In Pataliputra, that other repository of ancient glory, a shepherd-king rules his kingdom from prison and has chosen a certain designer vulgarity as his ruling style. In Uttar Pradesh, legatees of Awadhi refinement spit and kick where they should deliberate and argue—in their legislative assembly. Murli Manohar Joshi insists on India’s culinary purity. School textbooks must propagate a mythical "Saraswati valley civilisation" when people lived, if Dr Joshi is to be believed, as if they were in an Amar Chitra Katha comic.
But why is it that those who insist on ancient culture, don’t themselves sound cultured? When Dr Joshi gives interviews, he sounds more like Alexander in a fighting mood rather than Dronacharya who wanted his pupils to be the best, not just in Bharat but in the known world.
Squashed between government files, our culture hasn’t been allowed to breathe. Trapped between stenographers and official notes, culture doesn’t live among the people.
Maneka Gandhi may not be known for always sounding cultured. Remember how she roared "Yeh khana to mere kutte bhi nahin khayenge!" during a campaign. Or those allegedly nifty grants of documentaries to her buddy Pritish Nandy in her previous avatar as minister for social welfare. But she does have a point about culture. In a recent interview she provided some shocking facts. Rs 12,000 crore allotted to a museum on foreign aircraft! Some 28 science museums with nothing but swings and slides in them. The Asiatic Society, given Rs 4.6 crore annually to buy books, has had no librarian and no audits for fifty years! No wonder culture’s become something artificial. No wonder the aiadmk seems to have forgotten the sophistication of Sangam literature. And that Bihar has forgotten that Pataliputra was once the pride of Asia.
And no wonder Murli Manohar Joshi seems to have forgotten the words of the Bhagavad Gita where it’s written that from loss of memory rises the destruction of intelligence. We may try to forget that our ancestors ate beef, but in the act of forgetting we’ll become less intelligent.