The Plurality of Pedagogic Possibilities


There are many ways through we can know about the nation—its cultural heritage, its political aspirations, its wound and its songs. Indeed, from a serious text on history to a literary piece, from a lucid narrative on dance forms to melodious songs—for a creative pedagogue, the possibilities are enormous. There is no ‘method’ in this selection; there is only the aesthetics of play the editor has chosen to arouse the imagination of our readers. 

A fractured/wounded nation breeds the politics based on religious identities. It dehumanizes us, causes violence, and makes us dull, brute and insensitive. Yet, we refuse to learn from history—the trauma of partition causing psychic violence; history continues to repeat itself. As we invoke Saadat Hasan Manto, we realize his deep pain, his extraordinary sensitivity, his ability to depict the story of our fall. His stories and reflections give us a powerful insight into the implications of partition. The sketches he drew remind us of this collective madness— the other side of human personalities. With the power of his pen enriched by deep sensitivity and a sense of hard realism he could reveal in a small paragraph what a historian could not do in a thick book. Feel the psychic state of the wounded nation. Gandhi was killed. Yet, there was a ‘sweet moment’:

XXX…XXX…Reports are coming in of sweets having been distributed in the Indian cities of Amritsar, Gwalior and Bombay to celebrate the death of Mahatma Gandhi…XXX…XXX

No wonder, it is this ‘sweet moment’ that also leads to a moment of ‘consideration’:

‘Don’t kill my daughter in front of my eyes.’

‘All right, all right. Peel off her clothes and shoo her aside!’ 

It is this ‘consideration’ that makes one ‘relaxed’; one values the meaning of some ‘resting time’:

‘He is not dead. There is still some life left in him.’

‘O leave it, my friend, I am exhausted.’

Not surprisingly, the mind becomes intelligent and alert; it cannot afford to make ‘mistakes’; in fact, ‘mistakes are removed’:

‘Who are you?’

‘And who are you?’

‘Har Har Mahadev, Har Har Mahadev!’

‘Har Har Mahadev!’

‘What is the evidence that you are who you say you are?’

‘Evidence? My name is Dharam Chand.’

‘That is no evidence.’

‘All right, I know all the four Vedas by heart, test me out.’

‘We know nothing about the Vedas. We want evidence.’


‘Lower your trousers.’

When his trousers are lowered, there was pandemonium. ‘Kill him, kill him.’

‘Wait, please wait…I am your brother…I swear by Bhagwan, I am your brother.’

Then what is this?’

‘The area through which I had to pass was controlled by our enemies; therefore, I had to take this precaution…just to save my life…this is the only mistake, the rest is in order.’

‘Remove the mistake.’

The mistake was removed…and with it Dharam Chand. 

Manto makes us speech less. But then, when should we learn? 


A student of Indian history is always eager to know how Marxist scholars look at the national movement—particularly, its key figures like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Because Marxists, as it is said, often possess the heavy burden of self-righteousness; it tends to undermine anything that does not take place according to its ideological doctrine. Moreover, with the legacy of ‘scientific socialism’ guided by the dialectical logic of historical materialism it has a tendency to denigrate what it regards as philosophic idealism. It is in this context that Irfan Habib’s book The National Movement: Studies in Ideology and History (Tulika Books, New Delhi, 2011) arouses our interest.  Habib, Professor Emeritus of History at the Aligarh Muslim University, is the author of many books including The Agrarian System of Mughal India, and Essays in Indian History: Towards a Marxist Perception. Habib’s book is a refreshing departure; it arouses hope because it reminds us once again that for a good and responsible scholar Marxism need not necessarily be reduced into a rigid deterministic methodology that negates whatever does not fit into its paradigm. No wonder, Habib has chosen to free himself from the temptation of reducing Gandhi into a medieval romantic merely serving the interests of the ruling class, or a cunning bania reproducing patriarchal/brahminical Hinduism. Instead, as a gifted historian Habib understands the nuances of social reality, and makes us see the significance of the historic journey that Gandhi   undertook and the life he led. It is not that Habib agrees with everything that Gandhi did or believed. For instance, Habib—possibly like a committed Marxist—would not deny Gandhi’s bourgeois framework. To quote him: ‘’Although Gandhi’s thought-content was anti-imperialist and subjectively anti-capitalist (because anti-industrial), nevertheless, since he did not extend his aims to socialism, he essentially remained within the bourgeois framework of thought.” Yet, this critique notwithstanding, he did not remain confined to a comfortable/ monolithic reading of Gandhi. He showed his maturity in seeing Gandhi’s oceanic universe. For instance, he asked a pertinent question: What was Gandhi’s religiosity? Was it a regressive journey—an antithesis of secular/progressive thinking? See Habib’s remarkably insightful art of understanding. Gandhi’s religion, argues Habib, has nothing in common with the current ‘Hindutva’ cult. Instead, as we are told, he created a picture of Hinduism which made it possible for its followers to accept ‘modern values’. To quote Habib: “ Gandhi’s Ram was God, and his Ram Rajya did not relate to something that was remotely sectarian. ‘God’s Rule’ would be a better translation of it. It bore the same sense in which Kabir referred to Ram. Clearly, then, even Gandhi’s religiosity was based on an extension of humanitarian values and their application to what is perhaps the most ancient of all surviving religions, resulting in a vast transformation of its beliefs. Many of those who once thought that the caste system was basic to Hinduism, would, by the year of Gandhi’s death, have been annoyed if anyone were to refer to it as an essential part of Hinduism. This was the extent of Gandhi’s achievement in relation to the theological tenets of Hinduism.’ It is, therefore, not surprising that with deep gratitude   Habib could feel the gravity of Gandhi’s ‘finest hours’. When massacres broke out upon Partition, Gandhi—Habib recalls with a sense of history and ethics—stood by his principles. With his immense courage and moral conviction Gandhi could transcend narrow national interests for the larger cause. As Habib writes: “What he (Gandhi) said could be distilled to this: ‘I am as much concerned with the massacres in Pakistan as in India. But I must first stop the massacres in India ; and therefore, I am going on fast here. When I succeed here, I would go for the same end to Pakistan, which is also my country.’ For his fast, he made the additional demand that India must pay Rs 55 crore to Pakistan. For the Father of a Nation to take a direct position against his own nation, and in support of another country whose government was showering abuse on him day in and day out –this, I believe, was Gandhi’s finest act. It was an action for which he ultimately gave his life at the hands of one of the heroes of the present Sangh Parivar.”

It is sad that amongst the Left-Ambedkarite intellectual circle Gandhi bashing has become the most favorite pastime. It is irresponsible politics; it is bad scholarship. And that is why, when a distinguished Marxist historian rediscovers Gandhi, we see a pedagogic possibility, a mode of thinking capable of distinguishing serious scholarship from mere sloganeering.


See the way our children are growing up. There is something pathological about television-induced mass culture, reality shows and the phenomenal growth of music industry—loud, vulgar and gross. This constant bombardment is causing severe damage to children’s sensitivity and artistic sensibilities. Is there nothing in our culture except the glitz of Bollywood dances in reality shows? Is there something beyond instant fame and celebrity status for which misdirected/ambitious parents send their children to those reality shows? Possibly concerned parents, teachers and pedagogues are striving for an answer. And that is why, when we happen to discover Leela Samson’s beautiful book The Joy of Classical Dances of India (NBT, New Delhi, Revised edition:2013), it attracts us. Here is a slim book with beautiful illustrations (by Jagdish Joshi) and lucid prose that awakens us, or reminds us—particularly, the youngsters—of the cultural heritage of India; its classical dance forms—Bharata Natyam, Manipuri, Kathak, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Mohini-Attam and Sattriya—become alive. Their origin, their aesthetics, their philosophy—everything becomes clear to the reader. See the way Samson explains the significance of nritta, nrittya and hasta mudras which are present in all classical dance forms. While nritta is ‘pure dance’ with its movement and beauty, nrittya is the ‘art of story telling’ through gestures and facial expression. And hasta mudras are hand gestures through which the dancer translates the sahitya or the verse (all these dances are based on similar stories taken from the ‘common pool’ of our myth) into the ‘visual language’ of the dance. Furthermore, there are nine rasas—love, anger, laughter, compassion, valour, fear, disgust, wonder and peace—in the art of expression. However, as Samson indicates, ‘of these nine sentiments, shingara or love is the dominant sentiment. All other sentiments emerge from shingara or merge into it. They are transitory sentiments and do not last as long as shingara. Even anger is most often a result of shingara’. These dance forms require rigorous sadhana, an awareness of the union of the body and soul. For example, a whole variety of movements can be seen in Bharat Natyam. ‘There  is an emphasis on the striking of the floor with the feet. There are jumps in the air. There are pirouettes as well, which are called bhramaris. And there are movements done with the knees making contact with the floor. These are called mandi adavas.’  Likewise, the philosophic depth of these dance forms is immensely revealing. ‘Bha’ stands for bhava or expression; ‘Ra’ for raga or melody, and ‘Ta’ for tala or rhythmic cycles. Indeed, ‘Bha-ra-ta Natyam is the dance of expression, melody and rhythm.’  We know that Radha-Krishna legend is performed frequently in Manipuri dance. It conveys a beautiful message: ‘Radha and Krishna are a symbol of the male and female forces in nature. Their union and creation are important for life on earth to continue.’ With dholak and khanjuri it takes us to an enchanting world of shingaar. Or, for that matter, see the minute details involved in the making of Kathakali—the traditional dance drama of Kerala.  Katha means a story and kali is play; and in these plays men are not mortals, but demons of great strength and the great gods fight with them. Yes, it is a masked dance form; masks hide the actors. And the mask is put on layer by layer with a myriad colours—‘ each colour representing a different character—good, bad, evil, woman, hunter, God, demon, snake or monkey.’ Not solely that. ‘Beards of various colours and length get attached to the face…The men have painted lips, pink and powdery. They have blobs on their noses that tell you whether they will betray their friend or not…And gold jewelry—larger than you have ever seen make for earrings, bangles, chest plates and armbands.’

Samson’s book makes us see the beauty and grace of these classical dance forms. It makes us see the entire universe as Shiva’s stage; the sculptures in South Indian temples whisper in our ears, we feel the vibrations of ‘celestial’ musicians and dancers; we begin to see how Kathak characterized by the amazing footwork entered the palace durbar of the Mughal emperors. Moreover, we realize that art means dedication; it requires the cultivation of the spirit of disciplined/meditative practices. It is an antithesis of the media-induced simulation.  A civilization sustains itself through its cultural heritage, its memory and living practices. We live in bad times. At one level mass culture degrades our finer sensibilities, and makes us indifferent to our heritage. And again there are some who in the name of the ‘subaltern’ seek to negate the entire classical culture as purely ‘elitist’. This, we think, is bad politics because the task is not to negate what is ‘classical’, but to spread it and bring it closer to people. Only then does culture acquire a new meaning through the constant interplay of ‘classical’ and ‘folk’. However, the prevalent mass culture—a product of culture industry based on instant stimulation and gratification—negates this possibility. And popular ‘nationalist’ politics reduces culture into an empty rhetoric like Bharat Mata ki Jai. At this juncture, Leela Samson does what needs to be done. She acts like a pedagogue, and renews the spirit of a culture an old civilization like ours ought to retain and feel proud of:

These songs and dances are the true wealth of our country. They come from the imagination of many generations of wonderful poets, singers and dancers who are no more. They are there for us to see and hear, because of their dedication. It is these practitioners who spent their whole lives, lovingly preserving these forms. It is the art of a country that makes it different from another. It is our culture.


A river—and that too a river like Ganga—is always endowed with a symbolic meaning. It arouses our collective imagination. As it flows ceaselessly, nurtures the civilization, observes the movement of time and history, and whispers in silence, it evokes our finest poetry, music and prayer. In a way, it is impossible to imagine the nation—its aspirations and ideals, its anguish and despair—without invoking the river. It is in this context that we are truly thrilled to recall two wonderful songs. To begin with, what strikes us is the magic produced by the synergy of Raj Kapoor and Mukesh in Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai—a film produced by Raj Kapoor and directed by Radhu Karmakar in 1960. And in this beautifully crafted film there is a song through which Raj Kapoor as a protagonist (yes, in his typical style he is simple, innocent, honest, rural—not corrupted by the greed of money, the complexity of industrial/urban modernity) invokes the metaphor of river Ganga, and idealizes the ‘dream’ of an ancient civilization. Is it a reminder that in the name of industrialization and modernity a newly independent nation should not forget the ‘golden’ ideals of a civilization which like the magnificent river has been flowing since time immemorial? Feel the song, its lyrics. The river flows; our ‘ pure hearts’ strive for the beauty of truth because we are the citizens of a country through which the river Ganga flows like the rhythm of the song, the expressions of the gifted actor.

Hothen pe sacchai rahti hai

Jahaan dil mein safai rahti hai

Hum uss desh ke vassi hein

Jis desh mein ganga behti hai.

In our ideal land there is no ‘alien’ enemy; it is inclusive –the way the river absorbs everything; guests are dearer than our own lives; it is about love, harmony and peace.

Mehmman jo hammara hota hai

Who jaan se pyarra hota hai

Mil jul ke raho aur pyaar karo.

True, in the new nation the memories of the icons like Buddha and Gandhi are not yet dead; Nehru is still alive; socialism has not yet become a bad word; and in the subaltern imagination there is still some apprehension about the ‘materialism of the West’. Raj Kapoor—representing the ‘ideal’ with its simplicity, innocence (does he seek to combine Chaplin and Gandhi?) and purity (yes, the river, as the mythology goes, is pure)—is using the melodious voice of Mukesh, and taking us to another world:

Matlab ke liye andhe hoker

Roti ko nahi pooja hamne.

Yes, there is idealization. The nation is a sacred land! It enchants our lives. However, with the passage of time, and growing experience of turmoil, violence and inner contradictions Raj Kapoor’s ‘innocence’ proves to be inadequate; the nation, it seems, needs yet another song—the song of protest and anguish. And this time too there is no escape from the river. The river is invoked; and the singer is in communion with the river, expresses his pain and anguish. It is in this context that Bhupen Hazarika’s song Ganga Bahati ho Kyon (both in Assamese and Bengali) acquires tremendous relevance. In fact, the song has its origin in Paul Robinson’s Old Man River. Hazarika’s politico-ethical critique replaces Raj Kapoor’s romantic idealization; the ‘sacred’ nation is now a site of all that is corrupt, violent and exploitative; far from arousing the poetry of love the river is causing anger: Why does it continue to flow when everything around us is so dehumanized?  Feel Hazarika’s vibrating voice. Contemplate on the power of the lyrics. The singer is asking the river: ‘The people who live in the vast stretches on your both sides are screaming in grief, yet meekly, as always, O Ganga, you! O Ganga, why do you flow?’ Morality is destroyed and humanity is corrupted; yet, as Hazarika asks, ‘O Ganga why do you not dissolve the lifeless society?’ Whereas for Raj Kapoor, the flowing river assures our purity, for Hazarika, everything has changed; the river has ceased to become a source of action and energy. The nation has lost its enchanting power.  Yet, he cannot escape his attachment to the river, to the nation. He is angry; but then, he appeals because he still loves the river, believes in its immense possibilities: ‘O Mother Ganga, in new India why do you not beget a victorious son like Bhisma, the great warrior?’

In a way, these two beautiful songs reveal the range of emotions that the nation evokes; the flow of the river is the flow of a civilization—its joys and sorrows, its pain and aspirations, its laughter and tears; the nation becomes its river, our mother. It injects life, generates vibrancy; yet, at the time of our fall, our collective decay, we grow angry with the mother; we complain, we express our anguish. There is no love without anger, without resistance. There is no resistance without love. In these troubled times let our readers rediscover these two songs—the songs of the nation.

This article is published in The New Leam, JULY Issue( Vol.2  No.13) and available in print version.To buy contact us or write at Or visit

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