Sunday, September 7, 2014

Meeting Modi in Japan

The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at last came to Japan in early September, 2014, after at least one postponement, and I happen to be one of the  hundreds in Japan who attended his talk, given at the Ambassador's Reception in Ascot Hall at Hotel Okura, Tokyo, on September 2.  Although the photos of his arrival in Osaka showed him wearing a dark suit, he seemed to have changed to mostly Indian-style clothes after a day or so.   At Hotel Okura, he appeared in a nice whitish 'kurta' (I believe that's what it's called:  long pyjama-like pants and a long, loose shirt, flowing to his knees), and a saffron vest.  Remarkably, the function began almost on time!  All the invitees, about a thousand, were asked to assemble before 6:30 PM, for his scheduled arrival at 7:00 PM.  All had to go through a rigorous security check inside the Hall, much like at Airports.  About ten minutes before the meeting, someone announced in English the basic procedure, and, frankly, that was the only message I understood during the whole meeting because from then on nobody spoke English or any other language intelligible to the majority!  The PM, accompanied by the Indian ambassador in Japan, Deepa Gopalan Wadhwa arrived around 7:05 and all welcomed him with a prolonged and enthusiastic applause.  There were also a few Japanese & Caucasians, men and women, but the majority were Indians from, I believe, all the Indian states.  After the usual National songs sung by the audience present, some 'Indian' children--presumably going to school in Japan--sang beautifully, accompanied by tabla and a string instrument that sounded like a piano.

Modi at Hotel Okura [Thanks to the Flickr contributor]
After being properly introduced, the Prime Minister began his speech--in Hindi or some north Indian language.  No doubt he gave an enthusiastic speech, for those who understood it laughed, clapped, nodded their head in agreement, and even shouted occasionally.  (Yes, I forgot to mention, even before Modi began, there were some from the crowd shouting short phrases in Hindi several times--something in appreciation, like "Long Live"--and every time, the whole crowd yelled back "Jai" or something like that.)  Of course, the people who didn't know Hindi--of whom, I'm sure there were nearly or more than half--simply clapped or nodded with the crowd without getting the point.

Although this PM has been quite admirable and charming, I cannot understand his insistence on speaking only Hindi without any translation.  India is NOT monolingual.   Although Hindi may have been given the status of the National Language in 1950, when the constitution was promulgated, it gave no right to any PM or government authorities to DENY the right to understand what he, as the Head of Government, was saying.  In fact, various corrections to the infamous "Hindi Only" policy have been enacted, and English STAYS as a secondary national language of India.  Surely, we can praise Modi for speaking Hindi or even Gujarati or Maratti or Punjabi, representing India--but he should have at least given out a summary or translation in English.  He seems to forget that he is the Prime Minister of the whole of India, not of only the north of India.  He is said to extemporize his speeches making them very personal and casual.  That is excellent too, but then he can have a live translator or at least pass on his basic ideas on a sheet of paper.  I think the whole language issue has caused much pain to all Indians.  Even though the Hindi pushers still try intensely to impose their will, pushing it too hard may rupture the country or stimulate the riots that were rampant in some parts of India in the 1960s.  Well, this language issue needs a longer article, so let me leave it at this.

After going specifically to hear the PM, I only 'heard' it, but 'understood' nothing but a few English words he dropped occasionally.  It was extremely disappointing.   As there was no way to ask anyone else during the meeting, I had simply to stay put and react with the crowd.   After his enthusiastic speech and even more enthusiastic applause and cheers were over, he came down from the dais and stood in front, flanked by the Ambassador and some other VIP, and greeted everyone.  Each row of about 25 persons went one by one, and shook his hands or bowed down in Indian fashion with hands folded like a lotus, or even fell down prostrate on his feet.  I went next to a Hindu priest living in Japan.  The ambassador, who remembered me, introduced me briefly to Modi, and I shook Modi's hands and passed on.  Officially, no one was allowed to bring a camera or spend more than a few seconds shaking hands.   There were many, of course, taking pictures in their iPhones and tried to carry on a conversation.  I tried to be 'rule-abiding' and so neither took any photo nor tarried to chat with the PM.

In the next room, there was a reception.  Most of the people glided over to that room, presumably catered by Hotel Okura itself rather than any of the many Indian restaurants.  The food seemed authentically Indian: rasgulla, rasmalai, curried vegetables, potato masala, chicken curry, curried fish, sandwiches, coffee, tea, etc. all served buffet style.   I was surprised to find non-veg dishes as I thought many Indians might be vegetarians.  Only the drinks were entirely non-alcoholic: orange juice, mango juice, ulon-cha, and water.

This 'casual' session of sharing a meal was very fruitful as I managed to extract the contents of Modi's speech from an Indian Swamy who seemed to have understood Hindi.  He told me that Modi's speech was down-to-earth and entertaining.  According to the Swamy, Modi encouraged Indians to be proud of their identity, and told them to invite at least five Japanese families to go with them each to India!   Modi also spoke of the economic disparities and issues of Indian filth, and promised to make India more modern and more hygienic.  Modi also spoke of giving the Bhagavad Gita to the Emperor, a typical Indian gift even though it may be religious.  Apparently Modi also cracked some jokes on his Chaiwalah (tea vendor) career and India's snake-charming reputation (which, he quipped, has now changed to the (computer) mouse-charming tradition!).  I was very greatful to the Swamiji for his summary and was delighted to know at least in brief what the PM had said.  I also met several old friends and made a few new ones.  It was great to meet the Indian Swamy, a Happy Science 'Kofuku no Kagaku' follower, and some from SriSri Ravishankar's "The Art of Living" foundation.   No doubt, the Japanese seem attracted by exotic Indian gurus like Kalki, Nithyananda, Saibaba, Amma, and so on.  The Indian community owes its thanks to the Indian Ambassador HE Wadhwa, for she was the one who made this get together and the wonderful dinner possible.  Thank you, Ambassador!

Overall, Modi seems to have had a successful visit.  The newspapers covered his visit reasonably well, though not in any 'mega-hit' fashion as sometimes they do for American or European VIP visits.  There were Indian flags in several streets around Yotsuya--e.g., in front of the detached palace, around New Otani Hotel, Akasaka Mitsuke, and so on.  It was surprising that Modi not only visited a school, but also visited the Seishin 'Sacred Heart' University, in Hiroo.   The Sacred Heart University is a well-known Catholic university, run by Sisters of the Sacred Heart, and among its illustrious alumnae are the current Empress Michiko of Japan and the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogawa.  Given the misleading news-reports that Modi is biased against non-Hindus, it was great to read that Modi visited this Catholic university and spoke to students and faculty.  The online video shows him speaking Hindi, but, fortunately, there was someone translating what he said; so it was OK I believe.   The online images of Modi also show him sipping Tea Japanese style, trying his hand at drumming a taiko 'a big Japanese drum', visiting some Japanese temples, greeting students, and so on.  His economic mission too seems to have been successful, according to reports.

1 comment:

Reena Brittonia said...

Wonderful article. .Thank you so much. .