That ‘sanskaari’ feeling

The censor board in India has become notorious for removing kissing scenes (James Bond), expletives (most films) or references to Indian states (Udta Punjab). This specious moralizing has resulted in a lot of jokes and listicles presenting alternative, watered down sanskaari versions of these films (the one I remember had Shahid Kapoor drinking lassi and dressed in voluminous robes). The use of sanskaar in this context has a highly preachy, sermonizing connotation. Those who use it are reacting to the imposition of a certain set of right-wing values on a work of cinema.

Funnily enough, I have had an favourable association with the word sanskaar. In my mother tongue Marathi, संस्कार has far more positive connotations than शिस्त ‘discipline’. That’s because discipline is typically top-down, something that is imposed upon you, or something that you decisively impose on yourself. But संस्कार is not the same, rather it’s a process through which you unconsciously learn a set of values or principles. Typically, these are imbibed rather than taught and have a lot to do with the environment or the people you interact with.

These values aren’t confined to the ethical sphere, but perhaps contribute to a certain viewpoint or perspective that stays with you for a long time. For example, during my undergraduate years, I listened to a lot of rock music because if you went to my college, you had to know your Led Zeppelin from Deep Purple. One of the most important activities on 15th August was to attend the Independence Rock (I-Rock) concert, which was held in a small open-air auditorium next door to our campus. It was not at all apparent then, but the word freedom at that time (for me) became closely intertwined with individuality (and respect for individuality) as well as the importance of self-expression. That was the sanskaar I got during those years. In fact, for the longest time, patriotism– or the national flag was not what came to mind when I thought of 15th August.

From this point of view, I think sanskaar is quite a powerful concept. It has nothing to do with preachiness, rather it seems to be an interesting way of learning a set of values. The hard work of extracting the kernel of meaning from a certain behaviour pattern has not been done for us already. We have to understand it ourselves. We see a number of contexts in which this behaviour takes place, which has a self-explanatory effect. Undoubtedly, the effects of sanskaar are unconscious, but arguably more powerful? It seems to be a pity that the word has been appropriated for a certain kind of ironic bashing on Twitter or elsewhere. I think there are other dimensions of its meaning that are worth exploring.