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India to the rescue?

January 4, 2010

Throughout our travels, we found ourselves on many-a-train, often with the good fortune of sharing our sleeping berth with engaging and insightful people.  One particularly animated conversation occurred while riding an overnight train from Delhi to Varanasi in India.  In our berth was  R.P. Singh from Varanasi, Sunil Sharma from Delhi, and Severine Landrieu – a young woman from Paris who was in India studying yoga and meditation.

Amidst the din of the Indian rail system, and the constant cries of the “chai-wallah” walking up and down the aisles selling hot tea, we settled into a long and in-depth discussion about religion, politics, global power dynamics, and of course…hope. All three of our new friends believed that there was hope for the future of humankind – but only cautiously.

Mr. Singh laments the current state of the world with the US being a sole superpower amidst a world of less-developed and hence less powerful nations.  He sees this as a major cause of the current unjust wars being waged.   However, he does see the potential for this to change in the forseeable future – with India and China rising rapidly in their economic and political power.  He believes that once India, China, and other nations develop their own capacities, the threat of having exploitative wars such as we have today will be dramatically decreased, for other nations will be able to assist in resisting these colonizing nations.  He points out that things are already changing.  He cites the fact that WW1 and WW2 have not been followed  by a WW3 as a sign that we as a global society are headed in the right direction.  His ultimate hope lies in the rise in power of countries such as China and India, as a means of providing some global power balance.

Mr. Sharma also believes that the solutions to humanity’s survival lies in India.  In a somewhat more romantic depiction, Sunil speaks of India as a bastion of peace and tolerance.  He cites Hinduism’s longstanding peaceful and introspective traditions, along with its tolerance to other faiths, as a model which the world can strive to emulate.  He sees danger in the current obsession of the developed world to help “develop” developing nations.  Wisely, he likens this preoccupation to pseudo-colonization, and notes that developed nations appear to be engaged in a race amongst themselves to export their own cultures and policies upon developing nations.   Rather than changing cultural values and promoting the rise of materialism, Sunil believes that we should first embrace tradition, spirutuality, and religion and through this lens gain deeper understanding into the oneness of humankind.  He believes that India’s ability to have all the worlds major religions co-existing for hundreds of years with relative peace could be a lesson for other nations everywhere.

At the start of our conversation, Severine was a bit doubtful that the world could really change – and when I first posed my question, I saw her shaking her head sadly.  She remained quiet and thoughtful throughout most of our discussions, but when the camera finally turned to her, I was surprised to find her outlook to be quite transformed.  Perhaps Mr. Sharma and Mr. Singh’s passionate belief of India being the saviour of the future of our globe had a contagious nature to it, for I too was beginning to feel small sparks of hope in my heart as well (these of course were quickly extinguished when a religiously motivated bombing occured the following day in Varanasi).

Severine also seems to feel that religion and spirituality have an important role to play in our lives, for it provides a structure and a base for people.  She feels that the rise of materialism is extinguishing our need for religious belief – since we have all the material comforts we need, the concept of God becomes somewhat redundant – and she sees this as a dangerous phenomenon.  However she sees some hope in our increasing global communications in that it breeds an opportunity to become more open to other cultures and this understanding can help bring about tolerance and acceptance.  Though she feels that the majority of people are currently not living in ways that make the world a better place, she retains hope that perhaps this will change – she adds that she hopes philosophy of India spreads around the world for she believes it could facilitate this change.

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