Saturday, March 29, 2014

about " The Story of India" by Michael Wood.

I did not want to write this for a long time because you might think oh here comes another of her whiny rants -- and because I thought it was a waste of time ,a  losing battle. But today I feel like I should. It's an all over the place rambling sort of piece, bear with me. 

"In this landmark six-part series for PBS and the BBC, Michael Wood embarked on a dazzling and exciting journey through today's India, "seeking in the present for clues to her past, and in the past for clues to her future".

That is the description of the 2 part movie about the story of India that was shown on PBS.  Many watched it and marveled at this "definitive"  telling of India's history. Most were ready to believe it as such -- as one would believe the Holy Scriptures, esp Northern Indians. Why? Because it perpetuates that myth about the Aryan-Dravidian/ High Caste- Low caste demarcation, that great North-South Divide of the British propaganda machine. The West in their highhandedness gave the natives of the "Americas" our name. But that is nothing when we see the divide among our own countrymen.

On the whole the movie is  spectacular, but there are some spectacular blunders too, especially when it comes to the beginning of the story. It shows people from Africa plodding along the western coast of India, and landing in Kerala, not stopping anywhere up there, or never going to the north. Forget that there is an eminently navigable sea -- which people have used since -- but these people chose land, I can understand. But it is hard to believe that it is a single event. Still, these are pre historic events. And there are the remnants of the hill tribes still in the hills and forests of Kerala, Tamilnadu etc. And remember,  there are hill tribes in the north too. And over the thousands of years they have been exploited, and pushed farther and farther into the woods, and at other times, pulled out into the so-called civilized world, when it fell convenient to the dominant group.  They were and are the so-called low caste, backward caste, scheduled castes of India. All the while, the newcomers mingled with them genetically, too. Again, not a single event. waves of migration, waves of mingling, breeding, pushing back and forth, up and down, east and west, in the course of ten thousand years. So it is commonsense to realize that there  is not a single" pure" high or low caste race in India now. Michael Wood never mentions any of this. 

 I get all that. People who want to, can read through the lines, see beyond the movie. But those who want to hold onto their "superiority" for dear life, they will not . Anyway, the biggest blunder to me was Mr  Wood's portrayal of the Brahmins in Kerala,  the southernmost state of India. He shows this ancient religious sect chanting the sacred mantras and compares it to cries in the wilderness. Tribal sounds, makes them out to be some primitive beings!  Maybe. But ironically, these" tribes" are "Aryan"! Sneakily showing an apparently intellectually or physically challenged man or boy, is just one way in which he manages to infantilize and lessen and divide  a culture and a civilization. Those mantras are in Sanskrit, that is what I have heard. Now Sanskrit may have originated from bird and animal sounds, but so did human speech. But it is this language that is supposed to be Aryan, which is shown to be used by a group of people in Kerala, a southern state. And how does that go with the superior Northern Aryanness? Those people who chant those mantras are Aryans -- only Brahmins were allowed to do that, I do not know if Michael Wood knows that.  He cannot have it both ways. oh, and then he jumps to some tribe in Andhra Pradesh and finds the African gene -- mind, he doesn't mention that it is in Andhra, he lets many a viewer think that he is still in Kerala. well, it is all South -- so it doesn't matter  to Wood. He just is too taken up with his own benevolence at giving us a magnanimous perspective of India.   so what if he got certain basic facts wrong, what if he mixed this and that,confusing one thing with yet another thing,  what if he sees  anjanam, and states categorically that it is as white as  turmeric? So what anjanam is black? Everyone believes his words - he is white! ( color play! :) It is like those blind men "seeing" an elephant. But my question is, if he can easily and with certainty blur the distinction between tribal people and other settlers of Kerala, and between Kerala and other southern states, and forget all the rest of the Meditrerranean, Arabic, Phoenician, Persian, Central Asian, and Chinese heritage of Kerala,  why can't he blur the same between north and south? why harp on a baseless, spurious distinction? Which is not that different from fanatically "upper caste" white commenter on the 23& me site. From what he wrote there I am pretty sure his father is an Indian from the North, but he does not like to acknowledge that. But he is ready to take the lesser of the evil as it is, by trying to insist that all the north is upper caste and all the south is lower caste!  Does he not know about the evil heights of caste system in the south? Upper caste elements came up with crooked, inhuman ways to keep the earlier inhabitants low ,and based it on their divine right to lord it over. Caste system has its origins in racism and feudalism. But there is one difference between the north and the south. The south is more enlightened and once it realized the evil of its ways changed its thinking. In these days, the "lower" caste of the south are not as low as those in the north. They are no longer in the background or underground. There are no bonded laborers here like in the North. The lower castes in Kerala for instance got land from their old landlords. The present generation occupy high posts in all walks of life. They are a strong group with powerful unions to back them. And of course they are not "they' - they are us. As the present day population is a mix of all people. Even the earliest of us all - the people who belong to the ancient hill tribes. So then all of India is low caste or high caste. And all of the Americas is native American or African, or low caste or high caste. Or all of the world is low caste. Since there is no pure race anywhere.

After seeing this movie, a curly-haired  Northern Indian , a very nice person otherwise, was raving about this. He is a firm believer in the Aryan invasion myth.(Read Michael Danini and Sujatha Nahar's The Invasion that Never Was ) His proof is the difference in appearance between northerners and southerners. I wanted to laugh. I did not argue  but in my mind,  I do not see any difference  -- that is, if there is any difference,  it is the same difference between 2 southerners, or any two Indians. Even that tribal man Wood showed as the first African had straight hair. Well, curly hair is said to be  one of the earlier/ ancient/primordial dominant traits that will never disappear. Is it the skin color? That is the sun, my dear friend (me to that person, in my mind).  The North enjoys cooler weather in the winter months at least, and more people from the North may have had relationships with the colonial Brits.,--sexual, that is, they  used you or you used them, --  which, by the way, is recent history.  and of course, bleach and fair & lovely. north had a headstart on that. even after all that -- the features of the Northerner and the Southerner are of the same mix. rich and varied. layered and complex mix.

Around 60,000 years ago, a second melting pot of humans happened in the Central Asian area of which India was an important part. I share DNA with the people of that area. Now what are we? People of the North and the South, the East and the  West, and  in between India? We are not just  black, we are not just white, we are not just one color. We are not just a rainbow. We are all colors and no color. We are all races, and no race. We are the race called or that should be called Indian. And next time, when you tell a South Indian that she doesn't look like a South Indian, or that she doesn't look like an Indian, please remember that you are insulting her, insulting yourself, insulting all Indians and all humanity. 

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