July 15, 2005

Road is the point

With help from my buddy Saraansh (a fine man to travel with, in case anyone's interested...), we saw Evam's production of Evam Indrajeet at the Prithvi last night. I was struck by the quality of the acting, down to the smaller roles (the mother, the guy in the India cricket shirt) ... and a lot to think about in the play itself. It ends with some speculation on roads, and that brought to mind something I wrote a year or two ago. The odd thing is, I can't remember where it got published! Never mind, here it is.


If lines on a map move you, you should travel in Europe. Internal borders are essentially gone, currency exchange a memory. For better or worse, English is widely enough spoken that you can manage without another language. (Though many Europeans speak their own tongue, English and at least one more). People speak with easy familiarity about phenomena -- food, sports teams, theatre, prices -- in other European countries, things that earlier would have been unknown.

It's not quite there yet, but it's as if each country is just another region in a unified Europe. Think of how a Delhi-ite might consider Madurai familiar, in that it is part of his country, and yet different, in that it is quite another part of his country. Europe is now like that.

Which is astonishing. After all, in the living memory of many Europeans, millions of compatriots died in two horrible wars. The continent is dotted with graveyards where its youth lie buried, drenched with memories of slaughter. Hatred between some states that went to war -- Germany and France are two -- actually goes back hundreds of years.

Yet just half a century after the guns of that last war fired their last shots, the great majority of Europeans are part of an experiment in unity and a shared future that is unique in our world, perhaps in our history. Of course there are problems, tensions, unresolved issues. But the experiment continues. For the time being, few would seriously suggest that it end.

But what does it all mean?

In essence, the EU is a reaction to the blood-drenched history of Europe since 1914. To me, and above all, European unity is a rejection of the politics of nations and nationalism; a sort of collective recognition of the horrors nationalism wrought on the continent; a collective resolve to do better. In a Europe weary of hatred and killing in the great wars, the EU is a shared understanding that cooperation brings peace and prosperity for all.

I'm not saying that every European feels this way, nor that every European is convinced that the EU is the best way to live. But consider the French writer Bernard-Henri Levy's recent explanation in TIME:
    Europe [today] is not the finally discovered form of the right community, of which the nation, the region ... were mere sketches or rough drafts. Europe is the principle that reminds every community, particularly a national one, that the right community does not exist, and that it is ultimately only an arrogant and bloody dream.

Sure, there's a long road ahead. But the road is the point.

So if we want to take them, there are lessons in that "arrogant and bloody dream" for our part of the world. We too are writing a lengthening history of hatred and bloodshed. War arcs across the lines on our map, echoing deep within our nations as well. I don't need to spell out here the details of our many subcontinental tragedies.

Yet what might we build here if we learned to live together -- as France and Germany have done, despite hating each other as much and for far longer than India and Pakistan have done? What might we build if, instead of pointing fingers and slaughtering people, we searched for peace?

Think of it. One-fifth of the world lives on the subcontinent. With the creative and entrepreneurial energies we are already known for, that will take exuberant flight with peace, the real question might be this: what won't we achieve?

Just the free flow of trade across the lines on our maps will give our economies a boost. It's not beyond imagination that a loose South Asian economic federation will surpass the economic power of today's Europe. More important, we might actually turn our focus away from enmity, to the task of ensuring every Indian dignity, justice and life.

High stakes? Maybe. To get there, we will have to understand what Europe did starting in 1945: suspicion and hatred are easy, but they lead inexorably to death and destruction. Trust is hard work, sure, but it brings peace and prosperity.

Levy writes again:
    A very large number of [Europeans] are getting used to seeing intra-European frontiers not as fences, but openings ... not as prisons, but as calls to freedom.

Certainly we've learned to see our own frontiers as fences. (Not forgetting that they are often actually fences anyway). But that hardly means we can't learn again: to see the openings here, the calls to new freedom there. To take the road beyond that, Levy would agree, is the point.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It sounds good. Europeans burying their hatred and moving on - France and Germany etc etc.. Sounds good. Except today Europe has a problem with its Muslim minorities. Proof- read any international newspaper and I can guarantee it will contain stories of the muslim minorities. Why has the EU still not given membership to Turkey.
Need still more proof. What about the Theodore van gogh case and now the latest London bombings. Surprisingly you have been silent on that so far).
Please let us not listen to lectures on friendship with Pakistan, Bangladesh. These countries should be the ones wanting peace. After all it is more to their benefit. Do we get any reciprocity for all our friendship. The only thing we can expect are more terrorist attacks and more ethnic cleansing - with all the illegal migrants from Bangladesh flooding our cities. Honestly the recent Supreme court judgement on the Assam migrants act is welcome.
I know how you are against any nationalist or patriotic sentiment and at the risk of being branded a saffron hindutva fasctist (which by the way I am not) and I have written stuff on this, I can say let us care about our National interests first.