September 14, 2000
Ideas such as nationalism and globalization are not simply
newly coined, neatly defined categories that can be classified as the products
of a specific time. Nationalism is not only a post-Enlightenment construct based
on the premise of the modern nation-state as a unifying political institution.
It is far more complex and yes, even ancient. Who can say what social and political
infrastructures maintained the longevity, architectural consistency, and economic
viability of the Indus Valley Civilization (Indus/Saraswati Civilization) for
dozens of centuries? Were not the concepts of Jambudvipa or Bharatvarsh part
of the world-view of the Mauryas, the Guptas, or other historic Rajas of the
Rastra? Scholars in this post-postmodern world can scarcely agree what constitutes
a state or a nation, nor, in fact, what salient characteristics should be employed
in the construction of terms such as nationalism, nationalist, nationhood, nation-state,
sub-nationals, etc. The phrase "nationalism problem" means something
quite opposite in India than it does in neighboring Pakistan, where it refers
to the disintegration of the state by sub-national ethnic secessionists in Sindh,
NWFP, or Balouchistan. In India, leftist intellectuals complain about the "nationalism
problem" in reference to the rise of what they consider to be too much
patriotic and nationalistic fervor in contemporary Indian society.
Globalization, as well, didn't emerged suddenly at the end of the twentieth century as a threat to cultural diversity imposed by the market-driven forces of hegemonic modernity. Globalizing pressures have always been with us. It comes as no surprise that there is nothing new under the sun. Globalization has come around before. The Indian Subcontinent has been the recipient and dispenser of international influences long before the Internet and stock exchanges tied us all together in an intellectual, perhaps pseudo-intellectual, economic, often ruthlessly greedy, net or mesh, otherwise known in Sanskrit as a jaal. The idea of a World Wide Web is a modern metaphor for the inherent interconnectedness of all sentient beings, the wheels of Samsara continue to turn. It is no wonder that India is in-step with info-technology; the symbols are not alien.
Along with globalization, the spread of popular culture and language has been around for as long as there has been recorded history. Two thousand years ago, the Senate in Rome passed an ordinance forbidding senators from wearing togas made from Indian cloth - a legal effort to slow the flow of gold coins pouring out of Roman coffers into India. A whole New World was discovered because of the European desire for Indian products, particularly spices, scents, and fabrics. One of India's lasting contributions to Western life was the export of a thick cotton cloth known as "Dungaree" which, in the sixteenth century was sold near the Dongarii Fort in Bombay. Portuguese and Genoan sailors used this durable blue broad cloth, dyed with indigo, for their bellbottom sailing pants. Thus, blue jeans, originating in India, were widely adopted by farmers, cowboys, working-class men, teen-agers, suburban moms; almost everyone in the West has at least one pair of blue jeans. They are the hallmark of American fashion and in vogue across the world.
Traditions and languages reach into one another and exchange
words and concepts. The word shampoo is borrowed directly from Hindi
into English, taken from chhaapnaa, to press, or massage. . .. "Chhaapuu?"
"Shall I rub?" When the British first came to India in the sixteenth
century, they were not accustomed to the daily rituals of personal hygiene.
Europeans during that period rarely took baths, hence their need for perfumes
from India. Current European belief held that bathing weakened the body, inviting
bad "humors". However, in India a morning bath is an integral part
of Hindu ritual. The British brought this cleanliness habit, which was initially
called a craze, to the West as well as the word shampoo meaning something you
rub or press into your hair. The idea that "Cleanliness is next to Godliness,"
which inspired a Christian revivalist movement in early nineteenth century USA,
grew out of the revolution in bathing rituals that the Europeans learned from
their contact with Hindus.
There are numerous words so common in English that no one remembers they actually came from Hindi. In the following etymology tale there are thirteen Hindi words: "Wearing a khaki hat, his face half covered by a red bandana, the thug took the loot to his cushy bungalow in the jungle. After drinking rum punch he put on silk pajamas and fell asleep on a cot. He thought he was the big cheese, until the juggernaut of the law caught up with that social pariah." Three of these borrowed words are particularly interesting: "bandana" a red or blue head scarf with small white patterns modeled after "bandhana kapra" or tie-dyed cloth; "cushy," as in cushy job, taken from "khushii" meaning pleasure or happiness; and, "cheese," as in the big cheese, a slang expression used sarcastically to refer to an important person, from the common Hindi word, "chiiz", meaning thing. If your boss thinks he or she is the big cheese, (barii chiiz), it has nothing to do with panir or any other milk product, in Hindi or English. As well, there are, of course, many words that have been borrowed from English into Hindi such as bus, tank, torch, taxi, bomb, pencil, cyber café, etc.
Linguists have known that many English words originated from Sanskrit and/or Hindi, as the following examples illustrate:
In English the prefix a negates the word to which it is attached, ex: atypical, amoral, asymmetrical. In Hindi and Sanskrit an 'a' preceding the word also changes it into its opposite such as the word amar which means deathless or immortal, (a+mar= no+death).
In addition to the words mentioned above, here is a list of other words that were borrowed directly from Hindi into English during the time of the British Raj:
Words are still being borrowed from Hindi and Sanskrit into English. During the decade of the sixties, many spiritual and philosophical ideas from India became popular in the West and some related terms have come into common usage. For example:
India has impacted and interacted with the Occidental world since before recorded history. Western influences have reciprocated. This civilizational relationship of cultural exchanges continues. To those who fear that India will one day be subsumed by decadent Western values, I would venture to say it is Indian values that are poised to take over the world during the coming century. In todays modern societies, stressed-out corporate executives of multi-national corporations take weekend seminars to learn relaxation and mind control. For large sums of money they are instructed in variations of yogic and meditative practices adapted from Indian traditions, such as Vipassana. The vocabulary describing the techniques taught at these expensive retreats is not Sanskrit; terms and concepts are modernized and repackaged--as best-selling Deepak Chopra has done so well. Hindu and Buddhist ideas have been incorporated into the worldviews of a staggering number of people living in Western countries. Sometimes these ideas may become warped, and their spiritual context diffused through the resulting synthesis arising from contact with the cult of the individual; or they may be filtered through a cosmic, romantic New Age lens. Nonetheless, many of the concepts and worldviews articulated by the rishis and the saints of India have become pervasive in the discourse of humanistic thought and intertwined with modern secular society in need of an influx of non-dogmatic spiritual values. India, the USA and all the nations of the world are always in a state of flux. . . if not, they are doomed, rigidity marks the end of viable, sustainable culture. Or, like the Taliban, they introduce enforced codified retrograde adaptations in an effort to arrest the changing times.
There are religious conservatives in the USA who are scared of the ubiquitous Asian values entering Western society. Concerned educators who try to teach techniques of nonviolence and conflict resolution to school children, and propose methods to help students relax their bodies, calm their minds, and focus their attention, are accused of promoting vague, pluralistic, non Christian, or relativistic values. There is a fear among certain groups that Western (read Christian) values are being threatened by the onslaught of Asian (read Hindu/Buddhist) values. What goes around comes around, as civilizations spin into each other.