Never The Twain Shall Meet.

Rudyard Kipling wrote this famous poem The Ballad Of East And West in 1899 when The British Empire was a major factor to reckon with in wold affairs. The British found the natives of their far flung empire quite different from themselves and so such works of literature were not uncommon.

While the rest of the poem is hardly remembered, the start – “0h, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” has been used to explain many instances of break down of communications or relationships between the West and the East.

If a Britisher thought that this was the situation, a not very different perceptive was brought to it, strangely enough in the same year of 1899, by an Indian of great stature in his own country and among his followers in the West, Swami Vivekananda. He is quoted by one of his Western admirers Sister Nivedita, as having said to her, “Social life in the West is like a peal of laughter; but underneath, it is a wail. It ends in a sob….Here in India, it is sad and gloomy on the surface, but underneath are carelessness and merriment. The West had tried to conquer the external and the East, the internal nature. Now, East and West must work hand in hand for the good of each other, without destroying the special characteristics of each. The West has much to learn from the East, and the East has much to learn from the West; in fact, the future has to be shaped by a proper fusion of the two ideals. Then there will be neither East nor West, but one humanity.”

Both Kipling and the Swami were observing that the East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet. While the former accepted that it is a permanent state of affairs, the latter felt that there was a possibility to change the situation.

Since then, the world saw two world wars and particularly after the second one, it saw a meeting of minds and cultures between the East and West like never before without the baggage of colonialism in the background. A lot of cross pollination of ideas, technology and values has taken place between the two to mutual benefit as Swami Vivekananda had opined. I for one am a product of such cross cultural and linguistic influences as are many of my relatives and friends all over the world. In fact, I have two nieces and a sister in love, all three Americans in Texas from where the other writer Shackman will write today on the same subject. I also have Scottish nephews and their families and another American sister in love and brother all British nationals. I worked for a British company for near a quarter of a century and still have friends made of colleagues of then now resident in many parts of the world. I have another cousin now an Australian citizen. The list is simply endless as I have friends and relatives in just about all the continents of the world now.

The vast majority of my readers who comment regularly are from the West and they would be puzzled as to why I chose this topic when in their and my personal lives, the East has met the West and have in fact established a healthy and interesting relationship. I chose it because in the last couple of years, there are very strong signs of nationalism and protectionism rising all over the world and I wonder if the cycle of globalisation and free trade has come to its nadir and a new cycle of a different world order is developing.

It would be interesting to read what my readers have to say here as well as at Shackman’s blog where he too would have written on the same topic as his take on our weekly Friday 2 on 1 exercise.

27 thoughts on “Never The Twain Shall Meet.”

  1. I doubt there will ever be the fusion of East and West – there is simply too wide a gap. But the opportunity to work together is there and East can stay East as West stays West as the business realities between the two worlds are met and thereby the cultural uniqueness maintained. The common man here is not, IMHO, willing to adapt to Eastern culture as they have grown increasingly protectionist and paranoid under the leadership of the current administration. For years I thought our government and way of life could survive anything. After less than two years I fear I was wrong.

    1. On the other hand, Easterners are increasingly adopting Western ways while not quite becoming modern. There is definitely a trend towards protectionism and it reflects on a number of developments in the West that are well known.

    2. Since writing the post all hell has broken loose as it were with the USA and China on trade wars and the West and Russia on collision course. If the USA really does withdraw from Syria as the POTUS wants to do, further developments will put the whole world in a tail spin. In effect, idealism is vastly different from real-politic.

  2. I wish I could agree that East and West have established a healthy relationship, but I fear that’s not the case. Despite the widespread interest over here in Buddhism, mindfulness, meditation, Asian cookery etc, there are still a lot of people who distrust foreigners and migrants and just about anyone who isn’t British born and bred. I don’t see them becoming more open-minded any time soon.
    nick recently posted..Namby pamby

    1. I agree that the majority will always have the we vs them hangups but as more people get educated, the numbers will change for the better sometime in the future. Perhaps not in my life time, but it will.

  3. I’ve totally enjoyed each insight of the 2 on 1 Friday. you boys are great!
    much to think about. and fascinating perspectives.
    I have long wished for a huge space ship like the kind in that Spielberg movie… ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (which actually I found to be quite boring until the huge spaceship appeared.) but it was worth the wait. it was so was totally all encompassing! the message was clear.
    in my mind if that came as a visitor from outer space we would ALL … east or west or whatever religion or degree of agnostic or atheist… or whatever our political power or interests were … even our gender … it would matter not ONE whit! we would simply be earthlings.
    we would automatically and instantaneously become EARTHLINGS! simple.
    THAT would be our one defining factor! all else would fall by the wayside.
    we live on earth and we breathe oxygen. I think it would be a wonderful thing to happen. it would unite us like nothing else could. until then we will no doubt bully each other all over the nationalist playgrounds for all the infinitesimal differences we claim are our birthrights and beliefs and we will forever see-saw up and down and back and forth until …
    well… I’m still holding out for the visit from the big ship! LOL!!!
    tammy j recently posted..what’s it all about Alfie?

    1. While I would prefer that and in fact would have pushed for that attitude for many years, I have grown much more cynical with age and now log that in the life is what happens while you are busy making other plans column.

  4. Hi Rum!
    Kipling was perhaps right in his day that never the two would meet but he forgot to factor in that when the British empire ruled India this would start a process of transfusion that would work in both directions.
    Even in those long gone days the UK began to import not only Indian products but Indian words, Pyjamas, and delicious foods and so gradually this exotic east became not only something to be wary about but something to be desired.
    In turn, despite the predations of the Empire, the Brits had influences in India which would rattle down the years, in democratic forms, in transport, in the judiciary and so on. Much of this was aided I think by the fact that British Universities began to be somewhere that richer elites in India could go and then bring back ideas.

    (There is a funny saying ” What did the Romans ever do for us” which is said tongue in cheek but then followed by a long list of legacy influences)

    Move beyond Kipling and in both World wars India and the East played a role and in doing som both strenthenged bonds of amity but considerably loosened the bonds of colonialism. That was always inevitable at some stage of course.

    Then we move into the sixties and it gets really interesting because the Eastern Ideas of the mind, inner life and “religion” begin to be positively sought out and positively promulgated in the west.

    Anyway , overall there has clearly been a too and fro of not only goods and produce east and west but a too and fro of ideas and influence. We’ve continued to learn from each other while retaining our differences.
    Ultimately I have a dual position on this. I would hate to see us or the East simply become one undifferentiated mass and on that score I do believe in Vive le difference! but, at the same time I think cross transfer of ideas, goods, trade and people is a healthy thing and removes unhealthy differences. If we are sensible we learn the best from each other. There are concerns about the rates and extent of immigration into the UK and to a degree I share these concerns, more in relation to some communities than others I would add. But nevertheless I think overall that the long history of us swapping people, goods and ideas should continue and makes both sides better for it.

    That was written in a one go Rum so if anything doesn’t make sense that’s my excuse.

    1. Thank you Bunc. I think that the key element is that “we have continued to learn from each other while retaining our differences”. If we can achieve that without bringing in jingoism into play, the world will be a better place to live in.

    1. Each society has these differences Monk. The old money vs the new, the left vs the right, the upper castes/classes vs the lower and so on and so forth. These differences will not go away any time soon.

    1. after reading snippets over at shackman – there is a meeting place – tourism which in summary is going to “check out how another culture lives and breathes”

      1. Quite. Here too there can be two different reactions, positive and negative. Let me give an example. A friend and his wife went on an unguided trip to China on holiday. On return their main complaint was that they could not find enough restaurants to get Indian food!

    1. Wishful thinking. As long as Islam is involved, like in Turkey, that is not going to happen. Period. Turkey could not get into the EU and do you think the Russians will let them get into an alliance as long as Erdogan is in charge>? Erdogan has ruined whatever chances Turkey had to integrate either Westward or Eastward to Russia.

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