Several of my conversations in online chats start like this:
-- You are Indian?
-- You know Shah Rukh Khan?
-- Sure. Everybody does.
-- Have you met him?
-- No. Never.
-- Why?!? You live in the same country and for so many years! If I ever come to your country, I would definitely meet him. Will you take me to him?
This reminds me of the remarks made by a Hindi writer long ago "...Other than Gandhi and Tagore, who else (Indian) is there who is recognised by the global community? What is your contribution to the contemporary times of the world?.."
No more is it the case. Now the equations have changed. The world today recognises India not by its political and religious leaders, but by Tendulkars, Shah Rukhs, and Amitabhs. It is said that a parallel battle for supremacy is going on -- based on what is called the 'soft power'. Here China and India are at an advantage; India more so, because of her long, rich, and colourful traditions and culture. She has more to offer, and on this front, is already a global superpower. What is needed, we are told, is that Indians themselves appreciate this fact, which has already been acknowledged by the world community.
But all the same, there is something wrong. It is not a matter of supremacy of China or India over Italy or France. Arts do expand their frontiers, but the process is unlike a political or religious expansion. Arts bind people and civilizations together, they break barriers. There is no conflict, no aim for global supremacy. When we read Tolstoy or Rabindranath, admire Michaelangelo or Gujaral, listen to Mozart or Jasraj, we do not make comparisons. Instead, we take part in the common human endeavour to fulfill the inner desire and need for everything beautiful, and take a few sips of the nectar that human imagination and thought has to offer.
Yes, India is a soft superpower. However, she should utilize the experiences she has gained in her long journey towards encouraging connections, inculcate tolerance and mutual respect among civilizations. There is so much beautiful in the world around us; we all could help each other in appreciating its minor details. Where is the time for conflict? What is the need for dominance? In that, Indian arts have a lot of work to do, and a really big role to play.
NB: The views expressed are personal.