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Rediff.com  » News » 10 things I love about India

10 things I love about India

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August 14, 2006 14:20 IST
When I wrote about the 10 things I hate about India, I did not at all realise that my article would trigger such an avalanche of comments. In fact, as I mentioned, it was for me a psychological exercise to express some of the frustrations one faces in daily material life in India.

First, let me be clear, it is because I love this country that I wrote about the 10 things I hate. But as this was misinterpreted by some, I would like to give 10 good reasons why 32 years ago I took the never regretted decision to settle in India.

In the 1970s, the desire for a foreigner to settle in India appeared strange: the general trend was opposite. Whoever had a chance to get a plane ticket to the West, was prompt to try his/her luck and dreamt of a green card or the equivalent.

I must mention a strange reasoning: How one can be accused of being an 'India hater' when one is simply pointing out certain flaws which are obviously wrong. Why should criticism of the Indian government's functioning signify that one is against India?

1. Why I came to India: 'What is India?' Sri Aurobindo the great Indian rishi wrote in 1905: 'For what is a nation? What is our mother-country? It is not a piece of earth, nor a figure of speech, nor a fiction of the mind. It is a mighty shakti, composed of the shaktis of all the millions of units that make up the nation.'

This India: 'that is Bharat,' was what I wanted to discover when I settled in the south in 1974. It was my first and main reason to leave my family, my career (I was a dentist) and my country (I was not so attached!).

Before departing from France on a long overland journey through Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, I had seen touching movies shot by a French television director Arnaud Desjardins who in the 1960s spent several months on Indian roads to encounter sages, yogis and saints.

The images of Ma Anandamayi in her Varanasi ashram or of Swami Ramdas had deeply marked me. Desjardins also spent months in the Himalayas guided by the Dalai Lama's interpreter. He recorded images of Tibet's last great Lamas, many of whom had meditated for decades in remote caves of the Land of Snows and had acquired some very special powers.

My decision was taken, I would come and live in India.

Then I read Sri Aurobindo's books and came to Pondicherry (instead of a monastery in Dharamsala). The Bengali sage who had been the first to advocate Purna Swaraj in the early years of the 20th century, did not reject life. According to him, everything had to be transformed by the power of the spirit.

This Indian philosophy of life, whether it is called Sanatan Dharma or by any other name is my first love. Other reasons ensue from it.

2. The mountains: I love the beautiful mountains of India. But are they really mountains? Many believe they are the abode of the gods. And India has so many gods! A friend recently told me there are 330 million gods. I am not sure how the inventory was made, but it must be true.

Is it not better to have such a rich choice? Personally, I always found the single god religions less 'creative.' Even Buddhism, if it had not incorporated thousands of deities in its Mahayanic form, would be rather dry.

It is this divine presence which makes the Himalayas so majestic and imposing. One of the best moments in my life is undoubtedly my trek to Gaumukh, the source of the mighty Ganga. My visit (and bath) to Hemkund Sahib in Uttaranchal will also remain a cherished souvenir.

3. A quality of being: A French journalist recently asked me: 'What was your first impression of India when you reached Pondicherry in 1974?'

I told him that it was probably the kindness and the smile of the villagers around. They were poor but they had such dignity; a quality of being which made them a hundred times richer than wealthy Europeans or Americans.

Countless times, I was told 'India is a poor country,' each time I answered: 'No, India is rich because her people have this special quality. Hefty bank accounts do not make people rich.'

In recent years, Indians have become wealthier (A PIO [Lakshmi Mittal] has even purchased the flagship of French industry), it is good but I hope that people will not lose their inner qualities in the process.

4. Hospitality: The first thing a tourist or a visitor in India discovers is the warmth and hospitality of the Indian people. Just board a train, you will hardly be seated, that the family on the next berth will open their tiffin, with rotis, sabzi and pickles and generously offer to share their food with you. (The biscuit gangs operate on this principle: food has to be offered and can't be refused.)

I was told by a friend teaching in IIT, Mumbai, the story of an American professor. He was on a one-year sabbatical and had found a teaching assignment at the IIT. From the airport, he took a taxi to the campus.

Unfortunately for him, it was the day of the July 26, 2005 floods in the city. Soon his taxi was stuck in the traffic and the water level began mounting. Seeing his gloomy situation, an Indian family passing by, offered to take him and his luggage to their nearby home.

They eventually offered him their bed while they slept on the floor. The American professor was so deeply moved. He had touched one of the core qualities of the Indian people. Everyone in India knows hundreds of such incidents.

5. The economic renaissance: Sri Aurobindo, in the article already cited, had written that at the beginning of the 20th century, Mother India, the Great Shakti was 'inactive, imprisoned in the magic circle of Tamas, the self-indulgent inertia and ignorance of her sons...'

Nothing pleases more that to see that since the beginning of the 1990s, India had taken an upbeat turn in the economic field. Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and his Finance Minister Manmohan Singh will be remembered in history as those who dared to abandon the old Soviet path of a planned economy.

It is significant that these changes came after the Non Resident Indians began doing extremely well in the West. One could ask, why were Indians doing so well outside India and not in India?

It is probably because in India, creativity, an engrained Indian quality has been too stifled by bureaucratic rules and babus of all types. The Indian government is unfortunately a serial killer of creativity.

6. Creativity: In India, I have always found remarkable the individuals' creative genius.

To quote Sri Aurobindo (1905) again: 'For three thousand years at least -- it is indeed much longer -- she (India) has been creating abundantly and incessantly, lavishly, with an inexhaustible many sidedness, republics and kingdoms and empires, philosophies and cosmogonies and sciences and creeds and arts and poems and all kinds of monuments, palaces and temples and public works, communities and societies and religious orders, laws and codes and rituals, physical sciences, psychic sciences, systems of Yoga, systems of politics and administration, arts spiritual, arts worldly, trades, industries, fine crafts, -- the list is endless.'

It is only now, nearly 60 years after Independence that this Indian creativity starts expressing itself whether it is in India or abroad.

7. Political hospitality: I have often criticised Jawaharlal Nehru for his numerous blunders in foreign policy, but I must acknowledge that he had the courage and the wisdom to give asylum to the Dalai Lama and his followers in 1959 and this despite his friendship with Zhou Enlai and the Chinese leadership.

The Dalai Lama told me once that during his first meeting with Nehru in September 1959, the Indian prime minister told him, 'I will not support you politically, but I will educate your children.'

Thanks to the political kindness of the Indian people, Tibetan Buddhism and its rich tradition have been able to survive, when they were erased in their own land. This personally touches me deeply.

8. Human babus: I often criticise the babus, 'a native clerk who knows English', according to the Hobson Jobson dictionary, but I must admit that despite all his failings, the Indian babu is a human being with whom one can always discuss and who is susceptible to understand the human side of personal predicaments.

This is not the case with 'the Administration' in the West.

9. The Indian Army: Something has always amazed me: the untamable courage and abnegation of Indian jawans and officers. During the Kargil conflict for example, is it not incredible that despite a terrain entirely in their disfavour, the Indian troops managed to recapture all the peaks occupied by Pakistan?

American Marines would never have succeeded in doing what the Gorkha regiments or the Ladakh Scouts achieved. Hundreds of similar examples could be given. One still remembers how Major Somnath Sharma (the first Param Vir Chakra awardee) saved Srinagar airport (and Kashmir) from the raiders in November 1947 at the cost of his life and his men's lives.

10. The grace: One day an Indian friend of mine was visiting Israel. His guest asked him: 'How does India work?' My friend was a bit surprised by the question, but before he could answer, his Israeli colleague told him: 'Here we work with our guts.'

My friend's answer came at once: 'In India, it is the Grace which sustains us.' This exchange has come back to my mind in innumerable circumstances. I think it is very true.

One more reason to love India!

If one balances the 'hate-able' and 'lovable', the irritating aspects are just superficial prickly heat; the deeper one goes, the more one sees the inner qualities of Bharat. No doubt, this will make India a truly great nation in the years to come.

Claude Arpi
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