Whose Bhavana are we talking about?

Some time back, I received a forward of a video made by Kasbah Digital. It was an open letter written to a symbolic person Bhavana (Sentiment) . The letter was signed “we, the people of India”. The video had been shared several times and I guess received fair degree of appreciation from many people. For those, who may not have seen it, I am giving below the content of this open letter. The video had  powerful visuals, which I can not reproduce here, but the script will give the broad idea.

Dear Bhavana,

How are you? I got a bit worried when I heard about you. I don’t know what you look like, how old you are or where you stay. But from whatever I have seen,read and heard about you, I feel you are a little child. A child who is getting younger as time passes, which is just not right. I am hoping through this letter, I will be able to communicate with you better.

At times you get irritated by someone eating beef. Or when someone says “we need to correct something in this country”. At times somebody raising questions bothers you. It seems you have blisters all over your body,whichever side you turn ,it bothers you. You must be feeling, everyone wants to trouble you-especially the artistic kind. But let me tell you, it is not true. Let me tell you that from reading the news and my day to day experience, I know that you have a lot of well-wishers. And that too in a large number-who defend you by the strongest argument “Bharat Mata ki Jai” They are people who can die or kill for you without thinking twice. Its a different story that we haven’t heard of someone giving their life. But news about their killing people keeps coming.

Bhavana(Sentiments) you are very lucky. Otherwise in times like these,it is very difficult to find such people. It is because of you that a lawyer at lower or high court gets his life. It is because of you that people who do not see eye to eye, speak in the same tone. It is because of you  that people recognise that they belong to a specific caste, region or religion. Your contribution towards the unity and greatness which we see written behind trucks is incomparable. I would appreciate if you shift your focus to some other issues as well.- Farmer suicides, Floods, Fire, Vyapam, Scams, Politics and the issues in it. There are a lot of issues that you are not aware of, for once focus on them as well. When you find time, just think about the fact that when so much was happening in the country, where were you hiding?

First wipe your tears.Stop abusing at every situation and come to terms with ground reality. I have just one small request. Be strong,read self-help books, practice yoga,some meditation, and if possible,change your company In the words of Baba Ramadev “It will happen if you do it.So do it.”

I would love to hear from you. Until then take care of yourself.

Your well-wishers,

We, the people of India.

On first reading(listening and watching to be more precise) I found this video quite harmless, sensible and too an extent even evocative. But I also experienced some unease and tried to figure out what is it that I felt uneasy about. I realised that I experienced some identification with Bhavana and felt touched when the letter mentioned the blisters on Bhavana’s body.However right thereafter I felt a huge sense of let down.Not merely was there no attempt to understand the nature of these blisters (let alone healing them) there was a complete denial of any responsibility in the matter with a curt “This is not so”. It seemed the message was that the blisters are a mere figment of Bhavana’s imagination and hence she needs to be counselled to forget about them. I was reminded of a famous couplet of Ghalib- “Ye kahan ki dosti hai, ke bane hein dost nase; koi charasaaz hota, koi ghamgusaar hota ( What does one do with friends, who start preaching at you, Wish they could heal or at the very least be with me in my pain)

As I  thought some more, the anomaly of the letter became even more stark. Here was a letter supposedly written by “people of India” and yet the writers had no idea who Bhavana is- what she looks like, how old she is and where she lives. They have only “heard” about her. Clearly their stance is of “outsiders”-well meaning but outsiders nevertheless. The all important question is that if Bhavana is a stranger to “people of India”, then to who does she belong? Are people who identify with Bhavana not Indians ? Are the makers of the video suggesting that distancing oneself from Bhavana is a precondition to qualify as “people of India”

It became clear to me that my unease had nothing to do with the content of the message (in fact, I agreed with most of it). Also, I felt reasonably certain that the intent of the makers was honourable. My unease stemmed from this stance of an “outsider”- who critiques, comments and advises but has no sense of identification. Then why call your self “people of India”. Simply say that while we may be Indians, we regard ourselves as separate and distinct from the rest of our countrymen.

This is a phenomenon I have encountered quite often. Several of my friends and colleagues (who I respect a great deal) often talk about India and Indian-ness in a way that one talks about some other people rather than about oneself. As though India and Indian-ness is something “out there” and not a part of them. In my limited experience with people from other countries/cultures, I rarely experience this. When they talk about their country or culture, you find them including themselves in it. However with a certain category of Indians, it is rarely the case. Their location remains primarily of “outsiders” who are commenting and critiquing but in a way that it excludes them. This is not restricted to only “arm-chair critics” but also includes people who are actively engaged in social action. Undoubtedly, these activists do considerable service to their respective clientele but their essential stance remains that of an “outsider”

The saddest consequence of  this distancing and hence disowning of Bhavana by many of us, is that she is hijacked by a host of vested interests who manipulate and exploit her and in the name of “looking after”, leave her even more wounded. If we really want her to heal and become stronger then we first need to own her up, accept her as an integral part of ourselves and stop treating her as a millstone around our neck. Standing apart and preaching will only add to her wounds. Simply put, we need to acknowledge that Bhavana is not some one “out there”- She resides within each one of us and is crying to be treated with some compassion and empathy. It is another matter that many of us have chosen to turn away from her.











8 thoughts on “Whose Bhavana are we talking about?

  1. Dear Ashok,

    Thanks for this write up. Your anguish and difficulty with the outsider, the preacher, the advisor rings a bell, and I resonate with Bhavana – who is ‘talked to’ by these well meaning and self serving detached commentators and outsiders. At the same time, I also identify with the outsiders, and there are times I find it difficult to see the Bhavana in me. What resonates strongly is that activists and social workers themselves disown the Bhavanas they work with, wish to defend and protect, in them, or at least parts of them that does not fit with their/our designs of empowerment/ ‘upliftment’.

    As Bhavana, I have frequently felt that no one can really fathom what I feel, how deeply I feel, how numb I am, how scared I am. I think this feeling is true and untrue. Some people have, at certain points of time, seen the blisters, helped me balm them, stayed awake all night with me when I have not been able to sleep writhing in pain. And sometimes, I have been alone, without anyone at sight, with my wounds, feeling lost and abandoned. I have learnt from my experiences and also of other Bhavanas that both are true, that I am alone in my grief, and also that I have been touched at the most vulnerable of moments.

    I find me taking refuge in the outsider, the spectator, the commentator, when I have found it very hard to own up the ‘social and political dominant group’ wherein I am a minority and powerless. In recent times, this dominant group comes sometimes in the garb of Togadias or his vahinis of the imbecile, the Modi bhakts from corporate India who believe that the growing inequalities and deforestation for economic growth is collateral damage of india shining and even the righteous activist who believe nothing or no one has better interests in mind when it comes to ‘their constituencies’. My experience of the outsider in me in a helpless, lonely and an old man in anguish who feels that I wish either I had some energy and power in me to be part of a change, or that I wish I could just leave.

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  2. Thank you for your poignant sharing. Felt you were articulating my own feelings and mental state especially the last part about feeling old and lonely. As far as the “outsider” bit goes, I think that too is very valuable. As you know, simultaneity of intra-spective and extra-spective is very precious for me. The difficulty arises when one ONLY takes the outside location.


  3. Hi Ashok and Roop, I read your respective writings several times and asked myself what am i missing out on and perhaps not resonating with. This of course has sent me into my patterns of looking at the original text and what it leaves me with.

    The term – the thinking Indian – came resoundingly to me. It is a role that is not necessarily that of the outsider but that of the rationalist who has great ambivalence or even suspicion of most emotions – especially shared sentiments confused with needless sentimentality. The question that i am struck with is – what is this thinking Indian all about?

    To me the thinking Indian seems to be disdainful of all raw feelings – maybe it is the new caste system, with some echoes of the original. Also in the thinking Indian’s mindset – there is no collective or community – we are all thinking individuals – who can at best connect with other thinking individuals and have great dialogue, arguments or civilised dissent (perhaps the way i write this blog)

    The suspicion towards Bhavana or needless sentimentality – often leveraged and manipulated by those in power imply that bhavana belongs to the powerless – another class identity parameter. the question that i am left with is what is my stance towards the thinking Indian – i think i love this rascal. ready to give gyana and pontificate, the thinking Indian fights his / her own battles with guile and tact, but is actually a coward – unwilling to shed blood or counter the powerful at their own games.

    In today’s times, maybe bhavana is being seen as another part of trash or OLXed goodies granted to the needy, where the thinker experiences a sudden promotion in the social order. So i disagree with the outsider – i think the letter is a clever slap by a certain class of indians onto others who have no voice but blisters.


    1. Dear Gagan, I like the term “Thinking Indian” but see no difference in the way you have described him/her and what I have called an outsider- a certain disdain towards raw feelings,no sense of collectivity or community,who can only connect with other “thinking individuals”,preoccupied with own survival(what you have called cowardly), and unwilling to stake anything(what you call shedding blood). How is this description any different than that of an outsider. The only difference as I see it is that I am willing to give him/her the benefit of doubt and consider him/ her as a well-meaning person who is trying to Help from an outside location, whereas you see the act as a clever slap unto those who have no voice but only blisters. The main reason I am giving this benefit of doubt is my belief that this is the only way that he/she knows of how to deal with his/her own blisters. In the ultimate analysis every outsider is essentially an outsider to him/herself.


      1. Dear Ashok – I associate the Outsider with limited or negligible power and hence my discomfiture with the term. In fact the people mentioned by you and Roop are people with considerable power – though not omnipotent. So while there are things that echo what you say – perhaps what i would like think is that cohorts of ‘outsiders’ are the powerful elite. The thinking Indian is not as weak as he or she would like to think; but definitely ascribes a superiority and status to self – thereby making self central and not really an outsider.

        I think the other aspect of the thinking indian is around the pure-polluted/ contaminated polarity – the thinking Indian by denying sentimentality / Bhavana in my understanding stakes an ownership of purity and renders bhavana as pollution unless directed at what the thinking man wishes to work with.

        The term ‘thinking Indian’ was associated by the Argumentative Indian coined by Sen 🙂 – though these are not the same.


      2. Clearly we are using the term “outsider” very differently. I am using it for someone who feels disconnected/alienated- from others, from community and even from one’s own feelings. I agree with the point that you make about power and powerlessness. In fact, the tragedy is that “outsiders” have been disproportionately powerful in our country, which enables them to exercise their power without shedding any blood, as you put it.


  4. The thinking Indian to me, as Amartya Sen, or even Satyajit Ray had used while making Ganashatru (adapted from Ibsen’s enemy of the people), as I understand it, is rational, objective, scientific in his worldview, is at pains with the irrational, the gullible, religiosity that is based on myth and superstition, culture-customs that deny modernity. His education has often been western, and he is at pains with large scale illiteracy in India, and the illiterates who are manipulated by gurus of different kinds. He is urban, socio-culturally middle class and, isolated – with no community that he is part of, only a few ‘like-minded friends’.

    The outsider is someone who, in some sense, an outlier, who is not a contrarian, but who feels alienated to the dominant culture, norms, beliefs and practices, world-views. The Indian-Outsider is one who looks at India as a spectator, lamenting at the dysfunctionalities in context and its people, culture, practices with disdain and contempt, who obviously sees himself/herself outside of it. While s/he speaks of casteism, feudalism or even superstition, or dogmatic religiosity, he does not see it in himself – and feels disconnected with the context and the dominant thinking/ practice. As an outsider, he may have a detached view of things

    The two are similar in many ways, but not always. For example: I agree when you say that the outsider is not always powerless in India. While he may find himself in the minority, s/he is often privileged and advantaged, and wields political and economic power. The thinking Indian, however, I think feels powerless, because nothing – in his experience of what happens around in India at the grassroots or at the helms of power – socially, culturally, politically, is modern and rational. He may ascribe himself a superior status because he believes that being ‘scientific’ in the western lexicon is equal to progress, modernity and civilisation.

    However, I think the two terms have differences in flavour – because they are references to two different paradigms.

    I agree with you that, for the most part, the thinking Indian feels defeated. I think he seeks refuge in comfort/ security through migration to a ‘developed/ modern country’, takes refuge in academia or a job that allows him to be contrarian, is ultimately concerned with protecting his job, family, security, etc. He has no resources of dealing with raw feelings.


    1. I am a little confused about what we are talking about. The protagonist of Ganashatru is not the Thinking Indian as described by you and Gagan.He is quite willing to take on both the powerful elite as also collective myths and irrationalities. He is modern and scientific yes, but I am not sure you can call him western or disdainful of collective sentiment. I think many of our biases and prejudices are at play here. I can certainly say that about myself. For instance, my admiration for the protagonist of Ganashatru and my aversion for Sen’s brand of Argumentative Indian blocks me from seeing them as identical, though I can see some similarities between the two.


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