By Mary Kingsley
A British psychotherapist lauds the unique Indian way of life and pleads with us to retain it despite the blandishment of Western culture
It is late November and deep within the Himalayan jungles, trees tinged golden red, glisten in the breeze as they shed their leaves, withdraw their outpouring and take their in breath in. Cobras lay burrowed beneath, curled up for their hibernation. Above them nature’s vastness pours into a dusky blue sky, enshrouding everything in the soft and hazy light of autumn. Far from the madding crowd, where tigers and elephants rule the night, there is a solitary dwelling containing three contemplative souls, Hari Om Ji, Ram Das and me.
It has been ten years since I first visited India and nine since I was compelled to make it my home, to fully immerse into this phenomenal land and live side by side with its innately colourful people.
During my stay here, I have observed not only the rapid changes India is undergoing in relation to its economic growth, but also the effects that this has on its culture and developing young.
|“A religion that takes no account of practical affairs, and does not help in them, is no religion.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
In the west, the all-consuming desire to own things has now created a belief that ‘I have, therefore I am.’ In India, its spiritual heritage has timelessly conveyed the opposite – ‘I am, therefore I have.’ And even though you are sorely tempted at these crossroads in time to switch camps, you will never be able to sever this indelible blueprint in your genes completely. You are, and always have been unique in the way you live and understand life and you can continue in this vein – if your original identity can be preserved in a world that is travelling in an uncharted direction too fast for its own survival.
In practical terms, this means that as a nation, you can create a progressive infrastructure unparalleled in the history of western economic development simply because the majority of your land is still so virginal, because your people are still so unspoilt and open to the impossible. Sab kuch milega (all things are possible) is not just a business phrase here. Its true meaning lies instilled in the Indian psyche. Throughout the ages, your sages have told you that you are the creator of reality and never more has this wisdom been needed, than at this crucial point in your development as a nation.
Having lived amongst people who would be considered underdeveloped by western standards, I have come to see that the majority of people in India naturally consume far less than westerners, and they have a deep distrust of chemically based products.
For example, for years I have lived with people who use traditional ash (carbon) along with a leaf for washing utensils, plus neem for disinfecting. Very different from the millions of litres of chemicals poured down waste systems in the West every day in the obsessive quest for cleanliness, in the futile pursuit of obliterating all harmful bacteria. Now you are falling prey to the same influx of chemically based products seductively advertised on your screens guaranteeing the same promises with the same environmental outcome.
On my rare visits to the west, I am deeply saddened by how obsessed people have become with their health and survival; whether it be the multitude of illnesses that they now know they can contract, or terrorism or the deteriorating ecology. Danger and death are all around and nothing they have invented so far can protect them. The addiction to perverse, violent, and sexually tantalising images through a global media is now taking its toll worldwide for the first generation who has been weaned on such images. And for some Indian people who have, up until relatively recently, remained virtually untouched, it’s even harder to understand and see that what they are being bombarded with is not reality, but simply global companies advertising through the media, both of whom want to hypnotise us for their own material gain.
Look to your own statistics of westernised cities to see if a newly forming western lifestyle is not already changing your culture. An added problem is that your young are becoming so overwhelmed with negative news they turn to a western Disneyland of distractions, becoming absorbed in their newly found gadgets – hoping someone somewhere will turn up with a miracle cure for their planet’s survival. As you become lost in your newfound quest for western style acquisitions, your young become more burdened in relation to their ecological survival – unsure of how they now fit into their own culture and society – and if there is no responsible and immediate action by India’s elders, India’s future generations will be left to suffer the psychological and environmental consequences.
So, is it possible or even plausible that as a vast body of people you can get a grip and avoid this inevitable fate? A relatively short time ago, Mahatma Gandhi inspired India’s people to break free from westernised domination so that they could find their identity in a changed world. This proves that as one body of people, you only need a truly worthwhile cause to unite and a unique inspirer who can lead the way. Moreover, at this crucial point in your history, India, all these ingredients are right under your nose.
“This world has become a dangerous place not because of those who are doing evil acts, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” – Albert Einstein
In 1895, three wealthy philanthropists gave birth to Britain’s cherished charity, The National Trust. Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter, and Canon Hardwick had the foresight to see the disfigurement that the industrial revolution had on the natural landscape and along with others who were inspired to preserve Britain’s heritage, they set about acquiring large areas of land in scenic locations. The National Trust now owns 240 historical stately homes, which are open to the public, and many other smaller properties that they rent out. Wealthy people as well as ordinary folk continue to donate generously for The National Trust’s continuity. It also raises income from its network of restaurants and gift shops where handmade crafts are sold in keeping with their localities.
There are strict conservation laws governing National Trust areas, and also for maintaining its indigenous dwellings and historical buildings, which has made National Trust locations sought after by tourists. Far from putting people off living under The National Trust’s watchful eye, it has created a situation where these areas are highly sought after by homeowners and the price of properties in these regions reflects this. The National Trust has flourished because it is a Trust that people can trust and when British and foreign tourists take a holiday in these protected areas, they can be sure of seeing nature in its untouched perfection.
|“Man, proud Man, dressed in a little brief authority, most ignorant of what he is most assured, his glassy essence like an angry ape, plays such tricks before high heaven, as to make the angels weep.”
– William Shakespeare
Ten years ago, when I first visited an ancient pilgrimage area by the banks of the Ganges, it was the most enchanting and spiritually uplifting place I had ever seen. There were stunning stretches of Ganges sand, the sound of bells from numerous temples drifting on the breeze, traditional architecture, a sense of local community and sincere hospitality and children playing in its safe, and car- free narrow streets alongside locals and fascinated western tourists.
A decade down the line this village is now rapidly linking with a nearby city and the place is barely recognisable. Gone are the beaches where India’s holy men and pilgrims came on their yatras for centuries. Virtually all the Ganges sand has been used to construct high concrete slabs in the pursuit of generating a form of tourism that is short lived, cheap and tacky. Once beautiful temples, with authentic architecture, have been demolished to pave way for yet more hotels while increased crime, hard drugs, pornography, the quest for techno parties and even orgies infiltrate the surrounding jungles and abandoned caves in the insatiable search (by some young westerners) to get high somewhere hip and different.
Therefore, what is happening to you, India, and most importantly, can you begin to protect yourself?
If India were to set up something along the lines of the UK’s National Trust, for example your own National Ecology Trust, it could take these basic concepts for preservation into unthought-of potentials. It would give people hope that their growing villages and towns will not become completely disfigured in the newfound quest for material expansion. Instead, the NET could help to beautify areas and restore a sense of traditional balance. A National Ecological Trust – run by your young for your young – using innovative advertising as Richard Branson uses for promoting his Virgin group of companies.
One of the most important personal advantages for the young is that they can explore their vast country through visiting different states, and networking from NET centres, for a large part of India’s greatness has always been its size and unity. Instead of becoming addicted to Facebook, your young can form friendships face-to-face, get to know their fellow countrymen firsthand and feel that they are doing something about what really concerns them the most in relation to their future survival. If you are worried that your child is acquiring westernised bad habits, there is no way that you can simply let them go and remain in an empty vacuum. Once a vacuum has been created, it has to be filled with something that is hopefully more positive.
Hari Om Ji says that it is our duty to feed every single living thing that comes to visit as if it is a family member, and that he doesn’t know much about Hinduism, but taking care of all our guests is the same as taking care of God. I sit studying his lean body, the uncomplaining acceptance of hardship etched into every line on his tired face. Firelight reflects in his eyes as he ponders what he has just said, while gazing into the burning embers.
A funnel-web spider peers from its web to view the scene casting a shadow from the candlelight that makes it appear ten times its natural size. I know it is a funnel-web spider because several years ago a western entomologist pointed one out. But unlike him, I am not going to disturb Hari Om Ji or Ram Das with this information when, for them, the spider is just another family member, just another astonishing face of the Divine. And because they really believe this, they remain perfectly safe. After all, why would anyone want to disturb something so beautiful, something so natural and innately holy, as our Incredible India.
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