Indo-American Cooperation & World Unity

Garry Jacobs

Feb. 18, 1975

Nature has many ways of achieving her goal with or without the conscious cooperation of man, often by violent upheavals and natural catastrophe. Until now few men have even recognized nature's movement toward international cooperation and world unity. Even with the growth of knowledge in science, literature, history, ethics and philosophy, men and nations have been unwilling to identify with the common interests of all mankind and act for the common good. Thus nature has resorted to indirect, inverse, invisible means for furthering her aim - the alliances forged for war and self defense, the lure of economic gain from commercial treaties, exchange of scientific information world-wide, spreading fashions, sophisticated communications, tourism, exchange of scholars and students, athletic competitions, etc. Slowly man is beginning to consciously cooperate, as in the formation of the United Nations, World Bank, Conferences on the seas, ecology, arms limitation, distribution of resources, etc. But still the process lacks the rapidity which will come when all nations accept the need for Unity and dedicate themselves to achieve it.

In this light I would like to discuss Indo-American relations, for in many ways the growth of economic, social and political ties between these two nations is representative of the greater movement throughout the world. It is almost twenty years ago that I was browsing through a used bookstore in California when suddenly and inexplicably a book feel off a shelf eight feet high and landed at my feet. It was a book about Sri Aurobindo, the Indian political revolutionary, philosopher, poet and yogi. It was that book which brought me to India one year later. As the pilot announced we were just flying over Indian territory I remember feeling a deep peace fill my mind and body. Only later did I read Sri Aurobindo's description of a vast calm which descended into him in 1893 on his landing at Bombay after 15 years in England. He explained that clam is inherent in the very soil of India, the result of her perennial worship of the Spirit. It is this Peace which is consciously or unconsciously experienced by every new visitor to India and can be seen clearly on the face of each.

Life here is in stark contrast to the dynamic impulsiveness of western civilization where a true cultural and spiritual foundation is lacking. Life in America is characterized by a restlessness of being, a need for constant stimulation and channels for energetic expression, an extreme assertion of individua1 preference and privilege, a driving force for activity, construction, creation, expenditure of money, energy, leisure. All of this movement revolving around an empty center, devoid of the Spirit Which illuminates and gives meaning. For world peace and unity to be achieved, there must be a commingling of East and West, an awakening of the East to the urge for material achievement and the release of its vast creative energies in life, a self discovery by the outward-gazing western mind of that which is unperceived by the physical senses, its own rich creative source and the fulfillment which comes only by an inner spiritual development.

My parents found it difficult to imagine, as described in my letters, life at Sri Aurobindo Ashram and the international community of Auroville being built by youth from all over the world, or my experiences working on an agricultural project for village development. So they were moved to come and see for themselves by two week visits for five successive years. It was on his third visit that my father, a businessman from Los Angeles, began to recognize and appreciate that which makes India unique among nations, the guardian of spiritual truth. He saw also the tremendous material potential of this country when stirred to a awakening and the vast field for mutually beneficial collaboration between our two countries. I believe his response is not merely that of an isolated individual but rather indicative of the great untapped potential discernible to the trained eye and creative imagination.

It is less than four months since U.S. Secretary of State, Dr.Henry Kissinger met with the Prime Minister and founded the Indo-US Joint Commission for Industry, Culture, Education and Technological exchange. Highly placed officials in both Delhi and Washington have personally told us that a very dramatic improvement has taken place in the relationship at the governmental level to the pleasant surprise of all parties. That change is gradually making itself felt in private sector as well with businessmen on both sides looking abroad for better opportunities and more willing to venture far from home.

I have always been struck by the stark contrast between the predominantly negative governmental pronouncements and the expressed personal feelings of Americans and Indians which seem to be of extreme goodwill and respect for one another. One suspects that the political necessity does not reflect the true feelings of the people. In fact that field of Indo-American cooperation began before our modern era of alliances, treaties, and world organisations, when Swami Vivekananda first carried Indian spiritual teachings abroad and the American transcendentalist poets began to delve into the Gita and Upanishads. Over the years many unofficial channels of exchange have been created. Today every American city will have one or more Indian restaurants and stores selling Indian clothes, incense, rugs, antiques, etc. In addition there are literally hundreds of centers all over the United States where hatha yoga, raja yoga, tantra are taught or practised often by Indian gurus, where books on Veda, Upanishads, Gita, Tantra. Sanskrit, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas are readily available. Most of the prominent American universities offer courses in Indian languages, society, history and religion. Many of them have entire departments for the purpose.

Recently an American from New York came to the Ashram with a grant for lakh to produce a play script based on the Kathopanishad. He was surprised to learn that an American woman living at Auroville had already accomplished this and he was disappointed to hear she had done it in English not Sanskrit. He explained that American youth prefer to hear the Sanskrit recitation which they cannot understand than the intelligible English translation. This is an indication of the times and the intense seeking which has begun in the West for some escape from the boredom of a shallow and empty materialistic culture.

On the other side I have rarely met an Indian in high or low position who does not proudly boast of his visit to America or his children studying or living there or who would not jump at the opportunity for that experience. Most of the doctors, scientists, administrators, managers, scholars I have contacted here pride themselves on their absorption of western values, behaviour, custom and their growing abhorrence for the traditional manner which governs most of Indian life. The youth don western pants and miniskirts with long hair and sunglasses, businessmen wear wool suits and ties in the summer heat, radios blast rock and roll music and the cinema monotonously repeats the themes so characteristic of American films 15 years ago.

All this is neither absurd, valueless or worthy of total condemnation. On the contrary it is living evidence of how the two cultures have interpenetrated and influenced each other in all fields of life.

Official relations up to now have been mostly limited to the realm of charity. The American government and press have concentrated on the material poverty and suffering here and forged a foreign policy designed to reduce American guilt over its own over-indulgence and channel part of its immense wealth to prevent starvation. That policy has never reflected an appreciation for the political, social or cultural character of India nor attempted to evolve a viable solution to its perennial difficulties. Such a policy was bound to cause not only resentment but hostility from the recipient. On neither side has there been recognition of what India can offer to the United States.

To be successful there must be a shift from this policy of charity to that of enlightened self-interest. The ancient scriptures affirm there is no giving without an equal taking in return. The philanthropist gives money and receives the psychological reward of satisfaction or social recognition and prestige. The bhakta gives his devotion and feels the bliss of the Divine. The farmer gives his physical energies to the land and reaps his harvest. It is time for American officials to relinquish their poise of superiority based on material affluence and recognise the gaping psychological wound which threatens to condemn their achievement to the realm of insignificance. It is also time for Indian officials to come out from behind their self-defensive pose which hardly conceals the great need for help from all quarters. Both sides must come to see clearly what it is they have to offer and what they can gain from closer ties of cooperation. I believe this is what Mrs.Gandhi meant when she said that the developed nations must recognise the element of service in what they give. Similarly India's leadership must come to fully understand the unique role this country has played in the world's past and has to play in its future. India's genius must first be fully realised and exploited for her own development before it will be sought and valued by the world.

The real topic of this article is nature's movement towards unity as expressed through Indo-US cooperation in the spheres of finance, technology, language, culture, academia etc. But for practical purposes I shall try to limit myself to consideration of what can actually be done in the coming 12 months through private and governmental efforts.

Cooperation means operations between complementary elements of life. Therefore our first task is to survey and identify mutually useful and beneficial areas of life in every field. It is true that the rose of Indo-US cooperation is surrounded by many thorns but it is also true that there exist enough areas where increased cooperation will not prick the attitudes or policies of either side. Political, economic and diplomatic postures in both countries seem to change for better (or worse) every other month. It must be possible to utilize the favorable periods for concrete progress. Much depends on the personalities that preside over the affairs on each side and recent events indicate that those at the helm are ready if not anxious for reconciliation and closer association. What is required is an active, idealistic, realistic, dynamic, organised effort to create functional channels for interchange. It is this my father and I are attempting in our own way. As we are inspired by a higher idealism chances are good for success at higher and higher levels. As I am convinced that this is nature's very own intention, chances of failure are nil.

The spirit of America is that of material expansion which has over- flowed the nation's borders and touched all corners of the world. The US investment in Australia alone is about $4.5 billion. This entire country was built in two centuries through a tremendous expenditure of energies. The very nerves of the nation are itching for activity. The scientific and technical knowledge developed has this same quality of forging ahead, constantly seeking fresh avenues for expansion. The life style is one of constant movement and change -- in tastes, fashions, location, occupation -- which easily tires of things as they are and escapes from boredom by a swifter motion. Here is the spirit of enterprise and material creativity. Even this energy will be quietly absorbed by the abysmal inertia of rural India in the process of its awakening. Perhaps this is a complementary role each has to play with the other. (Incidentally the inertia in the material life is the spiritual version of peace in the soul).

My father's first reaction to India is probably similar to that of other American businessmen who have come here. He immediately saw the high magnitude of the problems facing this country -- the need for food, fertilizers, fuel, power, foreign exchange, technology, housing, education, services, etc. Coming from a land of affluence, the task seems enormous. But by his third visit my father began to see beyond this first appearance. Even in areas of severe poverty and inertia, life was not hopeless and abysmal as it is elsewhere in the world. The poverty is accompanied by a stoic faith which can survive suffering. The inertia seems to be supported by a spiritual peace which is not merely dullness and insensitivity. In family life he perceived a sweetness of self-sacrifice, a warmth of family emotion and a community allegiance, a respect for tradition which are sure indications of a rich and ancient cultural heritage.

He met with workers, teachers, industrialists and government officials and discovered an intelligence, a spirit of dedication, a sense of confidence contrary to the stereotype of Indian dullness and inertia. Of course be also saw the huge droves of humanity living so close to the soil, unaware of the larger world around, unmoved by the tremendous changes of this century, satisfied with a single meal, a soiled piece of cloth, a thatch roof.

Gradually and inexplicably my father became excited by the challenges facing the nation. As if completely oblivious of the suffering, inertia and ignorance which pervade large areas of the country he began to see the great potential of this sleeping giant. Despite the hopeless rhetoric of politicians and the cynical warnings of American officials, he felt that India was not only destined to survive the worst of nature's tests but that she would soon awaken to a transforming new birth and a major role in the leadership of the world. All this he could not explain. Spirituality was not part of his philosophy, religion had been rejected in his childhood. Yet he communicated to me in his own way that he had felt the Divine Spirit which India has nurtured these millennia as guardian for the whole world and that he intuitively knew beyond doubt that this Spirit was emerging to awaken and uplift the entire country and overflow these borders to flood the entire earth.

So he began to contemplate one by one the problems facing the country. Coming on the heels of the oil crisis he immediately looked for a solution to this problem which was strangling the last strength from India's economy. He learned of the vast coal reserves totaling over 80 billion tons. He began to study the latest technology for utilization of coal developed in the United States. He discovered that the US government had recently developed some new processes for conversion of coal into liquid and gaseous fuels. One of these processes could convert 25,000 tons of coal per day into 27,000 barrels of synthetic fuel oil, enough ammonia for a large urea plant, enough gas to run a large power station and elemental sulfur for industrial utilization. In the United States the powerful oil companies were preventing commercial exploitation of the process and retarding its development. So he proposed to officials in Delhi and Washington that a joint research effort be executed to establish a commercial plant in India by 1980 which could reduce by more than $100 million per year India's requirement for foreign oil and yield large quantities of fertilizer and power.

India's one abundant resource is a huge reserve of naturally skilled and well trained labour available at very low cost by international standards. A senior engineer in charge of a Rs.40 crore project here will be paid the equivalent of the minimum wage given to any worker in the United States. A minister's salary here is just twice the minimum wage there. India has the largest force of qualified engineers in the world. Even the uneducated villager possesses a capacity to learn new physical skills quite rapidly. What is missing is a solid core of well-trained administrators and managers to direct and control the labor force for maximum productivity.

My father immediately recognised the potential of this labour force if it were available to the industrialized nations. Last year the city of San Francisco raised the wage for street cleaners to $17,000 per year and the first result was that school teachers, college graduates, clerks, secretaries, merchants all ran to the employment office for this job. Wages have never run so high with the result that many American products are no longer competitive on the world market. The success stories of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore are well known. Why not India where labour is cheaper and skills far more abundant? The answer we found was that to date government policy has firmly discouraged foreign participation and utilization of India's labour. In the newly organised Electronics Processing Zone at Santa Cruz over 60 US companies applied for licenses but after careful examination of the benefits offered all but 12 decided on a far eastern port instead where benefits were greater and restrictions less.

Convinced that foreign industry could play a constructive role here -- a role based on mutual benefit rather than exploitation -- my father enquired with American banks and large manufacturers of mining, power generation, fertilizer and chemical plant equipment to know their attitude towards setting up plants in India at a free trade zone importing necessary equipment and raw materials, utilizing indigenous labour and resources, exporting the product all over the world and bringing large sums of foreign exchange to India. The response from everyone was very enthusiastic. Recently he presented this scheme to officials in Delhi, and here also his ideas has been welcomed. He was told the days of charity are over and that the Centre recognised that it will profit most from its foreign relationships when it fully understands what will benefit other countries and attempts to develop plans for mutual benefit. This is the principle of enlightened self-interest coming to the fore.

In the United States my father has worked for 25 years as a constant to government. He has planned, programmed, supervised construction and arranged finance for almost every type of public facility -- schools, libraries, workshops, offices, prisons, etc. Coming here he read almost daily about the raids on smuggled booty and caches of black money. On enquiry we were told that the government estimates at least $5 billion is in number 2 accounts. Based on a method he developed in the United States, my father has proposed a scheme to the Finance Ministry whereby black money could be legally channeled into a development fund. The plan is to offer tax free interest bearing revenue bonds for sale to any buyer without question of his income source. The proceeds of bond sale could then be utilised for financing large development projects.

Of all the problems facing India today the most crucial is the distribution and utilization of water. It has recently been said that India is richer in water than the Middle East in oil. And of all the proposals in recent years for national development, none appears to us more vital or viable than the creation of a complete system of inland waterways interlocking the great rivers of India. Indeed the obstacles are great, economic, political and technical, but a challenge of this tremendous magnitude can serve as an occasion for mobilizing the energies of enthusiasm, patriotism and self-sacrifice throughout the country. Particularly the youth -- both Indian and foreign -- can respond to the need with a magnificent effort. The result will be an awakening of human aspiration, enterprise, initiative, creativity and idealism which will spread to every corner of the nation. The benefit to agriculture, power generation, transport, industry, etc. is beyond our capacity to imagine.

Almost everywhere we travel in India people are talking of export and organising for it. But as we investigated further what has been done we saw clearly that the market has barely been tapped. .As an experiment I began a small effort in California last year to import products from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and surrounding areas. I began to concentrate on exports. Everywhere I went, everything I saw there, everyday I would ask myself, "Can this item be produced in India and sold here profitably?" The answer in hundreds of cases was "Yes, definitely." I collected a few items and sent them to friends here. Commerce began with small orders of incense, tapestries, handmade paper, silks, furnitures, wooden articles, perfume, etc.

We have identified over one hundred items that can be produced at the rural level giving employment to entire villages for export and marketing abroad. The greatest export potential here lies not in a few heavy industries but in the organisation of entire districts for production of small items. I have found the rural people to possess a natural skill in carving, embroidery, knitting, weaving, etc. developed over the centuries. All that is needed is for the government to make a serious attempt to identify items suitable for local production, choose an area where resources and skills are suitable for the item, provide samples, know-how and finance to initiate new industries and place suitable controls on quality to ensure its acceptance in the foreign market.

Last year "The Hindu" carried an article about an ex-mill manager who went into private business organising 100 women to sew cotton gloves for export to the United States. Last year alone he claimed a profit of Rs.12 lakhs. This year he expects that much profit every month! This story illustrates the vast Scope for cooperation between our two countries, the abundance of cheap Indian labour supplying to the huge American market for consumer goods. There are a large number of cases in which the retail price of an item in India is to the retail price in America at the ratio of one rupee to one dollar. For example, incense, cotton gloves and tapestry are such. Even granting the necessity of various middle men to handle export, import and distribution, still the scope is enormous. And if the Indian government or private parties here organise the entire effort from manufacture here to distribution in the United States, at least four times the original rupee price can accrue to India.

What needs to be avoided is the short term outlook which involves raising the Indian price 50 to 100% on export items and seeking a quick profit. The result is to raise suspicion from the buyer and reduce the market potential. Enlightened self-interest indicates that it is more profitable to concentrate on selling large quantities at a reasonable price.

Having purchased thousands of packages of good quality incense for one rupee a package in Tamil Nadu, recently a Delhi retail store owner offered me a comparable product for Rs.4 per package. Last year in the United States incense sales were over $15 million, and it has yet to become a popular item. If proper attention is given to producing mild and attractive fragrances with proper packaging, the demand would be 10 times greater. The labour cost here for rolling incense is 1 np per package and the labour cost of packaging is another 1 np. The rest is cost of raw materials and profit. How many other items will have a similar potential?

The potential has already been proven in isolated examples but now must be organised for full utilisation. A German girl living in Auroville has trained 200 Tamil village girls in embroidery on cotton shirts. She has taught them to translate the traditional Kolam designs which they paint on the street before their houses into patterns on cloth. These garments are now being exported to Europe and America with great success. Another European woman came to the Ashram some years ago whose family had been in the handloom trade for many generations. She trained local women in the art of tapestry weaving using modern designs with natural appeal in the West. The women have proven excellent artisans of this craft producing very fine quality tapestries at a fraction of the cost for production in Europe. Recently I showed samples to a tapestry distributor in the United States who greatly admired the work and saw great scope for marketing.

These two stories illustrate the potential. The key here has been the utilization of low cost skilled Indian labour supervised by a trained western craftsman to produce stylish items for sale abroad. This successful combination can easily be reproduced throughout the country. Foreigners can be invited to collaborate in such efforts offering their skills and knowledge of western tastes or groups here can organise special missions to thoroughly investigate the markets abroad and channel their findings into useful productivity at the cottage level.

In between the scale of heavy engineering equipment and small scale or cottage industry there is enormous export potential at many levels in many fields. Already the newspapers are full of articles on engineering and electrical exports. To site an example, I have contacted a manufacturer of trucks and buses known throughout India for their quality and precision vehicles. I asked if they had considered the export of buses to the United States. They said they had not but would be very interested. I listed a number of reasons why their vehicles would find a good market in the United States. This company will be able to supply in six months for shipping to the US a bus comparable to one costing at least 20% more if manufactured in the states and available only after a three year span due to production lag. Furthermore this vehicle will probably be found more durable and longer lasting than the US model due to the fact that it is designed to function in the strenuous conditions obtaining here. I have estimated a US market potential for this company greater than its entire present rate of production. I have discovered a similar scope far export in many other categories ranging from industrial rubber linings to self-locking metal nuts.

All that I have thus far mentioned is not beyond the imagination of the average man though most lack the enterprise to implement these schemes. But it may surprise many people to hear that neither my father or I consider any of these the area of greatest scope or importance for India's development. A few years ago I had the opportunity to live and work for a few months at Mother Estates, an agricultural project managed by disciples of Sri Aurobindo specifically designed to serve as a lever for village development. During that time the very soil of Mother India and those who live close to it became alive and real to me. I began to understand that development was not merely a question of more finance, fertilizer or technology. Essentially development is to release the energies and aspirations of the rural people, to awaken the dormant Spirit to seek a progressive perfection in life. This is the attitude of those who work on this project and they have succeeded in accomplishing this aim in good measure.

My father and I began to study the pattern of developmental efforts to date and to meet personally with some of the architects of government planning policy. We were struck by the intelligence, dedication and sincerity of these men. But it was also apparent while everyone firmly believed in rural development, nobody seemed to know how it could be accomplished. Certainly a tremendous amount has already been done despite the cries of the opposition and the confessions of failure by policy makers. The people have been partially awakened to the need for prosperity, education, culture, but at great cost to the country and without creating an adequate instrument for future progress.

Based on the work done at Mother Estates we examined each area of the development effort and have drawn up proposals. We have proposed to the general manager of a large Indian bank a scheme to involve bank agents in work at the village level. Our recommendation is that new agricultural graduates be hired by the bank specifically for development work. Each man is required to undergo a probationary period in a village, leasing an acre of land, taking a loan from the bank on normal terms, and raise crops meeting certain specifications in terms of quantum of yield. After a few seasons the man qualifies for work on a 10 acre demonstration farm operated by the bank near the village. The result is that the graduate's technical background is fully utilized at the village level and channeled into interested work. Every villager will take note of and emulate his achievements. A similar proposal has been given to the agricultural research institute suggesting that all agriculture students be required to undertake a year of productive farming in a village.

We are convinced that such methods would initiate a tremendous boost in productivity and enterprise on the farms. But it is essential that every improvement and increase in prosperity be properly channeled into further efforts to maintain the momentum of progress. Thus we have devised a 5 stage crop plan resulting in per acre annual yields of Rs.1000, Rs.2000, Rs.3000, Rs.4000 and Rs.5000 successively. The prosperity at each stage must be directed into cultivation of better crops, bore wells, additions of mechanical implements, construction of stone houses, schools, small industries, etc. This leads naturally to the concept of a "Planned Village" in which all the old hutments are abolished and new stone houses built. The key to this plan is releasing the energies of the farmer and utilizing the productive capacities of the land. There is enormous wealth lying untapped at this level and it is this potential which will bring prosperity to India.

That is all very well but what bank or financial institution will come forward to sponsor a scheme of this magnitude knowing well the past history of uncollected funds and the reluctance of bank agents to even leave their desks to function in the village. It is here that lies the greatest scope of Indo-US cooperation.

American youth possess a high degree of idealism and humanitarianism in the face of the previous generations complete absorption by the selfish pursuit of material affluence. It is this idealism that made the Peace Corps a successful experiment in foreign service. But Peace Corps volunteers had two handicaps. First they went to another country as a model of American charity, not fully conscious of what they had to gain from contact with a foreign culture. The recognition of give and take was not there so they were not fully receptive to what was offered by the recipient culture. Naturally this caused resentment in many places they visited. Secondly, they were reservoirs of technical knowledge unaccompanied by the financial power to implement new schemes. US foreign aid was never integrated with its volunteer program. The result was a certain impotence to make lasting changes in the communities they contacted.

Our proposal is for a new effort based on the concept of service rather than charity where American youth will again be invited to work in Indian villages. But this time there must be a full recognition by both sides that the purpose is for a cultural exchange. Americans will bring the dynamic enthusiasm of the West and experience the traditional culture and spiritual atmosphere of rural India. In addition we are inviting American banks to recognise the profitability of investment in these rural projects, not on the basis of aid, but as a viable interest bearing investment, utilizing the American youth as agents of the bank to administer loans and collect the payments. One may rightly react with skepticism for who has yet seen for themselves the success of such a scheme or demonstrated it to others. In the initial stages it may be necessary to obtain Indian Government guarantees for the loans given by foreign banks. Once the success has been demonstrated the traditional guarantees of property mortgaging will suffice. The result will be a vast influx of foreign capital for investment in India's rural development and an explosive movement of prosperity at the village level. Agricultural prosperity will unleash a rapid increase in village and small scale industries and a huge rise in consumer demand for all category of items. Rural life in India will become a counter magnet to urban life in crowded dirty cities. All this is the inevitable outcome of India's development because in India every layer of life -- economic, social, political -- is founded on and derived from the spiritual truth of the Divine Presence immanent in all things and beings. When the Spirit is released from the soil of India, she will rise as a giant before the world.

On the 15th of August 1947, India celebrated her independence. That day was also Sri Aurobindo's 75th birthday. In a letter written on that day he expressed five dreams which I believe are the dreams of Mother India herself. His first dream was of the freedom and resurgence of India. Second, the freedom and resurgence of Asia. Third, the realisation of international cooperation, world unity and peace. Fourth, India's spiritual leadership of the world. And fifth, the evolution of the human race to a perfect life on earth. The first two of his dreams are now a reality. It is for us to work for and achieve the third. It is for the Divine Will in nature and our descendents to bring the others to fruition.