As a nation of so many cultures, India is very unique in several ways. There are so many different types of food being prepared and eaten, there are so many varieties of clothes worn by people of different States, there are so many languages and there are hundreds of problems of living as well.
Yet, there is something that has endured this nation for hundreds of years, and still continues to do so. If there are several answers to this great puzzle, there is one quality that stands out — tolerance.
It might be argued that tolerance of whatever circumstances or situtations that one finds himself or herself or themselves, is very common to people of different nations. Still there are several unique characteristics of this tolerance, and this has huge economic dimensions as well.
Firstly, Indians have braved through terror attacks, violence let loose by political parties, earthquakes, floods, tsunami, and what have you. There is always hope and, in times of need, the whole nation chips in. For instance, when tsunami struck the South Indian State of Tamil Nadu, donations poured in from all over India. Not only was financial help forthcoming, there was help in kind too. The entire nation came forward to put up a massive show.
When terrorists attacked Mumbai, the most important Commercial Capital of India, it was the very poor and middle-class people, who ferried the injured to the nearest hospitals. Human compassion should have seen to be believed. Hundreds of people went through severe shock, but help was forthcoming from single quarter. Not only that, the people of Mumbai came out in thousands and supported the men in uniform — most importantly, those from the National Security Guards –, who bravely fought the terrorists in many places, and won so well against them.
Tolerance of hardship takes many forms. When trains are cancelled, it is so common to see hundreds simply bear the hardship by staying put in the very same railway stations. Hundreds of people would wait patiently for the trains to be re-scheduled or even travel by buses to different towns and cities from where they can reach their destinations.
Toleance of poverty or bare minimum needs is a very unique characteristic of Indians. Every State has its own unique way of tackling the problem of poverty, but there is a real economy of the poor, by the poor, and for the poor in every Indian State.
For example, in Tamil Nadu, a developed South Indian State, it is very common to find small eateries in every single village or small town, that serve food at very cheap rates. Those who survive for a little more than one US dollar a day, frequent such places and brave all difficulties. The State Government has really come out with a very innovative scheme — for every single poor family, it gives twenty kilograms of rice at just one Indian rupee. This means for just half an American dollar, in Indian currency, each family stands to get fairly good quality rice. Even if the spices and other inputs that go into a standard meal are somewhat costly, the families are able to manage their expenses, thanks to the support they get from the State Government.
Add to this the vast and fairly good developed road network, and the best organized and most efficient bus transport system in the whole country, and the huge trading that gets done through this superb fleet of buses — the rise in incomes of every single family in Tamil Nadu in recent times, can be attributed to the huge amount of trading activity that goes on. There is tolerance of power cut, of very corrupted politicians, of trains that run late, of severe water shortage in several parts of the State in Summer, of drop in real incomes because of huge inflation — people are so peace-loving that there is no quarter for violence of any kind. Whatgever violence gets encouraged by politicians, these days, does not cut ice with huge masses of Indians.
Tolerance of water problem is a very unique trait of Indians. Every single family, paticularly those in the low income brackets, manage to walk huge distances — as many as four kilometeres — even in small towns to fetch water from wherever it is available. The State Governments in many States supply water through lorries in summer, and women wake up very early in the morning, to get just some water from these lorries in their localities.
Tolerance of other religions and religious faith is another superb aspect of Indian culture. In the urban area, paticularly in the metropolitan cities of Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai and Kolkatta, hundreds of thousands of people together in apartments and flats and since they are otherwise very busy, spend a huge amount of time on the week-ends to socialize and learn about their neighbours. There are people from different States and religions. Festivals of different States are celebrated, the varieties of food that gets prepared in different homes gets exchanged, and people share all the warmth and affection.
In the rural areas, compassion and tolerance of hardship is a way of life. Every single village in India, will have a history to tell. Every single village is now experiencing the life of those in the cities — thanks to the huge reach of television, cell phones and the internet. With massive improvement in communication, there is a fear that urbanization will overtake rural cultures. This will never happen, as culture, particularly rural cultures in India, are matters of the heart. The rural people do get influenced by those from urban areas, but the strong undercurrents of religion that get cemented in terms of village festivals and temple worship, is so very strong, that urban influences cannot invade so easily.
In the years to come, thanks to rapid spread of education, and decline in agricultural output ( huge shortage of agricultural labour is one chief reason why Indian agriculture will decline), there will be a new kind of tolerance expected of Indian people — tolerance of huge inflation in food prices. In fact, apart from the huge increase in cost of construction of houses, and the land value, the single most important worry of millions of Indians is the current surge in prices of all food inputs. Unless the Government does something, agricultural output will not be able to match the growth in population.
Ten years down the line, tolerance of Indians is likely to be tested to a great degree. However, given what has happened in all these years, one can rest assured that the basic fabric of telerance, in India, will not undergo any major change. Indians will continue to travel in very crowded trains or buses or even shared auto-rickshaws in the small towns and cities. Still, life will go on, and the spirit of tolerance will survive all challenges.