It was July in a provincial town in Northern Ireland.
“What’s the Twelfth like in England?”
I looked at the woman, what did she mean? “We don’t mark the Twelfth of July in England”.
“Maybe they don’t have it where you come from, but I know they have the Twelfth in England, I have a cousin in Liverpool.”
I didn’t know much about Liverpool and found it hard to imagine tens of thousands of Scousers walking the streets for any reason other than going to Anfield or Goodison Park, especially as history classes in college days had taught that it was a city with a Catholic majority. It didn’t matter that, as I later found out, the Orange demonstration in Liverpool was a very modest gathering, an historical residue of former times, what mattered to the woman was that the world conformed to her perspective.
Politicians sell us a perspective, Bertie sells us a perspective. If we didn’t buy into what they were selling, we wouldn’t contemplate paying the Taoiseach a salary higher than that of George Bush or Gordon Brown to lead a county of four million people. He sells us the spin that we are significant and that the world out there conforms to our perspective.
Attending a dinner last night with Indian professionals and clergy, there was a troubling sense that our perspective might be slightly askew, that we might be as close to seeing the world as it really is, as someone asking about the Twelfth of July in Italy. The Indian population is larger than that of the European Union, the United States, Russia and Japan combined. Even the population of Germany, the biggest country in Europe would be smaller than the largest Indian states. Ireland’s four million people would hardly be more than a dot on the graph in a country that size.
Not only are there a very large number of Indians, they are also a major economic force. For so long our perspective on India was images of the work of Mother Theresa, that the new India developed without even us noticing, perhaps it was there all along, it’s just that we preferred our Western views of the world.
The reality is that power in the world is shifting inexorably eastwards. The growth, the industry, the markets, the people are now in Asia. Centre the world somewhere between India and China and look at where Ireland lies in the scheme of things.
At the dinner last night there was an acknowledgement of the Christian past in India being far longer than ours – Saint Thomas is said to have landed there in AD 52, four centuries before Patrick’s arrival in Ireland. We might also have wondered whether their economic future would be far longer than ours. In the meantime the Irish Government concerns itself with justifying charging schools for pupils to flush the toilets.