Saturday, 1 September 2007

Kabir and Industrial Society

Kabir and Industrial Society

by Remigius de Souza

Kabir says (circa 1500):

Sun sinks, day fades,
dusk has fallen.
From screwing too many lovers,
the whore is barren.

(The Bijak of Kabir, Trans: Linda Hess and Sukhdev Singh, Motilal Baneasidas,Delhi., p. 94)
An event in 1950s

“Why the prostitutes don’t have children?” A boy asked his grandmother.
“On a pathway there is no grass, because many people walk on it.” She replied.

A college mate, who came from a small town nearby Mumbai, told us this event. The old woman, like Kabir, was perhaps even illiterate. But that’s Indian mind, not that of the industrial society.

An event in 1960s

“Institutes are prostitutes.” — Louis Kahn
The late Louis Kahn, architect, often visited to his project, “Indian Institute of Management that was under construction in Ahmedabad. Once during his lecture at the National Design Institute, he said, ‘Institutes are prostitutes’. P. S. Rajan, architect and one of our contemporaries, at once stood up and asked, ‘Then why do you teach at Penn?’ Kahn was very angry at the question or perhaps the interruption.

We are now accustomed to the intrusion of various institutions in our personal and collective autonomy that we never question.

An event in 1990s

“Take a baby off the shelf.”
We were at the faculty’s common room during a break. The talk among the professors was drifting from practice to getting married to career to ‘have or not to have babies’… Then some one said “Take a baby off the shelf”, as if picking up a toy. These women and men belong to elite profession, most of them had travelled abroad or educated in the US or Europe.

Qualitatively there is no difference between the statements of the old women and Kabir.
The reference point is “culture”. After five hundred years, or even after fifty years, what Kabir says, or what the old woman said, is still relevant. Though Kabir refers to a woman who is a prostitute, in the present global circumstances it applies to the industrial society, wherever it exists. The pimps and prostitution are now prevalent in almost all occupations and trades, even though under different garbs, in the industrial society.

There are no prostitutes and prostitution in many communities, particularly adivasis – the tribal. Prostitution is a feature of civilised societies. Now the elite identify the prostitutes as “sex-workers”, thus legitimise the flesh trade. This, of course, is shameless hypocrisy of the high society or the elite class.

As I quote Kabir, who is illiterate, above, it is obligatory on my part to mention the translator. How far am I enlightened by Kabir? It is a matter of speculation?

Sowing seeds of hybrid culture

The industrial society behaves as if it has no posterity.
Hybrid seeds of food grains came later. By then industrialization had successfully bred the hybrid culture through the assembly lines of mass education to produce mass society in the First World, now known as the ‘virtual global village’. The result: hybrid culture, like hybrid seeds, has no second/third generation, no posterity, no community.

With technological advances when sex-change, genetic modification, surrogates father/mother, clones etc are possible, sex and gender loose their sheen, of course, in the industrial societies. What remains is the colonisation of the weaker and poor classes and communities by the egocentric elite a sheer greed for possession and power, by giving charities.

Take for example. The farmers in India have been committing suicides for some time and elsewhere peasants are displaces for the development projects. The only thing the government can do is to distribute cash dole, but no sharing the skills in finance and technologies relevant to them.

No wonder, for the likes of the Gandhi, the Schumacher… there are no takers on the assembly lines, no germination either. They rest in archives, except for the ‘quotes’ in the discourses, a part of the past such as, socialism, radical humanism, modern, post-modern, Art Nouveau, construction, deconstruction… but no action. As is this article.

Kabir refers her not to a woman but to the whole society, with its many loves, is out to destroy the insects, the “other” people, ethnic communities and aborigines, biodiversity on one side and talk-talk-talk about “climate change”, which might lead to the devices “to control power and add to the profit” further. It is leaving the Earth barren.

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