I object to pseudo-intellectuals who have distorted the tradition and culture of the country,” said Karnataka health minister Ramachandra Gowda at the opening of Bangalore’s National Gallery of Modern Art last week. “Modern art should not be used to distort the heritage and culture. This is because of the perverted thinking of a few self-proclaimed intellectuals,” he added. Now I am second to none in my unbounded admiration of our country’s ministers. After all they couldn’t have gotten to where they are without knowing what they are talking about. However, in this case, much as I was ready to believe the great man, I had a problem. I did not know what exactly to believe.
What did the minister suggest? If the problem here is “pseudo-intellectuals” distorting “tradition and culture”, does that mean that he does not, and hence we should not, object to genuine intellectuals who may have distorted tradition and culture? Or does he not object to pseudo-intellectuals who do not distort tradition and culture? What happens if an intellectual is not self-proclaimed but can be certifiably other-proclaimed: Can we then allow him or her to distort tradition and culture?
I was really worried that I didn’t know the answers: I wanted to join my minister in the objections, but I just wasn’t able to. Of course, being an ordinary person, I have no easy access to my rulers. Nor did I dare to take the risk of seeking an appointment with him because of a simple fear: What if I turned out to be a pseudo-intellectual? The minister may decide, then, to throw me in jail. I decided to be safe and ask my friend, the closest to a self-proclaimed intellectual that I know.
Meeting me at an art gallery, he said: “A pseudo-intellectual? You want to know what he meant by that? That is easy. That creature is one which distorts tradition and culture.” I was clever for once and immediately pounced on him, “How do I know when it is distorted?” My friend, taking the unlit pseudo-cigarette out of his mouth, disdainfully remarked, “To know what is distorted you should be a pseudo-intellectual. Otherwise you cannot possibly comprehend, let alone commit, such a heinous crime as distorting tradition and culture.”
It dawned horrifyingly upon me: If only pseudo-intellectuals can know about distorting tradition and culture, then is the minister a pseudo-intellectual? Such a sacrilegious thought had to be banished immediately from my consciousness, else my consciousness would be banished from me.
I changed the subject. “You know, I’m interested in the whole ‘pseudo’ movement; for instance, pseudo-seculars. If there is such a thing as a pseudo-secular, do you think there can then be pseudo-religious people, like pseudo-Hindu or pseudo-Muslim?” I asked innocently. “Then in the coming elections, since one political party calls the other pseudo-secular, can the alleged pseudo-secular party call the other pseudo-Hindu?”
My friend, who by then had given up on the pseudo-cigarette and lit a real one, blew some smoke up my eyes. He said: “That is impossible. You can only be a Hindu or non-Hindu. You cannot be a pseudo-Hindu since Hinduism does not practise prosyletization.” I thought I’d got him now. I casually remarked, “Oh, then those who were converted from Hinduism to other religions are pseudo-other-religious, because you cannot not be a Hindu once you have been one, but since you are not officially a Hindu any more, you are the closest to a pseudo-Hindu.”
My friend turned red, “By such thoughts you are distorting the pseudo-culture and pseudo-tradition.” He turned around at the door and delivered his fatal blow: “You know what you are? You are a pseudo-human being.”
I have never bought modern art in my entire life. It is because I believe in my minister and do not want to contribute to the distortion of the tradition and culture of my beloved country. Anyone who says that it is because I can’t afford the rotten art is surely an invidious pseudo-intellectual. The minister will surely agree.
G.K. Jayaram is the founder of the Bangalore-based Institute of Leadership and Institutional Development. Comments are welcome at email@example.com