Thursday, December 25, 2008

India: Cradle of the human race

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on December 18th - 25th in Metro √Čireann By Charles Laffiteau

Next month I will be heading back to the United States to attend the historic inauguration of Barak Obama as America’s 44th President and I plan to discuss my experiences in Washington DC in future columns. In the meantime I am going to depart from my usual discourse about US politics and instead try to describe what I experienced during the course of my three week trip to India during the month of October.
Unfortunately, India has been in the headlines of late due to the violent actions of a group of pseudo-religious Islamic terrorists in the city of Mumbai, aka Bombay, which resulted in the deaths of 171 innocent men, women and children. But as shocked as I was by this terrorist assault on Mumbai, I can only imagine how shocked the peace loving people of India were by these bloody attacks. India after all, is the home and birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, the world’s pioneer in the use of totally non-violent civil disobedience as a means of political protest and resistance to tyranny. I suspect Gandhi must have been turning over in his grave since it was only 80 years ago that India’s Hindus and Muslims had been united in support of Gandhi’s campaign of non-violent civil disobedience.
There are many people in this world who, like Gandhi, believe there is never a justification for the use of violence under any circumstances and I have nothing but admiration for them and their ideals. My own personal position regarding the use of violence is that there are absolutely no justifications for ever using violence against another human being unless it is in defense of ones own life or the lives of others. Thus my position about the violence perpetrated by so called religious Muslim, Hindu or Christian extremists is their use of violence is in fact an act of religious desecration.
While Catholics in Northern Ireland, Muslims in Palestine and other religious or ethnic minorities in many parts of the world very often have legitimate grievances about how they are treated, there are absolutely no religious grounds for their use of violence to address those grievances. These terrorists and their religious leaders are simply murderers using their religion to put a cloak of legitimacy around their decidedly unholy intentions.
But enough about my opinions on religious terrorists, I want to discuss something much more interesting and enervating, my recent trip to India. I have had the privilege of traveling to many different countries around the world during the course of my life, but nowhere I have ever been quite compares with India. A famous American author, Mark Twain visited India in the 19th century and described India as “the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. So far as I am able to judge, nothing has been left undone, either by man or nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his rounds. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, nothing overlooked.”
Then during the 20th century the famous American historian Will Durant, who authored the Pulitzer Prize winning eleven volume ‘biography’ of civilization, The Story of Civilization, wrote even more definitely that “India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe's languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all.”
I quote these famous American authors here because quite frankly, as a 21st century American visitor, I had great difficulty trying to come up with words that would adequately describe my impressions about this extraordinary country. But it isn’t just American’s who are mesmerized by India.
The Nobel Prize winning French novelist Romain Rolland wrote that “If there is one place on the face of earth where all the dreams of living men have found a home from the very earliest days when man began the dream of existence, it is India.” While China is also a nation with a rich history and a unique place among the world’s greatest civilizations, the former Chinese Ambassador to the United States, Hu Shih, has also acknowledged India’s special place in China’s own history by noting that; “India conquered and dominated China culturally for 20 centuries without ever having to send a single soldier across her border.”
The colors, the sights, the sounds, the smells and the tastes of India constantly assaulted my senses throughout the course of my stay, leaving me breathless and exhausted by the time I left to return home to Ireland. But now that I have had the benefit of several weeks to recover and put my thoughts in order, I can finally share with you that my overall impression of India is that it’s a country with an amazing history, possessing both incredible potential and equally daunting challenges.
The people of India represent a very diverse mix of ethnic and religious backgrounds all of whom are aware and proud of India’s rich heritage even though the people of India do not actually share a common language. Shortly after arriving in New Delhi I became friends with Arrun, an PhD student from Chennai in Southern India. Arrun is engaged to Shani, another Indian PhD student who is from Punjab, a region that borders Pakistan in northwestern India. Talk about two people from totally different backgrounds and cultures. Arrun is a meat eating Christian while Shani is a vegetarian Hindu and neither one can understand the other’s native language. But what these two wonderful people do share in common is English as their second language as well as a deep love and affection for each other and India.
Next week I will continue with this discussion of my trip to this amazing country.

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