On "Being Indian"

Scene 1: I received a mail yesterday, the subject line of which mentioned something interesting as "Dean IIT Madras" and "TRUE Indian". Being interested naturally, I read it, only to find a personal experience of a guy who fasted once-a-week since the 70's in response to Lal Bahadur Shastri's call to save food (a very admirable feat indeed), and broke the fast when India sent aid to the Katrina victims, signifying the end of his protest over America's 'no-aid' policy towards India !! He was being hailed as a "TRUE Indian".

Scene 2: Switch to apna US -- a group of friends watching a beaten up Bollywood Hindi movie. I comment on the ridiculousness of watching such a pathetic excuse for a movie. The excuse offered -- "We are Indians, so we should watch Hindi movies. We are not Americanized ".

Scene 3: Phone call from India-to-US. A friend of mine called up home after Swades was released. As expected, his parents implored him to watch Swades and return back. On pointing out the glaring flaws in their arguments, I am branded "non-Indian".

These are just some examples of the countless experiences we non-Indians experience living here across the seven seas. As is quite well known, a majority of us go quite out-of-the-way to retain their Indian-ness (whatever THAT is). Nothing wrong with that per-se, but a closer look will reveal that this act is being performed not for the reason offered -- saving the Indian culture, but for the family and friends left behind in India. Its an issue of prestige amongst peers that you have "preserved the Indian culture" in your home even after leaving India. Any thought of not doing so is considered close to sacrilege and could very well result in the family being cast out, amongst the Indians back home. To cap that, we have our own Bollywood showcasing the ideal grandchildren who live in US/UK but who speak impeccable Hindi without any accent, in contrast to their local counterparts who could have walked straight out of Times Square. Makes you think, what exactly is "being Indian"? Are you not an Indian if you wish to live overseas? Are you any less Indian if you think that some of the stuff thats passed on as "popular entertainment" is ridiculous enough to be even called entertainment?

So what do I have to say for myself ? Should I even defend myself against such remarks? First thought would be to ignore such snide remarks and continue on. But still, the question gnaws on - AM I NOT INDIAN ENOUGH? I finally decided to write my thoughts on this subject:

We, the Indian menagerie, take pride in being an ever evolving pot-pourri of cultures and peoples. Truly, on no other country could you find the population as diverse as the "Sherpas" of the North and the "Annas" of the south, the "Babus" of the East and the "Gujju-Bhais" of the West. Perhaps the only country today to house such a diverse population could be the US of A, where the races of the world converge in the hope of a better tommorrow.

This phenomena of immigration for higher prospects is certainly not a new phenomena, and not restricted to India (or other third world countries) alone. A look into the history of the world will reveal that entire mankind has witnessed, at some point of time, migrations en-masse from present locations to a new location.The reasons might be different - famine (Ireland-->Australia, US), ostracizing (UK--> US), gold/money/wealth (Africa/Asia --> Europe/US), or just conquests (UK--> Asia Minor) in the name of God -- the bottom line remains that a cup that runneth over spills its spirits into another. The US is a pretty hot location for a "better life" because of several factors - political might, economic strength, easy access to wealth of information and resources -- but one solid reason underlying all of this is --> the Americans learnt from the mistakes of the world before them and based their Constitution on some radical (for those times) principles. Not that it has proved to be totally watertight, but no one can deny that the Americas completely bypassed the Middle-Ages and resulting feudal hierarchy, which is prevalent in one form or another throughout the other countries. Coming back to the main point of this post: Yes, the US is today a hotspot for many who want to leave their homelands and settle here. The million dollar/dinar/euro/rupee question is if this act causes them to be labelled "unpatriotic"?

Does India live within me, within my sankaars or does it reside in the people living in India, but whose lifestyle closely mimics that of the European/American population? I don't think that being Indian requires you to blindly accept and then glorify anything that is presented as Indian with the sole qualification that it originates on the Indian soil ( I challenge anyone to find this particular clause in our constitution). A very close friend of mine , Nitin More, (who, by the way, is in India) once remarked the similarity between evolution of the human society & the computer. I am presenting an expanded sketch of the same. The computer began its life a huge, complex beast with no homogeneity (primitive Man). Slowly but surely, with advances in technology, it attained a formal structure (formation of tribes/societies), but a computer as yet did not have an identity. It always referred to a collective data processing machine which was shared amongst the denizens of its world. The advent of a personal computer (PC) gave a new meaning to the term computing. The process of computing was no longer limited to endless waiting in the global queue, it was more intimate with the user's thought process (concept of a family against the entire tribe). Finally, we see a move to towards connecting these individual PC's while retaining every PC's individual identity. Also, it does not matter to the Internet what part of the world your PC belongs to. Similarly, man has today transcended the physical boundaries of land and we are moving towards a "global village". The concept of Humanity at large, and the Online-community are strikingly parallel. Did we unconsciously model our most useful invention of the modern times after ourselves?

The point of this digression was to point out the fact that physical boundaries marked on land have almost no meaning today than serving the purpose of countless legal battles in UN over disputed land. A few centuries down the line, we might all be a "Megapolis" in the true sense of the word. But it is a natural tendency of man to 'cling on'. This manifests itself in the tendency to hold on to memories/behaviors of the more familar environment that has been left behind. Nothing wrong with that at all !! But an extreme step often seen is that this capacity to retain the old often becomes the yardstick by which the membership of an individual to his parent society is measured. In desparate attempts to maintain this membership, we blindly cling on to what is directed to us by external sources. Ans all in the name of saving the Indian Culture !! I personally do not for even a single moment think that the Indian culture is in any danger at all. Come to think of it, what exactly is this "Indian culture" which needs to be so fiercely protected? and from what does it need protection from? A cursory glance at our own history will reveal that we have in the past assimilated 'foreign' elements and evolved ourselves continuously. The Indian culture is not a static, stagnant phenomenon. Its a continuous amalgam where new stuff is poured both from outside, and from within as its constituents themselves evolve. The emerging pattern of global identity is a step in that same direction. Retaining all or some of the old, familiar lifestyle should not be looked on as 'backwardness' or 'primitive', not should the ability to embrace the new and evolve be frowned upon as an attack on the existing cultural ethos.

But sadly, today we find that the very same individuals who raise a hue-and-cry over the survival of our culture themselves hasten its downfall by going against its basic principle of evolution and growth. To confound matters further, THIS notion is misclassified as "FUNDAMENTALISM", a total misnomer. The fundamental law of the universe is that it is ever changing. The law of entropy is perhaps the most poetic formulation of the Universe we live in, as also the most accurate to a macro level !! If anything should be fundamental, it should be the growth, the changing face of society today and tommorrow.

I am an Indian. I was an Indian, and will always be an Indian. My passport is not my identity, it is just a label of my birth, which will probably go away once the physical boundaries of the world merge. My Indianity is not a function of approval of external elements. Nor does it glorify itself in the wake of tragedy befalling amongst my fellow beings. That is not patriotism my friend, it is jingoism, fanaticism !! A true Indian would not keep an account of what is given, for he does not believe in the duality of us-them. When swa (self) and twa- (Thou, or others) combine to mean swa-ta-ha (Me - a combination of myself and the universe), is there any need to discriminate on the basis of language/race/location?

And so I say -- I was, I am, I am ....