(An Argentinian by birth, Claudio Farias is the author of 'Le tango n'est pas une danse' (English: Tango is not a dance) and teaches Spanish and Italian at high school in Marseille. He speaks 12 languages and teaches, among others, Yiddish, Hebrew and Corsican to language enthusiasts in and around Marseille.)
I remember as a young boy at school, we had a program that introduced us to the different civilizations of the world. Among these, we learnt about Indian and Vedic culture. I remember that all of us were very impressed by not only the beauty of art in temples or the sculptures but particularly by the thought process conveyed in the texts. It gave a completely new dimension to our thinking. I felt that although it was an ancient civilization, it was more modern than a lot of concepts of our time. They explained the same things but in a more concrete manner and it was unavoidable to not have them deep-rooted into our heads. We were also introduced to new poets, especially Tagore. I feel they gave a new form to the old spirituality.
After school got over, we wanted to continue learning about India on our own. For this reason, we went to the local bookshops. But the problem was that those stores kept only cliched material about India and its culture. For example, if people wanted to study spiritualism, they would read a book, imitate Indian dressing, wear the bindi and believe that they were on the right path. At that time, I thought this was the right way. We also thought everybody in India was a rishi and was spiritually uplifted. Although the intention was good, now I know that this was such a stupid way of learning. This also formed a very incorrect picture of India, for us and for others. Gradually, whatever I had learned at school got diluted by this blind pursuit of ‘wisdom’ or something like that.
40 years later, when I have started learning Hindi and Sanskrit, I have realised how naive we were. Then, if someone who had just visited India came back with fantastic stories, we were eager and ready to believe whatever they said. There was no choice and we didn’t know any different. One must also understand that we didn’t have the different types of media we have at disposal today. Things have changed. People are travelling more and there is increased interaction between people of different countries and origins. And more importantly, we are not bound by what we formerly imagined. For this reason, we can return to the roots of the culture and really separate ‘Disneyland’ from the real world and the real values of the culture. In school, these same ideas were a little strong for us. Today, these same ideas make sense in a more powerful way;
In my opinion, there are two ways of approaching Indian culture. One is the easier but clichéd road forward. The second way requires a serious analysis of the civilization. The danger of taking the easier way is that the final result will not be a reflection of what you study or see but it will be a reflection of you. I opine and counsel not to be simple and fall for the easier way because I consider this was precisely what the old teachers and poets were trying to convey for us to learn.
- Claudio Farias