An unknown wag claimed there were four stages to life: infancy, adolescence, adulthood and obsolescence. Finally nearing the fourth stage myself, I wondered about the life span of civilizations, and decided that the analogy worked just as well for nations. Of course, the lives of nations and of individuals are measured on very different scales. India became independent of the British on August 15, 1947, but like a toddler in the early stages of infancy, it remained tied to the British apron strings until January 26, 1950, when the Indian Constitution was adopted. So, I don't quite know whether to dub Great Britain as the mother or the midwife of modern India; perhaps it was a bit of both. India is an ancient civilization, and the subcontinent has always been known for the richness of its culture. There are so many people, better than a billion at last count, of so many different ethnicities, along with a mélange of distinct languages, some from Sanskrit, the mother-tree of Indo European languages, others that are Semitic in origin. An endless variety of cuisine welcomes and tempts you, some that would burn the tongue, others that caress the palate, with a gentle sensuousness that remains truly unmatched. But was the subcontinent ever a country? The Mughal invaders who reached India in 1526 and ruled it for better than two centuries were the first to create a crazy quilt of a nation from its diverse cultures. The British were more successful in creating a nation-state, but only administratively; they left the various cultural, religious and linguistic traditions pretty much undisturbed. So, India became one country that included many nations whose political boundaries were determined by British abilities to wage war and conquer people. Long before the British, this land was important to the Chinese silk trade, and to the world that needed India's spices. Even Columbus was looking for the route to India when he stumbled onto America. Anthropologists tell us that the Caucasians of Asia Minor may have migrated in two different directions - towards Europe or into India. Except for the British, French and Portuguese who came by sea, most invaders - whether Alexander the Great and his Greeks/Macedonians, Mongols, Arabs, Persians or Mughals - like the Caucasians, hurtled through the Khyber Pass and into North West India and the land we now call Punjab. What was this conglomerate of nations called before the British named it "India"? I really have no idea, and history books seem silent on it. But why "India"? One credible legend claims it was because one of the five rivers that ran through Punjab was named "Sindhu". The British called the river "Indus"; they dubbed the people Hindus, and the country became known as India. The British ruled India for two centuries and the former Sikh territories for only half that time. But, they left the cultural and religious pockets relatively undisturbed. So, there was hardly any unifying Indian theme or trait when they left in 1947, except for the very thin veneer of a class of British-educated Indians. When, after the Second World War, a militarily weakened and financially strapped Britain left the subcontinent, it was no surprise that fault lines based on religious and cultural differences surfaced in the land. At independence in 1947, the subcontinent was broken up into two nations - India and Pakistan - and about six hundred quasi-independent states, which later joined one country or the other. India, at independence, was as much one nation as would be a single entity hammered out of all the European countries that shared the same land mass. A serious, coordinated effort to create a national cultural identity for India did not start until after 1947, and it was and remains primarily a promotion of the majoritarian Hindu worldview. Even now, the one glue that unites India into a single nation, besides its formidable armed forces, seems to be the Hindi movie industry, popularly known as "Bollywood". I think a nation deserves better. Adolescence is a time of testing. There is a surfeit of energy, erratic, even idiosyncratic behavior and chaotic contradictions. I would honestly term free India's past sixty years its infancy and adolescence. An economically impoverished country, densely populated with a variety of nations within it, cannot but show fateful strains. Economic disparities created corrupt culture, minorities were oppressed, people rebelled and were crushed. Christians, Muslims and Sikhs, each in turn, were the recipients of an "Alice in Wonderland" model of justice. India's record is rife with sins of the modern world - exploitation of child labor, human trafficking, and infringement of intellectual property rights. Today, as a growing regional power, India is courted by the United States, but it has also thrown its weight around and acted, at times, like an overgrown banana republic. In other words, I see a nation passing through adolescence, with all the attendant growing pains. Yet, India is and remains the most populous democracy in the world. The world has now changed, and so has India along with it. In fact, fate may have put India in the driver's seat. After the troubles of adolescence that brought it to the brink of fragmentation, India might even be poised at the beginning of a promising adult life. First, there was an internal unexplained miracle in India. Less than five years ago, the political bosses in India had an epiphany, and the culture of cronyism took a back seat. Minorities no longer appeared to be shunned, but instead seemed to be welcomed. For the first time in sixty years, India's governing political troika became a Muslim President, a Sikh Prime Minister and a Christian head of the dominant political party. Another miracle: for the first time, a Sikh general commanded the Indian army. The icing on the cake - the Muslim president was also an internationally respected nuclear scientist, and the Sikh Prime Minister an internationally acclaimed economist. Secondly, someone up there must be watching out for India. India, with its billion people, now seems to be the engine driving the global economy. Its millionaires are multiplying exponentially. But a chasm remains. India is fast becoming a service industry, somewhat like the back office of large multinational corporations. To me, back office personnel are clerks, not innovators, nor captains of industry. India is creating office jobs, not managerial or manufacturing infrastructure, as China is. Are we then becoming a nation of clerks, as envisioned by Thomas McCauley, the architect of Colonial India's educational system for the British? India still has a large proportion of its population in poverty that can only be addressed by expanding its industrial base, not by setting up more call centers. India also sits astride some very strategically critical real estate. The United States, the sole superpower today, sees China as a competitor in every sphere - in the global economic marketplace, in manufacturing, in space, as well as in the arms race. We need a counterweight to China. In Asia, India is the only country with the infrastructure, the heft, and the population base to provide the balancing presence to a muscular China. But, India needs help in developing its base, creating wealth, and lifting its burgeoning population out of poverty. Then there is the Islamic world that sits across oil reserves that are the lifeline of the developed nations. By our ill-designed efforts in the Middle East, we have stirred up a hornet's nest. Of the Islamic states, Pakistan has nuclear weapons, while Iran may be on its way to acquiring one. If the Muslim world ever comes together, how safe would we be, and how vulnerable would Israel be? How assured would be our relatively affluent lifestyle? How best to keep the Islamists in check? Again, from the American perspective, India can be its surrogate. So, it seems to me that in such a worldview, India's sins would be forgiven, whether it is testing nuclear weapons, committing infringement of trade and patent laws, or violations of human rights. And that is why India has been able to negotiate such a sweetheart deal with America on nuclear technology, despite its refusal to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Certainly, Iran and North Korea, among other developing nations, must be salivating at such a cozy arrangement. That's also why, despite India's heinous record on human rights, no opprobrium would stick. It's like India has a Teflon coating. In the adult world, we soon recognize that people are imperfect, and that many sins are best overlooked, otherwise life would be impossible. What matters is to be prepared to enter the adult phase of life with a clear code of ethics and integrity. Nations are no different, and life is not black or white. Is India willing and able? Let's welcome India at sixty into the gray world of adulthood.