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Iconic India
Text by Sitanshi Talati-Parikh and Priyanka Joshi
Published: Volume 16, Issue 6, June, 2008
Subtle and powerful influences of India can be seen in a myriad ways – through the energetic tale of Kalbermatten’s The Legend of Dagad Trikon, to the geo-political analysis of Asian power struggles in Bill Emmott’s Rivals and the theory of making the world a better place by following in Emperor Ashoka’s footsteps in Bruce Rich’s To Uphold the World. Three diverse international writers, masters in their fields, talk about their inspirational trysts with India

Asia On Top
Editor of leading business weekly, The Economist from 1993 to 2006, during which time he managed to double the magazine’s circulation, author of eight books, including six on Japan, Bill Emmott arrived in India to launch his latest journal on the geo-political mathematics of the Asian stronghold. Rivals proclaims that the power struggle between China, India and Japan will certainly shape the next decade of world politics and economics.

Did the years at The Economist develop your interest in Asia?
My first interest in Asia arose in 1983 when I was posted as The Economist’s Tokyo correspondent, at 27, with no exp–erience in Asia. I spent three fascinating and formative years there and I travelled extensively in East Asia, privately. When I was promoted to become editor-in-chief in 1993, one of the themes that I thought was most important was the rise of the emerging markets, especially China.

What is India’s position in the trium–virate vis-à-vis China?
India is lagging about 15 years behind China in terms of economic development. And yet, while Chinese growth and openness was the most important devel–opment in the 1990s, in this decade it is Indian growth and openness that is most important. India is going to become a second hub economy of Asia. More important, India’s emergence means that China cannot and will not dominate Asia.

What do you believe is Sonia Gandhi’s role in international politics?
Sonia Gandhi is a positive symbol for India in international terms, but I do not see her playing a large role in international politics. The role that she plays in domestic Indian politics, that of leading and guiding Congress from outside the government, really limits the sort of international role she can or should take.

Have you explored India extensively?
I have made journeys around South India, from Chennai through Tamil Nadu into Kerala and Karnataka, as well as the usual tourist trail around North India and Rajasthan. I have also visited the cities—Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore. I am fond of Indian carvings and of art in general. My house in the English countryside (in Exmoor National Park in Somerset, south-west England) is also full of Japanese woodblock prints and painted screens and Chinese scrolls and ceramics.

What has been the reaction to your theory about the Asian power struggle?
From the governments inside Asia, the main response has been to deny that their countries are rivals in any way, for of course they wish to avoid seeming confrontational. On the other hand, the private reaction has been very positive. As events unfold in Asia, I think people are finding my framework helpful for understanding what is going on.

Ashoka Rediscovered
Winner of the prestigious United Nations Environ–mental Program ‘Global 500’ award in 1988, of the World Hunger Media Award (second prize) for his book, Mortgaging The Earth, Bruce Rich has Amartya Sen writing the Foreword and the Dalai Lama contributing the Afterword to his latest book To Uphold the World: The Message of Ashoka and Kautilya for the 21st century. Rich, who is proficient in over six languages and has visited India 20 times, uses Ashoka and the first economist in recorded history, Kautilya, as archetypes, metaphors and sources of inspiration for reflecting on contemporary dilemmas.

What garnered your interest in India and her historical traditions?
In the 1980s my work as a lawyer (to promote environmental and social standards for international finance, start–ing with the World Bank) brought me in contact with a number of India’s vibrant civil society movements, particularly Medha Patkar and the Narmada Bachao Andolan and the group Lokayan. On a visit to Dhauli, I was deeply moved by both the text of the Ashokan edicts and their relevance even today, which sparked off an interest in researching Ashoka and Kautilya even further.

According to you – the world is currently not a ‘good place’....
All of existence is a great and mysterious gift. But our increasingly globalised planetary society is dangerously unbalanced. By emphasising short term material gain at every accelerating speed we are ruining the long term social and environmental sustainability of our place in this world. Think of the surge of xenophobic, religious and nationalistic fundamentalism around the world.? Ashoka realised that you could not uphold a huge multi-ethnic empire on purely Kautilyaesque calculations and tried to infuse the Maurya empire with a new secular ethic of non-violence and respect for all life and tolerance that all humankind could agree to.
At the beginning of the 21st Century we are faced with a similar dilemma. Commentators as diverse as the multi-billionaire George Soros, Catholic Theo- logian Hans Kueng, former Czech President Vaclav Havel and others have all concluded that a global economy requires a global ethic. More than ever, even with all the tremendous differences that separate his time and ours, we can learn from Ashoka’s approach.

Does this book serve to remind Indians of their roots or is it a beacon to the West in the light of the current economic crisis?
I was astounded by the relative lack of knowledge and attention in the West towards these two figures, two of the greatest personages in my view in the history of mankind. So in one sense I intended this book for a Western audience, while, Indian historians who have read the book tell me that it is also useful for reminding Indian students of the greatness and relevance of these two figures.

What can women do to play their part in ‘upholding the world’?
In many parts of the world, it is women who hold together households, perform much of the agricultural work, and who have the closest relation to nature. I cannot help but recall the example of the Chipko movement to save trees and forests in the Himalayas, led by poor rural women. Famous economists, like Amartya Sen, have observed that promoting education of young girls and equal rights for women would be one of the greatest and most cost-effective contributions to promote sustainable economic development.

What do you like to take back from India?
Visiting India is a great personal and intellectual adventure, with her almost limitless treasure chest of history, culture and landscape. As always, I hope to take back a greater knowledge of the world, of human adventure, and of myself.

Immaterial Wealth
John Hopkins scholar and a career UN diplomat, Gregoire de Kalbermatten has a sparkling sense of humour, but is not one to let anything slide by in his analysis of the world economy, politics and how ‘history is teaching us to wake up to India, yet again,’ in The Legend of Dagad Trikon, his latest work of fiction.

Right away, de Kalbermatten takes the reader on a worldwide tour of the planet, of ancient civilisations, geo-political conflicts, evolution in the arts, architecture, and music, all the while maintaining the fast-paced feel of a thriller spanning time. Set in present day America, India and Germany, The Legend of Dagad Trikon begins with Jonathan, a young American diplomat, dismally surveying from his Egyptian courtyard, a beautiful and iconic 1347 A.D. A White Monkey, none other than Hanumana, beckons him and leads him into an ancient world ruled by the Avasthas: noble, fearsome warriors, living in Shambhalpur, home to a secret ‘Rock’ containing a mega energy, sought ever-eagerly by Thanatophor - the very essence of evil in the universe. “Through this metaphor, I am trying to show that today’s Western world, tempted for centuries by ego, pride, lust, anger, greed, vanity and hatred, lacks perspective, and this breathless individualism makes a society crumble from within. If we don’t turn to behaviour that is sustainable, and auspicious, like in Indian societies, we can grow, but it will be a linear growth, diametrically against evolution,” observes the soft-spoken, genteel author, who hails originally from Switzerland.

What unfolds in the book is a deeply imaginative, globetrotting quest of Jonathan, his sister Tracy, companions Lakshman and Lakshmi, reincarnated Avasthas who, guided by an Avastha master, Sanath, recover magic caskets scattered worldwide, destined to give an Ananya Angkur (everlasting germination) power to the humanity. This group travels to the netherworld through the Elephant Rock in Delphi, Greece, even seeing Vaikuntha after being submerged in the womb like ‘spandan’ of a sari belonging to the Adishakti – the Sacred Goddess of the Triangular Rock.

The author relies on his extensive travels worldwide and his expertise in community ecological welfare for the United Nations to traverse centuries of metaphysical quest in both, Eastern and Western civilisations. “We are constantly seeking something, evolving higher with each wish that’s granted. At the amoeba stage, we wanted only physical nourishment. We then evolved to wanting intellectual, artistic, emotional, social and material nourishment, and today, because of our indiscriminate seeking, we are killing our planet. We lack perspective.

This is why I turned to India in the early 70s. I believe that India has unpar–alleled wisdom to offer to the world,” says de Kalbermatten in a matter-of-fact manner. He was deeply impressed and influenced by a powerful spiritual master, Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi Shrivastava in 1975, while she was living in London, when her husband, Sir C.P. Srivastava, had been elected Secretary General of the International Maritime Organisation of the UN.

Gregoire de Kalbermatten also envi–sions the Holy Grail as a female power, distributed within each human being. Through the character of Baya Devi, the author even imagines what a conversation with Mahamaya (the Shakti of Shiva) could be like in modern day world!

“India has long been a beacon telling us how to lead a balanced life, away from the maya of the past and future. I have been to India a number of times and India has taught me how to be in the now. My book tells the reader how to achieve this state in a practical way.”