On the Association of “British” Scholars

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

E-mail:  ThePatrika@aol.com

I was watching a YouTube video. The New Age Guru Deepak Chopra was talking in his deep, resonant voice about mind-body nexus, a topic  now mainstream in modern medicine. The banner behind in loud colors read Association of British Scholars, New Delhi. I was intrigued by the name of the organization. Then I e-mailed several of my cerebral friends  — researchers, physicians, university professors, linguists, and eclectic people with good tastes in music, art, literature — with this request:

“If you find an organization that goes by the name Association of British Scholars, India, what would be your understanding of the organizers and members of that group? Will you please give me your answers in two or three sentences? I assure you that I will keep your response private.” 

I only said my friends are cerebral. That does not imply that I am. Here are their responses in the following paragraphs. I am reproducing them verbatim, except in one case, where I have truncated it to save space. Since I assured them I would keep their responses private, I only give the initials of the respondents as my own memory aid so that I know who they are. Here I go:

JK:  My initial take on this would be that it represents a group of British scholars who live in India.  Or, on second thought, that they are Indians in India who have made Britain the focus of their scholarly endeavors.

SS: To me, it would suggest an India-based chapter of a worldwide group of scholars of British origin.

JL:  This is a group of historians who have specialized in the field of British Empire and British Raj in India. They are based in India and may include Indians and remnants of the rulers who stayed on in India. Modesty is not their virtue; otherwise the name of the Association would have been Study Group of British Empire and British Raj, India.

BD:  Looks like a scam.

SS:  My first reaction will be that this organization is a group of British “Scholars” who are interested in defending the Raj Period of Indian History. Personally, I would like to hear them and what they stand for.

AJ:  On the face of it, a name like “Association of British Scholars, India” would mean to me that it is an organization of scholarly people of British origin, who are residing in India. But, when you look closer, it is odd: 1) A group of true scholars will not call itself “Scholars.”  They may call themselves “Indologists,” “Historians,” “Mathematicians,” “Engineers,” “Physicians,” “Writers,” etc., but wlll shun the epithet “Scholars.”  2) We are led to believe that the British are unlikely to be  self-promoters” — don’t know how true it really is. I wonder if this could be a group of Indians who have no humility at all and have never heard or read that humility is the true ornament of knowledge and wisdom, calling themselves “British Scholars.” One is tempted to ask, “British scholars of what branch of intellectual inquiry?”

PV:  My understanding of this is that it is a bunch of scholars from Britain who are based in India.  Since the Association is of British Scholars, the comma denotes the further clarification on their location.

HS:  I can only take a guess. I assume you have talked to Jxxx Myyy, Assistant Professor, History Department at XXX YYY Univ.

SC:  I would assume that it comprises of Indian people who have had higher education in Britain and are currently residing in India.

RS: It sounds like a group of Brits in India who call themselves scholars.

Now, ABS (Association of British Scholars) is in India with over 24 branches, including Vishakhapatnam, AP, Bhubaneshwar, Odisha, and Tiruvanantapuram, Kerala. The Association was founded/established/organized by the British Council in India, an important wing of the British embassy in India. According to their website, “The Association of British Scholars (ABS) is a national forum to facilitate the networking of Indians who have studied or trained in the UK. ABS India aims to strengthen the Indo-UK relationship by harnessing the resources, expertise and potential of every ABS chapter through networking, sharing information and hosting social, cultural and intellectual activities.”

If you go by their website application form, a certificate course, or a short-term course in any field such as law, engineering, or fashion design in a UK institute makes you eligible for seeking membership.

So, guys and gals, the members of The Association of British Scholars in India are your everyday brown desis, wanting to believe that they are “British” scholars. Their claim to their “Britishness” is a 4 or 2 year stay somewhere in the UK pursuing their graduate or undergraduate degrees in law engineering; or a 3-month certificate course 18th century Mughal history; or how Lord Macaulay consolidated India for the British King by creating millions of English-knowing clerks and his contribution to India reaching its greatness in the 21st century; or a certificate course on how the British invented Curry during their colonial days and brought it onto the world culinary scene, thus giving the pedestrian curry its due.

In a way, I cannot fault these brown “British” scholars. I pity them. For, these brown “British” scholars will be the butt of biting jokes if they call themselves “British” scholars anywhere in the UK or outside India.

India obtained its nominal political freedom in 1947. It is supposed to have become a republic 65 years ago, making a complete break from Britain. But Indians’ spiritual slavery to the High-Tea Gora Land is alive and well: The Indian embassy in London is still called the Indian High Commission, and the Indian ambassador is called the High Commissioner. In the British Empire High Commissioners were envoys of the Imperial Government to manage its “protectorates” not fully under the empire. In London, the Indian embassy building itself is called the India House.

Consider this also: Sixty-five years after becoming a Republic, the IDs for planes registered in India — the numbers towards the end of their fuselage — starts with VT, VT standing for Vice-regal Territories, another holdover from colonial days. Just look at the way the Brown sahebs in upscale India try to imitate the Ox-Bridge accent — con-TRAU-versy is just an example — trying to put others in their place.

There is a saying in Tamil: If you think that you are humble, you are not. So, if you call yourself a “scholar,” you certainly are not one. As AJ said in his feedback quoted above, “A group of true scholars will not call itself ‘Scholars.’ They may call themselves ‘Indologists,’ ‘Historians,’  ‘Mathematicians,’  ‘Engineers,’  ‘Physicians,’ ‘Writers,’ etc. etc., but wlll shun the epithet ‘Scholars.’”  Now, that is a scholarly comment by a rooted desi.  ♦

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