The Story of India on PBS This Week Looks at the Muslim Influence

These days “India” is on people’s minds. Well actually MANY things are on people’s minds. So let’s reframe that. These days when people think of India, they don’t just think of convenience store jokes like Apu on The Simpsons. They think of irritating phone calls to customer service. Hold it! OK, third time’s the charm. These days people are enjoying the interesting movies and music that India has to offer; like Slumdog Millionaire. How’s that? Better? So PBS has been running a series called The Story of India. And India is a place with a lot of people and history; it’s a good idea for this series to be out there. Especially since PBS tends to have online access to shows after they air. But so MANY things, ideas, even words, come from India that are so much a part of the daily lives of people all over the world.


The entire rap industry would be an entirely different place without the word THUG. A bunch of very casually attired wasp would have to dress totally differently without the word MADRAS. And Hollywood. Where would they be without the word/concept of MOGUL? And how about philosophy? Could Ram Dass have written Be Here Now if he hadn’t gone to India and met Bhagwan Das? At any rate I suppose that’s a enough stuff from my own trivia vault. Let’s talk about the episode!

Primarily it takes a historical timeline of how the Muslim influence worked its way into India’s Hindu culture and ultimately led to the Partition of 1947. I believe the first time I’d ever heard about the Partition was my second year of college in a book called Baumgartner’s Bombay by Anita Desi. It’s a book full of imagery both vibrantly rich and hellishly graphic. But what stuck in my mind these last 20 years is the massive levels of person on person violence that was a part of the Partition. When India split and became the 2 countries of India and Pakistan. I don’t think a religious separation on that level exist in the modern world outside of that one event.


So I have to admit I had always wondered HOW it happens. The Muslim influence in Africa is understandable, the one in India was a mystery. So the program talks about how the more mystic leaning Sufis were able to appeal to the Hindu sensibilities and that foothold eventually blossomed. Obviously it took hundreds of years, but now I have some idea how it started. And the end, as I said, was the British finally being pushed out in 1947 by Gandhi, Nehru, et al and the decision to Partition. This reminds me of something else the British did in 1947. Have you ever heard of British Mandate of Palestine. It was the policy from the League of Nations in 1920 that allowed the Brits to control Palestine. It really had more to do with Turkey, Arab self rule and even Lawrence of Arabia. But ultimately the Brits decided to partition Palestine for a Jews/Arab split, but the Jews declared independence a few months early. Voila; Israel.


Anyway, just one last piece of trivia. I’m into comic books. And that decision to declare that State of Israel? A man named David Ben-Gurion. He also was the first prime minister. Now hold that thought. You may or may not know that tons of comic writers and artists are Jewish and created all kinds of characters like Superman and Spider-Man. But also characters like the Green Lantern. Well in the Green Lantern mythology there are these characters called the Guardians of the Universe. Guess who the were modeled on?