The Republic and the Reconstructed Guru

If anyone ever had any doubts about Jug Suraiya‘s worth, his recent article in Time of India should really settle the doubts. Writing about Jacques Derrida, the father of Deconstructionsist movement, Jug once again exhibits his mastery over language, and above all his unique ability to effortlessly play with the subject in hand. If there is one reason why I still can’t part with TOI, it’s got to be Jug.

Undoubtedly, deconstructionism has strong critics, and its relevance/validity as a universally applicable theory has been questioned — more recently by Rajiv Malhotra and others. The point of the article, however , is not deconstructionism per se, neither is it Deridda’s life. For instance,

Unburdened of individual responsibility, moral conduct — or its undifferentiated opposite — becomes a collective rite, a hoisting of flags and a mouthing of mantras. The isolate covenant of conscience turns into a charade of public ceremony, an unveiling of statues …

The irony of an esteemed TOI columnist talking about individual responsibility kind of spoils it — for people will ask, today or tomorrow, what then is the responsibility of a syndicated columnist? And doesn’t the very fact of writing about individual responsibility then become nothing more that a symbolic flag-hoisting and mouthing of mantras? But that apart, it’s a succinct portrayal of our socio-political scene.

Each moral inaction has an equal and opposite reaction and it is not surprising that deification — often of the most implausible or reluctant of idols — should go hand in hand with that other great national pastime, that of growing cynicism and the vilification of public figures.


Kierkegaard said that to the extent he seized upon a mentor’s truth and made it his own, he diminished the importance of the other. In India, we do it the other way round: by magnifying the mentor we absolve ourselves of the responsibility of living up to his teachings.

It’s probably a universal pastime, in a sense. But in India, it’s more prominent — for it’s more than a pastime, and that in a country which can hardly afford pastimes. For every time we wait for another Gandhi/Shivaji/Vivekanand, we waste precious time. And every time we get one, we waste more precious time. In Jug Suraiya’s words,

The less we appropriate into our own safekeeping what really it is that those whom we burden with the role of being our gurus would have us do, the deeper we genuflect towards him as transcendent messiahs we can safely worship without any anxiety that we should even try and emulate them.

All in all, a very readable piece (although a reprint of an old one).


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