Thursday, September 15, 2011

India: A Glimpse

Ladies and Gentlemen! Namaste to all of you from India! Today, as we are sharing the perceptions here at the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Summer School, and as I am asked to give a glimpse of my country, I apologize in advance because for a civilization with a history that, according to some sources, dates back to 6500 BC, which currently has more than 150 languages, each spoken by atleast 10,000 people and 22 official languages, a civilization that has 28 states, all of them having their own different culture, festivals, dance forms, language, art, belief system, sports, film industry, political parties, and food delicacies, a civilization that saw so many people from all over the world invade it and leave their own footprints behind with many more languages, arts and culture, it's practically impossible to give even a glimpse about a country in such a short period of time.

So, I would not like to speak about any of the above mentioned topics, nor would I like to speak about the things that are already being spoken about India - about it's booming economy, it's expertise in Science & Technology, it's recently launched world's cheapest spacecraft to moon, the Yoga, Spirituality, 1.2 billion population that's increasing every second, Ayurveda, Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan or Amitabh Bacchan. What I would like to speak about is much more wider, and fits the context of this conference. It is something that is never spoken about specifically, but holds significance in every Indians life. It is something that influences the whole Indian mentality right from the Childhood. And it is not something that is taught formally in schools, but it is something that comes from within the Indian culture, that gets imparted from generation to generation through multiple means like Grandma's stories or spiritual gurus or children's books and comics. No one knows where this comes from exactly, but as we grow, no matter what education system Britishers would have thrust upon Indians, these teachings have been embedded so deep inside the Indian DNA that even Alexander the Great agreed he couldn't remove from the Indian gene. And this is, in my opinion, answer to one of the biggest questions that not only the whole world, but India too has for itself - that inspite of so much diversity, so many languages, so many religions with many of them having their own set of extremist thinkers and actors, sometimes exploding the bombs, sometimes killing others in the riots, inspite of all this, how does India actually work?

I would like to go back to childhood days and talk about some things that come to my mind have had an influence in my life, and I believe they have had similar influence in all the other Indians' minds as well.
1. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – which means that the whole world is one single family, I was taught. The concept, written in Hitopadesha - a collection of sanskrit prose and verse written in 12 C.E. - meaning ‘This is my own relative and that is a stranger’ – is the calculation of the narrow-minded. For the magnanimous-hearts, however, the entire earth is but one family'. It is also seen to be similar to the ancient African concepts like Ubuntu. This concept always comes in the path of our hatred or a feeling of difference towards any other human being.

This gigantic idea (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam) is an exclusively Indian contribution to world peace. This ancient nation evolved a world-view based on the motto "Loka samasta sukhina bhavantu" (Let the entire world be happy) thousands of years before any League of Nations or United Nations was thought of to avoid global strife. The Indian nation evolved this grand vision not by marching its armies and conquering the rest and offering peace; but by the inner-directed pursuit of universal values by the saints living in the forests and mountains of India.

2. Jiyo aur Jeene Do - which means Live and Let Live - the concept followed and propagated by Lord Mahavir. The concept says that one should let others live their lives as they see fit. The concept Live and let live was also used as a system of conflict avoidance used in trench warfare in World War I. And this concept is embedded so deeply in the hearts of the Indians that it's no surprise that many ancient Indian belief systems find it odd to kill even a mosquito biting them, forget about initiating an attack on another country.

3. Atithi Devo Bhavah - It's a part of the verse from the Upanishads written thoudands of years ago. The verse reads as - "Matri devo bhavaḥ, Pitri devo bhavaḥ, Acharya devo bhavaḥ, Athiti devo bhavah" which means The Mother is God, the Father is God, the Teacher is God, [and] the guest is God." No wonder that still many families in India have joint families with Grandparents, Parents, Uncles and siblings staying together in one house. And no wonder that India was attacked by so many "guests" in the recent past. I still remember the story that I was told in the childhood about a pigeon couple that jumps into the fire when they see that the hunter has not been able to catch anything for the whole day and is hungry sitting in the cold forest. This concept "Guest is God" is one of the greatest contributions to the Indian thinking and it's tolerance to infinite diversity that we come across in our daily lives.

In 3000 years of our history people from all over the world have come and invaded us, captured our lands, conquered our minds. From Alexander onwards. The Greeks, the Turks, the Moguls, the Portuguese, the British, the French, the Dutch, all of them came and looted us, took over what was ours. Yet we have not done this to any other nation. We have not conquered anyone. We have not grabbed their land, their culture, their history and tried to enforce our way of life on them. Why? Because we respect the freedom of others.

In the end, I would like to read another verse that we're taught right from childhood. It is: "Sarve bhavantu sukhinah, Sarve santu niramayah.. sarve bhadraani pashyantu, ma kaschit dukhbhaak bhavet" which means "may every one be happy, may every one be free from all diseases, may every one see goodness and auspiciousness in every thing, may no one be unhappy or distressed"

And this is the India that I come from!

Vande Mataram!

P.S: This is the text format of the speech delivered by my friend Saurabh Jain at UNAoC Summer School - Portugal on 29th August 2011