Sunday, October 25, 2009

"Being Indian is my comfort zone"

A couple of eventful days back, my professor in class (who also happens to be my thesis advisor), in preparing for a presentation in a forthcoming international conference, threw at us a very rhetorical question, or so I label it.

"Tell me, what does it mean to be an Indian? What are the things that represent India? What comes to your mind, an image or a thought, instantly in relation to the word?"

As rhetorical as many questions are, that come up in our lectures and discussions, we also are as proportionally an automated lot. A very few pertinent answers came, like this one that commented on an Indian's heightened respect for fulfilling obligations, but a lot more stereotypical answers came forward, which was less to my surprise and more to my disappointment.
I suppose we resent it so much when foreigners (mostly we think WHITES!) assume we still go get our milk on our pet elephants, however, we can't conjure anything more original than the typical Doordarshan images (think, paddy fields and a sun beater farmer) that we would strongly, or should we say more "traditionally", identify India with.

In my mind, my instantaneous response to the question was the fa├žade of a mystic that India is often mistaken with (yes, I realize strong words) i.e. typical with a snake charmer while we are just as, if not more, business minded as any other cultures' day light robbers can be. As much as I still stick to the honesty and truth of this opinion, I do refrain from saying only this. Two reasons why.
a, I'm aware of my overbearing cynical tendency. b, it's never the whole truth if you haven't explored within, right?

So, I did the latter. And came to be realizing exactly what the title of this post is. How? Because when I thought of an alternative to the previous rhetoric (and I wasn't necessarily making an effort to be relatively positive), what then came to mind was a wide encompassing term, "confluence of cultures".
One of the only few well expressed opinions that came in the class was, "the sense of being an outsider in one's own country is unique to us".
The only way I could hit the right note with this rhetoric was by taking it from a personal angle because, (again, the points that follow!)

- no competing culture of the globalized world today is unadulterated.
- And India is not home to any one homogeneous culture, in addition to the much well known fact that it is inhabited by many varieties.
- one can hardly or even objectively speak of something which he is still a part of.

So adopting the rhetoric to my personal life, it, to my delightful surprise, created a hardwood bridge for my web of otherwise disconnected realities. Not being able to define where you come from or where your loyalties lie, is certainly not an envied position. Not being able to wholly identify with your family nor friends, who often belong to different backgrounds, can be quite challenging in defending your position and a lot of times, not being able to justifiably do so.

Herein I owe it to the broad generality of the term 'India' that cannot specify to mean any one thing. Even if it is alternatively called Hindustan which is to suggest it is the land of the Hindus, given the fact they are the majority, there are enough opportunities to punch holes in this definition too. And as much as I crib, and I'm not alone to, a lot about how unkindly one can be treated like a stranger or a hostile intruder, I know that psychologically as well as in physical reality, I was born an Indian and this is where my loyalties lie, with the fair amount of directed critique yet undeniable love.

Thus, being Indian is my safety net, my comfort zone.

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