With Western economies reeling, the world is looking especially to China and India as saviors — whether it’s buying Italian bonds or Italian bags. The E.U. is even begging Beijing to help bail out its euro-zone bailout fund. But that’s only one side of the coin. There’s a duality to China and India, a blend of reality and myth, internally as well as between them. China and India have an arabesque relationship. These two giants on the cusp of superpower-hood are more rivals than partners. Despite their achievements, they face enormous challenges. And though they add up to nearly 40% of the world’s 7 billion population, they still live pretty much in parallel universes. Chinese and Indians, writes Indian journalist Pallavi Aiyar in her perceptive book, Smoke and Mirrors: An Experience of China, are “largely culturally untranslatable to each other.”

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