What is an Indian?
Ultimately being an Indian is what brings us together. An Indian cannot be defined merely by the geography of the nation because we as PIOs come from all corners of the globe, of all colors and creed, speaking in a language that is truly not Indian and yet…Something binds us all together today.
I’m told this morning I’m to speak about Partners in Nation Building. I would like to expand upon that title or take a little liberty in making that title a wee bit more descriptive of what I am going to speak about this morning.
I would like to call it Partners in Building Nations. We are not here to build any single nation. Because India to me does not just span a geographical area. India to me spans the globe. The question to me has always been not what is India, but rather what is not India. As Indians we have pervaded and permeated almost every nation on this planet. We have brought out cultural values, our music our heritage, our language, our food, our philosophy and even in the lightest context our film industry as in Bollywood, Kollywood and Tollywood to every corner of the planet.
What brings us together is the fact that we can laugh together. That we perceive this planet in a manner that has been tinted, if not completely influenced by 4000 yrs of history that has preceded all of us. It is this history more than anything else that is our strongest binding force. We as Indians draw much of who we are from it. Although oceans may divide us, we come together as one, in terms of being a nation that has stood for tolerance, understanding, for truth and love. And this in particular has been embodied by a whole series of great souls who have come out of this great land.
Ranging back from the times of the legendary Mahabharat and Ramayan to Chandragupta Maurya, the noble Ashoka, Harsha, the embodiement of truth, down to Shajahan, Akbar and in more recent times Ramana Maharishi, Vivekananda, Ramalinga Swami, Tagore, Sri Aurobindo to none other than the great icon of the Indian continent, Mahatma Gandhi.
And even after him, to the late Mother Teresa.
So, the question is, if these are the ideas that have influenced us and brought us together and the same ideas permeate the rest of the planet, so who actually is thought of as Indian. Both Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela look up to Gandhi as a mentor, guide and have lived exemplary lives, following this great philosopher. In my mind these would be great Indians too. Just as I consider Mother Teresa an integral part of Mother India.
However, even as I admire these people who have emulated great Indians, I think all of us here today recognize that we were born with these intrinsic principles and a visualization that came with it that makes us Indians from birth, despite our places of birth. We are Indian not because of any passports that we carry. Nor because of any nationality that we are but rather, we are Indian because of this 4000 yr history that binds us together. And it is to this 4000 year old history that we should revert to and build upon. We should be enriching ourselves with this tremendous ocean of knowledge that’s inherent within all of us. We should draw upon it and build better nations throughout the world, wherever we are.
The fact that we are here today is to strengthen and build upon this unique bond that holds us all together. We need to find better ways and greater purposes to be able to bring this tremendous heritage to the lands that we now call home. We need to build stronger bonds between the lands we live in and to our brethren in the Indian subcontinent so that jointly we can grow. Just as China has done with the Chinese diaspora, enabling China and the diaspora which is in a multitude of countries, to grow and be enriched in the process.
Today, the vast subcontinent is a thriving powerful arena of growth and development that the entire globe wishes to participate in. We’re among the fastest growing middle class in the world. A powerful thriving economy that has created more billionaires than any other country but China. With a high literacy level which has provided more IT pros than any other country in the world. And with tremendous untapped potential that is yet to be explored. Most other countries today are reaching out to build better relationship with the subcontinent and we as the Indian diaspora are the best possible bridge builders with the ways and means to do this better and more sensitively to anyone else. This is what we can offer. This is what we should avail upon as the world is turning into a global village and as 1/5th of this village are PIOs.
And as we grow and expand into nations all over the world, we are truly going to be able to shape the planet we live in. If only, we can come together. Meeting of the minds such as this allows an opportunity to look forward. This is not about going backwards historically to find who we are but rather to go forward futuristically to define who we can become. As a global Indian we will represent a mindset, a way of living, with certain values that bind us all together and this is never so clear never so vivid as and when we look back as this central icon of this man who has been called the icon of the last century – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
The theme that I wish to present upon you – partners in nation building has to evolve from the leadership. In that sense of the word, this man lived it. He was not a politician, nor a general, nor was he a businessman, nor was he prophet espousing any particular religion. His life was his message and when he left this world, he created an impact. He created a crater in the mind of man that no other man has been able to do since. And not many have been able to do before. He was proud to be Indian although he has lived most of life outside of India. Like us of the Indian Diaspora he built nations wherever he went. Having spent a great portion of his life in Africa, he did not sit still and watch but rather became a great African himself, injecting his belief and principles into that continent. To the extent that the future president, the first black president of South Africa revered him as his guide and mentor. And expounded his virtues and philosophies at every turn and I refer to none other than Nelson Mandela.
I cannot give you Gandhi today. But I can give you in essence, his message, his presence and what he might have said himself to you had he been alive. And the most important thing of this message you are about to see and the thing that pains me deeply is that no Indian created devised or ran this but I guess that is the central theme of what I’ve been saying all morning. Bear with me as we watch this short advertisement by Italia Telekom
Here’s what we should be able to do. That is to get the west to emulate us. If we can enrich them as he has done, even in a small part, then we can truly be proud to be a global Indian as he was. Ladies and gentlemen I give you:
Telekom Italia….Mahatma Gandhi.
Translation of Italian text in the ad:
If he could have communicated like this, what would the world be like today?"
The footage used in the ad is from the original speech, given at the Inter-Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi, April 2, 1947, and had Gandhi speaking to over 20,000 people.
“What I want you to understand if you can, that the message of the East, the message of Asia, is not to be learnt through European spectacles, through the Western spectacles, not by imitating the tinsel of the West, the gun-powder of the West, the atom bomb of the West. (start of the ad) ‘If you want to give a message again to the West, it must be a message of ‘Love’, it must be a message of ‘Truth’. I want to capture your hearts. Let your hearts clap in unison with what I’m saying, and I think, I shall have finished my work. Therefore, I want you to go away with the thought that Asia has to conquer the West. Then, the question that a friend asked yesterday, ‘Did I believe in one world?’ Of course, I believe in one world. end of the ad) And how can I possibly do otherwise, when I become an inheritor of the message of love that these great un-conquerable teachers left for us?”
This, explains in essence not just what India can do, but what India has done.
I would like to close with part of a speech I gave in Aug 2004 in India for Independence day which sums up everything that I believe in, as an Indian.
To quote Tagore,
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
“Indianness is a spirit and it lends itself to a myriad of interpretations. From banal inanities to world class achievements. But the essence of the spirit is captured in the lyric – Saare Jahan se achcha, Hindustan hamara….whoever you are, whatever you do, wherever you are, be proud to be Indian.
The wars of today are won and lost long before a single shot is fired. The real power today is economic strength. Iraq and Afghanistan had been lost long before the advent of troops. The troops merely helped to complete the debacle. The mighty Soviet Union with its numerous satellite states fell without a single shot. As did the monolithic Berlin Wall. Whatever happened to the impenetrable Iron Curtain? The UN has been effectively muzzled. First through GATT and then again by WTO. NATO has been overshadowed by the EU. Even the military might of China and US quaver before the OIC or APEC. Germany, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and even city states like Hong Kong and Singapore exert great influence over global affairs well beyond their military might due to economic clout.
India is not bound by Kashmir & Kanyakumari, it is a consciousness and a concept that spans 4000 years. It has permeated the planet, we are felt but not feared in distant lands stretching from the Pacific Isles to the Poland, and from Jamaica to Japan. We have won our victories not in the battle fields of blood and gore but rather in the minds and hearts of man. Our supposed assault weapons have been embodied in part are our music and culture, our creative arts, philosophy and spirituality. Yoga and Ayurveda has permeated the planet today.
This heritage is embodied in our spirit. Our key strategic weapon, the oneness of man as envisioned by Gandhi, casteless, classless, colorless, creedless and countryless. The skirmishes have begun long ago, as the first Indians left the Motherland to settle in the far corners of the world. Let the battle be engaged, for we shall prevail. This is our Millennium! This is India and I am Indian.”