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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 19

The Renaissance of the Asian Identity

Sunday 27 April 2008, by Som Benegal

From the islands of Japan in the Far East striding across a wide swath or chain of Manchuria, Korea, Mongolia, China and the rolling steppes of Central Asia, carrying with it island clusters, archipelagoes, peninsulas—India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Indo-China, the Philippines and north-westwards through Afghanistan, Iran, numerous other states and territories to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea at Lebanon and Israel is called Asia.

This enormous geographical configuration traverses towering snow-bound mountains, mighty rivers, inland seas and other sculpting of nature and man. Its history goes in time beyond imagination. It is peopled by diverse and bewildering races, cultures, ethos, mother of the great faiths of the world, home to great, intellectual citadels, incessant curiosity and quest for the meanings of the mysteries of life in this mystic planet, child of the Sun.

Asia! Is it a unique entity in a planet of seven continents? There is much controversy about it. Each continent, it is claimed, has its unique qualities, and Asia is nothing special. Indeed it has been quite backward. Its diversity makes for confusion, its excessive devotion to metaphysics deprives it of scientific realism and pragmatism unlike Europe. But others—great visionaries of the past and the present—hold that Asia is the trigger for all the advances of the rest of the world. Its contribution to the mainsprings of scientific, ethical and cultural grandeur cannot be under-rated or demeaned.

The march of materialism today, the tearing transit of technology seems to have given pause to—if not wholly eliminated—the virtues of peaceful, spiritual tranquillity which formed the ultimate bedrock of all Eastern, which we now call, Asian, views of life in this worldly sojourn despite the sessions of violence and horror which marred it from time to time. The saving grace was the underlying quest for knowledge moderated by the cautionary prescription: “It is important to know, but more important is it to know what to do with what we know.”

That, I would say, is the Asian Identity which separates it in a unique sense from other identities on this earth. Today we need its renaissance, its reawakening.

(Courtesy : Neighbourhood Flash)

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