Is being “uncouth”, as manifested through various acts of distastefulness (spitting, liking Paulo Coelho, remarking about other people’s weight), synonymous with being Indian?
Going through Priya Ramani’s much-talked-about article in the Mint, I was quite a bit confused.
Recently I’ve become increasingly convinced that I’m not an Indian…
Quick proof that I’m not Indian? I have no furious loyalties to the Baganapalli or Alphonso. In fact, I can think of at least six fruits that I prefer to the mango. I have never eaten an entire paan or a pot of mishti doi (though I have tried both) and I don’t spit in public or private (except for that one time I tried a meetha paan).
I don’t understand that other national obsession, cricket, either. White is not my favourite skin colour. I don’t read Chetan Bhagat or Paulo Coelho. I feel depressed every time I wear a salwar-kameez. No sir, I will not discuss my private life with a stranger on a train journey. And I don’t think I’ve ever begun a conversation with: “You’ve lost/gained so much weight!”
I don’t like (or understand) a single Indian soap currently on air. I never talk loudly to my maid, stockbroker or random friend during a movie. I always wait to let people exit an elevator before I enter… I don’t feel pride—only impatience that my popcorn’s getting cold—when I’m forced to listen to Lata/Asha do a slow-mo version of the national anthem before every single movie I watch in the city of my birth.
Is being “uncouth”, as manifested through acts of varying degrees of distastefulness (spitting, liking Paulo Coelho, remarking about other people’s weight), synonymous with being Indian, as if being one necessarily implies the other? If that be the case, Bullah ki jaana main kaun?
I love cricket, have a genuine appreciation for subaltern music videos of the “Eh Buchi bolo seal kaha tuthi” type…
I love cricket, have a genuine appreciation for subaltern music videos of the “Eh Buchi bolo seal kaha tuthi” type and do not feel bad that my popcorn is getting cold when I am asked to make a gesture, however symbolic, in honour of those people who have made it possible for me to sit in an AC multiplex and enjoy a movie. Which possibly means I am Indian.
But at the same time, I do not spit in public, do not inquire about people’s weights (purely to avoid any reference to mine), do not talk loudly to anyone, find Paulo Coelho grossly over-rated and do not refer to domestic help as “maids”.
So who am I? If you ask me to settle the issue, I would say I am unabashedly and proudly, yes proudly, Indian.
The confusion regarding identity is even more confounded when I think of my father, a former professor of Indian Institute of Management Calcutta and an intellectual legend in his time. He does not appreciate any of the lowbrow things I so admire and neither does he spit in public, nor does poke his nose in other people’s affairs. He also does not raise his voice. By definition, then, he should not be Indian.
But he refers to himself as an Indian.
So if I take him at face value (i.e. of being Indian), does that mean he is automatically not “serious scholar” enough (Gurucharan Das is quoted as saying ““Basically, after independence we did not produce any serious scholars”)?
Even more disturbing, has he been secretly reading Chetan Bhagat?
Today, when I was going to the airport from a client meeting, I saw the driver, a non-South Asian true-blue son of the Pennsylvanian soil, spitting out from the driver’s seat onto the road.
Should I have been convinced then that he was Indian and asked for a des-wala bhai discount?
When I got stuck, a few weeks before, right behind two other pure red-white-and-blues who got out of their cars mouthing obscenities in a raised voice after a fender-bender in front of a College Park shopping plaza, should I have tried talking to them in Hindi?
I just don’t get it.
What I do get is this. And I agree wholeheartedly.
I don’t think we’re the greatest people on earth.
Absolutely we are not. No country is. Yet everyone says they are. If I had a dollar every time someone on US TV, including intellectual powerhouses like Obama and columnists of the best newspapers in the world (and no I am not referring to Fox News anchors), say “There is no doubt that America is the greatest nation of all” and similar hyperbole, I would have been able to buy myself a ticket in a major party to contest an Indian election.
Why I’m proud to be Indian
Similarly outrageous is the chest-thumping desi patriotism that makes us go “Ooh Aaah India” during a cricket match, a feel-good buzz as empty as the calories of the products of the companies who sponsor such slogans. No doubt that.
Patriotism lies in accepting our faults. But that should not be taken to an extreme because then we lose sight of what it is we have got right. And once that happens, we stop working to safeguard it.
However being proud of one’s country does not imply a belief in its “bestness” and its infallibility. As a matter of fact, patriotism lies in accepting our faults (and we have many, a few of which Ms. Ramani mentions). But that should not be taken to an extreme because then we lose sight of what it is we have got right. And once that happens, we stop working to safeguard it.
When I say I am proud of being an Indian, I mean I am proud of its culture of plurality and its intrinsic tolerance of contrarianism. This is why in a major newspaper someone can say this below, without any fatwa for boycotting of the paper or dire consequences of the Danish kind. Personally, I’ve always believed Ram was a loser and I have no idea why Sita didn’t leave him many years before he threw a tantrum that resulted in her walking through fire. The first time I heard some goon in the Bharatiya Janata Party use the words Ram Rajya, I wanted to vomit. Vomit, not spit, I said.
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