Friday, August 27, 2010

Diverse, Diverse India

I have been writing a lot about China lately, but Asia has two billion-person behemoth countries, not one. Maybe it is time to even that score up just a little. After all, it isn't just that India has a bunch of languages. India has significant speakers in four major language families. Twenty-nine languages are spoken by a million or more people. That's crazy.

Anyway, India was also an English colony for roughly 90 years, and under very significant influence for a few hundred years before that. Part of that influence is, well, "fraternization." At one point this resulted in something like 300,000 to 500,000 people of mixed descent known as the Anglo-Indians. The community is defined in the Indian Constitution and has two members in the Indian Lower House. It is also dying off. Historically the Anglo-Indians were English in their speech and in many of their tastes. However, most of them were natives of India and had never been to Britain. However, they generally considered themselves (or were considered) socially inferior to Brits, but socially superior to Indians. This meant that they were substantially isolated once the country became independent. Now many of them have emigrated, and many of the remaining Anglo-Indians have intermarried with Indians and now speak Indian languages instead of English. Those who have maintained their Anglo-Englishness may have an advantage in being employed by multinationals, but without more Brits coming to India this strange, half-in-half-out community seems destined to simply be overwhelmed by the greater Indian culture.

Interestingly, most of the Anglo-Indians are Christian. This is partly interesting because to be Anglo-Indian you have to have English blood through your paternal line. Generally, this would imply that the children got their religion from their fathers. The opposite of the matrilineal tradition in the Jewish community. However, India also has a native Christian tradition. Among others there is the Malankara Indian Orthodox Church, which also has a church in West Sayville, New York. It is a former Dutch Reformed church, which is ironic, considering how . . . plain . . . the Calvinists were and how exuberant the Indians apparently are. Apparently the Assumption Day procession is something to behold. What is even more interesting is that even ignoring the European-influenced Christians from the colonial period, India has a Christian tradition going back to the Apostle Thomas (aka Doubting Thomas). The people are called the Saint Thomas Christians, and have a Christian tradition a thousand years (or so) longer than Russia, Germany, or Scandinavia.

How's that for diverse? No word on the longest traffic jam in India.

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