Friday, 28 April 2017

Kashmir in search of itself

Is Kashmir University coming of age?

Amidst almost all the bad news about Kashmir from September 2014 till date, we have now one good news that should be celebrated by every Kashmiri. It is opening up of Philosophy, Anthropology and Archeology departments in Kashmir University, thanks to the efforts of Vice Chancellor, Dean Academics (who has especially been keen to see Philosophy department and thus has earned, as his innings is ending, life time achievement award in the eyes of posterity), Academic Council and the State. This is an effort towards Kashmir’s self discovery. There have been reasons to deplore academic environment of Kashmir University due to absence of watchdog called critical reason that Philosophy institutionalizes forcing more bright students to contemplate choosing other universities outside the State and now, one important disqualification, has been overcome. Humanities have especially been in bad shape due to exile of the Queen called Philosophy. One can now hope for KU Renaissance. How important some department/institution can be may be known by recalling epochal contribution of  Aristotle’s Academy and of Bayt-al-Hikmah in the history of Western and Islamic civilizations. How long have great souls of Kashmir who engineered small but significant change in the course of intellectual, aesthetic and spiritual history of mankind by development of philosophical schools in Kashmir been turning in their graves to see their flame being lit elsewhere but not in their own land. Now the spirit that breathed fire in Reshis/Sufis has been kindled again. Now we can understand symbolism of names of main gates in KU. Sir Syed is critical reason, Rumi illumined reason.
      What a misfortune it has been that one couldn’t meet good scholars of the most important minds of human intellectual history – who mostly happen to be philosopher-mystics – (from Plato to Nagarjuna to Sankara to Abhinavgupta to Ibn Sina to Aquinas to Lao Tzu) in a land that defines itself as Shardapaeth/Pir-Waer/land of Saraswati. Isn’t it scandalous that Kashmiris including its university professors have been denied access to the best that is produced in the modern intellectual world in a number of disciplines due to non-availability of intellectual and human spaces that philosophy nurtures? Now, we have reasons to believe, we might be able to script our own history. Now I see no reason why KU can’t realize the aim of being amongst the best in the subcontinent in few years and truly come of age. Philosophy requires and fosters excellence on both moral and intellectual planes. Being a professor in love of wisdom is the highest station available to man and visiting a university full of such professors is like visiting a great shrine populated by a host of abdals and qutbs. We owe almost all great things in the modern world to the faculty of critical reason that philosophers from Descartes to Bacon to Kant to Hume to Leibnitz to Spinoza to Wittgenstein to Whitehead to Popper helped to fructify.
      Those who don’t think can’t be called human and those who don’t know/live something of philosophy which is the art of thinking can’t be said to be properly human (one recalls Mehjoor “yem shakli mat mendchaywtem, zaen hond mes chawtem”). We are all born philosophers and display it by our love of knowing about the world, curiosity, wonder, questioning and it is schools or life’s other sorrows that make us unlearn it. Religions are there to invite us to use our intelligence in the proper manner, least influenced by passions/egoic constructions. Art lives or does philosophy be abolishing the distance between knowing and being. The syllabus of philosophy is life in all its hues – its depths and heights, smiles and tears, hopes and dreams, grandeur and misery, sin and redemption. We have no choice but to engage with philosophy though not necessarily in its very technical or formal sense but as love of wisdom. Wisdom needs no formal schooling. We are born to love it. Since with or without proper orientation to philosophy, we are condemned to build or invoke some form of philosophizing in routine life.  It has been well said that the choice is not to take or leave philosophy but choose between good and bad philosophy. One can’t say “I have no philosophy” as that is itself a (bad?) philosophy. An unexamined life isn’t worth living, said Socrates. The first question that will be asked on the Judgment Day concerns what we did with our lives. And if we have only lived life mechanically, or just vegetated, bred, ate and slept and never cared to examine life, we are lost. The tragedy is that so far without due attention to philosophy in our academic institutions and schools at every level, we have, generally speaking, failed in the primary task of life. Now great writers apply philosophy in their works and if one reads great novels or poetry, the task is done. Every craftsman in love with one’s craft to an extent that it gives meaning to his life has been heeding the call  to wisdom. Philosophy seeks to transform us and gives us new eyes, expands our breast/heart and opens it up to the life giving Mystery/ Other/love/beauty/joy/wonder that give meaning to our lives. Knowledge is virtue, said Socrates and if we have been cultivating virtues we have been true to our love for wisdom which is  philosophy. Philosophy paves way or helps in the mission of the Prophet who called us to wisdom (hikmah) and tazkiya so that we achieve ihsan – life of perfection or beauty. Traditional Philosophers/sages/artists all are allies in the Prophetic mission. Scripture yields its deepest treasures only when critical reason functions and intellect is actualized and here the authorities are philosophers/mystics/sages. To be a good human being, a good Muslim, a good scientist one needs philosophy in some sense. It is to the singular credit of philosophers that faith has been salvaged from challenges from different quarters. One recalls five sages from five traditions – Nagarjuna, Sankara, Aquinas, Ghazzali and Maimonides. For the Greeks it is sages like Phythagoras, Socrates and Plato that have stood for the light of wisdom borrowed from the niche of prophecy. And in the fog of the modern world it is the “modern sages” like Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Jaspers, Whitehead and Levinas who bear, in their own ways, dimly though, witness to the truth and wisdom that Prophets stood for.
      Another discipline that has been missing in our universities is the discipline that studies man qua man– other disciplines study things around man or parts of man. The question “Who is a Kashmiri?” is first of all an anthropological question that hasn’t been truly researched. The problem of Kashmiri character is also best approached in anthropological terms. Anthropology may better explain leadership failure/betrayal in Kashmir. It is anthropology that can better analyze our love for good food, hospitality, cracking jokes, calling names, suspecting almost everything, love of more contemplative or jnanic pursuits and more or less mystical orientation and thus resistance to violent fundamentalism and shallow legalism. Without reading the likes of Frazer and Levi Strauss we can’t make sense of Kashmir’s myths and folklore. Anthropology will help explain, among many other things, Kashmir’s “lax” religiosity, appropriation of the realm of unreason (embodied in “mad,” majzoob, chars-i-moyt etc.), half understood local narratives and the distrust of politics and especially the politics of exclusion. So far we have been mostly only speculating regarding such issues. Now we will have proper science.

Facing the key challenge of modernity is impossible without knowing anthropology across cultures. Anthropologcal approach to religion and culture can’t be ignored in any comprehensive study of them.
      All nations and cultures search for their roots and it is archeology that is considered an important tool in this connection. Destinies of nations are linked and criss-cross historically. Without a professional appreciation of Kashmir’s stone age legacy and later periods and serious attempt to unearth dozens of secrets that only archeology can unravel, our understanding of Kashmir and Kashmiri mind and especially its sacred geography will be limited.
      Squeezed space for philosophy is linked with various problems in our part of the world. Drug culture, corruption, betrayal of one’s party/parents/friends, gluttony, laziness, lack of work culture, obsession with big houses and lavish parties, family feuds, domestic violence, oppression of women, sectarianism, fundamentalism, promotion of mediocrity, largely irrelevant ritualistic seminar culture, stinking paper manufacturing industry, lobbying for leg pulling of colleagues – all are fundamentally problems of ignorance or spiritual myopia or intelligence being denied its proper role.

Every university teacher must take some course in philosophy or at least take a look at introductory works in philosophy. If nothing, certain selections from philosophers – one might begin with googling “goodreads” – are required if one doesn’t want to die an ignoramus despite one’s specialized knowledge which is knowing more and more about less and less and missing life in the very process. No discipline in arts and social sciences or humanities can be mastered without familiarity with philosophy. Philosophy gives depth and breadth besides inspiring love for the subject one studies. One shouldn’t offer funeral prayers of a teacher who didn’t care about philosophy as he has been guilty of a suicide (of mind/heart). On the gates of all academic institutions should be written: No entry without love of wisdom. It is life’s task to perfect this love of wisdom – and it doesn’t come to the proud, complacent and lazy people – but its fruit is the love of subject, of students, of learning and teaching, of every life form, of the cosmos, of the Real and consequent serenity of spirit that is a gift from Heaven.

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