On a walk recently, I found a man’s children lying about on a gunny bag. But his buffaloes were inside a vast blue mosquito net. The entire family — two buffaloes and child — was living in luxury. At first I could not believe that the buffaloes were dearer to the man than his own children. My first hypothesis was that the buffaloes were generous patrons to mosquitoes and he was protecting his family from the swarms they attracted. Then, further down the road, I encountered a family of cows that was less fortunate. The cows were surrounded by swarms of mosquitoes, and they obviously minded it, for their tails were working overtime to distract the mosquitoes. Either their owner was not so affluent, or they were not so dear to him as the buffaloes to their master.
The humans themselves were, however, much less bothered by mosquitoes than their animals; they did not even bother to swat the occasional tormentor. It made me think of the wealth of wisdom in our country. One can think of various ways of warding off mosquitoes. The buffaloes’ way is one. Another is the smearing of Odomos on one’s exposed parts. A third, not available to the hut-dwellers, is that wonderful invention, All-Out. You just plug it in, and it keeps mosquitoes away. But the villagers had found a more versatile and robust way of dealing with mosquitoes — it was to endure them. After all, there is much in life which has to be endured: mannerless drivers, raucous wives, insufferable colleagues. Compared to these, mosquitoes are a comparatively mild nuisance.
But then I thought, maybe mosquitoes did not bother these villagers. I read somewhere that eating Marmite makes one unpalatable to mosquitoes. I am testing this theory just now, smearing Marmite on a third of the toasts I eat for breakfast — a higher quota is not possible, since peanut butter and rough-cut orange marmalade claim their share. Till now I have not turned sufficiently unpalatable. If I do, I shall report it to my readers. But I am surprised that the British are not taking out full-page advertisements in our newspapers to flaunt the special quality of Marmite. Maybe they do not think India is shining.
Another nation that has doubts about India shining is Korea. We have very old ties with Korea, as the following story from Samgukyusa shows. Since the creation of heaven and earth, the people of Gimhae, as Korea was then called, had no king; nine chiefs ruled over the 75,000 people. In the 18th year of the Kien-wu era, while the villagers were cavorting in the course of a bathing festival, they heard a voice from Mount Kuji: “A heavenly god has commanded me to descend to earth and establish a kingdom, so here I come.” Soon a golden bowl descended from the heavens on a purple thread. It had six golden eggs, which the people took to the chief’s house. Soon the eggs hatched into six handsome boys, and after ten days the boy who hatched first was nine feet tall. He was crowned king Suro of the kingdom of Garak (Gaya); the other five became smaller kings.
When he was twenty-four, Suro commanded his nine chiefs to sail towards Mountain View Island in the south. There they found a ship with red sails bearing a beautiful maiden. She disembarked, and proceeded to King Suro’s sleeping chamber, where she told him, I am Ho, the Princess of Ayuta; my given name is Hwang ok, and I am sixteen. My parents saw a heavenly emperor in their dreams, who commanded them to send me to you.” That is how King Suro got a queen from Ayodhya. Her kinship with Rama has not been established yet; it must be left to future scholarship.
However, the book from which I learnt this story, 30 Years of India-Korea Relations (Committee for the Commemoration of the 30th Anniversary of Korea-India Diplomatic Relations, Shingu Publishing Company), also reports on an internet survey conducted amongst 603 Koreans on 26-27 June, 2003 — Korea has virtually universal broadband reach, and Koreans are the world’s most intensive internet users. Of the respondents, 11 per cent knew that India was a nuclear power. As many also knew about its prowess in information technology. But 40 per cent associated it with history and civilization — and a quarter with overpopulation.
Among the things they liked about India, yoga and meditation stood foremost; history and tradition came next, and then diversity of cultures. A distant 9 per cent liked Indian women; there were no takers for Indian men. It was no surprise that the largest number thought Indians were religious, and the next largest, traditional. A respectable 13 per cent thought Indians were lazy; only 4 per cent thought we were hard-working. A decent 10 per cent thought we were innocent; and there was a 2 per cent minority who thought we were smart!
The respondents must have had to scratch their heads to say what was common between Indian and Korea. A majority said it was Buddhist culture. Next came the 16 per cent who thought both had been colonies (Korea was colonized by Japan). Another 12 per cent thought both were Asian countries.
The largest number — 32 per cent — thought our relations were so-so. But 26 per cent thought they were friendly, and another 25 per cent thought they were somewhat friendly. A full 14 per cent had no idea. Could the Koreans learn something from us' An overwhelming 41 per cent thought they could learn to preserve tradition; 16 per cent thought they could learn to accept diversity. Another 13 per cent thought they could learn to become an IT power. Then there was a 10 per cent minority who admired our lifestyle, and another 16 per cent who admired our independence and originality!
And what were the things they did not think too highly of' The highest number — 37 per cent — did not think much of the caste system; and 32 per cent thought we were poor. Another 15 per cent thought we kept fighting people of different religions, and 7 per cent thought we were corrupt and “irregular”. Only 4 per cent minded our spending so much on arms and exploding atom bombs.
And what do they think of our future' The largest number — 41 per cent — thought we would remain where we were; 9 per cent thought we would stay backward forever. But 32 per cent thought we would offer the world a spiritual home. But then there were 11 per cent who thought we would become a major economic power, 4 per cent who thought we would become a strong military power, and a credulous 2 per cent who thought we would become a superpower.
I am more optimistic than the Koreans. I think we will soon invent an edible form of Odomos. It will make us immune to mosquitoes. In addition, we will all smell uniformly nice, and stop being put off by one another’s smell. Or better still, we will fill up our buffaloes with Odomos, and will acquire immunity to mosquitoes through the 100 million tonnes of milk we drink every year.