At first glance, nothing could seem more pragmatic and orderly than the British Raj in India. Yet, it seems to me, this great Empire, too, like its predecessors on Indian soil, came to be haunted by the fear that the world it had created, the panoply it had erected, was as but a bubble, an illusion, a vanity and that at any moment, for a reason no Western mind could grasp, the native population seized as it were by a Panic, a convulsion produced by a Great God whose very name was unknown to the Orientalist scholar, might simply forget the British, cease to see the railways and roads and courts and offices they had created and thus render British rule a nullity.
What then? Well, for a while, things might go on with a semblance of 'normalcy'. Perhaps the army would be called in from the cantonment to guard the civil lines. Morale might be kept up with polo matches. But, for how long? Sooner of later, the 'women and children' question would be mooted. Safer to evacuate them to the ports, surely? But. perhaps, the men had better accompany the women. A skeleton staff could be left behind. Except that word 'skeleton' somehow strikes the wrong note. Let no more be said about it.
Thus begins the great evacuation. The British have all to themselves- the roads they have built, the bridges they have constructed, even an occasional train on the tracks they have laid- in the distance can be seen great crowds of natives marching to some unknown purpose along routes long lost to the memory of man.
Ultimately the British have to evacuate because the Western mind can not live with what it can not understand, what would destroy it if understood.
The great Civilizations of the past, on Indian soil, had concluded that the Universe was an illusion, more empty than a dream. True, it was a world where hard work paid off, rationality paid off, character building and integrity paid off- but since the fruit- be it wealth, or honor or sensual pleasure- was empty perhaps the tree, nay the forest!, too was unreal.
True, there was another tree, an upside down tree whose roots were in Heaven and whose leaves were the Vedas. But that tree, too, Lord Krishna says, must be cut down with the axe of non-attachment.
For the British, however, it was not the fruit which was unreal, but the entire rationalist project of understanding the East, of schooling it to emulate the West, which lacked roots in Indian soil.
The Olympian, or Himalayan, heights from which the Viceroy ruled were as clouds that could, by a strong wind, be utterly swept away. Great Pan might again rule the people and of Pan's purposes nothing can be known save by the contagion of panic- which destroys all knowledge, all painstakingly garnered wisdom- everything wiped clean.
Churchill and Kipling and Saki, all of whom left India, never to return, while still young, could believe in the solidity and permanence of what the British had achieved. True, for Kipling, it was the Indian Gods who had grudgingly granted this permission. But it was a different story for older men- E.M Foster in Passage to India- or Viceroy Wavell telling Churchill that there was now nothing for it but a general evacuation- there were no 'ring-leaders' to be hunted down, no secret societies to be disrupted, India had simply become ungovernable.
Was the British Raj's mayavadi nightmare a nightmare and nothing more? Surely, they built better than they knew? Solid Nineteenth virtues characterize the administration of Dr. Manmohan Singh. In the year 2010, Parliament looks set to pass a bill granting 33% reservation of seats for Women. It seems the 'Oriental mind' has, indeed, changed.
But does no danger still lurk? We have gotten used to being patted down and having our briefcase X rayed getting on the Metro, entering Government offices, and- even more intrusive checks going to see 'My name is Khan' at the Cinema.
Jihadis and Naxals we know about. But is there something bigger, as yet nameless, out there against which even x rays and metal detectors are powerless?
Might everything, even now, be suddenly swept away?
Or has it already happened? And how would we come to know? Which channel would carry the news sandwiched between advertisements for Kaspersky internet security and the cute lass from the Madhya Pradesh tourist board?
The older mayavadi philosophy still pointed to a Reality that was not illusion- a Reality to be found in the forest, on the mountain peak, in the desert. But, British mayavaad points to no alternative buy evacuation, emigration, abandonment and oblivion.
Once again, the question arises- has it already happened? Is ours a virtual reality bubble whose magic irridescence is a manic protest against its own impermanence?
Sustainability was the mantra of the handloom clad eco-feminist of a decade ago- but that rhetoric proved unsustainable.
Reality, perhaps should be the new watchword- "Is it real? Can it be real? If so, how?"
Mayavaadi philosophy points to a Reality freer of contradictions than that within which effort yields futility- British mayaavad, on the other hand, offers no such consolation.
This Panic then we must abide, that rational organization building its paths into the darkness, prods into fretful wakefulness a God whose nature is nightmare.