- There is some complicated guilt here too, lurking in the corner but unavoidable. I have felt as if I am personally responsible for rupturing traditions that run back many generations and that are still alive, to some extent, in the person of my father. I cannot read or write Sanskrit, my stock of Hindu hymns is meagre, and I am unable to deliver the liturgy for even a single ceremony of worship. This can only partly be blamed on my education, which was styled so strongly after Western curricula that I can conjugate French verbs but not Sanskrit ones. Mostly, it is my own fault — my own deficit of interest, my own coolness towards faith and religion.
- Thus, under my uncaring stewardship, a certain continuity has snapped, and a vast body of inherited knowledge has suddenly and irreversibly decayed. This was the price of progress and modernity, I reasoned at first. Only later did I come to think that the loss of cultural knowledge of any kind is always a tragedy. And yet, contained snugly within these same traditions were elements of blind superstition, of Hinduism’s invidious caste system, and of rigid and impractical ritual. These practices, born of less enlightened times, are unquestionably better off dead. So what, then, is the proper amount of remorse for me to feel here?
- I struggle still with this slippery question, just as I struggled to grasp the details of my grandfather’s life. For all the mystery in which he cloaked himself, I think now that I also failed simply to be curious enough about him. Perhaps it suited me, the grandson, to consign him to oblivion: the world had changed so much since his time, I must have reckoned subconsciously in my boyhood, that there was no need to understand his era, and therefore no need to understand him. I was committing, of course, the arch sin of the historically ignorant. Only after I grew older, when my life had built its own slim back-story, did I begin to see how vitally the present is infected by the past, and how much of my grandfather lived on in me. This is how we negotiate our past: we fumble with it, discard it, pick it up again, trying to see what new things it can tell us about ourselves, always hoping that it is never too late to learn.
- Sub-title: "My grandfather was a legend – a holy vagabond whose life spanned India’s 20th century. Why did I let him elude me?"
- For the full text, see Aeon: Subramanian - The wanderer
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- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)