The Indian Century
Date: Monday , November 01, 1999
For some 3,500 years before Ellis Island, India has been the destination of immigrants. Through out its intricate history, the land "that side of the Indus" has captured the imagination of wave after wave of humanity. If the past 3,500 years have consisted of the absorption and assimilation of cultures, the last hundred have seen a definition and dissipation. At the turn of the century, in light of the British Raj, India came to define itself. As Rushdie often points out, the "idea" of India was born. Churchill called India an "abstraction, no more a nation than the equator." What Mr. Churchill didn't realize is that under the hot Indian sun, where the material often has trouble existing, ideas persist with an uncommonly strong hue.
The 20th century has been about the distribution of this definition. Gandhi was one of the first to willingly cross the "black waters" - the tripartite conjunction of seas that conceal India from the south, just as the mountains do in the north. And it was across this forbidden disjunction, in South Africa and London, that Gandhi was to realize he was Indian. The 20th century has seen the largest emmigration from Indian soil. Indians left their motherland not only as indentured laborers and sepoys, but as law students and software engineers. And they took with them a culture that has been churning and settling for ages. From the modern definition of India - one that often hopes to be the culmination, not the replacement of antiquity - to the futuristic, a vision at once beautiful and contradictory, India eyes the next millenium with eager anticipation. In the next few pages, we hope to capture some characters who contributed to that impossible-to-define word, culture. From Porbandar to Silicon Valley, from Bengal to London, these men have captured the world's fancy. No doubt, the hot Indian sun will soon turn them into ideas as well.