A bundle of contradictions
By John S Powath
Like most Indians, I was disappointed that the country of 1.34 billion people got only two medals at the Rio Olympics. Of course sports alone are not the measure to benchmark a country’s achievements.
Amid the gloom on the sports fields there are many other achievements and recognitions that one should recall. Remember Adolf Hitler who was so impressed by the Indian field hockey player Dhyan Chand that he offered him German citizenship. He wanted the Indian to play for the German team after watching his extraordinary goal-scoring feats.
It was the time India dominated world of field hockey and earned three Olympic gold medals (1928, 1932, and1936). Known as “The Wizard” for his superb ball control, Dhyan Chand played his final international match in 1948, having scored more than 400 goals during his international career.
India is a country of such contradictions. Poverty is widespread in India, but some of the world’s richest people are Indians. The country’s 25 richest people have a combined net worth of $174.8 billion, which is about as much as Ukraine’s GDP.
Today, India can boast of having the fastest economic growth at about 8 per cent. It has the world’s third largest tech start-up hub in terms of number of technology-driven start-ups, after the US and the UK.
It is no mean achievement particularly in the context of India having high levels of uneducated. Its overall literacy rate is at 74.04 per cent although in the state of Kerala the figure is as high as 93.91 per cent with in Bihar it lags behind with 63.82 per cent.
In ancient times, it is its spices and wealth that drew shiploads of foreign merchants to its shores, including Christopher Columbus. Research by British economic historian Angus Maddison showed that India was the richest country in the world and had the world’s largest economy until the 16th century AD.
India is still a puzzle. Look at the contradiction that you see in its commercial capital Mumbai: Established in 1875, the Bombay Stock Exchange with a market capitalisation of almost $2trillion is Asia’s first stock exchange. It is credited as having the world’s fastest median trade speed of 6 microseconds. Nearby is the world’s largest slum, which sits on some of the most expensive real estate of the world!
India is the world’s largest consumer of gold and its imports are set to touch 1000 tons. It is the biggest diamond-cutting centre for small roughs, and its polished gems are sold in upmarket jewellery shops across the globe.
Like its spices, which have a long history of attracting traders from many parts of the world since the time of ancient civilisations of Rome and China, India has an enduring quality that is enticing and variegated.
Take modern day information technology and services. Half the world’s outsourced IT services come from India, with market size estimated to be worth about $52 billion.
Such global services are not confined to IT only. India has been the largest troop contributor to the United Nations Peacekeeping Missions in global hotspots. Its professionalism and discipline are much valued when troops are needed to keep warring factions at bay.
It is the Indian army which built the world’s highest Bailey bridge located in the Ladakh Valley between Dras and Suru rivers in the Himalayan mountains. It was built by the army in 1982.
Agni missiles, developed locally by Indian defence researchers, are said to be most accurate ballistic system in the world in its range and category. The army’s Brahmos missiles are the fastest operational cruise missile in the world.
It is often said that it was the British who brought railways into India. But the first railroad was constructed by two Indians Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy and Jaganath Shunkerseth.
Besides exporting spices, Indians had also exported martial arts. A prince of the Pallava dynasty went to China and began the physical training of the Shaolin monks that led to the creation of kung fu!
India was also a fertile ground for religion and spiritualism that reflected its tolerance towards other beliefs. It is home to 300,000 mosques, which is more than any country in the world.
India produces the largest number of doctors – almost 50,000 compared to 18,000 in the US. However, there is only one doctor per 1,700 citizens against WHO’s stipulation of a minimum ratio of 1:1,000. However, initiatives such as Lifeline Express, the world’s first hospital train, are promoting healthcare.
Established in 1991, the train has travelled the length and breadth of the country, bringing medical aid and relief to the most far-flung and inaccessible areas.
Most Indians think they can drown their sorrow by drinking. India consumes about half of the world’s whiskey. People also find refuge in cinema at the end of a hard day work visiting movie halls. It is not surprising that India has a bigger movie market than America and Canada combined. India sold 3.2 billion cinema tickets last year.
India is a silver-screen of contradictions.