Monday, July 25, 2011

Country of the Week: INDIA

"[India] is America’s most natural strategic ally in the 21st century, but most of the people in the two countries have only the vaguest ideas about their prospective new partners. This vast and diverse country with its thicket of cultures and religions is in some ways more like a continent than a nation state." (Walter Russell Mead)

With approximately 1.6 million employees, Indian Railways is the world's single largest employer.
Q: What's your preferred mode of travel?

Travel writer Paul Theroux: "The train—because I can read, walk around, sleep, talk to people, enjoy a sort of cultural experience, and get off anywhere I wish."

Q: In your writing, you tend to focus on individuals that you meet. Why?

Theroux: "I can't describe places in great sweeping generalizations. I need to speak person-to-person. I describe India and other places as having 'the accessible poor.' This is not the case in many other places. America, among others, has inaccessible poverty. I often ask Indians and Thais and Burmese and others: What's your name? Where do you live? How many children? How much money do you make? And so forth. Try asking those same questions in Appalachia; Jackson, Mississippi; East St. Louis; or areas of Los Angeles or Brooklyn."

An Indian school bus

The average age of people living in India is 26 (in Japan it is 45).India is mostly Hindu (80 percent), with Muslims making up 13 percent of the population. Buddhism, even though it originated in India, has less than one percent. [Thailand and Cambodia are about 95 percent Buddhist].

What is the most populated river basin in the world? The Ganges: the sacred waters for Hindus (but among the most polluted on earth). "The Ganga is the river of India, beloved of her people, round which are intertwined her racial memories, her hopes and fears, her songs of triumph, her victories and her defeats. She has been a symbol of India's age-long culture and civilization, ever-changing, ever-flowing, and yet ever the same Ganga." (from the will of Nehru, India's first prime minister, d. 1964)

Take a look at this map of the Ganges -- think northeast India, near Bangladesh. Mother Teresa's adopted city of Calcutta (Kolkata) is situated in its mouth.

The Mughal (Mogul) Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries was the high point of Islamic rule in India. The most famous of the 'Grand Moguls' is Akbar the Great, warrior and patron of the arts, who married a Hindu woman and rolled back some of the strict sharia laws. When Akbar [pictured below] died in 1605 his domain -- which began as a number of fiefs around Delhi -- covered most of northern and central India.

Another famous Islamic emperor in this era was Shah Jahan, who is buried in the Taj Mahal... which he built for the love of his life: dear Mumtaz ('cradle of excellence') who perished in giving birth to their 14th child. "With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven Coveted her and me."

When the first Muslim traders started traveling in the 7th century, they often made landfall in the Gujurat area of northwestern India -- part of the Indus River Valley (one of the world's most far-flung and earliest urban civilizations). The king of Gujurat allowed them to build a mosque there.

Today one of the nation's industrial states, Gujurat is India's fastest growing economy. It is the area where Mohandas Gandhi grew up.

In the summer of 1947 the British Indian Empire was dissolved into what turned out to be a violent partition: India and Pakistan. [Pakistan is now predicted to become the largest Muslim country by 2030.] In 1971 East Pakistan -- separated by a thousand miles -- broke away from the larger West Pakistan. The new nation, assisted militarily by India, called itself Bangladesh ('Country of Bengal.')

Currently, India is the world's leading importer of arms, most of which come from Russia.

[Among the men who served as American ambassadors to India were Daniel Patrick Moynihan and John Kenneth Galbraith. The latter, a few years before his death, told an Indian journalist: "I have no doubt whatever that if you had to have an imperial master, it better be England. It was the good fortune of all the countries that have been part of the British empire." That from a progressive who increasingly viewed 'national sovereignty' as a pejorative...]

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