Saturday, January 13, 2007

More on our India simulation game


I've just gotten back from the second day of our historical simulation of India on the Eve of Independence.

At this point it's 1945. Hardline Muslims have walked out of our talks at Simla. We, Gandhi and Congress, demanded that the Brits quit India immediately and called a referendum. We won but Muslims and our two representatives from the princely states, from Hyderabad and Kasmir voted against us, and there is rioting in the streets. My aim is to avoid partition, but it doesn't look like we can achieve that unless we provide written assurances that Muslims will get, at the very least, proportional representation in the form of seats in the national assembly guaranteed to Muslims. Dr. Ambedkar, respresenting the majority of Untouchables also demands representation. We, Gandhi, can't give in on that one (but I H. E. think it would be a good idea).

For me, out of character, this has been a frustrating and enlightening experience, and one that's very important for me given both my current project on multiculturalism and my ongoing discussion with my best friend, who's been in Kenya for the past 14 years, about colonialism.

Off the cuff, it seems to me that it's a mistake to regard "colonialism" as single kind of phenomenon that can be forced into the same template wherever it occurs. In subsaharan Africa, nation states that were part of a technologically advanced, literate culture took over territories that were, for the most part, backward, tribal and illiterate. This was like the Roman conquest of Gaul and other barbarian kingdoms and chiefdoms in norther Europe. In India, two of the world's high civilizations duked it out. This was like the Moorish conquest of Spain. So in some respects it's harder to see what should have happened in India.

It's easy to see, for me at least, what should happen in Africa. The barbarians in Gaul were Romanized and became French. They didn't become Romans, or Italians, but like the barbarians in other parts of northern Europe they were grafted into the high civilization of the Mediterranean--first into the Roman Empire, then into Christendom--and eventually became equal partners, each nation playing variations on a common theme. It's not so clear what should have happened in Spain. This is all terribly big picture and naive, but why not have some fun?

It's almost disconcerting to get out of character after playing the Game for two days. But if I, H.E. were myself in India, I wouldn't have wanted the British out. I would have wanted further evolution toward dominion status. By the time of independence, India was already largely independent at the local and provincial level. I would simply have wanted more representation at every level of the Indian Civil Service, the obliteration of all color lines, and special rights and accommodations for religious minorities and Untouchables, guaranteed and enforced by the British. I would also have wanted the power to determine economic policies, tariffs and the like, to promote industrialization and see to it that the British couldn't keep India underdeveloped, as a source of raw materials. I would certainly have been utterly opposed to Gandhi's idiotic vision of an India of 10,000 self-sufficient rural villages maintained by agriculture and cottage industries.

I suppose I react violently and adversely to that vision because I grew up in the Counterculture and am reacting to the unimaginative, romantic take on 10,000 villages supported by organic farming and crafts. Unimaginative because very few people who enthused about this program could imagine what daily life in the long term was like in such villages or comparable communal arrangements. It's lots of fun to rough it for a week or two, camp out with your nice REI gear--with your cell phone, access to showers on the camp grounds and your camper for quick trips to town if you get the munchies or if you need tampax. It's fun to grow a garden and make salad from your own fresh veg, to do some basket-weaving, throw a pot or two and even get into spinning. That's as far as Romantics can see--they can't imagine what it would be like week after week, year after year, for your entire life to grow your own food, spin your own yarn, make your own baskets, without any means of communication with the world outside, without transportation, without doctors, dentists or Western medicine and without any chance of getting out.

Romantics are unimaginative: they effuse over the natural beauty of rural settings, the crafts, the coming of age ceremonies and potlatches, but can't imagine what it would be like to live your entire life without traveling more than 20 miles from your native village--if that--without having access to a virtually unlimited supply of books and paper, without meeting people you haven't known all your life, walking through a city, eating fruit out of season or listening to Bach

1 comment:

santha said...

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