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Enchanted people

India's strength lies in its people ... if we stop to think about it, says TIMERI N. MURARI.

WE are a most pessimistic people. While Americans have their "dream", darkened by the 9/11 event, we seem to have mostly our Indian Nightmares. And we shouldn't blame ourselves for this emotional distress we exist in. We have been ruled for half a century by mostly venal men, and women, who continue to haunt us in our waking hours. We look at ourselves constantly through the prisms of their actions. Or inaction that makes things only worse. We cannot see ourselves clearly in this mirror which has been darkened by them.

I have to admit, I too see only darkness in the mirror. When I'm asked what is India's future, I stumble over my pessimism. "I've absolutely no idea. Soulless politicians lead us whose ideas are imbedded in the distant past and are totally out of sync with the present. They exist in a parallel universe to the people."

There are times when others can hold up the mirror and show us our true selves. I don't mean the Naipaul's with their Area of Darkness and A Million Mutinies now. Or the end-of-year reports by correspondents, foreign and national, who fill our pages, and our hearts, with dreadful visions of us.

This is the time of the year, when our weather is kind, that foreigners wander through our country. I met a couple recently, a Canadian and an Australian, who were visiting India for the first time. Having answered their questions on the state of the nation, I asked them about their experiences in India. It's a question to which there are only two answers, as India is a country of such extremes. They either hate or love India. Some years ago, passing through the lobby of a five-star hotel, I asked that question to an Australian woman waiting to board the bus to the airport. She immediately burst into tears. I now expect tears from travellers, many of them our own NRI's grown comfortable in the sterilised American suburbs they live in.

To my surprise, both the travellers, middle aged, well-educated men, almost burst into a song and dance. They had travelled by trains and buses and they were delighted with the Indian people. They didn't mention the monuments they'd seen or complain about the chaos and dirt. It was as if they had forgotten them. They talked about us: Strangers greeted them with warmth and generosity, the Indians were kind and they were curious. My travellers thought the ordinary people knew more about their country and the world, than any Canadian or Australian knew about themselves and the world. And certainly, Americans were totally ignorant of either. (Most Canadians do have a low opinion about their giant southern neighbour, I should add). They thought Indians were the most hospitable people they'd ever met, they shared whatever they had with them, insisting they eat their food, drink their drinks.

"I also noticed how people loved their children," one of them said. "Fathers played with their children, hugged them, carried them, and shared the looking after on the journey. You have such close knit family life here that's missing in the West. We've become disjointed families, parents go one way, children the other. There isn't that warmth and loving."

Above all, he thought the people had such dignity about them. It was a word they savoured when I mentioned one of our characteristics.

But the one thing that all the people I spoke to had in common was a hatred for their politicians. Not one of them had a kind word to speak about them. They hated them. In other countries people may dislike their leaders but here the only word I can use is that the Indians I met hated their politicians. They talked about their politicians with contempt."

It was an interesting observation. We forget about the dichotomy in India, this un-bridgeable gap between us, the people, and them — the politician. The politician may think he's of the people but he lives in a world of deceit and betrayal, the privileged world of motorcades, black cat commandos and helicopters.

A friend, who had returned from China, was very impressed by the Shanghais and Beijings, the slick city life of the young Chinese. But, she added: "The people were so drab and dull, there wasn't any colour in their lives. In India, we may be way behind, but the people are so vibrant."

Our strength lies in us. If we stop to think about it and not get depressed by our vile leaders, we're an amazing people. We get on with our lives the best we can and as inventively as we can, despite all the obstacles created by our politicians for their own gain. We create a spectacle in our lives, whether it's in marriages or childbirth, in daily living and in death too. We love music and dance, they permeate our lives and I don't mean on the big screen. We write poetry, make movies, compose great and complex music with staggering ease. We build the Taj Mahal and the temples of Tanjore, Chettinad and Khajuraho. Our writers are read across the world and in many languages. We have talented scientists who created the means with which to feed our bursting population and have surplus food. They have also, tragically, created our nuclear weapons. All swords are double edged. We drive the Information Technology that now permeates many lives across the globe, if not with big bucks with our brains. We fell in love with a game introduced to our land by our colonial masters and mastered it to beat them a century later. If left to live our lives without interference, what doesn't our genius embrace — history, architecture, medicine, science, commerce, industry, the list is endless.

Despite what it may seem, we're not an intolerant people. We're panicked and frightened by the monsters that lead and lie to us, raising demons where there is none. And that fault is not ours, for millions of us have been neglected, deliberately left uneducated, underfed, under clothed. I have to admit I forgot all our strengths and was only reminded of them in a conversation with visitors who saw us for ourselves. I also forgot that the reason I returned after 30 years away was that I wanted to belong to a people and not live forever in exile, away from them.

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