The author of this book, Durga Prasad Dash, loves India genuinely. His patriotism is rooted in deep awareness of the country’s history, culture and values. His latest book, My Village My Country: Glimpses into the Heart and Soul of Hindustan, wears the author’s patriotism on its jacket.
Though the author states in the beginning that the book contains “articles about my village and the small town where I spent most of my childhood,” we are ushered to a whole smorgasbord of the diversity that characterises India. The author’s village is only a springboard. Get ready to dive into an expansive lake of exquisite historical, cultural and aesthetic delights.
Since the author belongs to Odisha, we get more delicacies from that state. We begin our odyssey [or Odissi if you prefer] with the rituals of Bali Jatra and Boita Bandana and move on to a lot more like Danda Nacha and Pala Nacha. We get glimpses of the Konark temple, Raghurajpur’s palm-leaf paintings, and the bronze utensils of Bellaguntha. We get a brief history of the Jagannath rath yatra, a taste of the traditional cuisine at the Pidha hotel in Brahmapur, and peeps into the British Raj.
The author’s style reaches musical crescendos while discussing India’s music and her villages. In the chapter on Classical Music, we get this:
Imagine this scene before the advent of electricity. The sun has set. Nocturnal insects have started making sounds to make their elusive presence felt. People have lit lamps on their doorways. The sounds of bells from a distant temple is wafting through the darkness. It is time to meditate. It is time to take care of one’s unknown fears. You need music that makes you meditative. You need music that stops the restlessness of your mind. If it is a summer evening the music needs to be more soothing.
The author’s description of his village also reveals the romantic in him.
The romantics have a peculiar attachment to history and the author’s attachment to India’s ancient history and heritage is more than eloquent in the book. India has hundreds of factors that distinguish it from other countries, he says. He focuses on a few like diversity and multi-culturalism, birthplace of all Dharmic religions [Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism], yoga and Ayurveda.
The romantic attachment to anything tends also to have a touch of bitterness and this author is not an exception. He sounds explicitly bitter when he touches upon the West and its people, liberals of today’s India, and certain historians like Romila Thapar and Ramchandra Guha. He condescends to tolerate the liberals of the West because “When It comes to religion, they usually criticize the religion they were born to or are identified with. But in India this is not the case.” He goes on to mention the examples of Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi as well as Rajdeep Sardesai and Sagarika Ghosh. He goes to the extent of accusing these people of defending the radical activities of other religious groups!
Anything associated with the West seems to bring scorn to this writer’s otherwise disciplined mind. He lampoons even Shashi Tharoor’s criticism of the British in his book An Era of Darkness as motivated by political reasons and also sees the same book’s portrayal of the Mughal as “propaganda” that seeks to highlight the Mughal era “as a kind of utopia”. His hatred of the West makes him issue the challenge: “Show me an author, a film director or an artist who has either criticized western values, or highlighted the good things of the east and survived to win such an award. There are still many aspects on which the west continues to be blatantly racist.” [Well, Hermann Hesse comes to my mind instantly.]
Intelligent people with deep convictions tend to have a few prejudices and they also tend to cling to them tenaciously. If we put aside the tenacious clinging of Durga Prasad Dash to his pet prejudices, we can see that he is a good writer as well as a good human being. This last bit is the most important especially because good humans are hard to come by these days. Particularly if they claim to be patriots.
PS. Durga Prasad Dash’s book is free to download here.
My contribution to the same series Great Books for Great Thoughts are also available for free download here.