In the history of an ancient civilisation like India, 60 years is no more than a moment. Nonetheless, in the international community of today, six decades of diplomatic relations and close friendship are very gratifying, and worthy of special celebration.
That special celebration is exactly what our two countries have arranged: a year of Indian culture in Germany, which has just been launched at Hamburg’s traditional harbour anniversary, and a year of Germany in India, of which I am the happy patron. Its rather lovely title is Infinite Opportunities – which is very fitting, given the infinite amounts we can learn from each other if we have curiosity and open our hearts and souls to one another.
The many different forms of human coexistence present infinite opportunities too – as reflected in the main theme of the Year of Germany in India: CitySpaces. Only a hundred years ago, nine out of every ten people lived in villages. In contrast, around two thirds of the global population will be living in cities by the middle of this century. What will these cities be like? Will they be mega-slums with wealthy islands of prosperity, or will we manage to build safe, liveable cities? These are questions facing us all; including India’s rapidly expanding metropolises. Their experience is important to other cities on the same road all over the world.
Over and above that, there is an infinite supply of things in India to capture the German imagination – and we have a long history of pursuing that fascination. Friedrich Rückert, to pick out but one example, composed poetry inspired by India in the early 19th century. One of the founders of modern Indian studies, Max Müller, thought those poems were some of the most beautiful works ever written in German. Prussian scholar Wilhelm von Humboldt meanwhile called the Bhagavad Gita “perhaps the only true philosophical poem which any of the literary traditions known to us has to show”.
Contemporary India is no less captivating. With its great economic and cultural wealth, the largest democracy on the planet is going to play a key part in shaping the world of the 21st century. It is good to see this anniversary provide an occasion for so many activities to enhance our mutual curiosity and understanding. I hope that they will continue to resonate long after they are finished; to borrow a line from Friedrich Rückert, “Serve the present, and you are lord of time, / Live for this moment, and it will live forever.”