When one speaks of an Indian-Italian courtship these days, one’s imagination invariably veers around to the recent diplomatic row between the two countries on a matter involving the highest ‘court’ of India and the unfortunate death of two Indian fishermen at the hands of two marines of an Italian ‘ship’. But the ‘courtship’ between the two countries is much broader and deeper than this!
Italy and India are so similar, yet so different. One is a developed country; the other is striving to meet its developmental goals. One has a population of 62 million; the other is struggling to cope with its 1.2 billion! Italy is placed 10th in overall GDP terms globally, whereas India is placed at 3rd. In per capita terms though, Italy (USD 30,116) is 29th in the world, whereas India (USD 3,851) is placed 129th!
Yet, the two countries are very similar to each other! Both Italians and Indians tend to be warm-hearted, open and talkative. Both share a common disdain for their politicians and judiciary. Whether it is art and culture, variety of cuisine and language, history and geography, heritage and movies, both share several common characteristics. Both are famous for their movies, motor scooters, cars and gossip magazines.
The Italian Charms!
Indians have fallen for Italian charms since quite some time. During the 1970s, the preferred choice of a scooter in India was Vespa, an Italian brand. Espresso coffee soon followed and quickly became a household name. Pizza was the next to captivate the taste buds of Indians of all age groups. Gucci, Prada, Armani and Versace are already the favourite brands of the well-heeled. Several other major brands – like Alberta Ferreti, Fendi, Byblos and Scorpion Bay, to name only a few – have already firmed up plans to woo the Indian customer in the days to come.
Each state in India has its own delectable cuisine. Likewise, all the 20 regions of Italy boast of their own cuisines. If India has its paranthas, chhole-kulche and dosas, Italy has pizzas, risotto, lasagne and pasta. In each category, both offer a mind-boggling variety to choose from.
Both countries place a high emphasis on family values, especially the affection their own brand of tiger moms bestow on their respective precious cubs! Culturally, within a family, the male adult comes first, is served first at the table and is fussed over better. It is never in doubt as to who wears the pants in the family. Females in both countries play an important role in the kitchen and like to focus on displaying their culinary skills better.
Both Italians and Indians tend to be passionate and express their feelings loud and clear when upset! In both countries, weddings are increasingly based on love, as opposed to being ‘arranged’ in the past.
A Soulful Connection
For Indians who have perfected the art of living with filth and squalor all around them, visiting Italy is like a sophisticated and upgraded home-coming of sorts. Despite being a European country, Italy has a unique Indian touch which captivates and enamours the Indian soul quite effectively.
Taking a leisurely stroll near the Rome Termini Train Station, one is gently reminded of similar surroundings of the railway stations in India. Running into few homeless vagabonds sleeping in a corner is quite likely. The stench of stale urine emanating from a boundary wall makes one feel quite at home. However, one still misses the graphic art masterpieces in various hues of maroon so lovingly created by our paan-chewing brethren on all kinds of walls back home.
One will find laundry drying and ladies squatting and chatting away merrily on roads and streets. Driving on roads is the same, that is, on the left side. Also, there is no difference in driving habits; in India as well as in Italy, the values of Freedom, Fraternity and Democracy are upheld with remarkable zeal on the roads, holding all rules in sheer contempt!
How We Hate Our Courts and Politicians
There is a shared contempt of courts. was sentenced to a year in prison but does not appear to be going to jail anytime soon. The Indian legislative bodies can justifiably claim to have a liberal sprinkling of criminals. If Italy has a strong presence of the mafia, India has its own share of the underworld dons.
People in both countries are perhaps tired of the ruling dispensation as well as the opposition camps of all hues. Recent elections in Italy have thrown up a hung parliament. India has been experimenting with the coalition model of governance for more than two decades now and can offer rich expertise to Italy on managing ‘coalition compulsions’!
The Begging Bowl Syndrome
Italy and India share the same level of income disparities amongst their populace. If one were to go by the UN Gini index, Italy was assessed at 32 in 2006, whereas India was assessed at 33.4 in 2005. (Nil disparity would mean the Gini index would be ‘zero’; maximum disparity would mean the Gini index would be ‘100’). India has a middle class which keeps suffering in the space of public delivery of services in dignified silence.
It comes as no surprise that begging is an invariable part of life and is an art practised in both the countries. However, it is far more sophisticated in Italy. Boarding a train, one could find a pretty young lady claiming to be deserted by her boy-friend openly seeking money to raise her kids. On the streets of Florence, one could encounter statuesque artists dressed up in plaster-of-paris-like costumes, seeking alms.
Historically, India had been mostly ruled by the Mughals and the British. Italy had been under the influence of Austria, France and Germany. Both were cobbled together by several princely states, distinct kingdoms or regions coming together.
Geographically, both countries have similar profiles. Italy has the Alps on its Northern side, just like India has the Himalayas. Sea beaches are in abundance in both the countries. Italy shares its borders with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. India does so with China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal. In fact, Andaman and Nicobar share a maritime boundary with Thailand and Indonesia.
Fine Arts and Science
Both Italy and India have had truly illustrious people in the realm of fine arts, literature, sculpture and science. If Italy can boast of Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, Enrico Fermi and Dante, India can talk of Aryabhatt, C V Raman, J C Bose and Rabindranath Tagore. If Italy has Pavarotti, India has Pandit Jasraj and M S Subbalakshmi. If Italy stakes claim to as many as 47 UNESCO World Heritage sites, India does it for 29.
Italian language has several dialects. Indians cope with as many as 26 scheduled languages, many of which have several dialects.
More than 91% of Italians are Christians. India has Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians and Jains as major groups of a diverse religious landscape.
Italy is a founding member of NATO and EU. India had espoused the cause of Panchsheel and is a founding member of BRICS. Italy is home to the Vatican. India is home to diverse ethnic groups and religions. Both are held to be important regional powers.
Architectural and Artistic Elegance
The difference surely lies in the attention paid towards maintenance of museums, heritage buildings and the exquisite paintings and sculptures Italy possesses. Visiting ‘The Last Supper’ by Leonardo da Vinci in Milan, one would notice the exquisite care with which the humidity and temperature are controlled in the hall containing the famous fresco. The care with which Michelangelo’s original masterpiece of ‘David’ is maintained in a Florence museum is something to be learnt from.
Lessons in Governance
When it comes to governing the ungovernable, there is a lot that Italy can learn from India. The latter has unique expertise in managing a complex country which can justifiably boast of flourishing black markets, mobsters, super-slow courts, crooked politicians, warring business families, hosting mega religious gatherings like the Kumbh Mela, cities which think they are states, states which believe they are independent countries and regions which believe they are continents.
One has no doubt that despite occasional friction which is the hallmark of a deeper engagement, the two countries will continue with their courtship for a long time to come!