A letter to India about our troubled relationship

My dear India,

I’ve been meaning to write this letter for a long time. Don’t be alarmed. I still love you. But there are things I need to tell you, if this relationship is going to work out. You might not change. That’s up to you.

My words may sound pretentious and judgmental. So be it. But I need you to hear me.

Ever since I heard of you, I wanted to meet you. The way your people dress, with their colorful robes and swirling turbans. Their amazing cooking, with cone-shaped towers of powders—reds and yellows, sizzled into the juices of a subji. Or seeds of cumin mixed among cauliflower-parathas. Your amazing life and history, with philosopher kings and queens roaming your lands, bowing down to sages giving divine benedictions. Incarnations of gods and God have brushed their feet over your grasses. Green fields burst with bounties in your south, while the world’s tallest mountains form your crown in the north. Even as a child, some part of me always knew that when I wanted to learn what the deal was, spiritually speaking, I would go to you. Once I was done playing (I’m still not that serious).

In my teens, I finally met you.

At first I understood so little about you, although I was entranced by the incredible diversity of people, conceptions, and ways of life, all coexisting in you. I came to you mostly as a tourist. Over the decades I have come to know you a little better, though your every nook and cranny still holds mystery for me.

I’ve also been frustrated with you, yelled and cursed at your people for following a way of life not their own. For taking up the technology, infrastructure, fashions and media of materialistic cultures, without taking a moment to consider their benefits and demerits. Why should a man wear pants, socks, shoes and a shirt in a tropical climate? Why should those from a deeply spiritual culture emulate others?

Has modern Western culture been good for the West? The family unit has broken down. The environment is in tatters. People are depressed and angry. The bubble of those wealthy countries looks so sparkling and enticing to you, doesn’t it? Your people feel yourselves poor. But how long until that bubble pops? Your culture lasted thousands and thousands of years. America is only a few hundred years old, and already it’s falling apart. Why follow them? Your culture is old and deep. Why imitate gangs of youngsters still learning their way?

There are some more practical things I’d like to address as well. It’s important in a relationship to feel heard, and I need you to hear these things.


Why can’t your people drive in any kind of sensible way? They’ve adopted cars, which are a deeply flawed invention. But as long as they have them, why not adopt a logical system for traffic as well? High beams should be used when there is no oncoming traffic, otherwise you’ll blind them. Your turn signals are there for a reason. Dots in the middle of the road are there for a reason. You’ve chosen to have vehicles drive along the left side of the road, like in England. Why not stick to that? In a working traffic system, drivers hardly need to use their horns at all. They’re really for emergencies. In most countries, you could be in traffic for an entire day and not hear a single horn sounded. Can you imagine how much more peaceful that would be? The noise on your streets has made your people half-deaf.

Your traffic system runs in the same way as your country: impulsively and selfishly. No one has any faith in following a set of rules, to lead for a better outcome for everyone. “I want to go into that gap between two stuck cars right now, and I don’t care if it causes a traffic jam for two hours. I don’t even care if I’m in that jam. I want to go into that gap now.” This is how people think within your traffic, and this is how they think in business, the police force, and the government. Everywhere. “Never mind the greater good. I want what I want now.”

For God’s sake, clean the place up. There’s plastic everywhere. Plastic is not like ordinary waste. It’s a very, very stupid invention. To make something which lasts practically forever, and then manufacture it to be used once. You can’t dispose of it like you would normal waste. It’s making your country into a landfill. Actually the solution in the West isn’t any better; people waste far more, then hide it in holes in the ground for their children and grandchildren to deal with.

It’s really better not to use plastic at all. Some of your states have banned plastic bags. That is SUCH a good idea, and a beacon of good sense for the entire world. Yes, you can be a leader in the world. You are in many ways already.

Yet you’ve taken these things from the West without learning how to use them. In fact, these things were made in such a shortsighted way that it is hardly possible to use them well.

But these are my quibbles. In any relationship, there are things that will bug the other party. Bhagavan knows that I’m far from perfect.

These aren’t the things which really pain me about you. What pains me is to see you losing your deep and wonderful ways to stupid and superficial ‘culture’. What pains me is to see so-called holy men taking advantage of the general goodwill, naivety and respect that your people have toward men in saffron. Foreigners come with this naive respect as well, and they’re also taken advantage of. It hurts me to see your young people wearing T-shirts of dumb-ass heavy-metal bands which are already out of style in America, instead of dressing in the beautiful and meaningful clothes of their ancestors. It hurts me to see your people’s intelligence sucker-punched by the British education system, so that they think their own culture to be backward, while considering a shortsighted, spiritually blind, selfish consumer society to be the bees’ knees.

If you didn’t have much potential, all this wouldn’t bother me. I wouldn’t expect a crow to become a lion. But you could be so much more, and the gap between what you are and what you could be, is excruciating.

Oh India, you are more wealthy than anyone I know. Please, please, please, recognize this wealth and share it with the world. Who cares if your IT sector improves? Who cares whether your infrastructure catches up with the west? You are just serving foreign companies who are raping the earth. You were meant to serve gods and sages, not greedy corporations. Explore your own culture and resources. Protect the cows and land. Honor the real sadhus. Honor your holy books.

Think for yourselves.

Because I need your help. We all do.




B.T. Lowry fell in love with India about twenty years ago, and has been in a troubled relationship with her ever since. He is a storyteller and filmmaker. While Tolkien and others rooted their Epic
Fantasy rooted in Europe, B.T. Lowry roots his in ancient and modern India.

For his free short stories and videos, check out the stories section of this site.

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Comments (5)

  1. Thank you, for your mini-antidote, to Lonely Planet travelogues..

    Tourism is modern day colonialism.

    Another economic trap to fuel the existing, mindless “race to the top” (of what, i am only 90% sure at ripe age of 55. If i thrive, survive till age 90 , should hit 100%)

    Only a minority of travellers i see or meet, seem to bring their (western-programmed, rather than “educated) brains along for the ride: –
    i just overheard 2 (euro-trash) backpackers titillating their feeble minds at sight of Sukhimvit store called “pink pussy”

    Sigh ? Perhaps, the gene pool is in a race to the bottom. The West is well ahead.

  2. Oh India- you are a culture rooted in a spiritual tradition that encourages respect and care for all living beings. How have your values been corrupted and twisted such that the exploitation of women, children, the poor, cows and Mother Earth herself, has become institutionalized and normal?

  3. I, like many others, was impressed by the eloquence of Dr Lowry, who has a clear understanding of Indian culture and life, from his own experience and from his spiritual journey. I admire and appreciate the intent behind the original article, written as a letter to a beloved – his India – and the style with which he hymns his beloved country is beautiful and lyrical. However, it is in my view a mistake to take some specific criticisms and rail against the people generally (“why can’t you people drive like …..”). As many have pointed out, accidents are few and vehicles in my experience are ancient and held together with sellotape. Besides, chaotic roads and indifference to rules are rife the world over. Ever tried driving in Kabul? or even Istanbul? Chaos reigns there too. Likewise the plastic bag thing. This is everywhere, and in other countries worse. If waste creation and management are in the discussion, look no farther than the United States whose consumerist greed creates the most terrible waste issues. As for the evils of the developed world’s consumerism, and rampant corruption, this is no worse in India than anywhere else. Seen Nairobi recently? Been to Lagos? Russia, too, is steeped in institutionalised corruption. India may not be a paragon but it is hardly the originator of corruption. No; if you want to criticise this beautiful spiritual land, then do not praise its Hinduism : therein lies the evil of the caste system, so diabolical that it still causes countless, endless, avoidable suffering to people whose lives are blighted from birth. Go back a hundred years, two hundred, and see how slavery of black people institutionalised inhumanity. It is still institutionalised in India. This is where we must fight to purify this wonderful land.

    1. Hi John. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.
      You make some good points. Yes, accidents are miraculously few! It seems to me as if people are somehow in tune with each others’ intentions.
      I certainly agree that the things I find trouble with are not only found in India, but the world over. And most of the problems don’t originate in India, either, but have been brought in from elsewhere. So it’s not my intention to blame India in particular for traffic and pollution problems, etc.
      I haven’t driven in Kabul or Istanbul. I’ve been in Thailand a bit, and in Nepal, and seen similar traffic situations there. And yes, countries like the US and Canada use and waste far more than India, though he problem is more hidden. So I don’t mean to say that these are all exclusive to India, by any means. I phrased this as a personal letter to India because I have far more relationship with India than I do with those other places, and, as the troubles of my good friend pain me more than those of a stranger, it pains me to see these things in India more than elsewhere.
      The caste system as it exists today is certainly a problem, though in many places it seems to be softening. I have read in Bhagavad Gita that the original caste system was based on actions and qualities, and not on birth, but over time it has become changed. I think this was a power-play by those born in higher castes, who actually lacked the qualities to properly carry out the duties of those castes.
      Thanks again for your comment. I hope discussions like this can be helpful to us.

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