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From 'snake charmers' to 'space scientists' -the re-emergence of India

By G. Balasubramanian

The land of Snake Charmers” – My apologies for this reference, but one couldn’t help using this construct, thanks to the colonizers who wanted to discredit India and project her image in poor light across the world. True, people who couldn’t understand the intellectual delight and recipe of India, those who could not see the celebration of holistic living in India, those who thought that people who don’t walk in their shoes had no literacy they conceived, those who wanted to undermine and capitalise on the Indian natural and physical resources through power, found a great joy in depicting this country in low esteem. Though some of their own contemporaries have hailed the Indian ‘Mind and Spirit’ as the epitome of an evolved human engagement with its own consciousness and the world around, the message and the propaganda of the colonials was broadcast effectively to a distant ignorant world. Kalidasa and Thiruvalluvar were no lesser spirits than Shakespeare and Shelly – as such there could be no match; P.C. Roy and J.C Bose were no less significant scientists as compared to their western counterparts; Ramanujam and C.V. Raman could make breakthrough in the way Maths and science was conceived and thought; the delight of the engineering skills of Sir Visvesvaraya could speak volumes for centuries: the flora and fauna of the country contributing to human existential needs were beyond comprehension of many. The spirit of yoga and meditation were no less physical and mental health systems as compared to many non-validated processes that were practiced elsewhere. Max Muller remarked about India - “If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions, I should point to India.” One can go on comparing the glory and achievement of India to many other countries across the world, yet the projection of India as a country of snake charmers was an intelligent trump card used to play the colonial game.

The success of the colonial rulers was in their skill to create a belief system among the natives that they were indeed intellectually and technically inferior, and had no scientific thinking skills, because of colour and other concerns, thus impacting a negative mindset among the people. Yielding to this propaganda, the natives started downgrading themselves step by step to defeatism. This reminds me of a small story I had read in the Readers’ Digest” magazine during my college days. The story goes like this: “Devils of a particular place wanted to establish a market. They brought all their materials and products for sale to a market. Everyone put their best show in the market When the markets opened, while most shops remained quiet without any buyers, there was only one shop where the customers were pouring in. Late in the evening, other vendors went to the devil in whose shop the business was good and asked for the reason. The devil who owned this shop said “whenever a buyer passes by my shop, I give them a gift. The moment they receive it they come back to my shop to buy something. On being asked what the gift was, the devil who owned this shop said “Nothing special, I gift them a pass to the gateway to self-defeat. They defeat themselves and then return to me to buy whatever I sell’ A disbelief in one’s own self, lack of self-pride and the tendency to defeat one’s own self, makes one yield to self-pity and let anyone else overpower them. And that was indeed the strategy which worked.

The five major factors that helped in this power game were:

1. Creating a myth of about the superiority of a foreign language

2. Keeping people ignorant of their own wealth and resources

3. Defining life systems as an engagement with material production

4. Projecting achievement and growth through a hierarchical sub-servient model

5. Downgrading native cultures and belief systems as irrelevant to personal and social growth.

The emergence of India as one of the global powers capable of standing up to any challenge in the world has started a new chapter. The achievements of India in the last few decades are testimony to its latent competence and intellect. Some significant achievements include:

a. Green Revolution (which changed the destiny of the country)

b. White Revolution (Operation Flood that integrated rural resources to productivity)

c. Growth in literacy and education (progressive increase in quality education for billions)

d. Industrial revolution – textiles, automobiles, steel, and others

e. Export orientation (spice, tea, textiles, steel etc.,)

f. Communication services (Digital revolution)

g. Software power (software professionals for global needs)

h. Science and Technology (Research, Pharma, Defence, Nuclear energy, aeronautics etc.,)

i. Space sciences (ISRO)

There could be many more to list. All that could happen just because of the change in our belief systems -from ‘we can’t’ to ‘We can’. The intellectual enterprise, the dominant thinking skills, the entrepreneurial attitudes, the ability to face failures and convert them to stories of success, and to provide the competent skill sets to different nations through our youth power are the new chapters in our modern history.

Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary General observed "India is becoming a fundamental pillar of multilateralism, and at the same time we want a multipolar world. It is impossible to build a multipolar world without a relevant role of India” The recent indicators of the economic growth of India as a sustainable global economic power is proof enough to the purpose and goals that trigger us into action. The acknowledgement of India as a country that matters to global concerns shows its re-emergence from its subordinated mindset.

The recent efforts to engage with space through Chandrayan, Mangalyaan and Aditya L-1 are proof enough to the new direction of our leadership in the competing world. The contribution of India to reach out to heal human’s world over through its pharmaceutical supplies is a demonstration of its compassion and concern for the entire world. Its emerging economy reflects our productive abilities. Well, in our engagement to reposition ourselves from ‘Snake charmers’ but as ‘space chasers’, possibly only the first few lines have been written. Our self-confidence and belief in the richness and power of natural and physical resources, is possibly the only gateway to complete the rest of the story. Yes, In the years to come, we would love charming not only snakes, but also the space!