7 Aug 2011

Dr Alok Pandey's Letter to Ramchandra Guha

I am sure you appreciate that any freedom comes with a certain sense of responsibility and it is precisely because some do not understand this simple equation that there arises need of law to regulate and prevent the misuse of such a freedom. A writer is no exception. (extract)

Dear Mr Ramachandra Guha

This is with reference to your article on Book Bans and writer's freedom etc.

I am sure you appreciate that any freedom comes with a certain sense of responsibility and it is precisely because some do not understand this simple equation that there arises need of law to regulate and prevent the misuse of such a freedom. A writer is no exception. To write irresponsibly, without the least regard for truth and the least sensitivity to the feelings of others naturally invites a reaction and a retaliation. Whether this reaction is in the form of an intellectual rebuttal or legal seeking for justice or even a silent prayer for a Divine intervention will depend upon the temperament of persons. Quite naturally no one can decide what is the right way to seek such a redressal of a real or even a perceived wrong. You may think that an intellectual rebuttal is best, others may think a legal intervention is better. To each his own freedom and his way of life!

You miss another point. The author of TLOSA, like all persons and things, does not hang in isolation to the rest of the world in some abstract space of intellectual speculation. Its influence far exceeds the place of its birth and continues to exercise its effect upon men and events much after the author is dead and gone. Has the effect of Hitler's speeches vanished after his departure even though much has been written and spoken against his diabolic doctrines? Does the effect of pornography become less just because there are books on healthy living and the practice of brahmacharya? People continue to drink and die of alcohol abuse even though enough antidotes are available in the market. I am not suggesting drastic draconian laws to regulate what is harmful but am simply pointing out the plain fact that writing an intellectual rebuttal does not necessarily negate the possibility of acting through other means including legal processes. A book ban is simply one way of communicating to people or at least sensitising them to the fact that the product that they are going to purchase is false and pretentitious, harmful and damaging to the psyche. Whether people still read it or not is upto them. People indulge in crude literature even though it is banned, or find ways and means to drown themselves in crude country liquor and die on the roadside drunk and devastated though it is not available in the open market. Well they have made their choice, but at least the state and responsible sections of the society have done their bit.

Let me also remind you that the author of TLOSA is neither a historian nor a psychologist or a poet and literary critic even though he has written a number of books. There are any number of popular paperbacks on health in the market that dish out all kinds of true and false information. That does not make these authors professional physicians. And if a book claims that it can replace professional views on the subject, then it will invite a stricture from the medical fraternity. The life of Sri Aurobindo is a subject far more complex since it transcends the human formula of life. It needs a rare sensitivity, a deep understanding, a sympathy and sincere engagement with the way of yoga to even attempt something of this sort. To treat it as an object of intellectual scrutiny for whetting the appetites of the psychoanalysts and the cruder kind of humanity is to do a great injustice not only to the subject but to the coming generations. After all there are few ideals in life worth following, few icons that are worth emulating. If these too are disfigured and defiled by thought's profane touch, then little will be left for man worth living and striving for, little that will inspire and invite him to exceed himself. The Ashram that stands in the name of its sole founder Sri Aurobindo stands precisely for such an ideal and it has grown organically, spontaneously, naturally around the divine personae of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Of course there is no compulsion for anyone to accept the ideal and the Master and the author of TLOSA is absolutely free to carry on his research in the department of history and psychoanalysis anywhere in the world or, better still, be a free-lance writer. But is it not more than a bit inconsistent or rather outright hypocritical that he continues to indulge in this Master-bashing over the decades while continuing to be part of the community and feeding upon its rations? The Ashram like many charitable institutions of the kind sustains itself largely through donations received from devotees and disciples who feel happy parting something of what they earn as their offering to the community that has evolved around the faith and practice of Yoga to which they subscribe. To strike at the very center and core of this faith and practice is to cut off not only the branch on which one is seated but the very roots of the tree that feeds and nourishes. If the author was alone it would not matter but his life and fate is interlinked with many others and if he is so keen to be part of this community should he not be sensitive to the feelings of the community and respect their faith and allegiance, his personal beliefs and ideologies (two sides of the same coin) notwithstanding. It is not a question of fragility of an icon or of faith. It is a question of simple common sense and decency when you are part of a living commune anywhere in the world. And if you keep on transgressing this unseen line of decency, then why complain of the backlash and cry foul over it?

Of course this is more of a general response to some of the issues that you have raised such as the justification of book banning or taking to the courts etc. This is more to show you the other side of the coin in case you have missed it. My personal reactions are another matter. Also, much can be and has been written about the fraudulent scholarship and the utter lack of objectivity, the abuse of his own office and position and the misuse of others’ trust in him. All that is however already available on the Net and the various websites dedicated to this purpose and you are invited to check it out on your own. You are also entitled to your opinion about the book and your reactions to it. But you cannot force the same on others and the community at large. Others too have an equal right to their reaction and to judge their reactions as fragility of faith, etc, is to pass unwarranted comments on what may not be going on in people's minds. That would be an illegitimate transgression of our boundaries. Being a good historian and writer (I assume you are one though I have not read anything of your writing) does not automatically entitle you to pass unsolicited comments on any and every subject. The motives that make men act belongs to the discipline of psychology just as a fuller understanding of the human condition and the life of a great yogi belongs to the domain of yogic psychology, and that is best left to more qualified persons in the field.

I hope that answers some of your arguments against the reactions to the book.

Wishing you well in your pursuit of truth,

Dr Alok Pandey

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