Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Negotiating India

I just had a fascinating lunch with a bunch of Indian colleagues from all over the country - Bangalore, Kerala, Rajasthan and West Bengal. Most of it consisted of a series of good-humoured but increasingly vociferous disagreements on subjects ranging from the proportion of people to gods in the country (we agreed in the end on approximately 400:1, discounting the various monotheistic Indians from the equation) to the day on which it is appropriate to pay homage to the goddess Lakshmi. The most strident note of conflict was about whether it is possible to buy beef in India (and, on a side note, whether Dominos put ham on their pizzas here), which gave rise to some quite stirring speeches about India being a "dietary democracy".

It was both entertaining and fascinating for me, a newcomer to this country’s ongoing dialogue with itself to understand what “Indian” means. It’s a truism that India’s ability to hold together as a democracy in the face of both overwhelming diversity and large-scale poverty makes it an outlier in the world of political science. I don’t know how they’ve done it either. But democracy at the very least allows people the space to have these discussions, to negotiate their way through their vast differences and find their real commonalities. This is happening at a million lunch tables, in a million parks, on a million streets every day, and has been for the last sixty years at least.

It's kind of incredible, really.

5 comments:

sarah said...

okaaaay...run the maths by me again. 400 to 1 excluding the monotheistic Indians. Does that mean that each non-monotheist has 400 gods apiece? Or that total gods/(total Indians -monotheistic Indians) = 400?

Yes, I really am that sad...

Chris said...

No no, each god has about 400 non-monotheist indians. The maths is:

total Indians: 1.2 billion

total monotheistic Indians: roughly 4 million

Total non-monotheistic Indians: 800 million

Total gods: 2 million

800 million / 2 million = 400

Clear? :-)

Chris said...

And of course the figure for monotheistic Indians should have been 400 million, but I figure you had worked that out already

sarah said...

Does that allow for the fact that, by definition, each god has to share some of its non monotheistic followers with other gods?

I feel like some dialogue straight out of a Terry Pratchett novel is about to appear here..

Chris said...

Oh yeah. We're just talking about the proportion here. It wasn't a massively scientific discussion.