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What makes India ‘Maximum’?


‘Brand India’ has two powers – first is the obvious reclaimed money power and the other one is the good old ‘soft power’. Ask anybody who recently visited India and they will tell you all about the money power. The second influence- the ‘soft power’ is that of an attractive Indian culture whose products are quickly integrated in mainstream living.

Incidentally, a 20-day show called ‘Maximum India’ is hosted to showcase this second ‘soft power’ in Washington this month. It’s a festival celebrating India’s attractive culture and diversity. But there is a fundamental center to this soft culture power, which is at the core of it all, that should get due credit. What’s that core foundation that makes India ‘Maximum’?

Heard of ‘India shining’, ‘India Everywhere’, ‘Incredible India’, ‘India Emerging’, the India-this-India-that slogans, well…here’s the latest. It’s “Maximum India” ~ a festival of India to be held in Washington in March. Does this sound like an extended Auckland Diwali mela without the festivity?

The Kennedy centre where the programme is hosted, is publicizing the show this way:”India is vast: 1.2 billion people; 24 languages; 1,600 dialects; 28 states; myriad cuisines; 330,000 gods and goddesses; 300 ways to cook a potato; the Ganges attracting millions to its banks; home also of Mahatma Gandhi—a moral force; and one of the richest and most ancient cultures on the planet…India amazes with the majesty and mystery of its culture. Its brilliance is that it is a country of extremes—intellect, innovation, survival, and experimentation. We have traveled, researched, and scoured the country for the best it can offer, and India offers the maximum. This festival will truly be maximum India.”

About this show, the US Ambassador Timothy J. Roemer adds “Maximum India will take Indian textiles, dance, music, jewellery, literature and cuisine to US to allow Americans to experience what Barack Obama and his wife experienced in India.”

Typically there are going to be unique performances by exotic classical musicians – this time its Shri Bundu Khan Langa & the Manganiyars troupe, folk puppets etc among other exotic stuff. Add to that the customary presence of artisans from the art industry and of course Bollywood icons. There is going to be an interactive space planned for children called ‘Hi, I am India’ by pop artist duo Thukral and Tagra. To top this, 12 award winning Indian chefs from The Taj Group of Hotels, will cook and showcase Indian food for participants and visitors. How about that for showcasing India’s soft power? By the way, the term ‘soft power’ was first coined by Harvard University professor, Joseph Nye to describe a country’s ability to alter the behaviour of others through attraction rather than sticks or carrots.

So, what does this soft power really mean for India? Explains the Indian Member of Parliament, thinker and author Shashi Tharoor: ‘India is fast becoming a superpower — not just through trade and politics, but through “soft” power, its ability to share its culture with the world through food, music, technology, Bollywood’. He argues that ‘in the long run it’s not the size of the army that matters as much as a country’s ability to influence the world’s hearts and minds.’

There have been so many India festivals away from India that this soft power becomes just another display of old art forms, which hardly anybody understands. ‘India heritage’ shows come in standard packages with classical dance performances, vocal and instrumental jugalbandis, folk arts and above all the famous Jhatka-Matka Bollywood sequence. But does that help discover the real India? In the case of classical performances the audience invariably appreciates but draws a blank face when asked about the intricacies of the mudras and abhinaya etc. Same is the story with fine classical vocal renditions where the root r?gas are seldom talked about. The Bollywood tamashas which is one aspect of Indian society gets probably blown out of proportion and sometimes misrepresents Indian culture. Ultimately the audience gets a superficial ‘tip of the iceberg’ experience of real India.

So what is the real core of India that sustains her soft power? In fact, in this age of reason, it’s increasingly imperative, atleast for the sake of the next generation to know this. It’s not just some exotic stuff as it is portrayed. The Indian soft power is rooted in her ancient Indian civilization. The foundation is what makes Indian culture a time tested one. Its centre is talked about in the ancient text scriptures and there are sages, scientists, musicians, mystics, mathematicians, logicians behind the entire core.

Take authentic Indian cuisine for example…it has got direct roots in Ayurveda. Indian music has its source in the Gandharva Veda; Indian dance has N?tya Sh?stras as its base. Even the humble mas?l? mix and the tadka are in the ancient recipes. The list goes on. The many melodies of Bollywood are ‘cool’ because they are supported by the r?gas. Apparently ‘Ahir Bhairav’ is one of the most widely used Indian R?gas in Bollywood Hindi Films.

Take cuisine, music, fashion, philosophy, art, drama, yoga, literature, Ayurveda, science, technology, space, mathematics etc. Its origins are in the antiquated past, when India was a knowledge society. The secret of India’s soft power is in the core body of knowledge and her knowledge traditions. That’s the real India behind her ‘soft power’.

But today, the image of real India never gets its due, thanks to stereotypical media blow-outs from time to time. The media religiously portrays the same Indian story of social deprivation without understanding the complexities of a diverse country and sometimes uses fringe elements to generalize about India. Take the TV show ‘Idiot abroad’, where this presenter from the UK goes to some quirky cornershop and takes blessings from a bunch of dimwit naked yoga-freak-babas, who are in no way representative of the spirit of the real India. To make it more embarrassing he also films these babas doing yoga postures stark naked. As a result, strange ‘exotic’ opinions and prejudices get formed thereby influencing mainstream psyche.

Given the state of cultural ignorance and media disservice, the true foundation behind Maximum India needs to be understood first. Then it needs to be communicated accurately and smartly by unraveling the core substratum that is embedded in our sanskriti. For that to happen, Indological study certainly helps.  Indology is a cultural study of India, her philosophical, spiritual and socio-cultural background.

It is better late than never to discover the real core of India through Indology rather than have a false sense of pride on how great our Indian culture is.

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