Mother India and Its Past Teach Important Lessons

Issue Date:  9/1/2003

Bal Ram Singh 

"There are 193 countries in the world, and the U.S. cannot pay special attention to all the countries."

Such was the response of Dennis Kux, former ambassador to Pakistan and a leading scholar in international relations, to a question raised during a panel discussion at the National Press Club on April 26 on why India, being such a big democracy, is ignored by the world's oldest and most powerful democracy.It's not that U.S. attention to India is going to provide any therapeutic effect on India's multifarious challenges. Such unhesitating statements, however, reflect an attitude of the West towards a nation that has paradigmatic distinction in the world.

At the present, India's preeminent contributions in developing the number system, astronomy, medicine, industry, or philosophy (for example, yoga) are not even questioned, albeit rarely highlighted. The issue is the disbelief that such advances could have been made by a Third World nation. How is it possible that such a poor country, with a history of over 1,000 years of foreign rule, could ever claim to have an enlightened past full of glories and gallantries? Many questions arise, especially in the minds of the younger generations of Indian ancestry living in United States and other Western countries. They ask: If India had such great traditions and culture, why are we outside of India? We were born and brought up outside India, why would Indian culture be relevant to us? Granted our parents and ancestors came from India, and we should be respectful to their land of origin. but our motherland is where we are born, not some distant place in space and memory, some argue. So, they ask: Why shouldn't we learn and become successful non-resident Indians and adopt Western values? Isn't India's past glory just a myth created by a fictional feel-great mentality? Shouldn't science be our guiding principle of life, rather than rituals and traditions of a faraway land such as India? These questions are very valid, and every parent of Indian ancestry - irrespective of his or her religious, linguistic, geographical, and political background - should seek and address them, not just to be a good parent but to be a good citizen of his or her adopted land.

To energize one to such an effort, it is important to first be factually convinced of India's past record. Consider the following: India has the only surviving ancient culture on this planet. Then, there is the Indian Ocean, the only one out of the five oceans on planet Earth to be named after a country. No other country - not even Great Britain, whose rule was so vast that at one time there was no sunset in its empire, have achieved such a glory.

Sanskrit is accepted as the mother of all modern languages, including Latin and Greek. And, of course, yoga - one part of which is meditation - is now considered the most integrated practice of knowledge and medicine. And over 10 percent of the U.S. population regularly practices it. Great philosophers and writers of most modern generations of all lands have testified to the unique position of India and its contributions.

In a statement on April 21, the departing U.S. Ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, quoted Mark Twain: "India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great-grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India."

Blackwill and his wife are returning to New England, where he is scheduled to be a professor in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In his speech, Blackwill added: "So during this coming New England winter, our vivid and lasting memories of India - its people, its culture, its beauty - will warm us as we face the snows. Mother India has marked us deeply and only for the better - for all time."

Bal Ram Singh is director of the Center for Indic Studies at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.