We are caked with hypocrisy, like the village child with dirt, and we conceal our faults and our inconsistencies with soft speech and insincerity. Socrates won't stand this; he calls a spade a spade, and is determined to improve the villages he visits.
The world is changing, and customs which may have been good, or at least harmless once, are now mischievous and destructive. We must test all our customs and habits, and see whether in modern conditions they tend to improve our health, our comfort, our well- being and the out-turn of our fields. Keep the good customs by all means and stick to them at all costs, but the bad ones must be rooted out and new ways learnt which will do us good.
Viewed by many as the founding figure of Western philosophy, Greek philosopher Socrates (469-399 B.C.) is best known as a questioner of everything and everyone. His style of teaching, immortalized as the Socratic Method, involved not conveying knowledge but rather asking question after clarifying question until his students arrived at their own understanding. He wrote nothing himself, so all that is known about him is filtered through the writings of a few contemporaries and followers, most of all, his student Plato. In his 1791 autobiography Benjamin Franklin summed up Socrates in a single line: "Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates."
The author, Mr. F. L. Brayne, was posted as Deputy Commissioner in the Gurgaon district of Punjab state and later as Commissioner of Rural Reconstruction in Punjab in Pre- Independence India.
SOCRATES IN AN INDIAN VILLAGE represents, I believe, the actual record of conversations between the author and some of the Gurgaon villagers with whom he has been so intimately connected for several years past. I have read the book with admiration, and I can wish nothing better for India than that what has come to be known as 'the Gurgaon Experiment' may prove an unqualified success.
The book is lucidly and forcefully written, and lets the daylight into many a dark corner of village life. The truth of Mr. Brayne's indictment is convincing, as also is the logic of his argument, and I hope that those to whom the book is primarily addressed — the villagers of Gurgaon — will be equally open to persuasion. But we must not forget Lowes Dickinson's immortal John Chinaman, who demonstrates so wittingly and effectively that what an Englishman calls white a Chinaman would call black, and that neither is obviously right nor wrong. Progress, therefore, is bound to be slow, and our object must be to ensure that it is on right lines, and that a sure foundation is being laid, so that the people will come to realize that the changes are really for their own advantage, and will carry on the work when the enthusiastic initiators of it have gone.
I call to mind that Socrates was put to death by his contemporaries because he pointed out to them too plainly and too often that they were wrong and he was right. I have no such fears for Mr. Brayne; for both he and his wife have not confined their energies to didactics, but have given very ample practical demonstrations that what they teach is within the reach of the ordinary villager. I am glad to see that already in other parts of India their example is being followed, in some places by the landlords themselves, in others by co-operative societies or other agencies. I am convinced that once we can persuade the inhabitants of agricultural India that the key to a great increase in their prosperity and happiness lies in their own hands, we shall have taken a very big step forward in the reconstruction of Indian life.
Mr. Brayne's book gives a clear and much-wanted lead in this direction, and I recommend it with confidence to all those who have at heart the interest of the Indian ryot.
SOCRATES is a very rude old man, and it is only the obvious sincerity of his motives and the obvious truth of the blunt and crude remarks that he makes that prevent the villagers from atleast turning him out of their villages, if not abusing and assaulting the old man, in spite of his grey hairs and venerable appearance.
We all want a Socrates and his gad-fly to stir us up and tell us the real truth. We are caked with hypocrisy, like the village child with dirt, and we conceal our faults and our inconsistencies with soft speech and insincerity, just as the villager hides the dirt and disease of his children with jewellery.
Socrates won't stand this; he calls a spade a spade, and is determined to improve the villages he visits, and he does improve them too. Look at the pits, almost universal now; look at the latrine arrangements, already begun in quite a number of villages; look at the marriage registers, also almost universal; look at the reduction of jewellery and earrings; look at the bright Boy Scouts; look at the girls reading at the boys' schools; the vaccination; the inoculation; look at the Persian wheels, the iron ploughs, the 8-A wheat seed, the new sugar-canes, the thousand banks and the twenty-five lakhs of capital in them, the Palwal Show, the chaupais,' the dramas, the lantern lectures, the rural school, the domestic school, the Hissar bulls, the John Hall, the ladies' garden, the women's institute, the children's games, the mixed tennis club. There is much more than this, too much to repeat here. But, above all, the district has been woken up and is ready to listen and ready to experiment, and ready to improve itself.
Socrates is often an awful bore, his conversation is very plain, and he is always repeating himself. He can't help that, however. The remedies for the evils he finds are extremely simple, but they have to be dinned in a dozen times, and from several different points of view, before anyone will take any notice; and sometimes the only way of arousing the village is to be startlingly rude or extremely vulgar. The villager, however, though he often has a quick temper, has a very soft heart, and soon forgives the liberties taken by his old friend.
There is no argument in this book that has not been used a hundred times in village talks and lectures.
The whole object of Socrates is to make the villagers think. The world is changing, and customs which may have been good, or at least harmless once, are now mischievous and destructive. We must test all our customs and habits, and see whether in modern conditions they tend to improve our health, our comfort, our well-being and the out-turn of our fields. Keep the good customs by all means and stick to them at all costs, but the bad ones must be rooted out and such new ways learnt as will do us most good. If Socrates has succeeded in doing this he will not have wasted his time, and the villagers will not regret the hard words he has used to them.
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