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Index of Culture

Tuesday November 30 2004 08:36 IST

By Karmayogi

Hospitality to strangers is seen as an index of culture of a community. Friendliness of a population is always valued by tourists from other countries. Landing in a foreign land, one is struck by the orderliness that catches the eye and the cleanliness that pleases.

Cleanliness is physical, hospitality is vital, trustworthiness - honesty - is mental. Kindliness to children, respect to the elderly, tenderness to women are hallmarks of high civilisation. If these are the only marks of a nations progress, one can easily complete the whole scale on either side and it will make evaluation of a community possible.

These are, as we know, high watermarks of being civilised and their opposites which any one of us knows too well.

When you go to another country or when a foreigner visits our country, one finds both - the right and wrong - in a veritable mixture and one knows not what to make out of it. At last, we come to the known conclusion that each nation has its bright as well as dark points and it is not for us to judge them.

How would we want to be judged by a foreigner? Should he value us by the glory of our past which lies buried in us? Or are we to be evaluated by the corruption, chaos, inefficiency, and filth on the streets that catch his eye? It has always been a difficult question and even now, it remains so.

But these are two extremes which do disclose truths that cannot be suppressed. We hear of a stranger knocking at a door asking for a rare gift and the host, after initial reserve, offers it to him. The boy ends up in that house for the next two years enjoying that gift. The fact that one man can so act speaks of the rare height to which that culture can sometimes reach.

We hear of a bridegroom getting married several times under varying aliases for the monetary benefit. It shows the other extreme that culture can go. Sometimes we hear, In our place, the worst of scoundrels will not do it. That shows the lowest extreme of that culture.

Again, In all my community there is not a single man who can even consider doing this generous act, even in his dream. That is the upper limit. To fix these extremes is not difficult, but the undulating variations that are odd mixtures in between need not merely a study but a scale of values governed by a theory of values.

Man rises from being a physical hulk to a spiritual sage, but whatever the height he rises to, a fall from there is always possible. During that fall, he is capable of touching a nadir. During the ascent, he certainly reaches a zenith.

How they mix and exist at a given moment is seen by the poet or a writer of insight who loves to portray them as they are. It is not for him to construct a scale of values. It is left to a professor of a university. Though it is complex, it is not utterly impossible.
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