful quality of indian culture is their strong belief in sacredness. the peepal  tree, the river, the village well, the workman's tool, the plough, the grain of rice, the harvest, the kitchen, are all sacred. it is this which allows our people to literally worship the ballot box as well as to co exist with tarapore atomic station. the breaking of coconut at the launching of aryabhata will not surprise anyone.


indians respect age and wisdom, anything that gives knowledge and all that is good. they are very ready to regard such things as holy. pt. jawaharlal nehru called the bhilai steel plant, the nagarjunasagar , dam, the modern temples. the holiness is the hallmark of goodness.

the indians have tremendous faith in the power of goodness. this has nothing to do with the religion. we respect goodness for what it is. this enabled prithvi raj chauhan to forgive the invaders. this enables the dacoits to lay down their arms after years of dacoity, murder and criminal life and swear to live as common citizens.


ours is a living and growing tradition. we are still taking in new influences and merging them with the old. we see the old and the new side by side, in the process of becoming one. the adivasis who had never seen a train, were flown to delhi by jet aircraft for the republic day celebrations and they took their journey for granted. we are living in several centuries at the same time. the atomic installations, the gnat, the aryabhata co-exist with the wooden plough, with the use of gobar as fuel and so on.


indians respect the man of learning, the hero, the man of wisdom, and the holy man much more than the man who has money. this has been true for thousands of years and is still true today. the teacher in the village primary school has even now a higher place than the rich farmer.


indians have great patience. it is not in their nature to be in a hurry. they can wait longer, suffer more and work harder than many other people. they are extremely hospitable.

the indians believe that the solution of the problems we create can only come from within. if the solution comes from outside, it cannot last and is, therefore, not e real solution.

these qualities are not only those of indians, many other peoples believe in goodness, tolerance . there are many peoples who have respect for the learning. it is a peculiar combination of these qualities which distinguish an indian. it is the combination of these qualities what makes indian culture and what makes indianness.


how does it feel to be an indian?


today we are living in the middle of a remarkable period. we achieved independence 28 years back. we are trying to change things; not the indian culture, not the indianness but the things around us. something strange is happening. it is as if a 5-year old child went to sleep and woke up after 25 years. he missed the school, the games, training for a job, knowing or meeting the people and all the rest of things. this child is trying to learn all the things at the same time.


it is much like the aims and objects of the nehru yuva kendras. we are trying to get the youth who missed the school and whom we now want to take up all the activities - the education, the sports, the cultural activities, the involvement in the national problems, the fulfillment of our cherished dreams of democracy, socialism and secularism. india has been a slave for a long time. it missed the tremendous progress made in other countries. about 500 years ago, eng1and had a renaissance. then a hundred years later it had reformation, another 200 years later, it had an industrial revolution. it was almost a century before they went in for a political revolution giving the right of vote to the common man. we are trying to do all these things simultaneously. we are trying to spread education, to improve our agriculture, to build up  industries and to sweep away the meaningless dividing customs of caste, religion and communalism. we are trying to get rid of superstition and inefficiency. we are trying to modernise ourselves and this is being attempted in a peaceful revolution.


what are we trying to change? to answer this question, we should go back. we should try to see what we were a 100 years ago. we were slaves. we were not allowed to have things that we wanted to. we used to have famines as a regular feature. we were always reminded that we were second-rate individuals. the british had their own clubs, their own conclaves and their own manner of working. the countries of the west invented new machines to produce new things. they advanced their life in many ways. we were left out of it. 'we were not allowed to set up factories. the traditional arts of fine cloth and others were destroyed. the villagers had nothing to do except to live in their poverty and misery. most of the villagers were in debt. epidemics and diseases were common. there were no hospitals, no schools, not even clean water to drink. we achieved independence under the leadership of great leaders like mahatma gandhi, jawaharlal nehru, lokmanya tilak, subhas chandra bose,, savarkar and many others. whole generation of indians gave up everything and spent their life in fighting the british, without hurting, without violence, without hatred. finally, the british had no choice but to withdraw.


but independence did not mean everything. we had insufficient food; insufficient industrial materials and insufficient doctors, insufficient schools. we have to change all these. we want enough food, better food, clean water to drink, better houses, more money, schools for every one, colleges, doctors and hospitals, jobs, sports, recreation and so many other things.  how do we change? whenever we want to reach any place, we first think about it. we think of the road that we should take; we think of the mode of conveyance we shall take. but above all, we think of the goal we want to reach. in india, when we wanted something, we put it in a document. we call it our constitution. indian constitution is the sacred book that guides us in every decision and is like a parent who looks after us. we have listed the rights which we think are essential for any free people. it is a fundamental right to think, believe and say what you like and to follow any religion you please. everyone is equal. if we feel that these things are not being given to us, we can go to the courts to get these fundamental freedoms.

more than merely granting the fundamental freedoms, we have laid down our goals in the constitution. we call them "directive principles". the directive principles ask the state to work for an india where the good of the people is the main consideration. and we work for an india where every indian is equal. everyone can have a job if he wants to.


our constitution says that we will rule ourselves. we do so by choosing people to represent us. we can choose members to the village panchayats, to thejanpad panchayat , to the zila panchayats, to the assembly, to the parliament. our chosen  people sit and decide what is good for us.


how do we get what we want?


once again we will consider what a person does when he wants to get something. if a farmer wants to have some crop, he first thinks in which part or field he should grow it in. he wants to get seeds, also fertilizers. if possible, he also thinks about irrigation. he thinks about pesticides. he thinks about guarding his crop. he decides which of his sons will do what job. all these things are in his mind when he goes out for growing a crop. it is the same with india.

we have made a plan to get what we want. there are' many things which are important. we are trying to charge so many things at the same time. we are trying to get everything which other nations took much longer time to get. when you need a number of things, you have to think of which should come first and which should come next. if we are thirsty, we think of water because that is the paramount need. after thirst subsides, we may think of hunger and after that, the clothes, the house, the luxuries. so is the case with our plans. we have laid down priorities and we will be working them to get what we want.


do we really want anything?


this question is sometimes asked in all seriousness. we were happier, it is said by some people. something to eat, something to wear and somewhere to live, everybody wants these things. everybody most probably has these things but is this enough? even animals eat and live. somehow, they find their food, they wear their skins or their fur or feathers. they build homes. but does the man need only this? no. there are other things also. they need a chance to read books, listen to music, see beautiful things and to exchange their thoughts with other people. they need society and they need friends or they want just to be left quietly when they are wondering about life and death. they need time to rest and time to think. they must be healthy, they must be educated and they must have extra money to spend on things like books and music. and when we think of the whole nation, we need schools, hospitals, roads, buses, newspapers and then we need machines to build or produce all this. we need factories to prepare all these. millions of our poor people still do not have enough food to eat. millions do not have enough to wear. millions do not have proper houses to live in. we need changing all this why? 'because it is not possible that what: we call ourselves equal in the constitution, a few people should continue to live in luxuries, move about in beautiful cars, eat all good things, have enough time to spare for music and books and even just loafing.


we must give some life to the villager, to the worker and to everyone who has got a will to get it. no longer is it enough to say that this is our fate. we are independent and our constitution says that the fate is in our hands. we cannot, however, merely distribute what we have, because that is not enough. anything divided between 57 crore people will be an negligible amount. we have to produce more. we have to increase the goods. we have started doing all this through our five-year plans. what do we make? after the four plans we are far better than we were ever before. what we produce in the farm is twice as much as before. our factories produce three times as much. nearly twice as many people can read and write. we have twice as many schools. we have more newspapers; we have 20 times as many radio sets. the postal service is much better now. we have three times as many post offices. we have twice as many hospitals. we have got more trains. we have got more radios. we have got more vehicles. we make our own railway engines, coaches; we make our own aeroplanes. we make our own tanks, our own ships. we can make turbines, power machines, electronic computers, fans, sewing machines and bicycles.


what does the village get out of all this?


the villagers get many more crops and much more of each crop. there are schools in many more villages. many of the villages have taps; many have electricity. electric pump, the drill, the power loom, the new irrigation canals are all there. the clothes worn are better. the road has brought the village nearer to the city where all the facilities are available. but the question remains whether this is enough.


is anything really changing? 'india is changing': 'nothing is changing in india', 'india is changing very fast", "india is changing very slowly", "india has has never changed and it will never change". all these things are being said in india and all the statements are true. india is so vast and varied in every respect that the most things one will say of it, will be true of some place, in some way. `india is changing, is true in its factories, in its fields. "nothing is changing in india", is true regarding its culture, its traditional hospitability, its traditional belief in goodness. "india is changing very fast", is true of the electronic goods. "india is changing very slowly", is true of the superstitions, customs, that we are still clinging to. "india has never changed" and "it will never change" is true of the indian way of life.


finally, the question – what is wrong with us? once a king ordered that during the night every citizen should pour a cup of milk into a pool, so that the pool can be full of milk. next morning, the pool was found full of water. everyone thought that his cup of water will not be noticed in a pool of milk and decided to save the milk. same is probably true of india. if everyone puts his cup of milk, the pool may still be full of milk but everyone expects others to put milk and pours water himself. the net result can be very disappointing. there is no substitute for hard work. india has had great people to guide it. but no country can ride on the backs of great people for ever. we must see that we do our part. everyone will have a different pert. everyone cannot be a hero. but playing our own parts is what will help the drama to be a success. many countries have already done what we are trying to do today. we have begun late. therefore, we can use the experience of others. the things are much easier for us today because we not only have problems but solutions also. but it requires work, very hard work to apply to these questions. we have talked about our india. a few simple basic questions. each of these questions is very important and for each of them, a separate discussion can be held. we may do so in our future talks.


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