Blogging from A to Z Theme: Bringing Me Joy
Over the centuries, India has gone by many names; and these, like most names, differ according to the speaker, the language, and the context. The Greeks called it India, back in the fourth century B.C., a name that comes from the Sindhu, or Indus river. Today, India officially calls itself both India and Bharat, and a third name, Hindustan, has also been in use since the days of British colonial rule.
The British like to say that India was not an entity until they came along to unite a motley collection of kingdoms and chieftaincies. That is, they make the arrogant and ridiculous claim that they created India. But they are wrong; Indians have known their land for millennia, criss-crossed by life-giving rivers and mapped by pilgrimage sites. Lifelong scholar of India, Diana Eck, puts it beautifully in her new book. India: A Sacred Geography:
Considering its long history, India has had but a few hours of political and administrative unity. Its unity as a nation, however, has been firmly constituted by the sacred geography it has held in common and revered: its mountains, forests, rivers, hilltop shrines.
This geography has not just been held holy by Hindus—or the wide range of beliefs and practices now called Hinduism—but by many Indian Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs.
I, who have lived so much of my life outside India, still hold it dear. When I try to catch hold of what India means to me, it is the land itself that returns again and again to my mind’s eye, until I am awash with it. The paddy fields, coconut palms, rivers and forests, fast disappearing; the Himalayas, the Western Ghats, the coasts lined by the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal; I traverse them in my dreams as if on a steam train rushing through the night. It is, always and forever, the Indian people—their energy, curiosity, diversity, resilience and zest for life, despite tremendous hardships and poverty. The flora and fauna—banyan trees, the luxuriant growth of flowers, fruits, and vegetables through every climate zone. The animals: the emblematic and endangered Indian elephant, first and foremost; tigers, monkeys, jackals, cobras, scorpions, ants, mosquitoes. It is the Indian climate—the building heat in March-April, the deadly drought that drives deep cracks and crevices into the parched earth, the blessed return of the drenching monsoon rains. And the full-spectrum, heady smells of India: flower garlands, incense, ripe fruit, raw sewage. Every time I set my feet down on its soil again, I feel tremendous relief and joy. Yes, India brings me joy.