Posted on Jul 20, 2012 |

The views expressed by this author and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Project Unify Team.

I remember the first time I opened a mathematics book. My teacher hollered out loud, “Students, did you know that Indians invented the concept of zero?” I evidently did not, but my 6 year old brain wondered what the world would be without zero, a paradoxical digit that can transform its worthlessness into magnanimous figures. As Albert Einstein once said, “We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.” It is this paradox that envelopes India today. India is credited for the principles of magnetism, the smelting of metals, the development of cotton and the calculation of the infinite series of Pi.


I am Naman Shah, a student at the Mahindra United World College of India. Being brought up in the financial capital of India, Mumbai, I have witnessed the high sky-rises and the lowly yet handy bazaars on the same street, the celebratory gaiety of festivals and latest cricket matches lie in synch with the horrifying and admonishing bomb blasts, the luxurious Taj Mahal Palace and Hilton hotels lie not far from one of Asia’s largest slums, Dharavi. India has always been a land of diversities and paradoxes. It has the world’s second largest pool of trained scientists and engineers but more than 40% of the country is still illiterate. Bullock carts are still an obligatory mode of haulage; yet its satellite programs are among the most sophisticated on earth. Four out of the top ten richest men in the world are Indians; yet one-third of the world’s poor live in India. We appreciate the cultural diversity but are on a quest to amend the paradoxes.
Christopher Columbus attributed with locating the Americas in reality went out to look for of India. The Portuguese, French, British and the Dutch all set outposts in India, trying to profit from the abundance. The policy of “divide and rule” was well exploited as European traders began to ascertain political authority and expand control of affluent lands. British Raj (rule) of India continued up to 15th August 1947, when India gained its independence thanks to the efforts of peaceful moderates such as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and extremists such as Bhagat Singh.
Preceding India’s freedom in 1947, numerous people geared up to celebrate the occasion with ceremonials and sparklers, revelries and social gatherings. For people residing along the religious fault lines that divided the north of the nation, though, the disposition was more apprehensive than commemorative. Would the leaving British leaders and officials decide to partition the country — split it into divided Hindu and Muslim countries — before they passed over control? Over the approaching days, about a million people died in the sectarian violence. Up to 14 million citizens crossed the world’s most recent border, an inconceivable swap of humankind and one of the biggest mass exodus’ in history. People who moved from Pakistan to India or vice-versa had left everything back and had to start afresh. The Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan had been established.
Fundamental to India’s self-esteem as a self-sufficient state was its constitution (the largest in the world), drafted in 1950, which established it as a sovereign, secular and democratic nation. An example of its secularity is clearly perceptible in the fact that the previous elections were won by an Italian woman of Roman Catholic roots who made way for a Sikh to be avowed as a Prime Minister by a Muslim President, in a country that is 81% Hindu. India is the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. Its rich art, literature and society are a result of the secular unisons of cultures in the country. The Taj Mahal completed in 1648 and located in Agra is one of the 7 Wonders of the World. India hosts the largest number of mosques in the world and boasts a harmonious coalition of Turkish, Persian and Indian architectural styles adopted by the Mughals.

Taj Mahal

With a myriad of religions in the country, today cricket is the closest thing to a universal religion in this diverse nation. In case, you weren’t among the billion plus people tracking India’s cricket world cup; India won the 2011 Cricket World Cup at home. Cricket is of great importance to South Asia. For India and Pakistan it is an extension of a battle of pride with the bat and ball. Whenever England visits India for a series, it is an opportunity to correct colonial-era wrongs. In India, cricket is also a very large business. The Indian Premier League (IPL), which consists of a swift and stimulating shorter version of the game, began in 2008 and is already worth approximately $3 billion. Like cricket, the Indian film industry (known as Bollywood) is an adhesive that binds, acting as a mutual edifying code that overrules divergence of language, customs and tradition.


The word Bollywood was coined in the 1970s and derived from its location, Bombay. It soon became the world’s most swarming movie industry, a glamorous, exhilarating amalgamation of chuckles and sniffles, tunes and skips. With almost 1,000 films every year, Bollywood’s yield far outshines that of Hollywood. And amidst the unforeseen narrative twists, everybody sings and dances. Almost all Bollywood movies are musicals. For 60 years, they have blessed India with most of its best songs. The Bollywood “masala” a flavoursome artistic display transforms melodrama into melody-drama, in which sentiments too cavernous to be spoken must be sung.

Of all the graphics out of Mumbai from the date 26th November, 2008 — a youthful gunman dressed in casual jeans, firing away, dark smouldering air enveloping the majestic dome of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, an angelic child losing his parents — the image toughest to take hold of is Mumbai without people. Driving toward south Mumbai on the morning after the attacks, the city’s normally teeming streets were emptied of life. This nonexistence of people also exposed how bewildered and perplexed Mumbai’s people were by the barefaced assault on their home. The most noticeable troubles were the incapability of the central and state governments to foresee the terrorist assault and to react sufficiently once it had begun.

Mumbai AttacksIndians today want enhanced competence, more receptive crisis forces, improved border security. Deep down, there is this insidious emotion of substantial government breakdown. As the youth of the country and the future leaders we must choose respond to this call will determine whether Mumbai’s tragedy turns into a national one.Mumbai Attacks
There are two expressions that a person relocating to one of India’s Hindi-speaking metropolis quickly learns. The first is, “Chalta hai”, which means “It works ok, so why care?” The second is “jugaad,” referring to the mesh of favors and flawed, unrehearsed, less-than-legal means through which most tasks in the country still get done. Engaged together, these two cultural viewpoints are the explanation for India’s slow political will to deal with problems. “Chalta hai,” we say about everything from traffic to government corruption to unsatisfactory schooling — that this is the finest that India a country of 1 billion people can do. It is in our hands to change this attitude into one of willingness to deal with our own problems using legitimate means.
A lot of the world sees India in the eyes of the movie, “Slumdog Millionaire”. The film has received lot of critical acclaim and correctly displays the predicaments present in the country. However, a lot of Indians are appalled by its saturation of stereotypes. India would want the world to extol its colourful festivities along with its troubles. And yet India’s never ending colours continue to surprise everybody. Whether it’s the sparkling vibrancy of fire crackers during Diwali, the myriad of shades thrown around in celebration during Holi, the stunning glory of flying your kites in the air on Makar Sankranti, the rejoicing feast of Ramazan, the songs, dances and boat races of Onam, the immersion of the elephant head god during Ganesh Chaturthi, almost every other day in India is a commemoration of occasion.

The Indian cuisine includes an extensive array of local food profoundly influenced by religion, tradition and region, although there is no one Indian cuisine. Punjabis eat completely differently from their compatriots in Maharashtra, Rajasthan or Gujarat.
Indian Tradition
Although, most of the Hindu population in India is vegetarian, the most illustrious dish is Chicken Tikka Masala. An enthusiast of Indian food might, indeed, consider it an irrationality: tikka (oven-roasted meat), is meant to be consumed without masala (gravy) but it is this paradox that India thrives on. The dish has become so renowned today that in 2001, British foreign minister Robin Cook announced “Chicken Tikka Masala” as Britain’s national dish. When Hollywood actor Will Smith arrived in Bombay, he said that one of the things he wanted to do in India was to flavour “genuine chicken tikka masala.” He was certainly in the right country.
Head south and you can experience the vivid and fragrant, southern Indian cooking. Nowhere else does this outburst of flavors congregate better than in Kerala, a state described as god’s own country. Its verdant seashore has been an inducement for centuries, and its food still bears Portuguese, Jewish and Arab resemblance. These connect to form a local depot of elements rich with medical properties: cinnamon helps in breaking down food and curry leaves help battle some kinds of cancer.

The Indian Subcontinent is located on the borders of the Himalayas, extending into the Indian Ocean. The reason why this country’s topography is amongst the most unique is because it consists of every landscape there is. To the North, there are the mountains and valleys, to the West, we have the deserts, down South, we have the seas and in the East we have the gorgeous green plains. However, we are not only geographically diverse, but also culturally and ethnically quite varied. Having the second highest population in the world with 1.22 billion people, there are naturally a number of different groups of people. In this country due to the immense belief in tradition and culture, the caste system is extremely prominent, even though it’s significance has decreased drastically over the years in the urban areas. Majority of the population follow the Hindu religion. Other minorities include Christians, Muslims and Buddhists. So yes, the truth is, India has been a ground of immense conflict time and again. But India is not a “breeding ground” for conflict as most would like to think due to our diversity.
incredible India

My name is Kavya, and I come from a growing metro city in the west of India, in the state of Gujarat – called Ahmedabad. This is city was founded in the 15th century by Sultan Ahmed Shah when the Persians descended into our country. Initially a small and quiet town, Ahmedabad has become extremely populated, noisy and polluted due to the immense development here. Our population is almost 3.7 million. The population of our city alone is (the sixth biggest in India) greater than the population of many countries like Bhutan and Netherlands. In fact the locality that I live in consists of more people than in the entire city of Maastricht. Like I mentioned before, because of our Persian founder and the Moghul Rule in India for a large persiod of time, Gujarat has a healthy percentage of Muslims residing here. Unfortunately enough for the history of this country, the year 2002 brought shame upon us and cast a shadow over our preamble. The Godhra riots killed an innumerable amount of Muslims and their ruthless torture by the Hindus in defence of the Hindus’ place of worship. The government stood watch. Some even silently encouraged it. It is something we aren’t proud of, but we have come a long way since then.

However, the beauty of this place cannot be defined in words. As I mentioned above, India’s topography consists of every landscape, but those only make up a fraction of the beauty I’m talking about. The rich history and culture of India is still visible in the ancient temples and monuments that are still standing today, hundreds of years old. Surely the fame of the legendary Taj Mahal has spread far and wide. Located at the heart of the country, in Agra, close to our country’s capital – New Delhi – the majestic palace has attracted people from everywhere, flocking to be able to be humbled by its grandeur, a symbol of one of the most extraordinary romances of all time. There are many such palaces that touch the country with the grace of what we used to be, and at the same time we experience significant development. India is blend of an upcoming super power and an icon of culture and tradition. Our industries are growing by the day. The world knows a couple of them as Reliance, Tata or Birla. The agricultural industry contributes a large portion to the Indian Economy. Farming is bread and butter for a huge percentage of Indians. There’s tea farming in the east, wheat in the north and west and fish farming in the south. However, the catch is that even though we have an immense supply of food, due to disallocation of resources, disparity and our inefficient government. The state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) has a larger population that that of Brasil. (Brasil is the fifth largest country in the world) This state is a political mess. With a hefty amount of seats in the parliament, the absconding politicians from here trick their people into believing that they are moving mountains to make sure everyone is satisfied. UP has one of the highest percentages of uneducated people in India – the root cause of governmental corruption. And you can only guess why these politicians don’t want to introduce educational reforms in the state. So that the people always remain easy to dupe.
Indian Art

Yet these aren’t the only factors that contribute to the identity of India. The little things that make India what it is, play a major part in defining each one of us. A lot of little streets have kids playing cricket, using sticks as stumps and a lump of wood as a bat and you see a radiant, playful smile on each face. You see the wives bargaining with grocers selling vegetables on lorries on every street side and then drinking cool packet water under the burning sun. India is a jolt of life, a burst of colour. Every festival celebrated by every caste, race and religion. That’s who we are. And we are beautiful.
Beautiful India

Amol Chalisgaonkar, NPS Indiranagar, Bangalore.
India. What’s the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of India? No, not a country of snake charmers and elephants, not a disjointed mass of impoverished people teeming over land too less. When I think of India, I think of one word: beauty. India is the most beautiful country I have ever seen. At this point, I’m going to stop calling it a country, because it is more a group of places bunched together to form a country.
North India and South India are both so different – I should know, being a South Indian with North Indian parents! How, you ask? Well, North India is, as the name says, the Northern states of India – Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Uttaranchal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and the nation’s capital, Delhi. Known for its vast expanse of hills that even out to rolling, fertile plains, it is the part of India most well known to foreigners.
However India does not end here. Immediately south of North India lies a “strip” comprising Gujarat, Maharashtra (the state my family is from), Madhya Pradesh (where centuries back, half of my family emigrated), Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Orissa. This portion of India forms something like a “cultural barrier” between North and South India.

In my opinion, South India is the most beautiful part of India – or the world, for that matter. The peninsular part of India, it comprises Goa (the party, club and beach capital of India), Karnataka (my state), Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In addition to this, there is a “Union territory” called Pondicherry, which in fact comprises 4 areas – Pondicherry and Karaikal, both in Tamil Nadu, Mahe in Kerala and Yanam in Andhra Pradesh. Pondy is a popular tourist destination, known for its French-style architecture, beaches and food.
South India itself varies. Bangalore, where I am from, in Karnataka, is the Silicon Valley of India. It is also the greenest city, nicknamed the Garden City due to its many parks, like Cubbon Park and Lalbagh. Although it has many traffic problems, the problems end there – Bangalore is India’s most modern city, with a huge number of malls, India’s top brands and top foreign brands, and is proudly the only city in India to have a Taco Bell! It is famed for its nightlife and music scene.
South Indian food is usually summed up as ‘idli’ and ‘dosa’ with ‘sambar’.
Here, the round fluffy white things are idli. They are served with a hot, spicy brown lentil curry (Westernised way of saying it, of course!) called sambar and a white spicy coconut chutney. South India is also famed for its dosa, which is idli batter spread out to make it thin, crispy and round, as well as dosa and idli variants. This food is generally representative of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, along with ‘chow chow bath’ (a sweet rice dish), ‘khara bath’ (a spicy rice dish). Kerala is famous for its fish (which I LOVE) and coconut-based dishes, and Andhra Pradesh for its super crazy extraordinarily spicy vegetarian-only food. Goa is world-famous for its meat in various flavours, or ‘masalas’ – Vindaloo, Xacuti (pronounced Zhakuti) and Cafreal.
India is quite a developed country, not as most people think. Yes, we do have high poverty rates compared to developed countries, but we are rapidly cutting down on that. India has become urbanized and is a centre for many major global companies, some of whom have large operation centres here.
India is not as spiritual as people think. We don’t have sages dressed in orange with long, flowing beards reciting the sacred texts (Vedas and Upanishads). Yes, religion is a very big matter in India, but as India becomes more modern, it is taking on a lesser form. I am an atheist. Every member of my family is either agnostic or an atheist. Most people do not disrespect religion, but they do not pray or go to temples or anything of the sort. India also has a wide variety of religions – a large number of people are Hindus, but a lot of Indians are also Muslims, Christians, Jain and Buddhists.
India is also not dirty and disease ridden. Every Westerner I have met thinks India is polluted, dirty and the people have all forms of diseases and sicknesses. This is not true. Indians live in one of the world’s healthiest societies. Indians invented early forms of the toothbrush, and bathed everyday while Westerners did not. The roads are beautiful (unless you live in Bangalore; bad roads) and the whopping majority of them are kept clean and are not dirty. We have many parks and gardens as well as natural parks and forest communities regularly works with the authorities to clean up areas that have been affected by pollution. Youth organisations also take up drives to clean cities. India is a very beautiful and green country, with lush fields in the North and coconut groves, paddy fields, sugarcane farms and many more lovely sights in the South. North east India is one of the greenest parts of the world, being heavily forested and being rich in rivers, natural resources and tribals to take care of them. Also, our food will not make you sick. It is cooked with lots of spices which Western tummies are not used to. We have bad stomachs when we go abroad because we find that food too bland!

Having been ruled by the British for circa 250 years, Indians do not in fact speak a strange type of English. Most Indians speak very good, almost flawless English, with the exception of a few common mistakes (not using whom, mispronunciation of tuition etc). But we do not have heavy accents like Apoo from The Simpsons, nor do we pause constantly to think. Most of us have been brought up knowing English as well as a regional language simultaneously.
Hindi is NOT our national language. We do not have a national language! At the time of independence, lots of attempts were made to make Hindi our national language because 40% of our population speaks it, but the Southern and North Eastern states protested doggedly, and it was not made the national language due to their languages being ENTIRELY different from Hindi. However, India lists English as well as Hindi as its official languages, in addition to 21 others. All states have their own official language(s). Hindi is very common in North India but in South India, it is quite uncommon. In fact in some parts it is even frowned upon. I cannot speak it with great fluency, but I can speak it, with a little hesitation to think. That is what it is like here. There is a high anti-Hindi sentiment in some parts of South India, such as in Tamil Nadu. English is a lot more common here, combined with regional languages. For example, I speak English and some Hindi. Since my family is from the Indian state of Maharashtra (where Bombay is) I speak Marathi

Having lived in Bangalore for over 9 years, I can also understand Kannada, the main language of Karnataka. Since the languages of Gujarati (from Gujarat, immediately north of Maharashtra) and Bengali (from West Bengal) are very similar to those I know, I also understand them. India is a very big place. However across India, there are many things that unite Indians as one nation – food, dressing styles, our love for our nation, love of gadgets…so many things.

But for this article, I was asked to write on India. I’m afraid I haven’t quite written on India. Why, you ask? Because India is such a vast country, so different yet so similar, a country of such contrasts yet such uniformity. The name India itself, to me, means so many things – wealth and poverty, progressiveness and rural backwardness, modernity and tradition. It’s the country I belong to, the one I love. There’s so much to write about, this barely scratches the surface. I’ve included as much as I could about my favourite bits of India…I just hope it’s a view that helps you to see the magic in my nation I see

Insights into 10 Cities of India
Mumbai –
7 islands that were once home to fishermen have transformed into the 4th most populous city of the world. The 2009 Alpha City was rocked by terrorist attacks in the year before the accolade. The city has the highest GDP when compared South, West or Central Asia, although still has one of the largest slums in the world. Mumbai is the city of the Indian film industry and has two UNESCO world heritage sites; the Elephanta caves and the Victoria Terminus.


New Delhi –
The national capital has the second highest GDP in the country. It boasts of landscaped gardens, broad roads and plenty of flyovers. It has some of the most striking structures of Indian history such as the Qutubminar and the Red Fort. Delhi hosted the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the most expensive Commonwealth Games ever held, costing India (US$10.86 billion).

New Delhi, India
Kolkata –
Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, has a population of over 5 million. Like its many other metropolitan cousins, Kolkata suffered from financial stagnation in post-independence India. However, since 2000, the city has seen a monetary transformation, thanks to the development of IT industry in Rajarhat in Greater Kolkata. The city’s IT sector is growing at 70 per cent yearly — twice that of the national average.
What was known as a silent urban city 10 years back has now grown into a bustling metro with rapid growth. Bangalore’s main business activity is information technology and information technology-enabled services. It is often referred to as the Silicon Valley of India.
Kingfisher City Bangalore
Hyderabad, the financial capital of Andhra Pradesh, is also known as the city of pearls. With an estimated population of 7 million, the city is the biggest contributor to Andhra Pradesh’s gross domestic product, state tax and excise revenues. Hyderabad, which used to be primarily a service city, is now the seat of many businesses, including trade, transport, commerce, storage, communication and lately IT.

Ahmedabad is the largest inland industrial centre in Gujarat and has been an imperative base of commerce, trade and industry. Ahmedabad has seen great success because of its proximity to Surat and its access to the hinterland of Gujarat. Though dusty roads and bungalows used to dot the city once, Ahmedabad is now observing a key construction boom and an increase in populace.

The growth of this major industrial city, located roughly 150 km east of Mumbai, has become the topic of discussion these days. Starting from automobile majors like Tata Motors, DaimlerChrysler, Pune will soon host units of international biggies like General Motors, Volkswagen, Fiat, et cetera.

Chandigarh, a Union Territory, has acquired international fame for being the best urban planned city with architectural dominance that has seen projects like Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, Mathew Nowicki and Albert Mayer come and go.

chandigarh (1)
Shimla, is also known as the Queen of Hills. Draped with abundant greens and lush green forests, the city is popular for its cool summers and snowy winters. Shimla thrives on the tourism industry and it is the administrative capital of Himachal Pradesh.

Panaji, the capital city of Goa is the third largest city in Goa after Margao and Vasco. The city incorporates educational institutions, government offices and major research centers like the National Institute of Oceanography in Dona Paula.


This article is written by Naman Shah, Kavya Shah & Amol Chalisgoankar who are the Indian Ambassadors for PU. Read more about them and other Ambassadors here

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