Ten 'big facts' about India
- 18 February 2014
- From the section Asia
India often attracts generalisations and stereotyping, but more often it defies them. After all, it is an enormous and varied place with the genetic, linguistic, culinary and sartorial diversity which are usually found in a continent. Sam Miller, a former BBC Delhi correspondent who has spent more than half his adult life in India, has chosen 10 'big' facts about India.
India's population will (probably) overtake China's in 2028.
According to UN estimates, India will become the most populous country in the world in just 14 years' time, when it will have about 1.45 billion inhabitants.
For many in India, becoming the most populous country will be an achievement, marking the country's progress in its rivalry with China.
For others, particularly from the older generations, it represents a failure of the country's decades-old attempts to bring its population under control - which included a controversial and counter-productive mass sterilisation campaign during the 1970s.
In fact, birth rates have fallen significantly in almost all parts of India, driven by female education, rising household incomes and greater availability of contraception though this has been partially offset by increased life expectancy.
India's population is likely to reach about 1.6 billion in the 2060s, before decreasing to about 1.5 billion by the end of the century.
By then, according to the UN study, Nigeria may have overtaken China as the second most populous country.
INDIA WAS ONCE AN ISLAND
India was once a continent. More than 100 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, most of what is now India was an island.
It had broken off from an ancient supercontinent referred to as Gondwanaland by paleogeographers (named after Gondwana, a forested area of central India), and was moving slowly northwards.
About 50 million years ago, dinosaurs by now extinct, the India continental plate collided with Asia, buckling the coastal area of both continents and creating the Himalayas - the world's youngest major mountain range - and, of course, the highest.
Evidence of this ancient history is provided by fossilised sea shells that can still be found high in the mountains. The plate on which the subcontinent rests continues to press slowly northwards, and is the reason why the height of Mount Everest increases slightly every year.
India has, arguably, greater linguistic diversity than any other large country.
The precise number of languages spoken in India is probably over 1,000, but it is often hard to define when one language begins and another ends.
The 1961 census of India listed 1,652 languages, though some of these may have effectively been dialects, and a few languages have died out since then.
The big six languages - Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil and Urdu - are each spoken by more than 50 million people.
A total of 122 languages are each spoken by more than 10,000 people.
India doesn't have a national language. Hindi and English are both official languages, though the writers of the constitution envisaged a transitional status for English, but opposition to Hindi hegemony from speakers of other languages, particularly Tamil, mean that English remains an official language.
Indian languages belong to four of the world's major language groups: Indo-European, Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman.
Until the mid-20th Century, the Bantu language group, which originates in Africa, was also represented by speakers of the Sidi language used by migrants from East Africa living in western India.
The language has now died out, though members of the Sidi community still use a few words of Bantu origin.
India has three of the world's top ten megacities - one more than China.
According to the UN, Delhi is now the second-largest urban agglomeration in the world, with Mumbai ranked seventh and Calcutta tenth.
The population of Delhi and its immediate urban hinterland is now over 22.65 million, and is only surpassed by Tokyo.
In the 17th century, Delhi was briefly the most populous city in the world, but by 1960, Delhi was not even in the top 30. The growth since then had been more than 4% per annum.
That growth rate is beginning to fall, but it is still over 3% annually.
That represents a yearly increase in population - through childbirth and migration - of about 700,000 people, putting a severe strain on the resources of India's capital.
Water remains a major problem - with almost quarter of the city's household not having a regular water supply.
Six other Indian cities - Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Pune and Surat - feature in the UN's top 100 urban agglomerations.
417,037, 606 VOTERS
India prides itself on being the world's largest democracy (Chinese voters do not directly elect their country's rulers), and precisely 417,037, 606 people voted at the last parliamentary election in 2009 - a turnout of slightly under 60%.
There were 830,866 polling stations, including one, in the western state of Gujarat which had a single voter, a temple caretaker.
The Election Commission of India advises that that no voter should have to travel more than two kilometres to the nearest polling station, and that, if necessary, a separate polling station can be set up for the inmates of a leprosy sanatorium.
India also holds the record for the most candidates for a single constituency - 1,032 candidates stood for the Modakurichi assembly seat in the Tamil Nadu state elections in 1996.
All but two of the candidates lost their deposit, and 88 candidates did not get a single vote.
IF INDIA WAS A MUSLIM STATE
India has the second (or third) highest population of Muslims in the world.
Even though less than 15% of Indians are Muslim, the country's enormous population means that by this measure it outranks all Muslim-majority countries, except Indonesia and possibly Pakistan. (There are almost exactly the same numbers of Muslims in Pakistan as in India).
The first Muslims in India are thought to have been traders who came to Kerala during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad. Millions of Muslims migrated at the time of independence to either West or East Pakistan (the latter became Bangladesh in 1971), but huge numbers also remained behind.
Today, the only Muslim-majority areas of India are the Kashmir valley, and the tiny Indian Ocean territory of Lakshadweep.
India's Muslims are quite thinly spread across the rest of the country, though they are almost non-existent in parts of the north-east and in Punjab.
There are more road deaths in India than any other country in the world.
This is a statistic that won't surprise many visitors, for whom the roads of India are often terrifying.
Officially about 115,000 people die on Indian roads each year - though a recent British Medical Journal study suggests that the true number of fatalities is closer to 200,000.
Among the stark figures to emerge from the BMJ report are that 37% of all road deaths are pedestrians, with a further 28% for cyclists and motorcyclists, and that 55% of all fatalities occur within five minutes of the road incident.
The study recommends more speed bumps, greater enforcement of greater use of safety helmets, and more fines and suspensions for drivers who break traffic rules.
In fact, although India has by the far the highest number of total road deaths, the per capita figure for several other countries, led by Eritrea and the Cook Islands, are much higher.
MOST INDIAN FILMS ARE NOT BOLLYWOOD
India has the world's largest film industry.
More than 1,100 movies are produced, on average, each year - that's slightly ahead of Nigeria, twice as many as the American film industry and ten times as many as Britain produces.
Most of the Indian films are not, as is often supposed, products of Bollywood, the nickname given to Mumbai's Hindi movie industry which is responsible for roughly 200 films a year.
Almost as many films are made each year in both Tamil and in Telugu, the two most widely spoken southern Indian language - and Chennai and Hyderabad are major film productions centres.
However, India comes only sixth in terms of cinema box office receipts - behind the USA, China, Japan, UK and France
India is the world's biggest producer and consumer of mangoes.
For many people, the greatest delight of the hot Indian summer is the profusion of mangoes - officially India's national fruit.
There are several hundred varieties of Indian mango, of which more than 30 are commercially available.
Everyone seems to have their favourite, and I have witnessed furious argument about which is the best mango.
I have also discovered that it is possible to cause great offence in Mumbai, by suggesting that the local mango, the Alfonso, is not the best in the world.
More than 40% of the world's annual output of mangoes are grown in India, far ahead of the competition from China, Thailand and Bangladesh.
India is more obsessed with breaking records than any other country. Not something that I can prove with official sources, but I am pretty sure it is true.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, India ranks third behind the USA and the UK in the number of records claimed each year.
Among the recent additions was the largest gathering of people (891) dressed like Mahatma Gandhi.
But this leaves out the large number of often bizarre and obscure record claims that never make it to the Guinness Book, but that are compiled in similar local compendiums such as the Limca Book of Records and the India Book of Records.
The records include the longest garland made of cakes of cattle dung (2 km) , for performing yoga on horseback (10 hours) , and for lighting electric bulbs by passing a wire through one's nose and out of one's mouth (30 sixty-watt bulbs) . Sometimes record-seekers go too far - as do their parents.
In 2007, a 15-year-old boy, under the watchful eye of his doctor parents, performed a caesarean section in a hospital in Tamil Nadu, in an attempt to be recognised as the world's youngest surgeon. Unsurprisingly, the police and the medical authorities took a dim view of this particular attempt on a world record.
Sam Miller is the author of A Strange Kind of Paradise: India Through Foreign Eyes published in India by Penguin India this month, and by Jonathan Cape in the UK in June 2014