Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Musings from someone who sees stories everywhere.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Proud to be Indian

My tribute to my homeland on her seventieth Independence Day. Published in Deccan Herald

As we celebrate seventy years of India’s Independence, let’s take justified pride in the wonderful land and culture in which we were nurtured. A cradle of human civilization, our motherland has an ancient heritage of greatness. The Indus Valley Civilization flourished in our subcontinent over 5000 years ago. Algebra, Trigonometry and Calculus originated in India in times when humans in Europe were still hunting in the forests for food. Lagadha’s Vedanga Jyothisa, an ancient text on astronomy whose earliest version dates back to 1400–1200 BCE, has astronomical calculations, calendar related studies and lays down rules for empirical observation to help plan religious functions. Today India is the only country after USA and Japan, to have built a super computer relying mainly upon home grown expertise and resources. India produces the second largest number of scientists and engineers in the world. Our highly evolved schools of philosophy; our many languages each with its unique literary treasures; our eminence as the world’s largest democracy; the list stretches on.

India has the largest postal network in the world with over 1, 55,015 post offices. A unique floating post office in Dal Lake, Srinagar, was inaugurated in August 2011.The largest employer in India is the Indian Railways, employing over a million people.

While we have much to celebrate, we also fall short in many ways. Our current situation is riddled with contradictions. Our citizens are among the wealthiest in the world, and India is the world’s largest consumer of gold. Meanwhile, many Indians eke out a hand-to-mouth existence. Some suffer from severe malnutrition, while farmers continue to commit suicide when crops fail and debts become unbearable.  Patients from distant lands come to India seeking state-of-the-art healthcare at reasonable cost. Yet many Indians do not have easy access to health facilities. Mothers die from childbirth related complications, while others die from treatable ailments like dysentery and tuberculosis.

Let’s take pride in our many strengths and achievements, not for the sake of blinkered jingoism or a false sense of complacency. Let’s remember all our many great achievements to motivate ourselves to reach for greater heights. After all, if we could engineer such impressive feats in the past, then we are surely capable of even greater wonders in the days to come. Let’s celebrate the patriotism of hockey wizard Dhyan Chand. After trouncing Germany and leading India to the gold medal in hockey in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Major Dhyan Chand was offered German citizenship by Hitler himself. He was also offered a high post in Germany’s army, and a place in the German national hockey team. Dhyan Chand never hesitated to decline with polite dignity.

Let’s seek inspiration from Rabindranath Tagore, the only poet in the world to have composed the national anthems of two countries, India and Bangladesh. He was the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for literature, and was conferred a knighthood by India’s British rulers. He refused the great honour to register his protest against the bloody Jalianwala Bagh massacre.

India is the world’s largest democracy. We are a free people of a liberated country. Our elections are overall free and fair, and have been that way since the past seventy years. This is an amazing achievement, especially in a world where millions of people are ruled by totalitarian regimes, or face strong state imposed restrictions curbing their freedom. Our government goes to great lengths to ensure that all citizens are able to freely exercise their franchise. A special polling booth is set up since 2004 for a lone voter, Mahant Bharatdas Darshandas, in a place called Banej deep in the Gir forest of Gujarat. In remote villages in the mountains of the North East where there are no motorable roads, polling officials arrive with their equipment on elephants to dutifully supervise the election process.

We are fortunate to have freedom of speech. Social media, that noisy ranting space for intellectuals and pseudo intellectuals, is flooded with shrill opinions based on questionable reasoning. Mainstream media is often accused of resorting to sensationalism in order to push TRP ratings. The corruption and ineptitude of our past and present leaders is a burning topic. Outrage is expressed selectively, and a sense of balance and objectivity gets lost in the babble of conflicting views. People like us love to complain how the country is run by unprincipled politicians. We must also remember that these same leaders we revile, have so far managed to maintain our homeland as a free country. And because we live in a free country, we can get away with such open criticism of the powers that be.

We have the right to express our opinions, so we rush to shout our half-baked views from the treetops. But when it comes to acting and contributing positively to society, most of us withdraw into our comfort zones without lifting a finger. Let us introspect and try to get a balanced and informed view of issues at hand, and act responsibly before jumping the gun on public issues. Let us also try, each in our small ways, to improve the world around us instead of simply complaining. After all, little drops of water make the ocean. It’s up to us to ensure that we don’t become ‘webaqoofs’; folks who take everything floating in social media as gospel truth. While taking pride in being citizens of the world’s largest democracy, we need to remember that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

True to its principles as a land of freedom, democracy and peace, India has been the largest troop contributor to the United Nations Peacekeeping Missions since its inception.

 India has the world’s third largest active army, after China and USA. India is the world’s largest importer of arms. But India has never invaded or attacked a country. In recent times, India has welcomed large numbers of refugees from Sri Lanka, Tibet, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who fled from religious and political persecution.

Some people hold that the concept of India as a nation was a British invention. According to them, there was no connection binding all the people of the subcontinent before the advent of the British. However, thousands of years before the birth of Christ, the Aryans called the river Indus as Sindhu. Then Persians came and called it Hindu. Sindhu and Hindu combined to form the name Hindustan, which continues to refer to the entire land of the Hindus. Our homeland has also been called Bharat since time immemorial. Once upon a time, India was a land of fabulous wealth and great advancement. In 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail from Europe seeking a sea route to India across the Atlantic Ocean. He didn’t reach India famed for her spices, silks and jewels, but discovered America instead!

The British were certainly not the first to unify India under their political rule. Thousands of years ago, India was governed by the same code of laws and rulers when the mighty Mauryan Empire spanned across most of the subcontinent. Rock edicts and pillars inscribed by Emperor Ashoka stand witness to this fact in many far-flung parts of our country.

India had cultural and spiritual unity thousands of years before the British came. Scholars in ancient times traversed the length and breadth of the subcontinent in pursuit of learning, moving from the great university of Nalanda in modern day Bihar, to Takhshila in the far west in today’s Pakistan. Around 800 years CE, Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya travelled from his native Kerala in the far south, to important holy pilgrimage centres for the Hindus across the length and breadth of the land. He established Shringeri Sharada Peetha in Karnataka in the south, Govardhan Peetha in Puri in the east, Jyotirmath in Badrinath high in the Himalayas in the north, and a matha in Dwarka in the West, spreading his message of spiritual enlightenment from the mountains to the seas surrounding our homeland.

Our ancient places of pilgrimage drew saints and pilgrims from all over the land. Consider the example of Puri on the coast of Odisha in eastern India. Puri is one of the four holiest Hindu Char Dhams. Through the ages, saints and sages came here seeking divine enlightenment. Aside from the Adi Shankaracharya, Guru NanakKabirTulsidasRamanujacharya, and Nimbarkacharya also visited Puri. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the founder of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, prayed here for 24 years. Srimad Vallabhacharya travelled from his birthplace in the distant south and visited Puri, where he performed a 7-day recitation of Srimad Bhagvat. He also travelled to Gujarat in the west to establish his spiritual philosophy, Pushtimarg. The mathas and meditation spots of these saints continue to exist in Puri, though many are neglected and encroached upon.
Let us celebrate India’s beautiful tradition of religious diversity and harmony. India is the birthplace of four major religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, which are followed by 25% of the world’s population. Islam is India's, and the world's, second largest religion. With lakhs of active mosques, India can boast of numbers larger than any other country, including the Islamic world. Jews and Christians have lived and thrived in India since 200 B.C. and 52 A.D. respectively. Zoroastrians came to India in waves over several centuries to escape religious persecution in their native Persia.
I remember with respect the Catholic nuns who affectionately taught us in school. Haven’t we all exchanged greetings, gifts and delicacies with friends from other religions, and shared the joys of each other’s festivals? Let’s maintain this friendship and harmony, and be proud of it.

Through the ages, India has made great contributions to world civilisation. The art of seafaring and navigation was born in the mouth of the river Sindh or Indus over 6000 years ago. Archaeological excavations in the Harappan seaport of Lothal in Gujarat, throws light on their advancements in shipbuilding. Indian sailors regularly sailed to Eastern Africa, the Middle East and Greece for trade. In eastern India, sailors set sail from the mouth of the Mahanadi River for the islands of Indonesia and beyond. The word ‘navigation’ has roots in the Sanskrit word 'navgatih'. The word navy comes from the Sanskrit word 'nou'.

The Indus Valley Civilization prospered 6000 years ago because of technological innovations such as drainage and sewerage systems. Sophisticated systems of irrigation and water storage, such as artificial reservoirs at Girnar C 3000 BCE, led to planned settlements and townships. Cotton and sugarcane were cultivated in this region as early as 3000 BCE. The Indus Valley civilization has also shown evidence of ploughs, hearths for firing terra cotta, map making and the use of weights and measures.

India has contributed to advancements in science since thousands of years. The studies of Algebra, Trigonometry and Calculus had roots in India. The 'Place Value System' and the 'Decimal System' were developed in India circa 100 BCE. Baudhayana c. 8th century BCE composed the Baudhayana Sulba Sutra, with basic Pythagorean triples, as well as a description of the Pythagorean theorem for the sides of a square: "The rope which is stretched across the diagonal of a square produces an area double the size of the original square." It also has a formula for the square root of two. Indians used numbers as big as 10*53 (i.e. 10 to the power of 53) with specific names as early as 5000 BCE during the Vedic period.

Charaka consolidated Ayurveda 2500 years ago. This is the earliest school of medicine humanity has known. The Sushruta Samhita, an Ayurvedic text, has exhaustive descriptions of 1120 illnesses, 700 medicinal plants and a detailed study on Anatomy. Sushruta, widely recognised as the Father of Surgery, performed complex surgeries on cataract, urinary stones, and brain surgeries. Ancient Indian doctors used anaesthesia. The world's first university was established in Takshila in 700 BCE. Thousands of students went there from far corners of the world to study over 60 subjects. The University of Nalanda built in the 4th century was another shining example of India’s advancement in higher education.

India’s first satellite was brought on a bullock cart. India’s first rocket arrived on a bicycle to the Thumba Launching Station in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. Yet despite financial constraints, India’s space program is among the top 5 in the world. In September 2009, ISRO’s Chandrayaan- 1 used its Moon Mineralogy Mapper to detect water on the moon for the first time. ISRO’s women scientists have helped build India’s spectacular Mars Orbiter or Mangalyaan project. These dedicated women teamed up with their male colleagues to set ISRO’s world record by launching an amazing 104 satellites in one shot.

While excelling in many fields, Indians did not forget recreation. Chess was invented in India. The popular game of Snakes and Ladders, earlier known as Moksha Patamu, was invented long ago to teach children moral lessons about karma. The modern version of this board game is popular to this day.

India boasts of the world's largest film industry. Around 1,100 films are produced annually, which is twice as many as the American film industry.  Commercial Hindi films account for around 200 films a year, followed by Tamil and Telugu films.

Let’ appreciate these and many more Indian achievements, and continue our best efforts to help our country forge ahead.

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