Once again my state Andhra Pradesh is seething with unrest as divisive forces demand a separate state of Telangana. The two-day bandh forced on the people, with so-called students, most of whom do not look a day under thirty, roaming the streets to ensure that jungle law prevails, reveals our true colours as we run to shops and petrol bunks to buy up all that we can while traders and dealers and transport operators charge double and treble the normal cost, making a killing out of the misery and fear of their brothers.
So unlike another Asian people we Indians are. For a people who celebrate nature and beauty in all its forms, the cherry blossoms, bonsai and ikebana, and the haiku, the people of Japan were dealt a crippling blow by those very same forces that they revere, through events that could only be termed as acts of God (unlike the 2001 twin tower plane attacks in New York or the 2009 Mumbai shootings), against which they have no recourse of vengeance and retribution and which has set the country back by a good twenty years, with loss to the economy estimated at more than $50 billion.
Yet there were no photographs going around of chest beating, blaming God, or each other. There was no ‘every man for himself’ panic, each one readily submitting to radiation tests, sharing whatever was available by buying just enough for one’s needs, waiting patiently in queues for food, or clothes or shelter, trusting in the elected leaders to deliver the goods. Stories abounded in the international media and the internet of adults and children putting into the common pool the freebies they had received; no aggression or panic, no forgetting of common courtesies. Forget countries like India with its below-poverty-line masses and poorer nations across Africa and South America, even in that land of plenty across the seas, the USA, one frequently sees all civic and human values disappear during a calamity as thievery and mass looting of homes and department stores take place. Cases in point are the power blackout a couple of decades ago in New York, or the more recent devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
While the Japanese samurai warriors of old and the kamekazi suicide bombers of World War II are the essence of Japanese folklore and epic, their commitment and fierce doggedness in the line of duty was the reason for this tiny island nation’s victory in the 1904 Russo-Japanese war over the ‘great Russian bear’. The two diametrically opposed traits of ruthless fighter and cultured aesthete in the Japanese persona prompted a remark from one Nippon statesman in the early 20th century which when paraphrased says, ‘while we pursued our arts and gentle ways of life we were called barbarians; now that we have learnt to kill and bomb and win wars, we are considered a civilised people.’
Are the pacifist twin faiths of Shintoism and Zen Buddhism responsible for etching the essential Japanese character? Are these the reasons for their graceful acceptance of the blows dealt to them against which acts of reprisal are just not possible? There is a lesson here to be learnt by us Indians. Not for the Japanese the fatalistic swiping of the finger across the forehead indicating that what has happened is already written in our fate (karma). Not for them the wailing and bemoaning at the unkindness of fortune over days and weeks of unremitting hardships. Living as we do in a land known as the cradle of ancient religions and cultures, we need to look to our far eastern cousins for lessons in the conduct of our lives both in times of peace and stress. Observe their fortitude, their lack of self pity and their reserve. Observe above all their principled behaviour and belief in sharing and compare it to our panic reaction that leads us to hoard precious stocks of food and fuel.
This is not to say that Indians do not help their fellow sufferers – ample proof stood out of the reaching out by even the poorest to those in need of help during the 2005 Mumbai floods. But that is not our cultural ethos as a norm today; venality and selfishness have parked themselves in the Indian psyche, traits which stick out like a sore thumb from among the topmost leaders who ought to be leading by example down to the ordinary citizen who shares in a crisis the same fate as his fellowman. That little country may not be as populous as ours but its population density is among the highest in the world, yet the consideration and respect for each other facilitates an enviable harmony in the worst of times which is rarely to be found these days.
It is but natural therefore that Japan and its people have the deep respect and admiration of the world. Despite the magnitude of the losses, despite the fact that lawyers will be hovering to make a killing out of business disruptions, delayed deliveries and radiation risks, it is natural and logical to believe from their exemplary conduct thus far that the country will before long rise from the ashes of the calamity, revitalised, stronger, and learning as always from the experience.