India is on its way to becoming a Super Power. But to prevent fragmentation along the way, it is imperative to take along with it the diversity and tradition that is India.
“Nobody could be more conscious than I am of the pitfalls which lie in the path of the man who wants to discover the truth about contemporary India”
NIRAD C. CHAUDHURI, author The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian
A country of more than a billion people can't be easily defined. The sights and sounds that a person sees while travelling can only barely scratch the surface. So, writing about my “impressions” of India is overwhelming. Anything I write will be inaccurate in some sense. However, this doesn't mean my impressions aren't true. It's not the whole picture; nor do I pretend it is. It's one view, a cross-section of a multidimensional, ever changing country.
My experiences in India were varied. I did not come to India to see one aspect, one reality. I came to experience as much as I could of the sub-continent's famed variety; things as diverse as living and integrating myself into the daily routines of an ashram, lying on Kerala's beaches, exploring ruined cities in Madyha Pradesh, staying in small villages far from the tourist trail, visiting the Taj Mahal, shopping in Chennai, drinking wine on hotel rooftops, 36-hour train rides, 12-hour bus rides, four-hour taxi rides, air-conditioned rooms with plush pillows and non-A/C rooms with thin mattresses and plenty of mosquitoes...
These various experiences left me less sure of what I think of India than ever before. However, there were some common threads that made up the fabric of my experience. India is in motion; always and perpetually. There are things happening — sales, pitches, construction and destruction. This movement is what's making India one of the emerging world powers.
At the same time, while everyone hustles, I get the sense that, in many ways, everyone is rooted into something deeper. I don't mean to romanticise Indian spirituality, but there seems to me, a modern American youth, to be some spiritual mindedness funding the whole crazy expedition.
And yet there is need for improvement; there are some mistakes, some failures; the lack of ethical or moral scruples exhibited by some businessmen, the rampant corruption, vote buying and bureaucratic ineptitude.
Traits of growth
Don't get me wrong. I love India. What I feel in India is what I imagine I would have felt in America 100 years ago. The air is rich with possibility. Opportunity lies around every corner. India shares a lot with the America of the early 20th century. Both large nations wrestled from the control of the British.
Both pushed to be recognised on the world stage. Both embrace technology and change, yet, almost simultaneously reject it on moral grounds. Both are capable of creating brilliant politicians, scientists, writers, musicians, movies and athletes.
But India, I think, has the advantage. America has grown, grown and grown; without any support; without any cultural unity. Now it's a mess of conflicting ideas, beliefs and actions, still large, still powerful, but lacking a coherent narrative.
India could turn into this. She has all the ingredients. However, there is one powerful thing that could prevent this: tradition. India has thousands of years of beliefs and convictions that, when embraced in a non-dogmatic way, can provide incredible guidance and unity.
My overall experience of India, as well as my opinions and views, are just as diverse as the country. Whether I'm watching the sun set over the ocean while lying on a hammock in Kerala or watching the sun rise over a slum in Chennai, I'm deeply aware I'm in India and with this awareness comes a profound respect.
So excuse my harsh remarks. Saying anything about a country of India's size and diversity is difficult, at best. However, writing this from the U.S. only reinforces my opinions. If India is going to stay unique and not just become a larger and more crowded version of the U.S., it's absolutely vital that there is a remembrance of the incredible depth and breadth of Indian culture. There is a saying that more or less encapsulates my hope for India's future: “Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Eli is a journalism student at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, U.S.