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?

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