The Self as a Sociological Technique

By Dr. K. L. Chowdhury,

Reconciliation is a burning theme between peoples and nations at war with each other because they realize at some point of time the great price humanity has to pay to keep hostilities alive. They seek different ways and means of effecting reconciliation – people to people exchange at social and cultural levels, faith-based meetings and seminars, dialogues and diplomacy. But scant attention has been paid to the self as a technique in reconciliation.

Let us try to understand self before we consider it as a sociological technique which, to my understanding, means its application in a skilful and artistic execution for achieving a purpose – here the application to human society and to the mutual relation of human beings or classes of human society with their varied and disparate regional, ethnic, racial, religious, economic and ideological identities?

For self does not brook an easy definition. It is not just a person’s individuality, his identity, and his ego. Nor is it merely an expression of the material and the spiritual, the secular and the religious, the mundane and the sublime nature of man. Nor merely his moral, emotional, spiritual and intellectual being, nor just the totality of his thoughts, perceptions and feelings and the core of his consciousness. It is his very essence, his soul or Atman. And there is not only the individual self but also and the Universal self or the Brahman.

Says the Katha Upanishad: ‘Beyond the senses there is the object, beyond the object there is the mind, beyond the mind there is the intellect and the Great Self is beyond the intellect.’

If self is in the very nature of Brahman or cosmos, infinite and beyond the scope of human imagination how do we endeavor to define its parameters as a sociological technique? For, isn’t there also the unconscious and the subconscious self, the moral and the immoral self, the base and the sublime self, the good and the bad self etc., all existing together in the same self in different hues and proportions. No doubt then that the self can at once be sociologically dangerous, divisive and devastating on the one hand or unifying, re-constructive and elevating on the other.

We very well know of fanatics, fascists, religious bigots and demagogues using the brutal power of the self to promote their doctrines of hatred and intolerance and to brainwash large populations and incite them to despicable acts of violence against fellow humans, individually and collectively. We also know of the divine power of the self in sages, saints and savants that has, down the ages, molded and modulated human thought and behavior towards the promotion of healthy and vibrant society, towards a fellow feeling of love and friendship, and towards peace and amity between peoples and nations.

To grasp the infinite scope of this topic one has to look at the history of mankind. Since the subject is so vast I have decided to touch on one small aspect of my own creative self as a sociologic technique, in our own State of Jammu and Kashmir which is reeling under a prolonged spell of terrorism for the last 16 years that caused the forcible expulsion of nearly the whole population of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley of Kashmir. The theme is reconciliation.

I will turn to three poems from my book, ‘Of Gods, Men and Militants’, published in the year 2000, and discuss how I have used them as a sociological technique to effect reconciliation. The first poem is

Twin Shame

They tore me
from the lap of my motherland,
threw me out of my home,
usurped my estate
and forced me into exile,
because I belonged
to a faith different from theirs.
Now perchance when they meet me
I cannot fathom why,
much as I would like to greet them
like in the days gone by,
neither can I accost them
nor look them straight in the eye.
I melt with the twin shame
of the victim
who failed to defend himself
and of the tormentors
who felt no remorse
at the betrayal of the trust
that was reposed in them.

Here the self has given expression to existential questions in a multi-religious and multi-cultural society under the onslaught of forces unleashed to effect its fragmentation and a metamorphosis into a monolithic religious structure. This is being enforced through violence – physical, psychological and spiritual – leading to death, devastation and displacement. In such a colossal tragedy there are the perpetrators and there are the victims. The reconciliatory technique in the poem is achieved through the all-pervading sense of remorse at this tragedy – sans anger, sans hatred, sans any feeling of revenge. When the victim meets his tormentors he wants to greet them in the old spirit of bonhomie but can not make eye contact. He wallows in shame, his own shame at not being able to defend himself and also the shame on behalf of the culprits who have betrayed the faith of the victim. But there is possibly more to this twin shame than the words speak. It is the shame arising from an unexpressed guilt for the failure of the victim to stem the tide of hatred that led to his expulsion from his homeland. The reconciliatory theme is reinforced through this self-introspection.

The second poem takes the social technique of reconciliation further through the recreation of common identities between estranged people.

What Unites Us?

Why does it need bloodshed
to bring us together,
separated that we are
like the banks of a river,
the river of blood
that is our own,
fed by streams of blood
flowing down the centuries?
Our blood.

Blood is our bond,
it is our heritage,
we are the blood.
Yet we drift apart like the banks,
and the enemy strikes
and spills more blood,
our blood.

We fight apart,
but wounded we fall together
in the same battlefield.
We die together,
or if we survive
we lie together
in the same ward.
Maimed, we recover
only to limp back
to our separate paths,
waiting for another tragedy
to unite us again.

Here the word blood is being used as a social technique to weave a thread of commonality between two estranged sections of society. It is the blood of both that flows down the river in a common journey towards doom and destruction. . It is the congealed blood of frozen relations, the cold blood of cold hatred, the bad blood of ill feeling, the hot blood of anger. It yet is the warm blood of warm friendship that was and that is possible again. The two banks of a river may never meet like two ideologies that are at the root of all the turmoil, they yet are inseparably linked together into a common destiny by the water that flows down like the blood of a common identity that links the feuding groups. There has been a lot of violence, injury, mutilation and death. There has been enough insanity, enough bloodshed. Are we waiting to exsanguinate ourselves till the last drop or is it the time for reconciliation?

We go further with this technique in the next poem aimed to effect a thaw in the frozen relations and to kindle an urge to befriend again and return to the roots.

The Kindling

If proof were needed
didn’t this sixth exodus
in six centuries
clinch it
that intolerance will stay
and I will have to find my way
and settle away
from my homeland.

Yes, I am fatigued six times over
and desire nothing better
than to be left in peace here
in my temporary shelter.
Yet the answer to that riddle
kept evading me all these years
as to why my ancestors
returned to the valley
each time they were driven out
till this wizened old man
out from there
came to seek me the other day.

He held my hands
in his feeble yet warm grip
as he sat on the couch
and, before I could proceed,
thrust a gift in my hands
of roasted wheat flour
and baked paddy seeds,
and turning his palms towards the sky
invoked his Allah
to return me and mine
with dignity and honour to my homeland
where we could live together,
people of his faith
and mine,
for ever after.

Ever since,
the fragrance and flavour
of that traditional gift,
tinged with the nostalgia
of five thousand years
tingles my primordial urge
to return to my roots,
as my resolve grows every day
even with the full knowledge
that I may have to face
yet another exodus.

Here the self has again given expression to many existential questions and attempted to answer them in the historical and sociological context. What is highlighted is not the six times exodus of Pandits from the valley that is well documented in history but of what urged them to return to their homeland each time they were thrown out. This great riddle is solved in a telling manner by a simple incident. An wizened old man brings a vary traditional gift of roasted wheat flour and baked paddy seed (Sot and Beil Tomul) that our villager friends used to bring us in winter, again symbolic of fellow feeling and love. This works magic as the nostalgia of old times revives and rekindles the desire to go back to your culture, to your roots, and to your heritage. Similar gestures of warmth and friendship and a genuine desire of people in the valley to live in friendship, peace and amity, must have repeated in history to have drawn the Pandits back, flouting all their fears of reprisals and even the fear of suffering the ignominy of being thrown out again and again. The old man here symbolises maturity, wisdom, and experience of life and also the common and innocent majority of the people who have no share in the depredations of a few despots, militants or terrorists, whoever may have operated at different times to hound out the Pandits. The spontaneous desire to respond to this gesture of genuine friendship is far stronger than the fear of the gun. Reconciliation and the return of the native can not be far behind.

In the end I will like to quote a Lalla Vaakh to provide her profound vision of the self:

Shiv chuey thali thali rozan / Mo zaan heund tai musalman

Trukai chukh to pan parzanav / Soi chai Sahibas suet zani zan

Shiva resides everywhere / do not therefore discriminate between one and the other

If you be wise recognise your own self /for there will you see the Universal self.

One Response to “The Self as a Sociological Technique”

  1. Rosanna Yates-Bailey Says:

    I came across this website and your essay quite by chance. I find your words inspiring as I seek to find ways to improve my home, my community, my church, my country, my world, myself. Thank you.

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