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.