Needed: More Romeos - Why Are We Backward? - Part XI - Revelation Movement

Why Are We Backward? – Part XI
Knowing English language can get one a job but the best of English literature can eradicate our backwardness
content_romeoMany Indians think that Shakespeare’s Romeo is like Laila’s Majnu, driven crazy by erotic love (in Greek, a language that distinguishes between different types of “love”, the word for “sexual love” is Eros). The reality is that Shakespeare wrote his play Romeo and Juliet in England at a time when the two major Christian sects, Protestants and Catholics hated each other enough to prevent their children from marrying each other, just like the play’s two warring households in the Italian city, Verona. Juliet enabled Romeo to transform sexual infatuation into Christ-like love (Agape) for her and her household (caste). Their love made it possible for them to lay down their lives for each other and to reconcile their warring castes. Shakespeare states the point of his play in the opening lines:
Two households [castes], both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whole misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.
My previous article entitled ‘Backwards Can Be Better than British’ suggested that we are “backward,” in part, because no Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim scholar, religious leader or king loved us enough to make sustained effort to develop our vernaculars. Our religious cultures conspired to ensure that classical languages – Pali, Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian – would be used to exclude us from power that comes from knowledge.
During the British era, reformers such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy and rulers such as Lord Macaulay felt that the English language could enrich India’s vernaculars. However, the upper castes who learned English used it to advance their own interests, rather than the interests of the common people. The Bahujan “creamy layer” would do exactly what every other “creamy layer” does unless the spiritual force that reformed Europe and created English language and literature – the force that enabled Romeo to love his enemies (i.e. Juliet’s family) – liberates us from our religious culture of discriminating and disliking people of other traditions and castes.
When the Government of Tamil Nadu began erecting along the beautiful Marina Beach in Chennai the statues of the creator of modern Tamil, it honored three Christian missionaries: Italian Jesuit Constanzo Beschi, English Missionaries Bishop Robert Caldwell, and Dr. G. U. Pope and only one Brahmin, Subramanya Bharathi, who renounced his Brahmin identity – just as Romeo renounced his Montague identity, in order to love those considered enemies by his caste. An important question is: Why didn’t English missionaries just teach us English? Why did they take the trouble to develop our languages?
Was it just to convert us? If so, wouldn’t the objective of conversion have been served better had they taught our leaders English, hired them in their businesses and institutions and made promotions conditional on conversions? Why did they not do that?
Unless we study the Bible and the literature that it shaped, we cannot understand the Agape (divine) love that drove Christian missionaries to serve us, including studying our dialects in order to turn them into literary languages. Their labors made it possible for Hindi, Urdu and Bengali to become national languages of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. As mentioned in the previous article, it is not possible to have a “government of the people, for the people and by the people” unless the language of the people is made the language of learning and governing. Our own religious scholars did not love us enough to take the trouble to do this for us because it is hard labor – especially if the beneficiaries are not even paying the scholars to undertake this trouble.
content_TyndaleWilliam Tyndale, who translated and published the first Bible (New Testament) into English, deeply offended the ruling elite. He was taking the very source of their power – knowledge – and giving it to the common man. The rulers convicted him and strangled and burned him at the stake. Yet, Tyndale’s labor created modern English and reformed his nation, including by producing writers such as Shakespeare. These writers were nurtured on Tyndale’s language and the Bible which was incorporated into the Geneva Bible before Shakespeare, and into the King James Bible soon after Shakespeare retired from the Globe Theatre.
English speaking missionaries came to India to do for us what our own socio-religious leaders did not do, because the Bible taught them that God is love and that the Divine love (Agape) gives itself sacrificially without conditions and without expectation of reward, simply for our good. The Bible’s most famous verse is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Jesus demonstrated God’s love not simply by serving the poor and the sick who were victims of the beastly kingdoms of this world but most supremely by sacrificing his own life to reconcile God’s enemies – sinners – with God and human enemies with each other: the Jews with non-Jewish Gentiles, Greeks and Barbarians, slaves and free, upper castes and lower castes. In Shakespeare’s hands, Romeo’s love for Juliet grows to become like Christ’s love for us.
Romeo’s spiritual transformation happens in the famous Balcony scene, when Juliet says to him that he cannot marry her unless he forsakes his name: that is, his family identity (caste). Nothing else but their names (family identity) separated them from each other, because their family identities had become inextricably intertwined with their hatred for the other family. Romeo agreed that his family was defined and controlled by hatred for Juliet’s family and, therefore, his name (i.e. family’s hatred) would never allow him to marry into her family (caste).
If you study the Bible you would understand that Juliet asked Romeo to do exactly what the Lord Jesus had asked his Jewish disciples who despised non-Jews as untouchables to do: Anyone who wants to follow me into the kingdom of heaven, said Jesus, must “hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life.” (Luke 14: 26) To “hate” here means to set aside. If Romeo married Juliet, his family would conclude that he hates his father and mother, brothers and cousins, simply because he does not hate what they hate. In fact, he loves whom they hate. Romeo’s transformation required him to set aside his family’s identity that was inextricably intertwined with hatred for her family. That his transformation was spiritual becomes evident when (like Jesus Christ) he bears the undeserved insult and abuse of Juliet’s cousin without retaliating. Juliet’s love for Romeo also renounces her family’s hatred for Romeo’s family. For a while that step appears as hating her own family.
Shakespeare, a Protestant, portrays Friar Laurence, a Roman Catholic, as a good and wise Christian priest who agrees to marry Romeo and Juliet risking the wrath of both the families (castes). He marries them precisely because he sees that their love could bring their families’ mutual hatred to an end. The priest says,
In one respect I’ll thy assistant be;
For this alliance may so happy prove,
To turn your households’ rancour to pure love.
At the end of the play Romeo and Juliet seal their love with their blood. Thanks to the Priest and the Prince of Verona, their love and sacrifice reconciles their families. Juliet’s father Capulet calls Romeo’s father “brother”, and asks for his hand of friendship. Romeo’s father replies that he would build a statue of pure gold for “true and faithful Juliet.” Juliet’s father acknowledges that their death was a sacrifice to end “our enmity.”
Since the caste system has made the Bahujans “backward,” knowledge of English language is not sufficient to move our people forward. We have to demolish the caste system itself. How can that be done?
In America, it took a civil war under the leadership of Abraham Lincoln to end slavery. Not many Indians know that the majority of the Americans who died fighting against slavery were white, not black. That is why Mahatma Jotiba Phule dedicated his book Slavery to Americans. But why did white Christians fight against fellow whites to liberate the blacks?
When Abraham Lincoln first met Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, he exclaimed, “So, you are that little lady who wrote the book that started this big war!” What did she write? For decades, along with great preachers such as Charles Finney, Harriet’s father and brothers had expounded the Bible’s teachings against slavery. Harriet turned their biblical preaching into a powerful piece of literature, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Her story moved millions of white Americans against slavery because they understood why the Lord Jesus taught that to love God meant to love our neighbors as ourselves – not to enslave them or to despise them as lower class or untouchables.
Devout Christians in America had to wage a civil-war to end slavery but the British were able to end their slave-trade without a war through a democratic struggle led by Christian politicians such as William Wilberforce. Wilberforce succeeded only because his anti-slavery movement was built upon the religious revivals of preachers such as John Wesley who wrote, Thoughts on Slavery, describing slavery as “the execrable sum of human villainy.”
Christian philosopher John Locke called slavery as “so vile and miserable an estate of many, and so directly opposite to the generous temper and courage of our nation, that it is hardly to be conceived that an Englishman, much less gentleman, should plead for it…” In Wealth of Nations, Christian thinker Adam Smith exposed slavery as economically inefficient. Aphra Behn wrote the first novel, Oroonoko, or The History of the Royal Slave, in which the hero was a slave. Wilberforce and his fellow Abolitionists widely distributed William Cowper’s The Negro’s Complaint, in which Cowper carried his Abolitionist passions into poetry. It is important to understand that this literary and political campaign succeeded only because it was undergirded by the Bible, which the British culture knew was the Word of God. In order to improve the morals of his nation, Wilberforce championed the Bible Society.
content_ChandalikaThe Bible also inspired Indian writers such as Rabindranath Tagore to write against caste and untouchability. His dance-drama Chandalika is based on Jesus’ encounter with an untouchable woman described in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John. Even though Tagore’s work is powerful, it had little impact in turning the upper castes against untouchability because he replaced a historical fact (of Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman) with an imaginary Buddhist monk who meets a Chandalika at the well. Fiction carries little authority when it is separated from truth. Romeo and Juliet is fiction, but it became Shakespeare’s most popular play because it expounded the Bible’s view of true, divine love.
Today, people who do not read the Bible, and therefore do not understand Shakespeare, might dismiss my essay, insisting that Romeo and Juliet is about nothing more than sensual love. Even if the play describes only erotic love, I would argue that we need to read Shakespeare in order to learn the right orientation of sexual love from the Bible rather than from Gandhi, Krishna, Rama or Buddha.
Romeo gave his life for his wife; while the Buddha deserted his wife in search of his own enlightenment. Gandhi gave up sexual relations with his wife but “experimented” with many women in his Ashrams! How can our culture treat an adulterer as a Mahatma (a great soul)? We are able to do so because our icon of sexual love, Krishna, had 16,000 wives, yet none of them is worshipped. His mistress is! That is why our people are able to elect politician’s mistresses as Chief Ministers. Ram loved his wife, Sita, enough to wage a war to win her back from Ravana. But unlike Romeo, he loved his honor much more than his wife. The fire goddess testified that Sita was pure, yet, Ram sent her into exile because his reputation was more important to him than his wife.
Today, the sun is setting on the West . . . Western families are falling apart, because the West has turned its back on its own spiritual and literary heritage. After adopting our Bhagwans, such as Rajneesh, the West is espousing the spirituality of Khajuraho and Tantra. That is why “backward castes” can become even better than the British. But that will not happen through the English language alone: We need to learn erotic and divine love from Shakespeare and the Bible – a love that will build strong women, children, families and nation.
Vishal Mangalwadi’s video series “Must the Sun Set on the West?” is now available on www.RevelationMovement.com
This article is being published in bilingual magazine FORWARD Press and cannot be reprinted without permission either of the editor Ivan Kostka – aspire.prakashan@gmail.com or the author.

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