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“What’s so great about India?”

August 2003
“What’s so great about India?”

It was a simple question from a persistent skeptic and a cynic. Notwithstanding the motives behind the question, an attempt at reflecting on it does serve as a good exercise in commemorating the 57th anniversary of India's Independence Day (August 15th).

But first, some devil's advocacy may be in order. Let's grant this much to the skeptic: an honest report card on the little over half-a-century of independent India, does not bode well for it. Beyond the pockets of good news such as India's emergence as a global IT force, lies a gloomy picture. The vast majority of its masses are far removed from all the productive action of liberated markets and the much vaunted outsourcing boom. Acute and chronic poverty, lack of bare necessities such as adequate running water and electricity, inferior civil infrastructures, illiteracy, corruption, communal violence? and on goes the list of the "usual suspects" that have continued to plague the country.

Narayan Murthy, Chairman and Chief Mentor of Infosys who is also one of the most respected of Indian entrepreneurs, in a recent article, remarked that the scales tilt towards what is wrong and broken in present day India, than what is what is not - even as goes on to prescribe his very perceptive recommendations for a better future for the country.

That said, lets not miss the forest for the tree. Thankfully, India is much more than just its contemporary struggles. To ask what's great about a civilization that has endured, sustained, and thrived for over 5000 years - even amidst relentless aggressions by every conceivable invading force - is to demand proof of an ethereal concept such as love, in the palm of one's hands.

Where volumes of books and verses have been written about its glorious heritage, and where philosophers and historians as diverse and revered as Rabindranath Tagore and Will Durant have marveled over its majesty, how can a meager forum such as this space begin to describe its glory? All then, that is attempted here, is a superficial scratching of the surface, with hopes that it will prompt the reader in this direction.

The defining glory of the Indian ethos and its gifts to mankind are primarily abstract - unlike those of the Western Civilization. For example, it is far easier to answer the question, "What's great about America?" Some of the most profound breakthroughs of modern society such as automobiles, airplanes and a (thriving) capitalism are American gifts - the tremendous benefits of which are plainly visible and appreciated.

But how does one go about evaluating and quantifying higher consciousness? Yet, that is the promise of the uniquely Indian concept of meditation. Similarly, it is hard to appreciate the ancient Indian science of Yoga, which while transformational, may take years of sustained practice. To put it crudely, these are not 'sexy' concepts for those looking for 'sound bites' about the accomplishments and contributions of civilizations.

- Parthiv N. Parekh


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