The globalisation of culture and people happened much before the term ‘globalisation’ emerged.
Last week, I had an encounter with Gandhiji on cell number four of the erstwhile prison in Johannesburg. His prison uniform was intact. His books and typewriter too were there. Gandhi was alive through the Gandhi exhibition where Attorney M.K. Gandhi was imprisoned in 1908.
Gandhi was one of the first global and local Indian leaders. He was always globally speaking. Connecting and locating Indian villages in relation to the multiple realities of the world. In fact, the history of India would have been different if Gandhi did not go to South Africa.
While Gandhi learned about the values of rights and justice in South Africa, Ambedkar learned this in the United States of America, primarily from the movement of African-Americans for equality, justice and rights.
In a way, the globalisation of culture and people happened much before the term ‘globalisation’ emerged. Such process of travel and migration enriched the very idea of India. They influenced the food, clothes, habits, words and everything. This is what made India a rainbow coalition of diverse food, words, clothes, and beliefs.
Though Indians travelled everywhere for thousands of years, the organised migration of Indians began with the beginning of the indentured Indian labourers to work in the plantations and mines in different parts of the world. Amitav Gosh’s famous novel Sea of Poppies gives a vivid portrayal of the travels and tribulations of the indentured labour from India. And this Indian diaspora from Sri Lanka to Guuana and from Malaysia to Mauritius and from South Africa to Fiji are now the signatures of Indian culture across the world. Many like V.S. Naipaul became great writers. Though they have a link with India in terms of culture, and to some extent food, almost all of them identify with their adopted homes rather than India.
The migration of people from Indian subcontinent happened for centuries. One can see the best of Ramayana performance still in the 9th century Prambanan temple in Yogyakarta in Central Java of Indonesia. Indonesia has one of the largest numbers of Muslim population in the world. But some of the best of ancient Hindu temples are in Indonesia. Angor Watt on the Thai-Cambodia border still remains the largest temple complex in the world. The ancient capital of Thailand Sukhothai and Ayoddaya still stand as the evident signature of Indian art, architecture and iconography. Bali still bears so much of Indian heritage than many parts of India itself.
India is India because of these multiple forms of migrations within India and beyond the Indian subcontinent and the very richness of India comes from this link between the local and global.
(John Samuel is an international traveller, and researcher on internal relations, public policy and governance)