Monday, August 24, 2009

Me, an Indian?

Indians outside the country? Oh no, they are everything but Indians. They are Marathi's, Gujarati's, Punjabi's, Tamilian's, outside their country. You would think they would find similarities amongst themselves and stick together, far away from their homelands. No siree, this is where the regional identities emerge. I look around me, and what do I see, Marathi associations, Gujarati mandals, Punjabi gatherings, Tamilian brotherhood, where is the Indian? I still hear comments like "Are there any Marwaris in Tampines?" or "can I find a Telugu badminton partner"?

Whoever, thought of India as a Hindu-state is grossly mistaken. India is a state of mixed-regional identities. When a Gujarati goes out into the world, it is not his Hindu or Indian identity that he exposes to the world. It is his dandia-playing, oindhiyo-dhokla self that he carries out into the world. Ask what goes into the rasam and he is lost. Because, according to him rasam belongs to an alien region that he hardly knows anything about. Similarly, ask a Tamilian to do the gidda, and she will be lost for words, coz she comes from a land where its his Tamilian identity that she fiercely guards, not her Indianness.

People, still ask me if I'm a South Indian, due to my Mangalorean origins. But how could I be anything but a Bombayite, who grew up with Pu La Deshpande, and adored Suryakant, Chandrakant,or Ajinkya Deo in later days, who gorges on Bharleli Vangi and jhunka-bhakar, and was quite inspired By Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, at a one point of time in life. My cousins back in Mangalore do not identify with me and do not have the same upbringing as I do. While Marathi friends in Mumbai, do not partake of my festivals, Christmas, Easter, or do not necessarily appreciate my western ways - clothes, dances, etc.

I'm fortunate to have lived in a truly cosmopolitan city, Bombay, where I was able to appreciate, the Punjabi bhangra, the Gujarati oindhiyo, the Keralite avial, the Marathi lezim, all at an early age. Bollywood, also helped to stitch it all together. But them I come to Singapore, a strange land, miles away from home, and at what juncture do I find myself? Tamilians wanting to stick together, and Punjabis wanting to stick together, even to the extent of looking for Punjabi maids. Anybody out there who complains that India is a Hindu-state, take a second look. It definitely is not a religion but a regionalism that prevails.

Me? I was baptised a Catholic, but I have nothing in common with either Goans or Mangaloreans (though Christians are spread all over the country). Ask me what I know, and I can close my eyes and tell when the train approaches Mahim purely by the stench of the creek, I know humidity in the crore of my being, and feel out of place in dry weather, I can smell vada-pao from miles away, sunsets for me mean Juhu beach, with paani-puri, not puchka, not gol-gappa, my lungs are filled with the polluted smelly air of Bombay, I do not understand fog, Ramzan for me is Mohammed Ali Rd., not Chandni Chowk, and I can wade through a flood without a second thought. Ask me to name the seven sisters in India, and I'm at a loss. Ask me about the nawabi of Lucknow and I ain't quite sure. Diwali for me is chakali and karanji, unlike the sweets of North India.

How then can I say that I belong to a hindu-state? For that matter, how can anybody? Diwali is the most happening event in my part of the world, while that's not true for my friends in Kerala. Hindus in Mumbai are irritated by the influx of Hindus from UP/Bihar, Hindus in Bangalore are bothered by the North-Indian Hindus finding jobs in their IT Haven. More regionalism, more local politics. Religion, if its there, provides more garb to the existing regionalism and the languageism. How then does India become a Hindu-state?

And then again, if I turn my back on to the regionalism I see around me, bhangra, garba, onam, or pongal, can I truly claim to be an Indian?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Are Indian Festivals losing their charm?

Here's something I wrote recently in response to the abvoe question:
Traditionally festivals were a way for communities to come together and connect. The original idea behind a lot of festivals like Holi and Ganesh Chaturthi (started by Lokmanya Tilak for a socio-political reason) was to provide a platform to bring people together. Most festivals are not necessarily about religion, but they celebrate relationships for example, Raksha Bandhan, Karwa Chauth, Ras Leela, Tulsi ki shaadi, etc.
Most festivals are symoblic, for example Diwali for me is the victory of good over evil in a society. Similarly, both Chinese New Year and Christmas are no longer celebrated for religious reasons, but more so, as an excuse for families to get together. People come back to their families from any part of the world purely for a reunion.
Some festivals are definitely marketing gimmicks, for example, Santa Claus was created by Coca-Cola, Friendship Day and Valentine's Day, I'm sure is a Hallmark Card creation.
Personally for me, I enjoy these festivals, as long as they bring people together and strengthen relationships. I'm a little put off by the commercialisation aspects of these festivals, and the unncessary noise and smoke created while celebrating them.
Thus, I would ask which aspect of our festivals do we want to leave for our future generations?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Deep Joshi wins Ramon Magsaysay Award

Pradan was started back in 1983, when it was not yet fashionable for NRIs to return back to India, to join the social sector. Here were some of the best brains in the country, who chose not to leave and country and instead go rural. Pradan was an initiative started by a bunch of IIT/IIM graduates, who brought professionalism to the NGO sector. Deep Joshi was himself an MIT/Sloan School graduate. Their work and their people have now reached in the farthest corners of the country working on different issues in rural areas.
One such example I know is Pramod Kulkarni who started with Pradan and moved on to start a new orgnisation in Bangalore, that identifies meritotorious students in the IXth and Xth grade who may be sons and daughters of cobblers, sweepers, or for that matter fatherless, and funds their higher education making doctors, CAs, engineers out of them. This is one example of one organisation by one of the members of Pradan. Pradan has been in existence since 1983 and has sowed hundreds of such seeds all over the country working on a variety of issues right from irrigation methods to micro-finance.
Hence the award is not for the work done by one organisation alone. It recognises a movement that was created by spreading out these highly educated professionals into the deepest interiors of the country.


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