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tales from the woods

Thursday, August 14, 2003

India's Independance day?

A billion people live here. Out of a total of 24,000 languages that exist or existed, India contributes to 16,000. A democratic and secular country which lays claim to being the biggest democratic country in the world. A population that is roughly 80% hindu, 15% muslim and the rest being Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Christians, Zoarastrians (Parsis) and Jews. The birthplace of Hinduism and what many consider to be sub-sects of Hinduism - Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

An interesting thing is the outcry caused when India is referred to as Hindustan. "Hindu-stan" is commonly understood to translate to "place for Hindus" in Hindi (the national language). For obvious reasons, this is often a sore point for Indians that practise other religions. The funny thing is that this translation is actually wrong. The word Hindustan was coined thousands of years ago by Persians traders who refered to India as the "land east of the river Indus". Hence, the word "Hindu" in "Hindustan" actually refers to the river "Indus" and not to "Hindu", the followers of Hinduism!

This is quite a strange country we have. We lay claims to greatness and acheivements, though they almost always have to do with our past. We talk about our potential to suceed but we never do. We take pride in our progress in IT and advanced technologies when half our population lies below the poverty line. If our success is so little and our progress so stunted, why do we still live peacefully? Why do we never see open revolts by the hungry, or instability in our governments as it so often happens in most African and Asian countries? What's the secret behind our stoicism that enables us to endure unimaginable hardships?

The secret is that deep down, most Indians, even if they're dirt poor, don't link happiness to material wealth. Over thousands of years, the concept of maya has permeated into the very fabric of our culture. Unlike the western culture that lays emphasis on morality and rules, the Indian culture encourages an understanding of this world as a whole. Maya defines the world as an illusion, an impermanent and fluid screen that blocks us from seeing the bigger picture. Although, human suffering cannot be ignored, there is infinite strength when we believe that this is of little consequence.

It never ceases to amaze me when i see the children in slums who look more cheerful than the yuppie kids. I'm overawed when i see 70 year olds trekking across India for their pilgrimage. It moves me when i see families living on the edge of poverty managing to give a part of their meal to a saadhu (mendicant). Yes, 46 years ago, the British left us alone. However, i maintain that Indians were always independant.

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