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Regular version of the site

‘Traditional Values and Cultures are Relevant all over the World’

On March 13, the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs’ Asian Club held a meeting where Professor Makhan Lal, Director of the Delhi Institute of Heritage Research and Management and Director of the Vikvekanand International Foundation, spoke on ‘Traditional Culture and Modern India’. He kindly agreed to give an interview to the HSE news service and share his thoughts on the role of traditional culture and values in modern society.

— Are traditional values still relevant in Indian society?

— Yes. Traditional values and cultures are relevant not only to India, they are relevant all over the world. One of the greatest of these is family values, which encompass and include a whole universe. The moment family values come in you become a much more responsible person. You don’t think only about yourself but in a larger perspective, on a larger canvas, and that’s what makes a better person.

Remember that in civilizational terms, it’s not the money you earn that gets respect, it’s not knowledge alone – only when they are combined with values, human values, a feeling for others, can you become a better person, a better human being, and of course you are respected by society.

You asked how relevant values are in modern society, in modern technology. I fail to understand when people use the words ‘modern society’. What were people using in the 17th and 18th centuries when the Industrial Revolution was going on? Was it not changing the whole world, its economy, technology, and the way people were looking at each other? The whole of their economic relations? Did they raise the question at that time of whether social values and family values are relevant in a changing world? No, they did not. This is a problem of the 20th century when the concept of individuality began to emerge.

It’s not the money you earn that gets respect, it’s not knowledge alone – only when they are combined with human values you become a better person, and of course you are respected by society.

Values were always important if you look at Russian culture. There was not the concept of ‘it’s my life, I’ll do what I want!’ The concept was, it’s my life, also devoted to others, devoted to society and to humanity. This is where I think there is an incorrect way of looking at changing technology and changing perspectives. These changes require more family values because now everything is changing very fast, and people are under tremendous stress and tension. The tension grows seven-fold if they are individuals, if they are alone. If there is someone to fall back upon, if there is someone to share it with, you feel better. That is why I feel it is even more important today.

— The second question is connected with the first one. India is a well-known leader in the IT industry, but what is its secret? How do you encourage people to follow traditional values and at the same time to contribute to the development of technology?

— The problem is only for those people who see technological development as being in conflict with traditional values. This is the problem. Traditional values are your responsibilities to your family, your spouse, your parents, your children, and your society; IT is your knowledge and your work.

For me and for many Indians, technological development is no different from sitting in an office writing files and papers; it’s just the mode of the job has changed. The mode of the job changing does not need to change your values. That’s important to understand. Many IT people work ten or twelve hours a day, but then they never forget one universal feeling of somebody waiting at home.

Those kind of feelings come in when you try to be introspective, and introspection, your sense of responsibility is very important.  

 Russia and India are very strongly and deeply rooted cultural civilizations, but what is important is that both countries know so little about the other.

— What can you say about the latest development in Russian-Indian cultural and economic relations? In your opinion, what are the prospects for these relations and what direction will they take in the future?

— Russia should export to India, not only political things, things related to arms, but it has to make its presence felt among the people. Similarly, on the other side, Russia needs to import lots of things from India which are far cheaper to import. Even America is now importing drugs back from India because India produces the best quality drugs, the cheapest in the world. You can always import fresh vegetables, meat, and a lot of food items.

The second part is culture. Both countries are very strongly and deeply rooted cultural civilizations, but what is important is that both know so little about the other. You know what shocks me is that the kind of literature and classical paintings that Russia has produced are unknown in India. People have heard about the best-known writers, Leo Tolstoy and Maxim Gorky, but there are hundreds of others whose literature is incredible and should be known in India. Ballet is only known to a few elite classes but should be better known in India. Similarly, Indian civilization has a lot to share.

Culture is not a routine matter. It requires much deeper understanding and a much more sympathetic and delicate handling. My feeling is that there has to be a lot more interaction, people-to-people and university-to-university, which will help so many people.

— Can you say a few words about your work with HSE and your plans going forward?

— I have come here as a professor, not as a director or representative of an institution, but I personally think there has to be an institutional arrangement where we can raise our own resources. At the ground level there has to be some kind of exchange programme of senior faculty members for a few weeks, then junior faculty for three months or six months, and students for a couple of years. That’s the kind of thing I have in mind.


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