India - the time is now!

It seems like a new discovery ( or is that tautology) that the West has made of China and India. Lately there has been tremendous media and political coverage and comment about the vast markets of the East, i.e. India and China, and a genuine undercurrent of fear about what the tilt of economic power might spell for the West.

Within India we have read and heard debates over the last couple of years about the India vs China scenario and which one wins/ will win, with statistics about the length of paved highways and number of airports and ports being quoted ad nauseum. It certainly makes a refreshing change from the former India-Pakistan comparisons and jingoistic comment.

However what we are forgetting is that this ‘discovery’ of the East is nothing new. This happened many centuries ago. Most of the great geographical discoveries of the world happened because someone was setting off to look for the mythical riches of the East, right from Ancient Greek times. Interestingly, most of those stories start with the intrepid explorer wanting to find a route to India, not China.

India has always had a strong pull on the global imagination and be it Marco Polo, Vasco da Gama or Francois Bernier, everyone wanted to find this land of jewels and silks, spices, perfumes and tigers. China in many ways was an accidental discovery. Further, China was a country that did not care to trade or indeed associate with the rest of the world, since it considered itself far superior, the Middle Kingdom between the rest of the World and heaven. It was India that always connected with the world through trade, spirituality and knowledge.

Artifacts of roman and Greek trade, including coins, shards of pottery etc have been found at archaeological sites along India’s sea frontiers. There is a legend that the origin of the Coorgi community is one of Alexander’s generals whom he left behind to administer some of the conquered territory and who later decided to venture south. Angkor Wat and the Borobodur temple are legatees of Indian export of culture and religion. Chinese spiritualists came here seeking for greater enlightenment and knowledge, be it Hiuen Tsang or Fa Hsien. Ambassadors from the English and the French courts to those of the Mughals were substantially awe-struck by the magnificence that they saw.

When we debate India and China, it is interesting to trace the ancient discovery of India and contrast it with today’s picture. While China is the manufacturer for the world and undoubtedly a fast-growing economic power, India is the world’s brain reserve, with its service industry. Not only that, India is beginning to occupy a significant chunk of mindspace with its culture – be it music, films, yoga or spiritualism – which is an area that China never has occupied in its entire history.

One of the reasons for the supra-presence of the United States and its ultimate victory over its former rival, the Soviet Union, was the larger than life share it managed to carve out in the global imagination. From Tokyo to Bangkok, Rio to Paris, American music and movies became America’s brand ambassadors, helping them win hearts and minds much before America’s businesses.

India today has the same opportunity, through its rich, vibrant and inclusive culture to influence hearts and minds around the world. When a country’s products not only occupy functional space in the lives of people from other countries but also heart and mind-space, then it truly has the ability to become a global super power. Signs of this are evident in the degree to which Indian characters, names and even celebrities are finding mentions in global media, be it the latest Stephen Colbert commentary on the purported Amitabh-Shah Rukh feud, or Indian characters on popular sit-coms like Friends and Hollywood movies. Now is the time for Indian industry - manufacturing or service – to take this one step further and build brands that people around the world come to use, adopt and love the way they do an Ipod or an MTV.


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