In 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued a papal bull or decree that authorised Spain and Portugal to colonise, convert and enslave the rest of the world. At that time, Europe was a leader neither in science nor in culture or economic wealth. The Arabs and the Chinese dominated the sea trade. Indians, Chinese and Persians dominated the manufacturing. Africa, Asia and America (yet to be ‘discovered’) were superior in every aspect when compared to the Europeans.
It was doubtful whether the civilised world had even heard about countries such as Spain, Portugal, Denmark, France, etc, let alone a sickly island called England. When Vasco da Gama presented Zamorin (Samoothiripad) of Kozhikode with the best of European industrial output, it is said that the entire Durbar broke into fits of mirth and derisive laughter. Vasco da Gama says the diamond in Zamorin’s crown could have brought the entire Europe. And Kozhikode was just a small, albeit rich kingdom in the Indian subcontinent. The Mughals had not even arisen. Vijayanagara, a mighty kingdom, lay a few hundred kilometres to the North with the world’s largest city of those times.
A few decades before the European’s visit, the Chinese Admiral, Zheng He, had sailed around the known world with 317 ships and 28,000 crew men, seven times. Each ship was about 120 metres long and four-storeyed. In comparison, Vasco da Gama’s armada looked puny, more like a fishing fleet from the Malabar coast. There were four ships with an average size of 27 metres and a crew of about 170 men. Europe was a dark continent, infested with plague, superstitions and fanaticism. Not that Europe had entered a dark age that time and was coming out of it. It was always a dark continent till Industrial revolution brought light to it. The modern view of history with Greco-Roman civilisation occupying a central place is a colonial construct. Europe was an unimportant continent for the world in human history.
How did such a backward continent become overlords of the world in such a short time and enslave countries having thousands of years of civilisation behind them? How did the inhabitants of a small island called England conquer countries that were more populous, advanced and richer than them? Before Europe had conquered the entire world, there was another civilisation that did almost the same thing. The Islamic civilisations conquered half the known world in a matter of 500 years and were the pioneers of science and technology during that period. Why didn’t civilisations like India or China do the same thing, despite having numerical and technological advantage? And why did Islamic civilisation that conquered much of Asia, half of Europe and most of Africa end and how did Europe rise from its collapse?
There could be many reasons, but what is most important is the audacious and impossible dreams these expanding civilisations possessed as they set forth to conquer the world. Islam wanted the entire world to be under one religion and they believed and still believe it is possible. The Pope, a minor religious head at that time, with his followers spread in some semi-barbaric countries had the audacity to think that they can divide the world and conquer mighty civilisations like India, China and Persia.
It was a mixture of trade, private enterprise, religion, government and rational and scientific thinking that helped these world conquests. Science, rational thinking and technology gave the tools, private enterprise and trade gave the means, government gave the direction and religion was the driving force. There was a balance of all these that drove the progress. The moment the balance tilted to only one aspect, the empires collapsed.
We cannot change history, but we can learn from it. Despite our population, we are not that important for the world, except as consumers. Like Europe of 500 years ago, we are just a backward country with a teeming population that is plagued by religious fanaticism, malnutrition, illiteracy and pollution. If we must burst forth into the world like how the countries in Europe did, we need to nurture audacious dreams.
There isn’t much we can do to conquer the world now. But earth is just a pale dot in the vast universe. India needs to establish colonies in other planets to take our burgeoning population. We must not only dream how we will colonise space; we must have plans to mine the comets and planets. If this sounds like some insane plan, imagine for a moment that you are a common man in Europe before Columbus arrived in America. The odds of finding the American continent with the rickety ships that Europe knew how to make at that time was far lesser than the capability that ISRO possesses now. We must believe we will be the masters of the universe.
Private enterprises, like the East India Company, need to lead this new wave of colonisation. Religion must act as the driving force, unifying the entire people to dream big rather than the divisive force it is now. Our redemption lies not in the past but in the future. Unfortunately, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos and three Chinese Giants are already far ahead of us in this race to colonise space. They have already started owning our future.
Why Vasco da Gama and Columbus succeeded when Admiral Zheng He failed is because the former aimed to conquer while the latter only wanted to explore. Elon Musks and Jeff Bezos are modern Columbuses and Vasco da Gamas. We cannot afford to be the puny version of Admiral Zheng He. It is time that all Adanis, Ambanis, Murthys, Premjis, etc join hands with the government and draw plans to conquer the universe. firstname.lastname@example.org