| "Unity in Diversity" was
the slogan chosen when India celebrated fifty years of Independence
in 1997, a declaration
replete with as much optimism as pride. Stretching from the frozen
barrier of the Himalayas to the tropical greenery of Kerala, and
from the sacred Ganges to the sands of the Thar desert, the country's
boundaries encompass incomparable variety. Walk the streets of any
Indian city and you'll rub shoulders with representatives of several
of the world's great faiths, a multitude of castes and outcastes,
fair-skinned, turbanned Punjabis and dark-skinned Tamils. You'll
also encounter temple rituals that have been performed since the
time of the Egyptian Pharaohs, onion-domed mosques erected centuries
before the Taj Mahal was ever dreamt of, and quirky echoes of the
British Raj on virtually every corner.
That so much of India's past remains discernible today is all
the more astonishing given the pace of change since Independence
in 1947. Spurred by the free-market reforms of the early 1990s,
the economic revolution started by Rajiv Gandhi has transformed
the country with new consumer goods, technologies and ways of life.
Now the land where the Buddha lived and taught, whose religious
festivals are as old as the rivers that sustain them, is the second-largest
producer of computer software in the world, with its own satellites
and nuclear weapons.