Nightmares and Daydreams

By Dr Mukul Pai Raiturkar
28 January 2015 12:50 IST

'India will succeed if it's not splintered on religious lines.' said US President Barack Obama in his final speech in India. A very scientific assessment of the situation, I would say.

Islands of sanity in a sea of fanaticism. That is all that remains of India of the daydreams of many.And it took us six decades to get to this state where nothing matters more than pure, disinterested self introspection and evaluation. Time has come for each Indian to stop doing his or her daily chore for a while and ponder on a scenario that may not affect his daily bread in the short run, but can definitely affect the quality of life of his children and grand children.

How did we come to this ? Why is it that in today's so called free and democratic India one has to be "saffron" to climb the ladder of Government hierarchy -- whether "elected" hierarchy or "appointed" hierarchy. Anyone with free, intelligent thought is instantly looked down upon as a threat to the saffron bastion. Sacred have become the divisive forces of religion, caste, gender discrimination and nationalism.

Yes. nationalism, I say, is divisive. As divisive as religion and caste, if not more so. Nationalist fervor, like religious fervor, can obliterate moral distinctions altogether. India's identity to itself and to rest of the world is its moral thought. India is the originator of moral thought of humanity. If moral distinctions are obliterated, India will be obliterated.

What is the reason of this state of affairs ? To speak in the term of Matthew Arnold, it is "Philistinism".

Philistinism of the Indian middle class.

Philistinism describes the social attitude of anti intellectualism that undervalues art, beauty, spirituality and secular, intellectual thought.


A philistine is a person of smugly narrow mentality and of a conventional morality whose materialistic tastes and views indicate an indifference to, and in many cases, an absence of moral, cultural and aesthetic values. This is in fact the Webster's Dictionary definition of the word philistine.

So, while the philistines of the Indian middle class romance with their new found wealth, the poor grapple to grasp the changing morality of the Indian "civilization".

The daydream of the philistine has become the nightmare of secular, intellectual thought of this land.

According to Matthew Arnold, philistinism is a major cause of social unrest even in the developed societies. Then imagine what havoc it can wreak in a society like India with all its inequities -- social and economic !

Another reason for the nightmare of the "thinking class" of India is the advent of specialization. In every field, people are getting more and more specialized. May it be in medicine, technology or any other branch of work. A specialist is never completely civilized. He is too preoccupied with what he has learnt, with the preaching and practice of what he has learnt and with the social standing he has attained as a result of that learning. Such a philistine, lacking the sense of values, expects academic education to show him the way to wealth and power. Such academic education becomes the antithesis of the liberal education that life provides.

Academic or practical education may help the philistine to acquire wealth and power, but to acquire happiness and enjoy life, liberal education is needed. This is something that he does not grasp.  I therefore contend that constant introspection or inward awareness and questioning on the part of the specialist is the only way to prevent getting trapped in philistine ideation.

Reason has become scarce among the daydreaming middle class of India. The way of reason may not always be smooth, but it is the one thing that allows man to get rid of prudery that is behavior of getting too easily shocked or offended, superstition, false shame and the sense of sin. It is only the reasonable man that can enjoy the best states of mind. It is only the reasonable man who can enjoy the pleasures of life to the fullest. Enjoying the pleasures of life is very important. It leads to freedom from fearing such pleasures. It leads to freedom from the "shame" of enjoying such pleasures. A free man, in this sense, is a civilized man. And if such a civilized man decides not to indulge in a pleasure of life it is not because the pleasure is bad but because its consequences are. Such a civilized man never gives a bad name to a pleasure of life by calling it corruption or shameful or sin or anti national. Concepts like sin, shame, corruption are concepts of the philistinic mind. Such concepts ultimately lead to restlessness of the individual and unrest in the society.


Let me illustrate my above contention with a simple example. No truly civilized man will think it is wrong to drink or that drinking is a sin or a shame. But all civilized people will despise a chronic drunkard. This is not because he drinks but because of the consequences of chronic alcoholism. Such a sot soon becomes incapable of good states of mind and therefore becomes a nuisance and a liability to the society.

In today's India, philistinism is being systematically promoted by cult indoctrinated people and their leaders. All cults and religious organizations( which are also cults), by their very nature, are anti intellectual or philistinic. Anti intellectual thought is incompatible with freedom and democracy. It is incompatible with unity in diversity. It is incompatible with the idea of India.

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Dr Mukul Pai Raiturkar

Dr Mukul R Pai Raiturkar is a consultant pediatrician & neonatologist practicing in Margao. He is the co-convener of Ami Goenkar, an organisation of secular young Goans working towards a novel approach to religious-political issues of Goa. Son of veteran Goan freedom fighter Mr Ravindranath Pai Raiturkar, he exudes unshakable faith in a liberal, secular and free spirited democracy of India.

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