Discovering the faces of India in March, on a cruise from Singapore to Delhi
Professor Glen Johnson is one of our guest lecturers and will be joining us on a 22-day ‘Passage to India & Sri Lanka’ voyage in March. At the end of the cruise we will head ashore on a fabulous 5-day land tour of India’s Golden Triangle, taking in the forts and palaces of Jaipur, Lutyen’s great monuments of the British Raj in Delhi and, of course, the Taj Mahal in Agra. We asked Professor Johnson to give us more insight into this amazing land and allow us a brief glimpse into what guests can expect from his lectures this season. A Professor Emeritus at the renowned Vassar College, he is an author of several books and a number of articles on international human rights, India’s foreign policy and US foreign policy. He has been a Fulbright scholar in India twice, and he has led educational tours of India for the Vassar College Alumnae and the National Geographic society.
“Let me first start by saying that all of the Indian ports of call chosen for the itinerary are extremely rich in history, culture and modern developments. I love Cochin which is lush with natural beauty and rich in the cultural legacies of generations of traders from East and West Asia, as well as refugees fleeing myriad oppressive regimes for the more welcoming environment of the Malabar Coast.
Goa is a wonderful place showcasing the historic experience of Portuguese rule with a contemporary culture in which the Portuguese and the indigenous strands combine to generate a special vibrancy. As we approach the culmination of the voyage, namely the Golden Triangle land tour, I hope to present to our passengers the multiple faces of India, through these suggested lectures:
India, ‘an excess of reality’
The first lecture is based on my experience introducing a lot of travellers to India over the years, mostly for Vassar College but also for the National Geographic Society on a couple of occasions. Octavio Paz, the Mexican Nobel Prize poet who was also the Mexican Ambassador to India at one time, described India as an “excess of reality.”
It is often a little overwhelming the first time and even to repeat visitors. This lecture provides an introduction to India, a survey of many facets that visitors will encounter while traveling in India. Taking Nehru’s famous “Tryst with Destiny” speech as a theme, I examine the challenges to Indian unity and democracy at independence: the divisions of geography and history, of language and literacy, of caste and class, of religion and culture, of poverty and the colonial economy. The lecture focuses on two themes: the remarkable success of India in building a unified country in the face of challenges most observers thought insurmountable and the similar success in building a lively and functioning democratic polity in the absence of most of the democratic prerequisites identified by scholars and pundits.
In another lecture, I focus on the Indian independence movement because it is unique and one of the most important and interesting developments of the 20th century. A non-violent revolution compelling freedom from the most powerful colonial ruler of the day, it laid the groundwork for the largest, most challenging and far-reaching experiment in democratic governance ever attempted — and it has been largely successful.
It produced endlessly fascinating leading characters like Mahatma Gandhi, a deeply religious Hindu ascetic who championed secularism and was an inspiration to millions, yet in many ways remained a prophet without honour in his own country. Jawaharlal Nehru was an urbane, erudite, sophisticated atheist who confidently championed democracy in a society that possessed almost none of what most westerners thought were essential prerequisites.
Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a westernized barrister and a secularist devoted to his Saville Row tailored suits and evening cocktails, he nevertheless became the leader of India’s Muslims and championed a separate state for them. And there are many other equally intriguing historical figures…
The Mughal Empire, the British Raj and the local princes
I will also devote some attention to the Mughal Empire, in its heyday the largest and richest in the world. It left a lasting imprint on both British India and modern independent India of today, much of which travellers will experience on this tour.
The great Mughal rulers left riches of architecture, art and poetry unsurpassed even today. Yet their court was filled with intrigue, remarkable cruelty, sequestration of women, and constant warfare including, perhaps especially, major battles within the Mughal family.
Both the Mughal Empire and the British Raj made room for local princely rulers from time to time and under varied circumstances — something independent India has moved away from. I expect to devote some attention to the character and role of these rulers since our travellers will be visiting at least one major Princely State – Jaipur in Rajasthan.
The Princes themselves were hugely varied, representing the full range of the Indian experience: feudal and modern, Hindu and Muslim, benign and cruel, educated and illiterate, prudent and profligate, responsible and foolish. I find all these wonderful characters and events so fascinating — an endless source of interesting and instructive material for study and for lectures.
Agra and Delhi were the centres of the Mughal Empire, of British rule during the independence movement and of the independence movement itself. Rajasthan was home of some of the most interesting Indian Princes. Visitors encounter all these characters at almost every turn during the visit. Mumbai embodies so much of modern India, with its dynamic growth and thriving slums, and I propose to devote some attention to India’s present and future in my final lecture — and probably in a number of Q and A sessions as well.”
We are sure today’s blog will have piqued your interest for this wonderful part of the world and we agree with Professor Glen Johnson: such a place is very much an “excess of reality” but in India’s case it is one you simply cannot help but fall for.
See all the speakers on the ‘Passage to India & Sri Lanka cruise’ ›