India; 66 Years Young

The largest democracy on the planet celebrates its sixty sixth birthday today, while remaining a land of extreme contradictions.
As I walk the streets of Bangalore the contradictions stare me in the face. World brands like McDonalds and KFC stand side by side with local bakeries, open produce markets, and traditional restaurants that serve up Thali; you can also find Chinese and Italian cuisine abundant.

Saree (or Sari)

It is indeed a land of many spices; extreme wealth and extreme poverty; progressive innovation and old world traditions.

The men all wear western fashions — whether its dress slacks and shirts, or jeans and polo shirts –, while the women still mostly wear a traditional saree, , or salwar kameez; loose slacks and a tunic top.

According to Wikipedia, the Republic of India is the seventh largest country by landmass, second largest by population (1.2 billion), with the 11th largest economy by GNP (third in purchasing power). There are 28 states and 7 union territories. It is multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, and pluralistic; while Hindu and English are the two formal national languages, there are some eighty languages with 200 dialects throughout this country.

Four of the world’s major religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism—originated here, whereas Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam arrived in the 1st millennium CE and also helped shape the region’s diverse culture.

With such diversity however, clashes between extremists and more progressive Indians can’t be avoided: Mumbai erupted into violence when a demonstration by Muslims — to bring awareness to violence against them in Assam (northeast India) — ignited in anger; Hindu extremists enacted moral policing when they crashed a birthday party hosted by a group of students in Mangalore, and beat those students for partying; in Gokak a young couple from two different castes married against the wishes of their families, and were murdered in retaliation by a family member of the wife, leaving behind a seven month old daughter, and; a young Tibetan was recently stabbed in Mysore for — it is believed — simply being mistaken for a northeastern Indian.

My Thali lunch

Yet in my short experience here in Bangalore, there have also been good experiences: the people I’ve interacted with have been friendly, inquisitive, welcoming, and humble. They are a young, educated society that has a thirst for knowledge and learning. At the local mall I see young playful students and the scene could be mistaken for any western society.

In a country with hundreds of political parties, they’re often paralyzed by inaction and corruption that runs rampant on the local and national levels; recently in Bangalore the city came to a standstill when 11,000 city workers went on strike because they claim the BMTF (task force) has initiated 135 investigations against their ranks, while garbage piled up for a week. In the north of the country precious lakes are deteriorating due to building that violates laws that were put into place to protect them; bribes and sidestepping the law seems to be a sport here.

Yet the country is also home to many innovative entrepreneurial endeavors, such as Biome Environmental, a consulting agency focused on creating sustainable systems for eco-homes and offices, and Adarsh Vansey, a consultant for clean energy through hybrid wind and solar power. There are even everyday homeowners with solar power that generate more than they use, so they feed the overflow — through the grid interactive system — back into the city’s power grid.

Like I said, it’s a country of extreme contradictions.

During Independence Day, even the opinions of independence has many voices (excerpts from The Times of India): Ask Pandit

Nainital Lake

Sudhaker Chatuverdi, a former freedom fighter (who is 118 years old), if India’s freedom was gotten by MK Gandhi, Nehru, Subhash Bose, Bhagat Singh, Veer Savarkar, extremism or ashima, or given to it by the British themselves, and he’ll tell you “None of them, India got freedom because of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussilini, who created fear in the British Empire.”

NY Krishnamachi (96) noted that “sometimes I think we shouldn’t have gotten freedom at all. The British did not trouble the public as much as our elected politicians do now.”

Meanwhile, activists are optimistic as they crusade against corruption, and are now led by a popular yoga guru named Baba Ramdev. And in a show of optimism, the newspaper listed the top twenty-five on their “tomorrow’s leaders” list, in the areas of sports, politics, and entrepreneurism.

By the numbers, numerologist Sanjay B Jumaani traced the countries past, and for the future suggests that in the “66th year the number 03 is dominant, representing Jupiter, known as the planet of wealth and prosperity; while 2013 will give the number 6, Venus, that represents the good things in life,” suggesting that good things are ahead.

Only time will tell, and for a country with traditions that go back centuries, at 66 it is still an infant in comparison to other free nations. Will it grow and prosper? It’s hard to know, but with 1.2 billion people, if they ever collectively come together, that is a power no other free nation can wield to sway elected officials, and then anything for India is possible.

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About Brie Austin

Co-author of I'd Do It Again, he is a columnist/reporter for a variety of magazines in the areas of music, lifestyle, nightlife, travel and business. He also writes business documents and creates copy for websites.

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