A.K. Ramanujan, Is there an Indian way of thinking?: An informal essay

A review of — and a response to — A.K. Ramanujan’s Is there an Indian way of thinking?: An informal essay.

What we like, what we talk about, and how we think are all factors of where we come from and what social position we occupy. There is no us outside of the social formations we inhabit. Ramanujan addresses this in his essay.

He talks about context-sensitive and context-free cultures. Indian thinking, which is a product of the former, is influenced by morals and ethics that are context-dependent, whereas the Western way of thinking is informed by morals and ethics that are more absolute in nature and unaffected by context.

He starts by asking the question “Is there an Indian way of thinking” in four different ways, emphasising a different word each time as well as giving two answers to every question. The first question places the emphasis on “is” and questions the very existence of such a thing as an Indian way of thinking. The answers: (a) there was such a thing but not any more, and (b) India never changes, so the Indian way of thinking still exists. The emphasis in the second question is on “an”, and so he asks if there is one unique way of Indian thinking or many such things. The answers, in this case: (a) each community in this country — and there are many, divided by language, caste and class — has a unique world view and, therefore, a distinct way of thinking, and (b) there exists “unity in diversity” here and so all Indian thought is the same. The third question shifts the focus to the word “Indian”, and Ramanujan says that (a) there is nothing inherently Indian about this way of thinking and that it’s also found in other societies that have reached a similar state of development, and (b) the Indian way influences everything that enters the country and makes it its own. The fourth question puts the emphasis on “thinking”, and Ramanujan doesn’t offer any arguments here.

Ramanujan then talks about his father, a man of both mathematics and astrology, and uses his example to explore the utter lack of cognitive dissonance that should have otherwise risen from pursuing two mutually antagonistic activities.

He goes on to talk about modernisation and says that even though it may seem like modernisation attempts to do away with context, borrowings from other cultures get converted before being assimilated into the host culture. Each culture comes with its own inherent bias.

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Vasudha Pande

I move in the direction of maximum magic.