Saturday, October 13, 2007

The guru-sishya paradigm

Soon after the announcement that the Nobel Peace prize had been awarded (jointly) to Mr Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) headed by Mr. R.K.Pachauri, the latter called the former and is reported to have said, “ This is Pachy. I am so delighted and so privileged to have the IPCC share the peace award with you…. I will be your follower, you will be my leader”.

Depending on one’s viewpoint, that statement can be described as admirably courteous, politically correct or disgustingly obsequious. We won’t get into that.

But, do Indians, by nature, look for a guru in any sphere of activity? In an essay titled. “Authority and Identity in India”, T.G.Vaidyanathan, an English professor and regular columnist in The Hindu in the 80s and 90s, showed that in the Indian ethos, the guru-sishya relationship is the paradigm of all relationships. Whether it is the relationship of a devotee to his creator ( Thyagaraja comes to mind), of a servant to his master, of a friend to friend, of lover to beloved, of parents to children, and even of enemies to each other.

Few principles, he says, are exempt from the influence of the guru principle, including games. Patrons of cricket know the colossal influence that the famous Ranjitsinhji wielded on his nephew Prince Duleepsinhji. P.T.Usha’s career burgeoned under the watchful eye of her guru, Nambiar. How much of the Guru principle can operate even in the field of literature can be gauged by the fact that Mulk Raj Anand, one of the pioneers in the field alongside R.K.Narayan and one with Marxist leanings, took the first draft of his novel, Untouchable, to Gandhi at Sabarmati Ashram. Anand desired the approval of his guru.

In fact, to be Indian means to respect authority- all the way down the line. Indians who have flocked to cities since the 50s and the 60s, have suffered disorientation that has created an unprecedented existential dilemma. Most Indians can deal with this crisis and bolster their weakened, wounded identity only by taking recourse to surrogate or suprapersonal figures that serve as modern gurus, of whom the perfect exemplar is the Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi.

It is not surprising, concluded Vaidyanthan, that for many Indians insecurity is nearly always a consequence of the withdrawal of external authority but never of its presence.

So, if even in his most glorious moment, Pachauri instinctively seeks a leader, let us not be judgmental. After all, he is an Indian first and a scientist next. He could not have escaped the clutches of the guru-sishya paradigm..


Anonymous said...

It could be a guru-shisya or deity-devotee relationship that gives succour to the Indian mind. Americans may call it obsequiosness, to Indians it will be termed as veneration for greatness. Look at the temples for all living/human gods (including the one for Khushboo)to be assured that this phenomenon is alive and kicking.

A Motley Tunic said...

This is the reason Rajnikanth is 'thalaivaa'.

Usha said...

Even if the guru refuses to accept you as shishya we are not deterred - we make clay models and treat them as Gurus.

Raj said...

sankar, agreed. Of course, I didn't get into whether it was right or wrong. Just that the paradigm exists.

sowmya, good example.

usha, example?

Usha said...