“It is quite possible that India is the real world, and that the white man lives in a madhouse of abstractions. Life in India has not yet withdrawn into the capsule of head. It is still the whole body that lives. No wonder the European feels dreamlike; the complete life of India is something of which he merely dreams. When you walk with naked feet, how can you ever forget the earth?” Carl Jung
Before we begin, you must be warned that this post is not going to promote India by repeating the usual, exotic plethora of images that appear in tourist brochures—although I cannot deny their appeal: Rifts of cardamom hovering above hot coconut rice; soft pods of vermillion stroked onto attentive faces during puja; solemn steps of painted elephants as they climb through morning mists to Mughal forts in Rajasthan. No. This post pleads to you from the angle of time. Quite simply, India is changing and has been like no other country in the world.
Imagine going back to the world of Charles Dickens. To the scene of top hats and corsets, carving out something firm into the cobble stone streets of Victorian England: culture—that picture of gentry and prosperity, which hid all those Oliver Twists, begging for green splotched bread around factory door frames. This world is an illusion. Something caught in historical artefacts, literature and paintings which do not quite add up to what is ‘real’. The point of this reference is concisely that, India is on the cusp of an irreversible change; for just like during the industrial revolution in England, what is conveyed in brochures as culture in modern India, is not necessarily what is happening there now.
Tourist brochures still look at India as the spice country, the slow-paced subcontinent, full of lakes and white palaces. But they do not account for the disappearance of such magnificent structures. Climate change has shrivelled up lakes in Udaipur; economic boom has seen an irrepressible number of building projects consume agricultural land and places of cultural meaning. In the north, palaces of Mughal emperors stand exposed to the sun and the damaging hands of tourists. India is a country which, like its iconic Mausoleum, the Taj Mahal, has had many of its gems taken away from it over the last few centuries. 20, 000 tourists visit this temple of love each day, and each pair of hands is not kept from curving over the white marble.
But Indian culture now suffers from an even more perilous threat: capitalism. Economic expansion has blessed the few with exquisite apartments, huge cars and frequent trips to Bvlgari—but it has left no one accountable for the preservation of Indian cultural heritage— and the black smoke emantating from its 1.2 billion inhabitants just keeps rising. For similar to Britain’s own industrial revolution, life in India has been throw
n into a giant melting pot. Yet the size of India, and the scope of her diversity, means that there is no one to fish things out of the pot before they melt away completely. This it is feared, is already happening. Therefore, I would urge any keen travellers to visit India now. Before it turns into an air-conditioned, English signposted country, where McDonald’s outlets are placed more frequently than street vendors’ samosa stalls.
India is truly a spectacular country, but the gems are being scratched out of it. It promises more to those who discover her than any magazine photograph or print. So it is important to capture a glance of India before her markets, saris, temples, and dances are corrupted by the sameness of Western values which push their heads up all across the globe.
However, if you can’t make it there this summer, here is a video to inspire you to imagine India: