The author of the Mandarin book India that you may not know pointed to the glass and steel skyscrapers looming in Beijing’s version of Nariman Point and narrated his government’s eye-popping encounter with infotech in its competitive neighbour.
“Makan sadharan tha, (ordinary building) not like these beautiful buildings,’’ said Wang Shuying, gesturing at the 11th floor view. It was 2002, months before A B Vajpayee made a landmark visit to China. Wang, who speaks Hindi like a north Indian but no English, visited an IT centre in Delhi with Chinese officials.
“Our eyes opened when we saw the software inside the building,’’ said the seventy-something Wang, rubbing his eyes. “The Chinese thought it was unbelievable.’’
The officials assumed, and many still believe, that India excels at IT only because of English-speaking manpower. “I countered that if English was the sole reason, England would be the best at software,’’ said Wang.
Wang’s book with the Taj Mahal on its cover was launched this week in Beijing to popularise basics of Indian culture, politics, economy and the digital revolution in villages. As Wang said, the official histories of every Chinese dynasty made references to India, but today India is the great unknown in Chinese minds.
The Chinese title is Zou Jin Yindu --- walk into India. “We’re neighbours who don’t know each other. Some Chinese don’t even know where India is.”
The professor who started teaching Hindi at Peking University three years after the border war, admires the freedom of Indian students to correct a teacher’s mistakes in class. He believes that China can learn from India’s ‘all-encompassing’ legal and copyright system. Present relations are prone to tension because itihaas saaf nahin. History is not clear.
We discussed our similar experiences on Chinese streets while the world watches the simultaneous rise of India and China. “Ask anyone on the street about India,’’ he said. “They’ll either say they don’t know or that all Indians are Buddhists.’’
Chinese scholars visiting India ask him for advice. “Most Chinese think Indians are very black,’’ he said bluntly. “I tell them there are Indians fairer than me.’’ He tips them to pack kettles to boil water and eat onion. Kaccha.