At the turn of the year my thoughts inevitably turn to India and our annual return to the land of my birth. I first returned to India in 1997 after a very long absence; it was for me a pilgrimage which has led to four books, travelling and a much looked forward to annual return. Looking back at India I am also in a way reviewing my own life. This time however there is poignancy for me personally, activated by a sharp clear memory.
Awakening with the gentle sounds of Classic FM on the radio, as I contemplated the promise of another day, the tempo changed and a tenor was singing O Solo Mio – the lovely old Italian song. There, in my visual memory was the young Rajiv Gandhi laughing; he and I were on an Air India 707 awaiting take off from Mumbai (then Bombay) International Airport, – it was 1961. We were teenagers, Rajiv must have been about seventeen, and I was fourteen and returning to school after a holiday. Rajiv presumably was going to investigate his potential university career at Cambridge. There were a lot of young people on that plane and the chatter and laughter of carefree youth not even thinking of what our respective destinies would hold. O Solo Mio was playing on the aircraft’s sound system prior to takeoff.
Destiny can seem a histrionic word in as much as one person’s destiny is another person’s life struggle. Rajiv Gandhi’s destiny was tragic, but my life continues, God willing, stable and secure. Life has from time to time been challenging, painful, sad, happy and contented – that is usually the way for us all.
Now let us consider India’s destiny, recalling that her first prime minister’s immortal words were ‘…. a tryst with destiny…’ How sad that nearly 70 years later one continually reads of, or sees on the news, the appalling acts of religious intolerance and bigotry and increasingly also it seems misogyny; Mother India is a proud title which should be valued and there should be respect for all of India’s female population. Throughout history whenever a people have persecuted others for their beliefs and culture, invariably their own beliefs and pride have been diminished and reviled. Intolerance just breeds intolerance; we have seen it here in Britain, and to this day here in beautiful Scotland there are still the ‘saplings of racism, religious bigotry and a peculiar ability to have a collective chip on the shoulder’. Some would say that is the result of being a small and rather introspective nation, which until recently was subsumed into the nation known as Great Britain. Bad habits die hard and elements of Scotland continually return to whining when something goes wrong but never conceding that it might be their own fault and thus our own Scottish collective responsibility.
India, however is justifiably proud in being the world’s largest democracy, now having embarked confidently on its 21st century journey as a prosperous global power. It seems to me to have shed its mantle of saintly third world developing country. Indians in their energy and enthusiasm are whenever possible embracing the modern world and I think India is going to be the democratic giant of this century; indeed, Indian expertise in so many scientific fields is immense and most particularly in the IT industry. Huge international companies are urgently investing their economic futures in India, and generally the benefits to India herself outweigh any negative issues. This will all continue only if the country as a whole has the discipline, courage and generosity of spirit to understand its own dilemma. Education and the knowledge accrued leads to respect of diversity and tolerance which thus leads to a nation being happy in itself.
Let there be respect for all religions and a tolerance and respect for the respective cultures therein, providing of course they do not in any way demean individuals or harm humanity. Gandhiji tried to show India and indeed the watching world that one can take the good from every religion and meld it to give one spiritual comfort. Some would say, No! That has no integrity; so be it. Some require the purity and austerity of a single mantra and doctrine. But in no worthwhile belief or philosophy is there a directive to hate, torture, rape, terrorise, subjugate or kill one’s fellow human beings. How many times fanatics in every belief have twisted doctrines to achieve cruel ends, but that is all man made and self serving, as we are witnessing elsewhere in the world.
To have a pride in the nation’s Hindu Heritage seems eminently sensible and desirable. Constructive pride leads to benevolent behaviour whereas destructive fervour and hate leads to a downward spiral.
Please, India and the great worldwide Indian Diaspora, ensure that your country does not implode with hatred and destruction nor allow nearby countries to continue to terrorise or plant fear and suspicion; the birth of Independent India was accompanied by tragedy and we do not need to see it re-enacted for the horrified eyes of our grandchildren.
This does however require people to be civic minded and not feel that they can continue to enrich their own personal lives but leave the welfare of the nation to someone else. Inevitably, the resulting moral vacuum will be filled by someone who has a greed for power and self aggrandisement, usually with psychopathic tendencies as a characteristic. The twentieth century was full of leaders like that both in the West and the East. Africa as a continent continues to display some of the worst features of humanity when people accrue total power and dispense with democracy.
India should be a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations, and I know that there is currently a huge lobby seeking to achieve this with which I agree.
Beloved Bharat, Land of my birth your Destiny is to be a shining beacon of religious pluralism and democratic diversity. Display the strength and wisdom borne of your antiquity, withstand the temptation to retaliate, but display courage, tolerance and above all, control as you approach the 70th anniversary of your Nationhood and the exciting future.
Aline Dobbie www.thepeacockscall.co.uk