A Journey to India is quite unlike a journey to any other land this sentiment expresses the uniqueness of a visitor's experience of India. For among other things, Indian is a perpetual mystery to him from the beginning; he wades through the mystique and out of it; and he is never free of it.
For Mr. Tzannis a former Prime Minister of Greece, India is this and much more. His informal experiences presented here are diverse and steeped in the historic-cultural flavour special to India. He sees its centuries old palaces, forts of ancient maharajas, of the glorious Mughals; the unparalleled cave monuments of Ajanta Ellora with their exquisite carvings, the breathtaking sculptural decorations ad the architectural dream of Khajuraho; the grandeur of the Taj a wonder in white marble; the exotic deserts of Jaisalmer; the heart of holy India, Banaras, with the ever-flowing Ganga; the marvel of Delhi which amalgamates the old and the new. His response is likewise, rich with a range of tones; he not only admires the material landmarks of ancient India but breathes in the spirit of the past- the old delight, the royal romance, the dignity, valour in that chivalry
. His is not simply a discovery of India but an analysis of India's time tested values and its modern message in order to understand India in the real sense its unique past; the India of today, of the traditional and the modern; and the India of the future
..its goal, aspirations.
The author's tone is wonder struck but at the same time, genuine and realistic. He capture the essential India and not just its forms and colours to present a delightful, critical and sensitive picture.
Tzannis Tzannetakis a former Prime Minister of Greece, is unmistakably a versatile personality, eminently combining in him the gifts of a parliamentarian, an administrator, a social activist, an art lover, and a scholar. Essentially a humanist with inwrought democratic values, he relinquished his promising career in the Greek Navy, in 1967, in protest against the military dictatiorship. And for this action of his he suffered both imprisonment and exile. With the return of democracy in 1974, he entered politics which over the years has seen him in a succession of key positions, like Minister of Defence, Minister of Foreign Affaires, deputy Prime Minister and then, finally, Prime Minister in the coslition Conservative and Left government in 1989.
Besides his involvement with the restoration of old traditional villages in Greece and cultural activities of various descriptions, Mr. Tzannetakis has also authored a number of books- including his Greek translations of several Upanishads, which have been published together with his introduction and commentary.
India like Greece is the cradle of one of the world’s oldest civilisations. Many traditions extant in India today have their origins, in customs and beliefs that go back five thousand years. Over the centuries, Indian has been viewed by people outside its boundaries as a land of splendor, richness, vision and effervescent ideas. Like a magnet it has attracted the attention of diverse nations form the very beginning of history.
Fearsome conquerors, itinerant mendicants, artists and monks have wandered across the mountain fastness that bounds the northern borders, to drink deep of the civilization of this ancient land. It was romance, adventure and often greed which motivated travelers like these from all nations to undertake the journey to India. From China, Arabia and beyond they came. They met Indian kings and travelled through their kingdoms. They were struck by the variegated hues of Indian society. They were awed by its artistic achievements and religious values and delighted by its contented and colourful people. Hiuen-Tsang, Fa-hsien, I-Tsing, Al-Beruni, Ibu Battuta, Nicolo dei Conti, Barbosa Duarte and last but not least, Alexander the Great are amongst those who travelled through India with their eyes wide open and their pens in their hands. It is these travelers and their companions who have immortalized the country in its various stages of flowering, through their brilliant writings. They fell in love with India and in turn were honoured and loved by this land.
Tzannis Tzannetakis, a former Greek Prime Minister who made an informal visit to India as a traveler a few years ago is no stranger to our country. Over 30 years ago, long before he had touched the shores of the Indian peninsula, he undertook a monumental task by translating Indian’s spiritual and philosophical fount of wisdom, the Upanishads into Greek. That at such a young age Mr. Tzannetakis was able to grapple with and absorb the meaning of the Upanishads, the highest repository of Indian philosophy, speaks highly of sharp intellect and his keen sensitivity to foreign cultural traditions. Tzannetakis’ interest in India has now led to another fascinating book “India Another Way of Life”, in which Tzannetakis experiences in India are vividly recounted.
It is not often that we are privileged to read travel books written by persons as distinguished as the erstwhile Prime Minister, but ‘India Another Way of Life’ is really much more than a travelogue. Reading through its pages one can clearly see the eyes of an artist, listen to the ears of a musician and feel the sensibility of a poet and the spirit of a wise sage deeply steeped in the Hellenic civilisation.
Mr. Tzannetakis’ work transports the reader, almost physically to the scenes, sights and smells being described. Mr. Tzannetakis’ account is admirable because his extraordinary sensitivity to the cultural traditions of multi-lingual and multi-ethnic and multi-religions India comes through clearly. Mr. Tzannetakis takes us on a journey through some of our more ancient and romantic places: Rajasthan, where ochre forts straddle the land and camels with colourfully dressed people roam at a pace which blends unmistakable with the barren yet gentle desert landscape. He shows us the holy city of Banaras which like Athens is one of the oldest urban centers in the world. His descriptions of forts, palaces and monuments such as that indescribable favourite the Taj Mahal, are a treat to read.
In admiring the 20th century and India’s march towards progress the writer focuses on two great Indians who have contributed so much to the making of modern India. A chapter on Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru recognises these two remarkable men as the architects of modern India; each of them in his own inimitable way moulded the history of our country and left an indelible impact on the world as we know it today. This splendid volume written first in Greek by Mr. Tzannetakis has already made a successful appearance in that language. Thanks to the ICCR, the English version of Mr. Tzannetakis’ book is being published now. This is a commendable effort for it ensures that a much wider audience is privileged to savour and enjoy the many delights that this charming book has to offer.
A journey to India is something different. It is quite unlike a journey to any other land, that may give you some experience of its culture or its misery. It is a journey that is bound to transform you, one way or another. It will force you to penetrate the tragedy unfolding daily in that vast country. An endless interplay between the admirable and the abhorrent.
A journey to India is not always easy. It is not for everyone. It is not for those, mainly Westerners, who are used to judging another country on the basis of the dry, technocratic indices of consumerism they have adopted to measure their own performance – how many washing machines, telephones, motor cars, televisions, videos are there per caput.
Whoever visits India imbued with Western concepts of civilisation and progress is certain to find an under- developed country with very serious problems. More than likely, he will take the next plane home, or head for some other destination that will guarantee him those comforts he has grown up with, that determine his attitudes. In India the tap water is undrinkable, raw vegetables are a health hazard, the seething mass of humanity is unbearable and the air is filled with the odours of jostling men and animals – which wander freely in the streets. The means of transport are rare, primitive, infrequent. In general, all the conveniences of everyday life are limited and fraught with problems.
On the contrary, for travellers with an open mind, eager to see and to seek a different civilisation, India offers amazing possibilities for speculation, hitherto unimagined. It enriched them with values at once timeless and timely.
With the vastness and variety of its terrain and cultures, India, for all the improvement in its communications, only permits the traveller to visit – and even less get to know – a tiny part of the immense country.
Walled to the north by the mountain massifs of the Himalayas where the great rivers, the lndus and the Ganga, rise, the country unfolds over a distance of 3,200 kilometers – covered by deserts, jungles, forests, fields and plains, stretching from Myanmar and China to as Pakistan, from the border with Tibet to the hot southern tip of Cape Comorian.
The people who came in waves from the North and the North-West at various times, pushing the through the mountain passes in order to conquers and to settle the land, created a multifarious society in a state larger in size than the European Union. To its old inhabitants, the Dravidians, were added Aryan invaders from Central Asia, who created a new world. Then followed the Greeks, the Muslims, and lastly, the European colonialists – the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British, who remained in the country until its independence in 1947. Then began the rebuilding of a new India, divided into twenty-five states and six Union Territories. This new India holds within it a pot-pourri of the peoples who passed through it, an amalgam which is forged into something different, into another outlook on life that struggles to preserve and to transmit to all a new system of values and ideas.
India today lives diachronically. It lives simultaneously in different centuries. Here, an advanced modern society with a significant industry coexists harmoniously with primitive tribes and millions of paupers, wretched and without hope. But between the ancient and the modern, the wealth and the poverty, there is the apotheosis of humanness – of a humanness created and established over thousands of years of Indian history, through its religion and its civilisation. A civilisation which spread and conquered virtually the whole of eastern Asia. A civilisation whose central axis is nonviolence, which accepts and resects, beyond what the majority believes, all religions and life-styles which coexist in concord in society. India is the country which assimilates everything that is good, and is in constant flux.
One of the elements of the Indian civilisation that surprises the Western visitor and contradicts acutely his own cultural experience is the ‘Caste System’ – the hierarchical stratification of society into groups.
The division of men into castes is a system born of the dominant religion of the Indians, Hinduism, thousands of years ago under the pressure of the tribes, social groups and the large population of to country. The caste system has been intensely criticised by the West. In a land of hundreds of millions, in a society with enormous contrasts and the danger of chaos always lurking, as in India, the caste system conceals its own practical usefulness. The castes give men an identity, the knowledge of where they stand society and how they must live. They provide security and define the diet, the rituals and even the choice of a spouse. When the castes were created there were four. Today, however, they have proliferated to over three thousand covering an enormous spectrum which begins with the brahmins and ends with the untouchables.
There is an old oriental maxim that says: ‘happiness is the distance between what you desire and what you desire and what you have’. The smaller that distance, the closer you are to happiness.
We, in West, in our ranking of values, have placed money and power at the top of the scale. We have been transformed into a consumer society, unleashing, via technology, powers and dynamics which we ourselves cannot control. We are caught up in a vicious circle, that we entered happy and unsuspecting, without knowing whether there was any way out. The ideal for the Western man is the acquisition of more and more goods – which he does not necessarily need. It gives him social prestige and relieves him of tiring tasks. However, in the course of acquiring more and more material possessions, man becomes inevitably enslaved to that system which provides him the necessary money. At the same time, even more needs are created, entailing a new struggle to fulfil them. A circle with who no beginning and no end. . . without the contentment of the mountaineer who reaches the summit and sits down to rest, surveying the view that is the reward for his conquest. . . since a new target appears even before the previous one has been met. A chain which shackles and numbs thought, and transforms men into instruments without volition, without joy and certainly without dreams – the foundation stones of the struggles that elevate human nature.
India lives in a world of its own. A world traced out by its religion thousands of years ago. A world which liberates man’s though to concentrate on the essence and not the phenomena of life. So the Indians espouse a clear set of values, such as self-control, maturity, lack of jealousy, lack of unbridled ambition, creativity, love, self-denial and courage. There is also the realization that we live in this world together with all animate creatures, those that spend their life as insignificant littlie units. Thus the Indians try to improve their selves by setting logical and not impossible goals, with the dominant sentiment being love and respect of one’s neighbor. It is this feeling which makes the Indians respect of one’s neighbor. It is this feeling which makes the Indians receptive to all ways of thinking and all ways of life.
India is the largest democratic society in the world. Democracy here is not a dead letter. It is a vital rule, manifest in all the functions of familial, social and national life.
After Independence in 1947, India, this continent-state, endowed with a very ancient history whose roots go back five thousand years, had to mark out its future course with inhabitants of different creeds, races and traditions in order to live together in concord and work together to rebuild the new state. The differences between the inhabitants of Kashmir, Punjabi Maharashtra, Kerala are analogous to differences between the Swedes, Portuguese, Belgian and Greek in Europe. In 1947 the population of India was 350 million; today it has reached more than 850 million, increasing at an average rate of about ten million every year. It is forecast that by the beginning of the next century its population will exceed that of China, and India will be the most populous country in the world.
This population explosion creates tremendous problems for the political leadership. And these are not only problems of nutrition. In every society with rising expectations demands are created for a higher level of education, better health care, more jobs and adequate housing. These demands are transformed into political pressures.
India can be proud of the progress it has made in recent years. Improvement in the sector of health and the control of epidemics are one of the reasons for the rise in population. The years when India was short of food and obliged to import cereals are now past. India has learnt to feed its growing millions, thanks to its agricultural revolution, which directed investments into healthier crops and improved the irrigation system. The people, it is abundantly clear, are better dressed, better nourished, better educated and better housed. Large sections of Indian society are developing. The privatization and liberalization policies followed today, together with international cooperation, affirm that India will be able to exploit its immense resources. The Indian nation can be proud of the path it is taking. It is, however, impossible to ignore the ubiquitous poverty and the hungry millions.
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