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Readers Write

March 2011
Readers Write India was never home for the British

I read the article titled “The Crux of India’s Heritage” by Dr. Paul R. Fleischman in your December issue with much interest. It was an eye-opener even to a reader like me, who was born and brought up in India. I was particularly fascinated by his list of the ten qualities of Indian culture that make a person “Indian on the inside.” He describes Alexander as a tourist rather than a conqueror or invader! Well, a lot of Greeks didn’t go back; they settled in India. There are still lots of Yunani (as the Greeks were called in India) clinics in most Indian towns and cities.

The only point where I could not agree with Dr. Fleischman was where he seems to suggest that the British, too, like the other foreigners, immersed themselves in Indian culture. The British, like the Greeks and Muslims, came to India as invaders but did not make it their home unlike the other two. There are several reasons why Indians did not allow them to make India their home. First, the British came with the intention of establishing trade and slowly captured the whole country and ruled it ruthlessly. Second, they were looters rather than settlers, and took with them lots of precious stones, artifacts and old statues. They still have not returned our Kohinoor, the most precious stone of India. Third, people could not forget the merciless killings and treatment of Indians by the English people. Who can forget the Jallianwala Bagh incident? Also, they never mixed with the common people, and always held themselves aloof. The color of their skin, too, kept them from blending with mainstream Indians. Perhaps people were always wary in the presence of an Englishman or woman. No wonder the British were unable to make India their home.

India has been invaded and ruled by foreigners in the past because we were not united or did not stay united. The foreigners took advantage of this weakness. I am somewhat concerned about China’s intentions. If we do not stay united, they may well be the next invaders to rule India. They have already made inroads into Tibet and Nepal, and now claim Arunachal Pradesh as their own.

Ajay Mehrotra
Greenville, South Carolina

A Gift from India

My father recently returned from India. Like Santa opening his overstuffed bag of gifts, my children handed me some gifts my cousins had asked my father, faithful courier that he is, to deliver. Many were the gifts we all are all too familiar with—the murtis, traditional clothes, saris, bindis and sweets.

One, however, struck me as something with a much deeper meaning, and one that could only come from the subcontinent. It wasn’t very big, nothing lavish or too expensive—a small image of an elephant carrying a palanquin of sorts. The pseudo-palanquin, if you will, is meant to hold not an image of Radha-Krishna or the deity of your choice, but a modern device we all can hardly live without, a cell phone.

This was a prime example, I thought, and prima facie evidence of why an ancient civilization like India, steeped in tradition and esoteric wisdom, has been able to embrace the modern age. Here, before me, was an ancient and sacred symbol of India—the elephant, revered everywhere from the courts of our rajas to our temples and homes, a symbol of wisdom and strength, embracing and carrying the cell phone, a most modern invention. It was physical evidence of ancient India embracing the modern. Like the sadhu using a laptop and cell phone on the banks of the Ganga, the Brahmin priest tying lemon and chillies on the bumper of a new Mercedes to ward off the evil eye, and countless other examples.

India is emerging, and has stood the test of time, because of this very phenomenon. India’s ancient civilization has kept the country grounded in the face of recent rapid change. The flexibility of this heritage has enabled India to move forward without losing her own unique identity. It is this flexibility that has allowed India to survive foreign and imperial invasion, and still remain intact. Sufism, Hinglish—these are all examples of how Indian civilization has transformed ideas from the outside into our own. India’s cultural ethos is like a magic rubber band that continues to stretch, but never breaks, finding ways to encircle seemingly contradictory ideas and values. Without this flexible yet fluid foundation, India would not be what she is today. The winds of the world have swept through India, but she has yet to be swept off her feet.

Maybe Gandhi would be proud after all.

Anyway, at least my cell phone now has a safe resting place. Ironic, I suppose, that an ancient symbol has helped me solve this most irritating of modern problems—misplacement of our cherished devices.

Munjal G. Shroff
Smyrna, Georgia

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