Friday, December 17, 2010

Decline of Saheb

Way back in my school days, we would sometimes receive a visitor from outside India. That vast entire land outside India was foreign to me, a land where white people live, maybe except Africa. A few selected students from our class would be in charge of receiving the guest from foreign and discussing with him/her in pucca English. I still remember the awe I had when hearing the English and seeing a foreigner in front of us. Perhaps it was centuries of British occupation or perhaps it was the education system we went through, English and foreigner was always something grand to us. It left us with word like Saheb, the name reserved for our kids when they either have a fair skin or commands everyone strongly in the household. It got entrenched in our memories with whiteness creams, dress protocols and with the grand progress of western nations in terms of material world.

This fascination of foreign and Saheb continues well in our mindset until, we visit a foreign land ourselves and mingle with the people there.

It took me not long to find that we are also at least as smart as many foreign people and that they have also an equally big respect for the eastern nations especially, when it comes to philosophy and spirituality. They are also people like us, they have their ambitions and limitations. On a funnier note, many white people work hard during summers to get the brown skin we possess, albeit temporarily.

But, with all that knowledge, when people with foreign degree and experience return to India - they often find themselves to be treated like a brown-skinned Saheb. An english-speaking, know-all guy with proper etiquette. Ditto in government enterprises where the suit-clad top brass is referred as Saheb or Bura Saheb (big boss) and the subsidiaries, wearing Indian dress, are Babus.

Thankfully, this situation is changing due to the emergence of communication. A vendor from Arizona is looking up towards the skills from Ranaghat. An appreciation from western world is not more relevant than an appreciation from eastern world. There are of course, anomalies like Amir Khan's Oscar-craze. I hope these will evaporate with time as it should be in a flat world.

There also remains a serious question about the difference between modernization and westernization. I believe it had to do a lot with the lack of models we had in front of us. Europe and USA reflected modern nations like no other. Japan, China progressed but, we have little cultural exchange with them perhaps due to language barrier. Ironically, we hardly looked into the beautiful model we had. Ancient India. That is not without reason. We, the children of Macaulay, bear the legacy of the western education at the expense of our own heritage. The summary evaluation of Macaulay at British parliament before introducing English to Indians, went like the following.

"I have no knowledge of either Sanscrit or Arabic. But I have done what I could to form a correct estimate of their value. I have read translations of the most celebrated Arabic and Sanscrit works. I have conversed, both here and at home, with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. I am quite ready to take the oriental learning at the valuation of the orientalists themselves. I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. The intrinsic superiority of the Western literature is indeed fully admitted by those members of the committee who support the oriental plan of education." (link to full text)

I do not know from whom Macaulay sought opinion about Indian literature but, this shows that even at that time, there were people, blissfully unaware of our cultural heritage. I believe, every Indian must strive to discover the past of our nation. It had material riches beyond the capacity of any modern world tycoon. It has the depth of philosophical thinking that is still feeding the world with theses. These individual awareness of our heritage will surely continue to give us a strong footing as a nation collectively.

I learned from Wikipedia that Sahib also means honor or grace, as in Sikhism. The word originated from Arabic, where it literally means owner.


  1. yep, we have a natural attraction about sahib. I think it´s the effect of British colonialism in India, at that period their main contemplation was how to dominate Indian people....for this they used some policies in our education, in cultural, also in philosophy & much more...
    so, any how they wanted to captivate our mind on them.....still now it´s effected on Indian, though the situation has been changed enough but we don´t forget that white charm...

  2. Just read it now! I think a very good way of understanding of mentality of two countries is to see how two young person from two different countries think, one from say India, and another from West, say UK. In general, the young man (more true in case of women) has one thing stand out -- self-respect, which results in self-confidence, and hence courage to back his(her) own ideas in real practice. I think this praiseworthy attitude of uncompromising self-respect stems from the fact 'they' have been independent for many more years compared to us. 'They' have hardly followed others over the last 1000 yrs, whatever they have invented/developed, they did it on their own. An independent country allows its young people to think & act independently, that slowly over the generation develops this inherent attitude of self-respect. And that I believe makes a huge difference between working for National Semiconductor, Google, Microsoft, and backing himself(herself) to create another Google or Apple!

    But its changing, and thats bound to happen as we have been independent for more than 50years, and as you said mingling with 'them', learning that we are not that different! That confidence, and independent thought-process is being passed to the next generation, who will certainly have more opportunity & character to not only think but act independently as well.

  3. Why we ogle at white skinned people...this is the answer. Thanks for explaining the difference between westernization and modernization in such an excellent way...
    And as far as the Indian material riches is concerned, the Vedas and Upanisads is the answer,we have got to know very little out of it.

  4. wow, quite interesting to see the same concepts of "modernization" vs "westernization", obedience vs independency, imitation vs originality... In my language (Turkish), sahip means owner/owning. I had heard its usage as master in Indian movies.

    Until 18th century Ottoman Empire was bossing around in Mediterranean Sea and East Europe. But then "suddenly" there were enormous number of inventions, new technology and then the last centuries of the empire we think of it as semi-colonial under the control of Europeans.

    And the love and respect towards the "white". Right now these days there is some local discussion about "white Turks" which are said to be rich, well educated (secular/western) elites of the society. But now more religious, traditional, maybe less educated people are starting to take control. Claiming they hold on to traditional values in a healthier way.

    it seems to me that the former maybe could use more of traditional values but the latter fail to grasp the soul of secular science which powered (still powers) the invention age. like in many other things, some kind of balance is needed.

    regards from Ankara.

  5. and here goes another news for perspective :

  6. Here's another thought:
    Racism and colonialism were symmetrically related in Africa under white rule. Both drew a line between the "superior" white man and the "inferior" black man.
    In one word, its a "Social Darwinism" .