I have been reading Bertrand Russell all through my life. I started with his” Problems of Philosophy”, sometime in the Fifties, on the suggestion of a friend who said” that might be useful for your exam for Oxford”. That was at a time when the Oxford College (New College) asked me to do some essays for consideration.
So, I started with Russell, though economics was my subject and yet Oxford’s PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) put also philosophy one of the subjects for study. All this was not like in India. They don’t make a fuss on strict lines, they just suggest, they give enormous room for imagination and your own intellectual development. But then, what started as a hobby became an obsession in time! Yes, the latest book I read of Russell, a sad book indeed is one by John Monk on how Russell in his last years almost became mad and how his family ended up in so many disasters. Yes, all these details I didn’t want to know but then there they were in this much lovingly written biography.
But how much I benefited! Words are not enough to convey all the gains! I became a more balanced person, to put it modestly. Paul Johnson (another of my favorite writer) tells that Russell in his prime used to go for a walk in the morning and after he returns, would at his desk and write a full length essay on some difficult and abstruse subjects in philosophy at a stretch! Such was his intellectual agility and creative powers. In a way, much lower down in the intellectual ladder I too learnt to write early in the morning.
Once, it is five o’clock would wake up in my bed and my mind would find itself preoccupied with some thoughts in such clear ways and then and there I would like to get up and sit at my computer and enter the whole matter, as if in a single run! Yes, that has been a habit for sometime now. Of course, I don’t have the intellectual powers of a genius, yet I have this habit of thinking clearly only in the morning and before the start of the day I must get it out on my computer screen. Then only I feel like dong anything else. In fact, I do other things more clearly only when my mind is cleared of the thoughts of the day!
In fact, Karl Popper (another of my favorite writer and philosopher) says the same thing about Russell with whom he had had a long time associate and debates! Popper is, along with Russell, another milestone in the twentieth century philosophy and social thought.
Now, nearer home, I read a great deal about the Indian thought, Indian leaders, Indian politics and the evolution of the Indian political thought in modern India. As such, I have just now finished reading some books pertaining to the early years of the last century when the Indian political consciousness was evolving (see the book review).I have come to appreciate the life and work of V.S.Srinivasa Sastri, the great apologist for the British rule and yet one who sought to follow the Gokhale line as a moderate politician and friend of the British establishment.
The one thing that caught my fancy about Sastri is his conservatism and at the same times the moral courage to sacrifice his meager economic security for the sake of high principles. He resigned his job as a headmaster and left to join the Servants of India Society with an uncertain future! That was great; I thought and still think so. So, certain empathy has developed lately with this great son of India and so I read everything about him these days.
One small bit of tidbits about Sastri was his high felicity for the English language. He used to master the dictionaries, it seems, and he had a number of Webster dictionaries. So, his fine nuances for the use of the words and the language to such magical effect. Sastri, as I can see, was more of an orator and he enjoyed lecturing, on diverse topics, more on Ramayana and other such heavy topics rather than writing in any sustained way. May be his life and times did not permit him to sit down and engage in writing. In this Dr.S.Radhakrishnan was an exception, he was as good in putting down to paper, as much as holding forth on public platforms. Of course, the written texts bring his lasting fame while his lectures have become unreadable now!
One or two things I also learnt from these great men. One, I, without realising, also consult my Oxford dictionary (dictionaries and word uses) at least a few times in a normal day. This comes to me normally, without me being conscious about the need to polish my language. I have never been a regular reader or a regular user of dictionary. My reading has been very diverse and I never read in any regular way, so my writings too. But when I write, when I enter my thoughts into my computer, my thoughts rush, or rather over rush before I think of the right words or turns of phrases. My readers, my well-read scholarly readers tell me that I often rush forward before I care to construct my sentences. They are right! But then I have had this habit for long and now it is best to learn any other ways of writing.
Rather I think faster than I write? May be. I don’t know. But then my life had been such that I never had a settled life style. I hate to think in any academic systematic way. I consider the academic thinking is a slavish thing to do. That has been my mindset, my mentality, if you so call it! It is here it is!
But my word patterns, as I do some introspection, I guess come from my way of reading. The words and the word patterns are unpremeditated. We learn demo books, old and new. Yes, new books are needed to keep track of developments in new knowledge, in evaluation of the old wisdom, new interpretations of the classics. Even now, I realize that much that we take for granted in knowledge, as proven truths are being challenged by new researches, developments in new knowledge, the very frontiers are getting expanded in many disciplines, biology, genetics and evolution are some of the new sources of new ways of looking at lives.
So too from the lives and wisdom of the great minds, those living amongst us, or those whom we know from our younger days as our heroes and also as leaders. I myself had been fortunate to come in close contact with some of the great men and great minds of India. I knew Pandit Nehru, Kamaraj, Morarji Desai, other leaders of that generation, too many to name here.
Abroad I was lucky to meet and establish personal rapport with some of the greatest leaders, greatest minds. As a student at Oxford I went to Ireland and there I called on the great leader, the Irish Gandhi, Eamon deValera. That made a deep impact on my young mind. Later, in France, in 1971, I went to see the great Socialist leader, Guy Mollet, who was Premier under the Fourth republic. I witnessed the funeral procession of De Gaulle, on the Camps Elysee and was so much inspired by his nationalistic leadership.
The many great historical figures that inspired me in Europe are too many. Yes, in a sense I also learnt to admire the great Napolean, though now, at this time of the life of the world such great military geniuses are a great liability too. See the American adventures in Iraq and the way the present crop of leaders conduct themselves, all for false sense of greatness while of course there are level headed leaders. I admire Jimmy Carter, rather than the over-ambitious Clintons.
Indian has to learn many lessons to live in an otherwise, dangerous world, even now; there is the inequity in the way the dominant powers want to shape the world. They neglect the UN and want to play roles that would only help to destabilize the world. The old world tendencies to promote the hegemony of the powerful and the ambitious over the more sober elements in the world, the smaller nations are left out by the so-called big powers.
So, we have all roles to play as world citizens.
While in France in 1971 I became active in one movement, the Citizens of the World, I don’t know now the other such movements but in my time, both as a student and soon afterwards there were so many such citizen movements. I was glad to read Tariq Ali’s book, the Street Fighting Years for he was tow years junior to me at Oxford.
There is an interesting anecdote Ali narrates and that caught my attention. Ali joined the Oxford Union Debating Society and became later its President .It was a great honor and may be that later took him to great heights, to Paris in the 1968 Students Revolution that toppled De Gaulle, further later he went to Moscow, Cuba and rubbed shoulders with Castro and all the revolutionaries of the times.
Yes, I was also an ardent Oxford Union Debater but alas, I couldn’t continue my membership and so I had to drop out. But even then, or even now, I have never been an extremist, I was always a moderate, I was an ardent Fabian Socialist. I joined the Oxford Labor Club and as such I was drawn towards the Harold Laski Socialism, then Hugh Gaitskell, he was a New College man and I used to see him often in my College Quad and I was very much of a Labor party type socialist. This only later drew me to the Congress and within the party itself I had friends then, Rudolf De Mellow, the first Youth Congress President and me were at the AICC, working together, then I was closer to the then minister, R.N.Mishra, later Chandra Sekhar and so many to mention here.
The point is that in life and in politics one evolves. May be I had strayed away from active politics for some reason. But I gained otherwise, now I am able to devote more time to think and write and further elucidate the thoughts I was always nurturing within me. It is for the readers, for the younger generation to evaluate further what value my thoughts have for the country and for other’s own evolution as better human beings! Yes, I was drawn towards the younger generation in politics. Now, I am facing an entirely new generation.
Among the leaders from parties other than Congress I knew so many Socialists, Gandhians and even Communists like EMS and others. Among the current seniors, I admire Atal Behari Vajpayee. I had met him only once and yet I see him now from a distance and his moderation wins him many sections.
In a recent speech he had given out his insights into the new generation, the next generation. The 82-year old veteran has drawn attention to the need to work out ways to solve problems facing the country. He says about the next generation:” Where they are going perplexes us. Somewhere there is indolence, somewhere overactivism, which is off the mark. This has to be changed”
Where the next generation going? May be too much attention is paid to immediate concerns, high paying jobs in IT and related sectors, to the neglect of the very many other issues that might impact India as a people, as a nation that would set ways for a more peaceful world.
The younger generation, the sort of education as mere commerce and jobs, is very dangerous for the evolution of India as a cultured society, a civilization and a moral responsibility for the globalize world where even now, after the disastrous 20th century wars and large scale bloodshed, the world doesn’t seem to have learnt any lessons for changed international behavior. This, in my opinion, is the biggest challenge to all leaders and opinion makers. In all fields.
Politicians all over the world are seen as untrustworthy. We in India? We seem to be totally unconcerned; here every other politician seems to be self-obsessed and self survival. The greater culture questions of national pride, self pride and self honor seem to be unIndian! Not for us! So, we have great many tasks, besides basic survival. Is anyone listening?