Downside Up

A world upside down may do South Asia a lot of good. This is a place where a lot of not-so-nicethings are happening with no one able to do anything about it. Perhaps the sheer act of turning things topsy turvy on the map will help us right our collective bearings, and the way we think of our terrain, ourselves, and our neighbours.

Think of it this way: Pakistan has always thought of India – as the enemy to the east. Suddenly, north is south, east is west, and the enemy is just not there! This is just a taste of how things will change. In the Universe within which the earth spins, the North. Pole and the South Pole are equally important. But because the Northerners monopolised science, history, cartography and astronomy, we Southerners are relegated to the nether world. Actually, of course, there is no reason why what is presently North should monopolise the top of the page. Actually, there is no reason why the top of the page should necessarily be 'good', but let that be. If we cannot change the goody-goody image of top of page, for now we will simply change the configuration of what goes in there—we will turn the map downside up, reverse the text to be right side up, and sit back and watch the fun.

North is where good is supposedly located. The gory Aryans, say our Hindutva pals, came in from the north and colonised the Gangetic maidaan. The South was where the lumpen dark-skinned Dravidians were pushed towards. The Himalayan chain, marking off the northern edge of the Subcontinent, is seen to be the pure fount of all wisdom and dignity. North, after all, was where the rishis meditated where Kailash holds court as Meru, the centre of the universe. The north is where Shiva hung out and Indra reigned (if these are gods, why do we always speak about them in the past tense?). And the North northern Gangetic plains was where Prince (later King) Ram held court, and the South was where the demon king Rawan ranted and raved and incarcerated the kidnapped (fair-skinned) Sita.

For the writers and interpreters of South Asian mythology, North was Good, and South, passable. So much so that when the river turns north, called Uttar Bahini, that is where you locate your holiest spots. This point of view is ingrained into the secular mind as well, starting with the idea that the cardinal direction is north with reference to which everything is defined. As long we cannot changed this mindset, better to convert the map. Easier that way.

Lanka is now in the north, and it is entirely appropriate that the country of SAARC with the highest per capita income (Maldives) is now right up there on top. -The poorest regions (Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Nepal) and the most violent (Kashmir, India's Northeast) now scrabble around the bottom of the page.

The very shape of countries will provide us with refreshing changes. Rather than a "tear drop" isle, Sri Lanka becomes an inverted comma. Now looking less like a porpoise set to dive, Pakistan looks like a cocked revolver ready to fire. Bangladesh's head is no longer the Rajshahi district rearing up against the flanks of Assam and West Bengal; it becomes more a country with a Bart Simpson head made up of deltaic islands. Kashmir does not head India any more, and the republic is now a pointed, tilted pyramid. The Himalaya is no longer a northern frontier, but a southern wall.

In this new-look South Asia, seen through fresh eyes, it will be impossible for New Delhi to remain the capital of India. How could a city so far to the south ever do? The same goes for Islamabad, so close to the Kashmir and Afghan frontiers. hi this new configuration, better that Hyderabad (Deccan) and Multan be the capitals, respectively. The SAARC summit is coming up. Let's propose this to the summitting presidents and prime ministers about turning South Asia on its head. Nothing seems to really make us jettison our historical baggage of enmity, so perhaps a cartographic jolt is what will make us see the light.

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Himal Southasian