Ramachandra Guha and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Ramachandra Guha represents the typical Indian intellectual: brilliant, totally westernized – and who looks down on anything Hindu – because he has inherited from the British colonization a gigantic inferiority complex about his own culture and spirituality. And like many of his brothers and sisters of India’s intelligentsia, he feels nowhere better than in the West. This can be gathered from his Oslo diary published in the Outlook magazine of 20th October, where he says, and I quote : “...After two weeks in Oslo, my hosts send me off to Svalbard, deep into the Arctic Circle ... I spend four enchanting days in and around the little town of Longybein, located at 78° N. I have the privilege of sampling the northernmost bar, the northernmost cafe, the northernmost supermarket, and the northernmost souvenir store in the world “... Then he adds – and this shows that this Macaulayan fixation is transmitted since many generations from father to children: “The person most envious of my trip is my daughter, who has read evocative descriptions of Svalbard in the novels of Philip Pullman”. Wow: I am a born Frenchman, brought up in some of the best European schools, I vaguely known of Philipp Pullman (do you?), but have never heard of that he wrote about the archipelago of Svalbard” (have you?).

Once he has proved his credentials of a connoisseur of western literature and lover of western atmospheres, Guha, because he is in Norway, home of the Nobel Peace Prize, chooses to attack Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the Art of Living movement, who has been the most nominated Indian in the last three years: “After my talk, a lady comes up and introduces herself as a doctor, and an advisor to the Peace Institute. The names I had mentioned were all very good, she said, but surely it was time that the peace prize went to an Indian? She mentions the name of a fellow townsman of mine (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar), a man who has grown long hair, given himself four fancy initials (HH/SS), and whose name is also that of a very great exponent of the sitar”. And of course, Guha tells her gleefully: “I suggested to the doctor that if not giving Gandhi the prize was a scandal, awarding it to my fellow townsman would be an even bigger scandal”. How typical of these Indian intellectuals, who are always spitting on their own culture, specially if it is Hindu-related.

Yet, there is no doubt that Guruji, as he is known to his followers, qualifies for the NPP – in fact he does tenfold time the work of a Mother Teresa or a R.K Pachauri: he not only performs charity work in many of India’s villages, he also promotes pesticide and fertilizer free farming, takes orphans from Kashmir or the North-East in his ashram, and his volunteers do relief work, both at the physical and psychological level, whether in Bihar during the floods, in Iraq or in the US during the recent cyclone. Sri Sri is also trying to revive single handed, the ancient Vedic tradition by training young priests in a Gurukkul which blends ancient knowledge, with modern thought, while promoting Ayurveda as the medicine of the 21st century. He is attempting as well to mediate in many conflicts, in Kashmir, Sri Lanka, or between the Christians and Hindus. And lastly he has revived and modernized the ancient science of pranayama.

Of course, Guha is an unabashed admirer of the Norwegian Peace Committee: “The Nobel Peace Prize is itself a splendid example of Norwegian internationalism, in keeping with the country’s ethos of generous aid to poorer countries, not to mention its efforts to resolve ethnic conflicts around the world”. But not everybody in Europe would agree with him : Norwegians have sometimes the reputation of being staunch, left-leaning Protestants, who often have a condescending view of Asia. Thus, when they award prizes, they are necessarily influenced by a Christian vision of the world and an idealistic left-leaning sympathy. For, as most Europeans, they have been brought-up in the belief that democracy and philosophy started with Greece and that a Humane civilization, began with Jesus Christ. And of course, they have a covert - or at best unconscious - suspicion, if not of India, at least of Hindus, who for them remain the heathen, the pagans which the missionaries of yesteryears, and unfortunately those of today too, have created in the minds of many westerners.

They can only agree with Mr Guha: how can they then, give their Peace Prize to a Hindu?

François Gautier


vikramsjn said…
Mr Francois, thanks for all your posts and writing. Also for this one. I read a post on a blog on this very issue of Mr Guha's comments SS Ravi Shankar, and did not agree, but could not write about it.

The problem with common man like me/us is that we even have difficulty expressing ourselves. People like you give voice to our concerns and opinions. Thanks a lot again.
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Ajit said…
M Gautier,
You are truly remarkable: despite being a born Frenchman and having attended the "best schools in Europe" you have only a vague knowledge of Pullman, which is excusable. What isn't excusable is your making a virtue of yr ignorance and then compounding yr offence by maligning the erudition of a child whom you do not know. Mr Guha's shoulders are broad enough to bear yr opinion with equanimity. BTW read his "Savaging the civilized" for his views on the "missionary position"... But pl, keep the kids out of it.
menkris said…
For Ajit: Lighten up. FG was not 'maligning the erudition' (can't we simply call it reading!) of a child!! In any case, since it was Guha who first brought the subject up, it is quite fair to respond and for Chrissakes (pun intended) FG's comment wasn't about the child!!

For all at large:
We Indians do indeed have a pesky habit of constantly dropping names - what kind, depends on what circles you move in. If literary like Guha's the more obscure and out of the mainstream, the better. This is a national disease that arises out of the need to stand out in a nation of one billion. Accept it with humor - it is true, I definitely, and you too probably, have been its victim.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that I am a HIndu Indian with a fierce pride in my own culture and religion. This is an innate pride and exists on its own worth, not needing the debasement of another to thrive. I also am from the very same town as Guha and the Guru - a town that is renowned for its superficial and flaky ethos, with a smattering of self avowed Gurus and/or intellectuals. As such, the competition in these categories is rather abysmal and the first claimant can indeed crown himself. :))

Guha defines his intellectualism with a tired sneer. Without that all important sneer and the not-so-subtle dropping of names to attest to his vast breadth of obscure reading (which he now seems to inflict on hapless children), his carefully created construct crumbles.

The Guru can't sneer - his business is to smile and talk in low soothing drones and oh yes, use four letter prefixes to define his Guru-ness.

Ultimately, it all comes down to the same thing. As they say, a rose by a different name would smell just as sweet.
Sukumar said…
It appears to me that perhaps the writer Francois Gautier should appreciate the following well-known statements:

He who knows not - and knows not - he knows not. He is a fool. Avoid him.

He who knows not - and knows - he knows not. He is a simple. Teach him.

He who knows - and knows not - he knows. He is asleep. Awake him.

He who knows - and knows - he knows. He is a wise. Follow him.

Mr. Gautier - you Sir, is certainly not a wise. All indications are that you not asleep either. Your readers therefore should decide which of the other two above applies to you and act accordingly.
rocky said…
@ Ajit
My dear ajit u belong to a league of so called INTELLECTUALS who just look at there western masters (like a dog wagging its tail). STOP ALL THESE NONSENSE> FIRST BE PROUD ABOUT UR ROOTS AND CULTURE FIRST. Ramachandra guha(Should change his name ofcourse)he is a big joke and COWARD LIKE ARUNDATHI ROY CANNOT ACCEPT THE CULTURE and these PPL have a habit of taking POTSHOTS AT HINDU RELIGIUOS LEADERS. WHY NOT HE TAKE A POT SHOT AT POPE ?? ASK HIS BROAD SHOULDERS TO TAKE A POT SHOT AT HIM....
Gautier ji, You call Ramachandra Guha brilliant. How can a man who swallows all the Macaulayan lies be that. I think you are brilliant because you have been able to empathise with something that is so different to your upbringing. You are also brilliant because you don't mind saying what you think is good and great despite it being the most un-political thing to say..

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