Of independence and enlightenment
L. SIDDHARTHA ORIE Monday, September 2 2013
Third World, banana republics seem to have regarded Independence from a bread-and-butter perspective; and of having its own anthem and flag as the costume-jewelry, window-dressing accessories necessary to complete the constitutional image of post colonialism.
The right to have their own army, seek out the IMF, and have a seat at the UN general assembly, endowed the neo kings, emperors and maharajas and other megalomaniacs with the paraphernalia required to satisfy their delusions of grandeur.
What these new saw-dust Caesars and Napoleons missed was that their former colonial masters dumped them all (for spite) into a fig boat called the third world. Sink or float was the unspoken advice issued to them.
Most of them believed that acquiring Rolls Royces, national airlines and the building of mini skyscrapers would have immediately lifted them from ground zero to usher them into the inner sanctum of first world power and glory.
Attaining first world status is not ust via a country’s infrastructural development — as say the nouveau riche, drug-dealing billionaire is not ever to have his name mentioned in the same breath with Shakespeare, Einstein or Gandhi — but it requires the appreciation of these legends by ordinary people that to fine tune one’s mind in their tradition is the bread-and-butter-food-for-thought-ingredients towards a more sublime life.
We are celebrating our 51st year as an independent nation and at every anniversary the question we wonder about is how are we doing? Those who are obsessed with cars might argue that because every inch of our roadways is jam-packed with vehicles at any given time of the day, we must be as First world as, say, Japan, not bothering that because of it road rage has now overtaken our sense of decency and that even the cutest, seemingly quite sophisticated female of the species (one who actually knows you and only seconds before smiled and waved to you) would run you up (reflexively, It has to be?) to deny your attempt to merge into the crawling traffic that is really going nowhere.
And when you are on the freeway and you screech to a halt for some stranger to cross, not only do they take their own sweet time to do so, not only do they fail to acknowledge your kind gesture with a nod a wave or a lip-sync thank you, but when they actually reward you with a menacing watch, you know how far in the gutter we still are.
But those are the small things that minus from our ascendancy up the pecking order of the world’s hierarchy. One notices that it is the elderly of our pre-independence era, who say please and thanks in reciprocation to acts of kindness towards them. What this means is that post independence has seen us regress to a Conan-type level of barbarianism that reeks of a dog-eat-dog primitive world.
Who is to blame for this period of our descent into cultural regression, obnoxiousness? All former colonies should have sought from their colonial masters not independence but renaissance, re-birth.
This is not just a case of semantics, but it is how the two concepts affect a people’s psychology. Independence seems to come inherent with bravura, machismo, defiance. Renaissance, re-birth, pulsates with the cry of the newborn to be lifted up, to be spoon-fed to adulthood by those who know better instead of by those who think so because they are in charge. England of the Elizabethan era is also known as the English Renaissance — which produced Shakespeare, Marlowe, Spenser, Thomas Moore, Francis Bacon and John Milton etc.
While on attaining independence we pursued straight bread-and-butter issues forgetting the biblical instruction that man should not live by bread alone but by the Holy Spirit. In terms of the Renaissance, the Holy Spirit meant the pursuit of intangibles - those disciplines which become tangibles through divine inspiration — ie the arts, music, poetry, literature.
Elizabeth 1 was said to be a great patron of the arts and that is why the Renaissance flourished during her reign. Example, the first English theatre was created under her rule, as was an Elizabethan prayer book.
As we acknowledge Elizabeth’s role in making England one of the great powers of the world, one must remember that courtesy Shakespeare, the man voted the greatest individual of the last millennium, exists England’s greatest claim to fame.
No industrialists, no King nor Queen rivals him. Point is, while we pursue the development of industrial estates and the like, a country must invest in those finer things that feed the mind and refine the man, the society.
Thus, for every Point Lisas Industrial Estate, we need a Point Lisas-type Intellectual Estate. We need to recognise the value of our artists in setting the ambience for a more enlightened society.