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A Dehumanized Environment


Keshav Malik

This is my third day in Rampur, a small hill town in north India. It is the prototype of similar hill towns all along the Himalayan foothills. Like others, I too at times go to the Mall, but oftener to the more secluded forest roads. The fatigue of the Indian plains that has accumulated these many years comes unstuck, here where nothing much happens except when the football of the schoolchildren overshoots into the khud. Down in the dusty town where I live I can rarely hear the sounds of the earth. Oh, I know you can hear them even there, but the effort that one has to make is prohibitive. Nature, or what to me are the distinct individual voices, of running water, the clear ring of a single human voice, the fall of a stone, a footfall on the gravel, and so many little things, these cannot be heard, just as the colours on the mountain tops, the contrast of the bottle-green with the azure, the lights shimmering in the valley, these and many other things get lost in the cry of humanity and the crazy traffic down below.

But now at last I can hear the running water in the pipe, and the bansee down in the pines. The water’s sound changes ever so often: at first it is like an engine letting out steam at a wayside station at night; at other moments it climbs purposefully, at still others it compares well with the crickets’ sound beyond the fence.

It is night, and very quiet outside. As my eye lifts I see a moth by the wooden ceiling, flitting about in abandon. Yes, the plains, in psychic terms, are far away.

And now remember too, with me, the sounds from, and the shapes of, the mountains during the day: then, as I recline in my armchair, my eyes open up at the thickly wooded hill parallel with the eyes. I watch the lights change every so often; there are the greens, the dark shadows and an eagle or two circling above, round and round. The clouds are bathed in the autumn sun. I hear the cows’ bells tinkle on the slopes of the hill to my side. The fern-covered oaks near the fence, these I stare at for minutes on end; I notice each curve of each branch and the movement of the leaves in the lightest of breezes. I watch the clouds’ surgical white float by and the grass by the old threshold stir. I breathe a deep sigh of relief. And why?

This is a escape, a necessary one, I tell myself. Where I live and work, down in the big mega-town in the plains, the silhouette of personality is lost. I have no clear idea what the Indian was like before the machines came, before the British came, before the Moghuls came. But perhaps this Indian’s was a well-defined world with its particular harmonies, its peculiar refinements, with little of the ugliness and hopelessness that invests such a large part of life at least in my big town on the northern plain. Oh yes, there are good things: there are electric light and the flush system, two admittedly very important acquirements, which can extend one’s day and conceal a tell-tale object of organic origin. I’m all for these and for all the other inventions. But no, these are only good means, now unwittingly made out as ends. What I assert is that civilization, its gadgets, its assets, serve better if they help serve one fundamental primary end. The end has not changed, it has not changed since the pastoral age with all the vicissitudes of complex civilizations and cultures. This all-important end is the flavour man gives to his life, or to put it better, the consumption of beauty. This end is quite unrelated to the accumulation of the skills of civilization. This end is achieved through a certain simplicity, open eyes and ears, and the receptivity of the skin’s surface to the phenomena of nature. What I say is that nature, rather our receptive attitude to nature, has been lost in the plethora of our skills; we have brains, but those of shopkeepers, accountants, clerks, so we can see nothing save with a view to profit and loss. What has happened, may I ask? Was it always like this? I do not know.

But too many people, and it is only from them that one hazards generalizations, and especially those like myself of the middle strata, are lost in the worship of means; there is such grasping for things, for power, that no time, no possibility, is left for the human in the machine. How then can we have peace? For we do not listen but are driven, and so the internecine conflicts between competing individuals wanting the same object, an object perennially in short supply. This is a strange fate for a culture that prided itself on deep meditation. But perhaps it is not so strange, for the meditation in question has itself for long been put at the service of salvation, that is, as a means to the furtherance of the defensive or offensive self. This is the way I look at it. Most of present-day religion, a good deal of what is called our current spirituality, serve non-contemplative goals. All we have ended up with is a sort of ancestor worship. The perpetuation of the line, a natural enough end, appears to have become the chief goal. It may not even be that, but merely each for himself or herself. Meditation or yoga, or whatever, to men already cast in this form, becomes no more than a technology, a magical means of emotional control over others. But there is no inner tranquillity.

A growing will to power, yes, but a rapid loss of the sense of beauty — and therefore no peace.


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