Author: Hu Yifeng, Columnist of Science and Technology Daily
“Remember to bring antidiarrheal.” Hearing that I was about to start a journey to India, several friends kindly advised me so. Although I have adequate confidence in the immunity of my intestines and stomach, I put a box of Montmorillonite Powder in my trunk. After that, I set off for India full of expectations. My itinerary included four stops: Ahmedabad, Nagpur, Raipur and Mumbai. You can easily find these 4 cities in the central-south part of India; among them, Raipur is a rare destination for Chinese visitors. On the morning of January 20th, I arrived in the first stop of my trip – Ahmedabad – together with my fellow travelers. Ahmedabad is the hometown of Mahatma Gandhi, and is also dubbed “Indian version of Guangdong” thanks to the economic miracles it has achieved of late. Cahill Jawad, our Indian friend who came to pick us up, told us in regret that alcohol is prohibited in Gujarat, the state in which Ahmedabad is located. Therefore, we were not allowed to “ganbei” (“bottom up”) here. I am not a heavy drinker, and Jawad’s introduction made a favorable impression (about this city) on me.
In India, animals are considered very close to human beings. During my trip, I often saw white, black, or white-black cattle roaming in the streets with leisure, and occasionally rummaging through leftover food in garbage heaps along the streets. In China, cattle are usually assigned some heavy work; but in India, such work is given to camels and elephants. You can often detect a hint of sadness in the eyes of cattle (notably old ones) when you see them in China; however, their “Indian peers” seemed so joyful to me. Especially when they met with “acquaintances”, they would tentatively stretch out the heads and allow people to touch. The former residence of Mahatma Gandhi is quiet and tranquil, and when I was resting under a giant pine tree, I saw a group of little squirrels eating and playing only 2 meters away from the tourists. They seemed not flurried at all, allowing people to cheer for them, point fingers and take photographs.
In the streets of India, motorcycles and electrical tricycles went by in a gust of wind, much like the situation in some cities in South China several years ago. During my trip, I was convinced that Indians are very good at finding inner peace and clearing their minds. When we arrived in Nagpur, we happened to run into the “Festival of Buddhist Music”. Several temporary mat sheds were put up in the open square named “Revival of Buddhism”, and over 2000 seats were occupied immediately. A skinny elderly man was making a keynote speech in very high spirit, and the audience was sitting in peace, and listening attentively without a wave stirring. After the keynote speech, a concert was started by Chinese musicians, and the size of audience grew bigger immediately, and some had to stand outside the mat sheds. The musicians were of course playing traditional Chinese instruments – Konghou, Pipa, flute and Urheen, and the repertoire included many renowned folk musical pierces of China – Xi Yang Yang (Jubilance), Hua Hao Yue Yuan (Blooming Flowers and Full Moon), Er Quan Ying Yue (The Moon Over a Fountain), Xi Yang Xiao Gu (Flute and Drum at Sunset) and Long Chuan (Dragon Boat). The Indian friends were listening so attentively, and rewarding the players with warm applauses from time to time. I joined another two similar concerts during my trip in India, and none of them was specially organized, and the tickets were free. I could not help marveling at the fact that the Indian audience seldom took a leave when the concert was going on, received untimely phone calls, or making noised by chewing snacks. After the concerts, the audience left the ground clean and tidy, and the dustmen didn’t have to worry at all.
Before the trip began, I read from a tour guide that you had better not be too generous when you meet beggars (specially children) in the streets of India, or they would summon their “partners” immediately, and you would be trapped in trouble for your generosity. However, I didn’t have to worry about this kind of situation in Mumbai. When I was attending the concerts, I was frequently greeted by Indian teenagers. They moved politely in front of me, extended their small, dark hands to me, with their eyes wide open: “Hello! Are you from China, sir? What’s your name, please?” Some of them were ragged, and I could tell from their clothing that they were from low-middle class families. However, they demonstrated the remarkable temperaments of being “neither overbearing nor servile”, and “neither onlookers nor taggers” when they met foreign guests, and the exotic music and instruments brought by the foreigners. As a matter of fact, we were also taught these valuable qualities by our elders when we were young.
Long long ago, I’ve read the “India Trilogy” (India: A Million Mutinies Now, An Area of Darkness and India: A Wounded Civilization.) of V.S.Naipaul. Before the trip began, I found the three books and read them again. Naipaul’s time was decades before ours, and I assumed that the “slow” lifestyle of India might have changed. But shortly after I arrived in India I found that Naipaul’s narrations were not outdated at all. Or perhaps, the changes were taking place slowly with the notion of “being slow”. For new arrivals like us, the slowness of India was beyond our tolerance. There were several pieces in the concerts which were performed by Chinese and Indian players jointly, and the Chinese players would so carefully consult with every minute detail of their Indian peers, so as to achieve a better effect when the concerts were on. However, the Indian players would shake their heads and replied with ease: “Just improvise according to the situation” ! The final rehearsal was scheduled at 4 pm, but it didn’t begin until 5 pm. We become so worried about the concert, which was about to begin at 7 pm, but our Indian peers seemed to have a well-thought-out-plan, which appeared to us to be totally groundless. Well, we soon knew why – the concert didn’t begin until 8 pm, and the audience arrived “right on time”, as if they knew in advance about the 1-hour delay. They took their seats in leisure, with their legs crossed. In accordance, the concert ended 1 hour later than the time scheduled. After that, some of the Indian audience swarmed into the stage and took photos with Chinese musicians. They also communicated with each other (perhaps with gestures and guesses) with passion, and the concert didn’t actually end until midnight. I was reminded of a short story in Shi Shuo Xin Yu (A New Account of the Tales of the World). Wang Ziqiu was living in Shanying. It began to snow when he was taking a nap, and he took a few sips of wine after he woke up. In view of the snow-white world around his house, he was distracted by old memories and started to recite a poem. All of a sudden, he missed Dai Andao, one of his dearest friends so much. But Dai Andao was in Yan County at that moment, which would take a few days to get there. However, Wang Ziqiu didn’t hesitate for a minute, and immediately took a boat, heading for Yan County. He arrived a few days later, stood in front of Dai Andao’s house for a while, and started the return trip without bothering to knock the door. Few people understood what Wang Ziqiu did, and he replied: “I started the trip with enormous interest, but I found my interest exhausted the moment I arrived there – it made no difference whether I saw my friend or not!” Wang Ziqiu’s story is seen as a perfect example of demeanors in Wei and Jin Dynasties of China. At that time, Buddhism had already spread from India to China, and was well received by the upper classes. The leisurely, carefree lifestyle of intellectuals of Wei and Jing Dynasties (like Wang Ziqiu) possibly had their roots in Indian culture!
I believe there is something called “Indian Time” in the world. There is a time difference of 2 hours and a half between India and China. Shortly after the plane landed safely in India, the configuration of my cell phone was shifted to local time automatically. But what I refer to as “Indian Time” has nothing to do with the clock; instead, it is a mindset internalized as a spiritual temperament. In early years, we used to adopt “Daylight Saving Time” in the summer, in order to save every minute for industrial constructions. It was pretty simple – to set forward our watches for one hour. As a matter of fact, we can set forward (or in the opposite direction) our watches at our own will, because the time showed on watch is people’s efforts to standardize the rhythms of their lives. By changing the already-set rhythms of lives, they would often put shackles on human nature, which is supposed to travel freely between earth and heaven. And that’s the primary source of our troubles. Living at the pace of “Indian Time”, people may find less restrictions and more inner peace in their lives. Although their lives are by no means “rich and abundant” judging by the material level, they are so immersed in the joys of going slow in their spiritual lives – a tradition dating several generations. I believe that their conditions can be analogized philosophically as “meditation and oblivion” – an ideal of Zhuang Zhou*. (Editor’s Note: Zhuang Zhou was a Chinese thinker in the Warring States Period a few centuries BC).
Cahill has been to China more than once, and he envies the progress made by China. For a series of political and cultural reasons, India is unlikely to achieve an equally fast development as China. In my opinion, India is working hard for her own development. Indeed, but the satisfaction brought by “Indian Time” must not be sacrificed. Let the cattle never be homeless, the squirrels fully alert, people’s hearts out of order and children with loss of purity, ritual and dignity. I understand that a prosperous national economy and people’s happiness in life are highly complementary, much like the relationship between boat and water. (But, as the Chinese proverb goes: “The water that bears the boat is the same that swallows it up”.) However, ordinary people like me cannot figure out a perfect balance between them. To make things worse, Hindi is totally Greek to me, and I’ve forgotten every single word of English, which I learned in my twenties as a young man. Even if I had something to share at the moment, I couldn’t speak a word with all efforts. In desperation, I could only nod my head with a plausible air – a very “Indian way” to do so.