Seer of the Past and the Future in the Present\

by | Jan 1, 2024

The New Year 2024 begins on a positive note. The Indian economy is doing well, and people generally enjoy good times, if not great. There is no distress or despair in the air except for some intransigent pessimists who are perhaps blind to everything good. For me, the construction of Ram Mandir is historically significant. My idea of modern India was articulated when I read India: A Wounded Civilization, written by Sir V. S. Naipaul and published in 1977.  How can a wounded civilisation grow? Should it not heal first?

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001, the grandparents of Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, from both his mother’s and father’s sides, went to Trinidad to work as indentured labourers in sugarcane plantations set up there by the British. Landless brahmins from eastern Uttar Pradesh, blighted after the Great Famine of 1876-78, saw no prospects for their future generations in India. Who brought that famine? Invaders and traders turned rulers who were more interested in creating monuments and growing commodities like opium and indigo for export instead of food for the people.   

Naipaul came to India for the first time in the early sixties and found it a terrible place to live. He later published An Area of Darkness, conveying his disillusionment with the country of his forefathers, marked with poverty, people defecating in the open, all sorts of compromises, and corruption. The wise man could see the reason for this decadence in the failure of the society’s higher sections to defend their country and traditions. 

Of all its squalor and human decay, its eruptions of butchery, India produced so many people of grace and beauty, ruled by elaborate courtesy. Producing too much life denied the value of life, yet it permitted a unique human development for so many. Nowhere were people so heightened, rounded and individualistic; nowhere did they offer themselves so thoroughly and with such assurance. . . The colonial mimicry is an exceptional mimicry of an old country without a native aristocracy for a thousand years who have learned to make room for outsiders, but only at the top. The mimicry changes and the inner world remains constant: this is the secret of survival. 

I made this inner world my constant mantra in life. Later, when Dr APJ Abdul Kalam picked me to work with him, I became an author by helping him write his speeches and his autobiography Wings of Fire and five other books. One of these books was Guiding Souls: Dialogue on the Purpose of Life, published in 2005. My publisher, Piyush Kumar, took me to Sir Naipaul on a visit to Delhi. I was stunned by his persona – tall, handsome, erudite. It was the first time I met a Nobel Laureate. I was overwhelmed. 

He wrote a message for the book: “This book demonstrates a wise and much loved President, two attributes which do not always go together.” He said that what is good for you is not usually liked. And this is the biggest problem with people: they dislike being told about their faults. Sir Naipaul affectionately held my hand and said, “Keep writing, young man. Like music, writing comes with practice.” I took his advice to heart. This year, I published my 25th book. When the grandchild of indentured labourers forced to flee their motherland to survive became a world-renowned English author, why must I not write?  

India stands tall in the international community in the second decade of the 21st century.  Persons of Indian origin are leading some of the world’s best companies – Microsoft, Alphabet, IBM, Adobe – and are also in prominent positions like the chief of the World Bank, the Vice President of the United States, and the Prime Minister of the UK. This signifies three facts – 

  1. Indians have emerged from the mimicry they played for survival and are now proud of themselves. 
  2. India is a robust democracy, and people change governments without disruption and chaos. 
  3. Most importantly, the world has recognised the quality of the Indian mind. 

I am most fortunate to have survived my health issues to see a grand Ram Mandir coming up. And a grand mosque, perhaps the biggest in the world, will also be there soon. When I visited Ayodhya, ironically a mofussil little town in district Faizabad, in 2018, I could see the helplessness of a wounded civilisation. In extolled Varanasi, the narrow passage to the Kashi Vishwanath temple was encroached upon by petty shopkeepers and littered. There were no invaders or traders now, so who kept the pilgrim places in such a deplorable state? Those ruling after independence had a different agenda, which did not give value to the revival of the culture that suffered 1000 years of onslaught.

Undoubtedly, India has begun reclaiming its lost glory by introducing Vedic studies in education, bringing back stolen artefacts, re-erecting destroyed monuments, and creating roads and infrastructure around long-neglected pilgrim centres of great history behind them. The state of sports is a reliable indicator of the people of any country. Indian athletes are now bagging their best-ever tally of medals. Indian girls making their mark over their competitors from other nations are tell-tale signs of the rise of Indian people. It is no wonder the Olympic Games will come to India in the 2030s! 

Why do nations rise and fall? From a civilisational perspective, whenever and wherever vested interests grab power, they must eventually lose it. The more those who rule are against the spirit of the people, the more misery people suffer, but the rulers are ultimately destroyed. India’s rise as a world power coincides with the downturn of China and the United States. Alienation of the governments with their people is the reason in both cases. All this makes India’s further rise inevitable and necessary for world stability. This was indeed foreseen by Sri Aurobindo, who said on India gaining independence in 1947, “We do not belong to past dawns but to the noons of the future.” (CWSA, Vol. 19, p. 10).

Sir Naipaul died in 2018 at the age of 85. My short meeting with him remains one of the rare, fond moments like those we all carry in our hearts – insignificant for others but very precious to the soul. From that day, I took Sir Naipaul as my writing guru, as you always need someone great to emulate. Sir Naipaul’s books are remarkable for their instant readability. He created distinct, intelligible sentences and organised them into coherent paragraphs. Only through the mastery of language and clarity of expression can an author convince readers to believe in the narrative.

Venerated as a ‘literary eye’, Sir Naipaul could see during his travels not only the past of the people but also their future wherever he went. So, what do I see now? The unequal world as it stands is based on falsehood and deceit. What is now seen is a transition from a bad past based on military power, oil, and unfair trade and finance by those in power to an era of peace and an equitable world. AI is rising as an ‘invisible hand’ once seen by Adam Smith in his famous work, The Wealth of Nations. AI will take the falsehood and fraud out of the system, and abundance will be the order of the day. Everyone will eventually receive the actual value of their labour. 

Environmental concerns will encourage new livelihoods and digital money opportunities for new businesses. India must patiently wait and prepare its younger generation to reap the rewards. Ensure nutrition, education, and safety for children, and they will grow to take the world forward. In A Bend in the River, Sir Naipaul writes, “After all, we make ourselves according to the ideas we have of our possibilities.” Why not have a good idea about ourselves and live with the mind without fear and heads held high, as Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore wished for us? 

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15 Comments

  1. Thought provoking blog, Prof Tiwariji !

    Hopefully your optimism on the socioeconomic paradigm will come true !!

  2. What a wonderful blog! Thank you so much for the information and knowledge it provided me with. Although a bit late but please let me wish you a very happy and healthy new year. Your inspiring blogs hold me captivated and your flow of writing is so interesting.
    I am sorry that due to my certain commitments I am not able to enjoy all your blogs. But whenever I read your blogs, I have been enriched.
    I am proud of my civilization, my culture, and my heritage. Shri Ram mandir is part of our heritage and it’s construction is a major historical event. I am proud to be a part of this epic event.
    Thank you sir for your enlightening blog.

  3. Thank you very much sir for wonderful blog.
    I wish you and all Happy New Year!!!
    I read all your writing since May 2020 ( Been reading you before that but not all ),Believe me it inculcated many habits by which i am benefitting many ways. Your blog always reminds me, I should be more curious. By introducing new concepts ( To me ) & knew people with field of expertise (Like in Previous blogs), It always reminds me How little i know!!. First I heard about Sir V. S. Naipaul around 10 year ago, But Could not learn that His origin is in eastern UP part of UP,I belong.

  4. Very thoughtful blog. Sir Naipul hits the Bull’s Eye in his observation about the mimicry of Indians for survival. I spent a lifetime in Delhi and can vouch for this prevalent trait. Whether government officials, private business people or people on the road, everybody seems too eager to hold on to what people are doing. The Modi jacket is the latest example.

    Also, it is a fact that India is a robust democracy, and people change governments without disruption and chaos. Most certainly, the world has recognised the quality of the Indian mind. The heads of technology companies have earned their position working for decades with commitment and loyalty. No one matches Indians for these in the modern world.

  5. Sir, this lovely blog reminds me of the poem about ‘Christmas in India’ by Rudyard Kipling.

    Dim dawn behind the tamarisks—the sky is saffron-yellow—
    As the women in the village grind the corn,
    And the parrots seek the riverside, each calling to his fellow.
    That the Day, the starting Eastern Day, is born.

    Call on Rama, going slowly, as ye bear a brother lowly—
    Call on Rama—he may hear, perhaps, your voice!
    With our hymn books and our psalters, we appeal to other altars,
    And today, we bid, “Good Christian men rejoice!

    The Indian landscape, with its saffron skies, is Hinduised in Kipling’s poem. The temple bells and the chanting of mourners, sounds have a pull on him.

  6. Sir, India was the world’s largest, oldest, and most prosperous civilisation before the British arrived. The various manifestations of Indian brilliance and the fact that the language people used was so logical that it encouraged critical thought on the essential oneness underlying mankind’s diversity contributed to the effect of ancient Indian history on the modern world.

  7. Happy New Year to you, Arunji, and every reader of these blogs.

    Such a wonderful topic. India is a miracle for the world, which superpowers have influenced and taken advantage of.

    The last 500 years have been the extraction of Asia, Africa, and South America, and the next in line was India again, but something miraculous has happened in the last 70 years. May the world never believed that India would remain as one country, but we did. We have put our heads down and worked hard. Our strong middle class with an education-first mentality has been the saviour and creator of wealth. I’m hoping this sensible thing will remain with us.

  8. Happy New Year Prof. Tiwari to you and your family!
    And thank you for sharing your stories and wisdom each month on this blog.
    Ram Mandir coming up, for sure, is one of many bright moments in India’s future.

  9. Some good lessons for nations doubting their worth. A couple of nations lost pride, dignity and an equal playing field to develop because of the notion by a few “progressive” states that they had no ability to rule themselves and had to be ruled. Which was really an era of exploitation. The world has awoken, and I smell a future when words such as supper powers, will not be of much relevance. Progressive and selfless leadership will nevertheless remain a common denominator for this to be achieved.

  10. Prof Tiwari, Thank you so much for an excellent article at the dawn of the new year about what the future has for the Subcontinent and her people, but also what she has ever produced and the contribution to the world stage at large, indeed written from your heart!

    May 2024 be another year in which The Lord will bless you with more wisdom and words to express it through your writings. Happy New Year Sir.

  11. This is a very beautiful article.

    Full of civilisational optimism! Vande!

    A looming question is : What socio- political paradigm are we seeking

    From

    The present half authoritarianism – half democracy

    To

    Full either way ?

    Or something else entirely.

    I hope you write one in these lines ….

    All talk of our ancient values lead the public into an opiated state….

    They can hardly understand it but feel proud nevertheless

    Is it enough for this wretched land yearning for millennia for economic and technological revival??!!

  12. Arunji, wish you and everyone in the family a very happy and prosperous 2024!!

    Thanks for sharing the blog. It’s the best piece I read today to begin this new calendar year.

    And as you so well point out, there are so many things that just seem to be going right at this time for our nation. There is so much energy, positivity, pride and hope in the air all around.

    While private sector is continuing to make positive strides, the functioning of governmental departments and public sector units have been just so amazingly good to see. I recently ended up needing to call toll free numbers of two such organisations under central government and was so happy to see that the phone was picked up, required help was provided and queries were directed towards resolution so efficiently.

    Again, thanks so much and wish you great health to continue inspiring us all through 2024 and beyond..

  13. Happy New Year. Robust Democracy requires Institutions headed by non-pliable persons (like TN Sheshan, who once headed the Election Commission) and protected by visionary liberal leaders like Nehru.

  14. Dear Prof., Best Wishes for 2024!
    Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece!

  15. Dear Sir, I wish you and your family a very happy New Year.
    Interesting points laid out by you and help start the year with thoughts, ideas for the future.

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