The Spirit Despite the Truth
By Kamal Sunavala

When you ask the average Czech person what he thinks about India, he will first say that he would love to visit it. The well-travelled Czech will perhaps regale you with stories of how adventurous his trek through India was and the more pensive one will tell you that poverty in India is something that touches his heart.

When you watch CNN, especially recent programmes like Eye on India, it tells you of the problems that the country is facing. It tells you of the great economic and technological leaps that India is making. It tells you of the incredible number of languages and customs that flourish there and it pretends to ask tough questions about India and its problems with Pakistan over the Kashmir issue.

So when I speak to young Czechs who have avidly watched this programme in a genuine effort to understand what modern India is and thereby understand the modern Indian who travels to his country for various reasons, he is pumped with information about what he thinks Indians are or what they need. The almost unanimous answer is that India needs less politics and more NGO or humanitarian efforts. True. India needs more education and less religion. True. India needs more water distribution and less Coca Cola. True. India needs more infrastructure and less high rises. True. India needs more citizenship and less governmentalisation. True.

The Indians who live in Europe shake their heads out of the weariness of trying to explain to the world what India is today and how it expects to be treated. India needs more respect for its modern achievements and less disrespect for its illiteracy. True. India needs more world leaders who solve problems and less world leaders who want to simply outsource its talent at dirt cheap prices. True. India needs more involvement from the UN and less from the US. True. India needs more opportunities within India for its post grad education and less fancy scholarships for kids to run away to foreign countries for inapplicable degrees. True. India needs stricter implementation of laws and less creation of new laws. True. India needs more racial tolerance and less caste discrimination. True. India needs more local investment and less foreign direct investment. True.

Then I spoke to one Indian girl at a café on Tržiště. She was a tourist. No agenda except taking photographs and going home with presents for her family and friends. I asked her what she thought about everything that people thought. She had no opinion. She shrugged in the universal inimitable style of teenagers and said 'I don't know really. Like I guess, it's all true. But there's more to India and Indians than just this'.

While this girl was unable to elaborate, perhaps she had never deeply thought about it, there was a kernel of truth which everyone seemed to have missed. Czechs missed it because they simply don't have enough information or accurate information. Indians missed it because they are jaded and trying too hard to fit into what is perceived as an accepted Western reality.

What India needs and perhaps every Indian needs, wherever he may be, is curiosity. India needs people who are genuinely curious about the truth. About the spirit of India that survives despite the ugly truths. The spirit that cannot be put down by flood, disease, ignorance, neglect, poverty and hypocrisy.

What India needs is a curiosity for individualism. It needs the world to see a picture of India that is indescribable. It needs world journalists to portray the spirit that survives within a five year old urchin and a corporate head honcho.

What it doesn't need is the assumption that CNN knows it all. What India doesn't need are useless textbooks and tourist guides that talk of India and Indians like they are a market product in the exotic luxury category. What India doesn't need is a preconceived notion about her or her people.

I have a few Czech friends who would love to visit India. I shall be happy to take them by the hand when they tell me they are curious about India.

NGO - Non-Governmental Organization