An Interview to the General Consul of India

di Ivan Ferrari



L’accrescimento e lo sviluppo di uno dei paesi più grandi e in crescita di tutta l’Asia: l’India. Scopriamo qual è la coscienza che gli indiani hanno del loro momento storico in rapporto agli altri paesi – in particolare l’Italia – attraverso le parole del Console Generale a Milano Manish Prabhat, intervistato per l’occasione dalla Tigre di Carta.

  • The history of the Indian subcontinent is rich, immense and stupefying. Indian people are rightly proud of it and intimately linked to the fruits of their own past. Nevertheless, India is a dynamic agent of the global village that is developing an increasingly high technology and a diffused industrialization. Do you think that the past and the future of India will cooperate in harmony in order to increase the well-being of your people?

India is one of the leading civilizations of the Ancient World. So, if you take some of the major civilizations right from the ancestry, India is one of the founding civilizations whose contribution to the global civilization has been immense. Due to its own complexity, like everywhere, we have evolved through many phases. Now we are in the phase, in our Modern World, where the technology is making a lot of changes and all the world is becoming a global village. How can India contribute to this while taking care of its own past? Are there any barriers in our past which would prevent us from taking the modern goods? What should be done and what should not be done? As the world today is evolving like a global village and technology has brought all the countries so near to each other, so that distances almost become very short and immediate, in such a world it’s impossible to not take the path of technological progress, if you have the possibility. It’s an historical necessity… In this context, Industrial Revolution is something that is inescapable, it has to happen. The path of economic progress creates more employment’s opportunities for everybody. That is true for India as well as is true for every nation. In India also we have got a large population which is dependent upon all the sectors of economy. There is a large agricultural sector as well as a large industrial sector and services’ sector. So we have to take this path of more industrialization to give more economic opportunities to our people so that they can prosper, but at the same time we should not wound nature, destroy our environment or take such a step to contribute to the weather unnatural change and the global warming. Keeping in mind the fact that these are real dangers in the today’s world, we have to adapt our technologies in order to reach a green development. While taking this path of modernization and industrialization there are no contradictions with what our civilization was. Some people agreed that modernization is westernization. I would say that, in this sense, that is a false question. When the western people started the path of technological progress and created a big market in the world, they too adapted their own cultures to these changed economical structure and productive models. Such kind of progress is not only for the people who lives, for example, in North America, but also for the people who lives in Africa, South America or Asia. Technology is not defined by a specific civilization. It is not only for Europeans, but for everybody in the world. So every nation can contribute to it and take advantage from it. India also has a glorious tradition in mathematics and astronomy. Indians invented the concept of zero. Furthermore the astronomer Āryabhaṭa I, between 476 and 550 CE, calculated exactly the Earth’s shape and theorized both the Earth’s rotation on itself and the elliptical orbits of the planets around the sun. These also are the things happened in the Ancient India… So there are no blocks in our minds. Some people say that in our modern society you are forced to adopt some new habits. You see that I’m dressed in an occidental way, I’m speaking an European language and we are having tea which is an habit that does not exist in India before English colonization. The fact that I’m doing these things does not mean that I’m neglecting my own Indian origins and traditions. I speak my mother tongue with who can understand it, I eat my national food and I’m perfectly at home when I return in India. Progress is simply a constant feature of all civilizations. Industrialization is an aspect of the path of technological achievements that characterizes the human being in itself, not only in a specific cultural context.

  • Nowadays, Republic of India is one of the world’s biggest realities. It is the twelfth country in terms of economical power, the seventh in terms of geographical extension and the second in terms of population. So to say, we need about eleven “Italies” to make just one India. It seems very hard to administrate such a big territory and human mass, because we have so many problems with our smaller ones too! How your Government can do it?

Yes, our country has a very big territory and a very large population, but I would say that even the smallest countries have their own problems and complexities. Society is complex and even in a village there are different groups. This only shows human complexity in every human situation. Now I would be more specific to India… India is a huge landmass, it basically a subcontinent, not just like one country. We have different languages and so many dialects, even racial features of people may differ from region to region. In terms of languages, customs, habits and cultures there are so many differences. What in India we love to say is that ours is a country which represents unity in diversity. That is the theme of India which you will find across in many different places or contexts. What does “unity in diversity” means? Even if the people are so different, even if there are so many complexities and there are so many different kinds of practices and cultural distinctions yet there is a unity of thought which mix you and India. It is very difficult to define what is that one feature which mix you and India; it is hard to indicate one single feature which is what makes you an Indian. Over what history has developed trough India, there has to have a unity of thought and philosophy that we all refer to the same thing when we are looking of our daily life. This base of thoughts and human interactions developed over centuries, taken together, grounds the common identification of what is the space which is called India. Now, of course, the political unity of India is a modern thing. It is only after the British colonial rule that the large part of India was unified as a British colony. It happened in the past also that in India there were huge empires like Maurya Empire of the kings Candragupta and Aśoka the Great, I’m talking of 3th Century BCE. Literally all parts of India up to the modern Afghanistan were under one monarchy and the capital of that empire was the ancient city of Pāṭaliputra, the modern city of Patna. Then we are talking about the Mughal Empire which arisen big, has its capital in Agra and was significantly improved by Akbar the Great, in 16th Century CE. Even if we have these political realities in Ancient and Medieval World, in the Modern World the political unity of India was a gain of the British colonialism. After the struggle for our independence was over and the British left the country, there was the possibility to create one national state. Of course, the situation was more complex and the colonial India was partitioned in two countries: India and Pakistan. So it is a huge country and we have twenty-nine States and seven Union Territories. We have a democracy and the elections are called every five years for the whole of country and, of course, every five years every single federated state chooses its parliament’s deputies. The our one is a multiparty democracy. I think that the best way to preserve the oneness of unity of the country is to make every citizen of the country feel in the mood to say “yes, it is my system, I care for this system and this system cares for me.” This obtainment is only achievable in a universal democracy there everybody is made an equal with each other. What is that one factor which makes it possible to create a reality like is India and to govern a huge contest like is India? The Constitution of India was drafted by the leaders of the independence’s struggle, because, after this event, we understood that we had to make an equalitarian state. In order to reach it, we have still some steps to win. It is impossible to have social change in one second or one year. It takes a lot of time to defeat the ugliest social realities. It is a long way to go, but only in a democratic form of government everybody has equal right and has the possibility to participate to the State’s administration.

  • India was maybe the first place where something like a university appeared. I’m referring to the Buddhist centers of study, like Nālandā. Today there are thousands universities in India and some of them are very popular, like the Indian Institute of Technology. Do you believe that the number of European students in your country will grow?

Of course, you referred to the glorious tradition of sites like Takṣaśilā, Nālandā, Vikramaśīla and others which are great centers of learning in subjects like medicine, mathematics, astronomy, grammar, literature, religion and philosophy. Today, in the independent India, we have achieved a lot in high education. You know, the scientific and technological progress has really been great. India has event sent a Mars’ orbital machine [1] which has reached its objective with a particular low cost. We had three Nobel laureates for physics and chemistry [2] during the 20th century. In fact of high technology, Indian engineers, scientists and technicians made a great contribution. In this most recent success in sending an orbiter to Mars, India has become the first country in the world to have achieved this success in its very first attempt. All other countries which have attempted to send a probe to Mars failed in their first attempt. Our scientists have made possible the impossible, so we are proud of that. But still we are aware of the deficiencies and the constraints in our education system. One constraint is that we have very few primer research institutes in the world. Not all universities are in an equal level. There are great centers of learning about engineering and there are other institutes where are running good researches, like Indian Institute of Technology and Indian Institute of Science. We still want to take an higher level. A lot of European students and other foreign students are coming to India, but the majority of them are not coming for research. Many of them are coming to graduate, especially in Indological subjects, like Sanskrit. Many others are coming in India above all because high education in India is cheaper in comparison to Europe or America. So we have many students coming from Asian countries like Iran or from Africa, because the level of graduate education is good, but to go in the highest research means to expanding business opportunities in India and India’s position in the global economy. As you said before, India has the twelfth largest economy in terms of nominal GDP. Also India has the tenth largest economy today in absolute terms, in real GDP [3], and it is the third largest economy in the world, after USA and China, if you take the PPP [4]. Because of this huge expansion of Indian economy and this elevation of Indian place in the global economy, many foreign students are coming to India with the intention to work with Indian companies, especially ID companies, in Bangalore or in Delhi, because India offers the opportunity for expanding business and learning the techniques of business’ administration. There are many foreign experts from Europe and America who are now working in India. There is also a good presence of Indian companies in the world. So I see a lot of possibilities that this exchange of forces and experiences will increase in the future.

  • Generally speaking, what do you think about Italy? Is it relatively easy to live in it? Have you found some particular difficulties?

Italy is a wonderful and fascinating country. I have been a student of history and I am very interested about what happened in the Ancient World. Firstly, Rome’s civilization was one of the funding features of the global civilization. I am very impressive about it and coming here was a great opportunity for me. Secondly, I would say that between India and Italy there always been very good relations in the past and today also. We consider Italy a friendly country and we have the firm intention to realize many good cooperation programs in our relationship. Thirdly I would say that there was always ancient links between our countries. After its expansion in Asia, the Roman Empire traded assiduously with the Indian territories. The Venetian explorer Marco Polo came to India in the 13th century CE. In the Modern World also there were Italian Indologists fascinated by Indian culture. They started to learn about Indian classic scriptures, like the epic poem Mahābhārata, spreading the general Indological knowledge in Europe and implementing Western linguistic knowledge about Sanskrit, Pāli etcetera… In the independent India FIAT was one of the first large multinational companies and became one of the biggest car manufactures in India [5]. In the Italian popular culture there are various references to India, just like the TV series of Sandokan. More than 160’000 Indians live in Italy and among them about 135’000 live in the Northern regions under the jurisdiction of this Consulate. Many of them are working in agricultural sector or in cheese factories or in other kinds of factories. We are looking into a future were many of them will be citizen of tomorrow. Some are children at this moment, but as grownup people of the next generation they will regard Italy as their permanent home, while India will be their past home. So we are creating these new linkages which will be full of opportunities to work together. About scientific progress, Italy has made an important contribution to European science and technology, thank to realities like the National Institute for Nuclear Physics which cooperates with the CERN in Geneva. We have many good things to learn by the collaborations with such organizations. About education, the number of Indian students coming in Italy from India will increase, because many of the Italian universities are now offering courses in English. This is the case of the Politecnico, the Italian Institute of Design, the UNIMI [6], the UniMiB [7], the University of Pavia, etcetera… Also in the important sector of medical education the international exchange is increasing. I see that this trend is going on and this is good. More than 400 Italian companies are now actively working with India and there are many big Indian companies which are now operating in Italy, like the Tata Group. These ongoing economic linkages are creating new opportunities for our countries. They will bring us closer together. Furthermore, we was always fascinated by Italian achievements in industrial design and Milan is the center of it, so I am happy to be in this city.

  • Do you think that Indian literature is sufficiently well known in Europe? If not, is it at least going to be so?

Indian literature results very attractive in the Contemporary World. I don’t know exactly how many Indian literal works has been translated in the various European languages. There are many translations at least for what is the Indian epic poetry, so I am talking about masterpieces very well-known like the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata. Talking about the modern Indian literature, a lot of Indian writers can speak and write in English and this fact provides them a big opportunity to be not throw out from the English-speaking world. Many Indian writers have got very established names in the English literature. It is easier to have a translation from English to Italian than a translation from Asian languages, like Tamil or Hindi, to Italian. Often the direct Italian translations of a book written in Indian contemporary languages are few, but the translation of the English version of an Indian book is usually available. Rabindranath Tagore is a good example of what I am saying. He was the first Nobel laureate in literature who was not an Occidental author, this happened in 1913.

  • Is there a contemporary author, a particular book or another artwork that you judge particularly representative of the today’s India?

As I said before, India is a complex and composite reality, so it is extremely hard to represent its totality in a single work of art. If you take the modern art, many Indian painters are very famous. Maqbool Fida Husain is often compared with Pablo Picasso. The Modern Indian art is certainly an important and influencing component of the world’s history of art. About filmmaking, there are many producers, actors and actresses who are known in the Modern World. Now Bollywood is becoming very popular. There are good directors and good musician, like Allah-Rakha Rahman who was rewarded with two Academy Awards for his work in Slumdog Millionaire. In the theme of writing, there are many excellent artists in India. The horizons are limitless and everyone is surely useful to learn something about India.

  • If someone wants to visit India for the first time, from what place do you suggest to start? 

That is a difficult question. The answer depends upon your interest. Incredibile India, the Indian Tourism Office, chosen for its slogan “In India find what you seek!” In fact, our country is rich of many different things and everyone can find in it precisely the kind of things that he is looking for. If you are a lover of history, of course you will be satisfied by visiting the national capital of Delhi, the Taj Mahal in Agra, the medieval fortresses in Rajasthan, the temples in Khajuraho which are very famous as the temples of Kāma Sūtra, the beach temples in Konârak in Orissa which is known as the Sun Temple or the rock temples of Mahabalipuram, near Chennay. If you are a lover of beaches you would like to go to the famous beaches of Goa, a locality which represents also a rarity in fact of customs, because it was a Portuguese colony and so it has a very mixed culture. You can also go to Kerala, with its famous coconuts grooves and the backwaters. If you are attracted by the mountains, you can see the majestic Himalaya. If you are interested by different religions you can see Varanasi, the Sufi shrines, the wonderful Indo-Islamic architecture or the ancient places of Buddhism, like Mathura. Also Christianity is present in India from the first centuries of its own existence. This fact is due to San Thomas’ mission to India, in the year 52 CE. Christianity has been present in India even before it was present in many parts of Europe, so we have wonderful churches.

  • You have got many fascinating festivities. What is your favorite one?

My favorite festival is Holī which is often celebrated in the month March. Holī means the coming of Spring and many religious things, but the best part of it is that you celebrate it spraying colors on everybody; your friends, your neighborhoods and even on the strangers. There are colors always available. Of course, in the preindustrial times, people made colors with different flowers, herbs, radish, etcetera. Today they are produced in factories. You mix some of these colors in a bucket full of water or simply you can keep them in your hands and you put on each other’s faces or head. Some colors are more traditional, but all colors are used. Basically it signifies friendship, coming together and celebrating in a joyful mood because people are very happy. Holī is one festival which suspend all distinction of states in life. You are allowed to put your colors on everybody, there are not restrictions. For example, you can do it upon your boss or the Brahmins. Anyone and everyone is fair game, friend or stranger, rich or poor, man or woman, children and elders. It is like the Carnival, in that sense. According to the social historians, during the Carnival the world is turned upside-down so in that festival everything is allowed, especially what is usually considered unsuitable. Here in Milan we celebrate Holī in Parco Lambro and a lot of Italian friends join us.

  • Here in Italy, there is a particular event or cultural organization that you recommend in order to learn something more about India?

Firstly, there is the Indian Association of Northern Italy [8] which is located in Milan and, in collaboration with the Consulate, it presents a lot of Indian cultural programs. That is one organization which you can join in order to follow their activities. Secondly, there is the Indian Business Forum of Italy [9] which organizes a lot of activities related to business and trading economic cooperation. They also can give you a lot of possibilities to know India better. There are wonderful Italian teachers of Indian classical dances and music. These Italians has been in India where they learned these kinds of art. These studies are very difficult. Normally it is required a period of three or four years to form an expert. After they return to their motherland, these people promote Indian classical dances, so we have many good Indian performers here in Italy and the curiosity about our culture is enhancing. For example, the Conservatorio in Vicenza has now specific courses on Indian classical music and dances. Also the Teatro Tascabile in Bergamo is doing a lot of presentations of our traditional artistic expressions. There are many others organizations like these ones and their events are usually announced on the Facebook page of the Consulate General of India. So I advice everyone is interested to follow us on that page which is called India in Italy (Consulate General of India, Milan). [10]


[1] The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also called Mangalyaan (“Mars-craft”, from Sanskrit: मंगल mangala, “Mars” and यान yāna, “craft, vehicle”), is a spacecraft orbiting Mars since 24 September 2014. It was launched on 5 November 2013 by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). The total cost of the mission was approximately $73 million.

[2] Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman (1930) and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1983) in physics, Sir Venkatraman “Venki” Ramakrishnan in chemistry (2009). Currently India’s Nobel laureates in all the subjects are eleven.

[3] The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is what in Italy is called PIL. Obviously it must be considered both in the nominal and in the real way in order to understand all different aspects of the same economical reality.

[4] The PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) is what in Italy is called PPA.

[5] The first access of FIAT in India happened in 1957. Fiat India Automobiles Limited (FIAL) was originally incorporated on 2 January 1997.

[6] Università degli Studi di Milano.

[7] Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca.