"Glory" of Indian Culture

By Moorthy Muthuswamy, September 1999

For the second time, the Network of Indian Professionals -- New York chapter (NetIP-NY) sent out a request for articles on, "showcase the vast and glorious culture of India" for its newsletter. This association in which I am a member consists of mostly single professionals of Indian heritage. While it has many that were brought up in India, it also has quite a few who grew up here in the USA.

I have heard this cry of culture before, as I grew up in India. So, I set about putting some of my thoughts on this very cultural issue. Upon a search in a web-site dictionary, I came across this meaning for culture: "the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc".

While growing up in India, I listened to many educated Indians talk about the glory of Indian culture. Very rarely, I came across any that thought otherwise. At the age of 22 in 1984, I finished my Masters and left India for the USA to pursue a doctorate in Physics. In the beginning, I was looking to get exchange ideas with Indian-born long term residents (Non-Residential Indians) NRIs. Most of them, having missed India, talked about its great temples, music, philosophy etc. The conversation always seemed to get around to one thing, the glory of Indian culture!

The explanation from the dictionary necessarily associates culture with excellence in the endeavors of a society. I protested to the NRI, the fact that very rarely, I came across any endeavors of Indians (in India) that would be described as excellent, I was told that the blame lies with the Indian leadership. When I asked as to where the leadership and their advisors originated from, the NRIs were not able give an objective reply.

Historically, India had been a well-endowed country. Due to fertile lands, until about the year 1800, along with China, India had the most powerful economy in the world. This richness allowed Indians to devote resources to develop arts, music, philosophy etc. Indeed, the Indian civilization was quite creative. Most of this happened a while back.

The reality is that a long time ago so many civilizations had excelled in several areas. The Egyptian civilization built those awesome pyramids among other structures that stand out as the epitome of their civilization. Alas, they are no more today and only exist as a brief note in history.

While the Europeans took initiatives on industrial and scientific areas and forged ahead, Indians were defeated and ruled by Muslims and later by the British. However, it is important to realize that Indians didnít initiate the modern industrial and scientific age we live today. Their part, if any thing is minimal. Therefore, this fact inherently limits the impact of Indian cultural contributions to the modern age as well.

Other than the very recent advances in software engineering, I am yet to come across a single item engineered and manufactured in India that can successfully compete in international markets. This clearly points to the inability of Indian society to take on a problem solving approach and achieve excellence. There is certainly a sprinkling of capable people in India. But to achieve excellence in a complex operation involving various sectors of a society, one needs capable people at all levels.

As we approach the millennium, the relevant and a crucial question is what is the glory of contemporary Indian culture? What is the point of boasting about our one-time achievements while the contemporary Indian culture remains backward? If Indians try to focus on the reasons for the dismal state of contemporary Indian culture, they will have the frame of mind to realize and address their limitations. They will consequently enrich their culture by improving themselves.

Chinese had a great culture long time ago. How are they doing now? There is an incident that sheds light on why the Chinese have done so well lately. In the aftermath of the bombing of Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, the Sino-US ties soured. As I recall, a CNN correspondent asked a Chinese college student to comment on the status of the ties. She eloquently replied that bad relations with America would not help China, as China has so much to learn from America in order to improve itself!

The achievements in the area of software engineering has given India for the first time a taste of success in being able to compete globally. Perhaps, this has potential to translate to other areas, resulting in a glorious India (and its culture). Well folks, not so fast, there is a grave problem that is developing all over India, Islamic terrorism.

Unfortunately, many believe that the expanding Islamic terrorism will kill India. India will not even get that chance to survive. The indications are that Islamic terrorism will destroy its economic viability. Arenít Indians capable of handling this problem?

I would like to bring to your attention an excellent article published in the Washington Post by its New Delhi correspondent Mr. Ken Cooper. He stayed in India for three years. In this article appeared a few months ago titled, "India Holds Itself Back", he stated that in three years, he didnít come across a single politician who had a competent economic vision/strategy. This article has glaringly pointed out the absolute lack of quality leadership and the ignorance of the Indian elite.

I believe that the Indians who grew up in India, while still shaped into competency by living in a successful country such as the USA are at this time capable of saving India. A first step toward that process is to convene a conference of NRI representatives in USA to address the issue of Islamic terrorism. The representatives can be from various community and professional organizations in the USA.

The agenda of such a meeting is to develop strategies of eradicating Islamic terrorism and actively guide India into implementing them. The advent of Internet has made communication and information exchange across continents instantaneous and easy, thereby making this to be a possibility. In order for this to succeed, it has to be a collective effort by the NRIs.

Next time, when you hear about the glory of Indian culture, step back and think about it. Also, look into preventing India going in the way of a historical footnote.