Which is why the battle for freedom and the battle for progress must be a sensible and a rational one; it can’t be a trivial battle where we fling coloured underwear at maniacs. We must learn from the Nehruvians of the 40s and 50s who were incredibly westernised, but deeply rooted; many of whom were rich but lived modest tasteful lives. They drank, they smoked and they romanced, yet they were discreet and embodied a tradition of Indian elitism that was rooted in both excellence as well as tradition. C. Rajagopalachari was considered a scholar in three languages-Sanskrit, Tamil and English. Rukmini Devi Arundale may have been deeply influenced by the Theosophical Movement but dedicated her life to reviving Indian dance and music by founding the Kalakshetra academy. Sarojini Naidu’s favourite poet was Shelley but she took pride in the fact that she could speak Urdu, Telegu and Bengali. However westernized their minds, India’s nationalist elite could not be accused of living in a cocoon of extravagant privilege or having their pleasure spots guarded by armed commandos.
This is from the wonderful Sagarika Ghose. The key takeaway from the article is that if you want to drink, smoke or romance, you must be rich enough to maintain a public life that is separate from your private one. You must be able to “embody” Indianness, regardless of how Western your soul is. If you want to romance, you must be able to afford a discreet room in a 5-star hotel. If you are a middle class couple and all you can afford is a smooch in the public park, then a Western lifestyle is not for you. If you are a woman who wants to drink, you must be rich enough to move to South Bombay. You have no business doing so in a pub in Mangalore and destroying the rich cultural heritage of that place. India’s nationalist elite had westernized minds and they were, in fact living in a cocoon of extravagant privilege that enabled them to maintain two different lifestyles. But they could not be accused of it, because they embodied a tradition of Indian elitism that was rooted in both excellence as well as tradition.
Elsewhere in the article, Ghose explains that other people following her lifestyle would not amount to forward movement for India. I understand exactly what she is saying. Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? My own roots are in Mangalore. If the people of Mangalore start living like me, I will not be able to put my son in touch with his roots, which is why we must all strongly oppose it when the women of Mangalore start drinking in pubs.