Do you remember the name of India's national river? "What a silly question this grown-up man asks!” you say to yourself. It is the Ganga.
And do you remember where the Ganga ends its journey? One more silly question. It is the Bay of Bengal.
But the interesting question is, if you looked at the Bay of Bengal from a satellite, do you know how far you will see the Ganga’s waters pushing under the sea? 200 kilometres!
Amazing, isn't it? The Ganga flows 2,500 kilometres and the force of this flow carries its waters for another 200 kilometres into the sea. And the Ganga is just one river. The Brahmaputra, Godavari, Mahanadi, Krishna and Kaveri all flow into the Bay of Bengal.
Today's India is like the Bay of Bengal.
The way we live, the way we relate to our parents and friends, the way we spend money or save it, the way we celebrate our birthdays and weddings, the way we cook and exercise—everything is influenced by various ‘rivers’. These are the rivers of influence.
Let's take a quick look at some of the rivers of influence from our past.
There is a river from a very distant past. This is a past that is not recorded as history, because Indians did not believe in writing things down. They preferred to pass on knowledge verbally, as stories, songs, rhymes and musical raags.
This is the river of influence that gave us a mathematical system based on the zero, the world's most perfect language system called Sanskrit, an integrated health system called Ayurved, a societal system based on four stages of life–brahmacharya, grihastha, vaanprashtha and sanyaas–and a value system based on the four aims of life—dharma, artha, kama and moksha.
This 5,000-year-old influence affects our behavior even today. We use concepts from Ayurveda to describe foods that are 'cooling' and 'heaty'. We sing the Sanskrit shloks that were sung many thousands of years ago. Some of the older people in our society abandon their riches and take sanyaas—an act that is very rare elsewhere in the world.
Then there were rivers created by foreign rulers. The Mughals and the English influenced our food and brought dum pukht and pudding to India. Our clothing, like the bandhgala and trousers, are all influenced.
What else has influenced us since 1947, when India became an independent nation? Besides the above influences, we have embraced a lot more. Those of you who were born after 1991 have not seen the difficult economic times that India faced. You have an eternally optimistic view of life. Therefore, your generation is not scared to experiment with and change careers, choices and technologies.
Secondly, the Internet has converted all parts of the globe into neighbourhoods. Therefore, Indians no longer restrict their choices to things that are Indian. So some of you follow Manchester United more closely than you follow the Indian cricket team. Your meals contain not-created-in-India specialties like Parmesan cheese. The videogames that you play are games that any youngster would play anywhere in the world.
Thirdly, more Indians have travelled to and worked in other parts of the world in the last few years than ever before in history. They have assimilated the influences of these new cultures and this is expressed in today's music, like Sufi and rap, as well as clothing, fashion and food.
Lastly, and most important, is the change in self-respect. Today's Indian is aware of India as a powerful nation and therefore treats himself or herself on par with the rest of the world. This is the biggest change India has seen. We are no longer worried that we are brown-skinned and we no longer feel that being white-skinned is better.
The freedom that we sought in 1947, we have gained after 1991. Soon, India will start influencing the world...the Bay of Bengal will turn into the Ganga!
Kiran Khalap is a brand consultant, author and founder of chlorophyll brand consultancy. He is an advisor to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) project.