Sunday, October 10, 2010

From ‘Om. An Indian Pilgrimage’ by Geoffrey Moorhouse

And do thy duty, even if it be humble, rather than another’s, even if it be great. To die in one’s duty is life: to live in another’s is death


No other nation has even known such a natural diversity of tongues, the result, for the most part, of slow evolution since the beginning of mankind. No other country has lived with so complicated a past so equably, assimilating everything that has happened to it, obliterating naught, so that not even the intricate histories of European states have produced such a rich pattern as that bequeathed by the Mauryas, the Ashokas, the Pahlavas, the Guptas, the Chalukyas, the Hoysalas, the Pandyas, the Cholas, the Mughals and the British – to identify only a few of the peoples who have shaped India’s inheritance. Nor is there another land that constantly provokes in the stranger such elation and despair, so much affection and anger, by powerful contrasts and irreducible opposites of behavior: wickedness and virtue, caring and indifference, things bewitching and disgusting and terrifying and disarming, often in quick succession. India has nuclear power and other advanced technology close by some of the most obscene slums in creation; she has never failed to hold democratic elections at the appointed time, yet these too frequently elevate men whose own votes can be bought with rupees and other emoluments, she has a high and mighty self-esteem and a taste for moral posturing which equals anything suffered by her people when the British were here; she has been capable of unparalleled generosity to her last imperial rulers, but she bickers endlessly and meanly with her closest neighbor and twin; she gave birth to the creed of massive non-violent protest and once practiced this effectively, yet in the first generation of independence she has assassinated three of her own leaders, starting with the begetter of satyagraha….. Such contradictions and anomalies as these run through India from end to end, and help to make her incomparable.

As does another characteristic. Religion, too, flourishes here as it does nowhere else. Other lands may surrender themselves totally to a particular faith, but in India most creeds are deeply rooted and acknowledged fervently. Virtually the whole population practices some form of devotion: the Indian without the slightest feeling for the divine, without a spiritual dimension to his life, is exceedingly rare.

Plenty of Westerners do not survive their initial experience of the subcontinent, fleeing in anxiety, in disgust and with indignation from its darknesses, condemned never to know it properly. But many more are vouchsafed in that first encounter a glimpse of something so enchanting, so inspiring, so utterly and attractively outside all previous experience, that they know they will return as often as possible, to be thrilled by it afresh

…few yards from the temple someone had spread his wares on a small trestle, which was all he required for the sale of spare parts for defective wrist-watches, each item salvaged from other broken timepieces: a great variety of watch faces, fingers, glasses, winding knobs, flywheels, casings, spindles, straps. Next to this speciality was an even narrower one, offering any of the few bits and pieces that someone might need in order to mend an electric torch. It seemed impossible that anyone could make a living this way, but India defies such assumptions more than any other country I have known: perhaps because the reworking of junk must come more naturally to a people whose principal creed sees life as a perpetually revolving cycle.

…….Raghu, 26, of Perumpayakkad, was returning home on Friday when a group of persons carrying deadly weapons attacked him.” Nothing more: just a brief paragraph towards the bottom of an inside page. Life could be very bleak in India: and was, for some, every day of the week.

………for India was, above anywhere else, the land where every distinction of faith, every equivocation, every contradiction, every doubt, every reticence was commonplace, often glorified and always accepted as if any variant at all was the natural condition of man. For that reason alone, I could have surrendered myself to the spirit of this country without any ifs or buts

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