I wish I had a dollar for every time I was asked the question, What is India Like? My wife and I recently returned from a four week trip around a fair chunk of the country.
First answer, Religious. No great surprise there. Every religion known to man is in one big melting pot, having either begun there or somewhere nearby. For me, it represents the world’s entire population beautifully in that with over a billion different versions of what life is all about; most likely none of them being the one truth; everyone still likes to believe they are on the right track toward finding it.
Resistant. Not just resistant to change, which it is, but resistant to conflict under enormous pressure. As a modern westerner, I would like to think our part in world history will be marked as a positive turning point in human equality, but I think India and other ancient cultures kicked it off, well before we were even discovered and developed. They just morphed a little differently.
I cannot, as a man, impart judgement upon the gender debate, but I found Indian women to be as strong willed and comfortable within their place as any western women I have known. That would arguably be a greater measure than any wage debate. Western culture has become so hooked on comparisons that no one can ever feels like a winner. If self-esteem is purely reliant upon income comparisons, then I think we are all lost. Mind your own business surely applies to every living soul, male or female, or the only happy person in the world would be the richest one. Whoever they are, I wonder if they are even happy.
The resistance to conflict in India was indefinable to me. I couldn’t work out whether it was from respect for the status quo, fear of changing it, or an inherent understanding after thousands of years of conflict that politics and patience are for the common good. Or all of the above. Both internally and internationally, India seems to be able to balance on a knifes edge without tipping. There are many problems there, just like everywhere else. No system is perfect. But I was left wondering how long people can resist change. The only answer that makes sense to me is that communities are quite happy with their situation until someone convinces them that there is something wrong with it. I would go one step further to say there actually is nothing wrong with it unless they decide that for themselves, no matter what people think from the outside. I can’t even remember why I ever thought that there was something wrong, other than the cultural differences that become so apparent when Indian’s have come to live in Australia. But that says nothing about India itself. That says more about people. We keep convincing ourselves that there is something wrong with everything.
Beautiful. I will admit that arriving in Delhi was a shock. It was the worst time of year for smoke, smog, fog or whatever you want to call it. It was thick that day, and we didn’t see too much clear sky until we travelled inland to the east or south along the coast, but everywhere is beautiful in its own way. When people don’t have blue skies and greenery, they make up for it with colourful clothing, buildings and decorations. And as for the cows, dogs and goats on the street, I thought it was pretty cool. A reminder for us humans not to be too precious about ourselves. We are all animals, after all. Born, live, die.
But the foggy skies we were headed for said more about the world than I realised before leaving Australia. The truth of it is that in the year 3018, Australia will probably be in a worse state than anything we currently see in India now. Anyone who can’t see the relevance of that is kidding themselves. Modern, western countries are babies in comparison to the countries where humanity began. They have overcome difficulties that we will not face for hundreds of years. The systems they have in place had worked for a thousand years before we even existed as countries. We may not benefit from emulating their systems, but we need to appreciate how they came to be, and what good they have done.
So, my answer to the question What is India like? would be that it is well worth visiting to find out for yourself. I think Australia, the United States and other young western countries, have far more to learn from India than they could possibly learn from us, just as adult problems are far more complex than those of a child. On the flip side, we should enjoy being young for as long as we can. It is only going to get harder.