Monday, May 23, 2011

What is the Idea of India?

What is the idea of India? I have been struggling with the idea for a few years now. I talked to people who think on these lines, who themselves, being of the same age group, have been grappling with the idea of India, and what it means to us, to them and to me. And yet, none of us have been able to find a definitive answer to it. It is almost like the Hindu philosophy of the Upanishads, which keep saying ‘Neti, Neti’ (‘Not that, not that’). The only answer to each clue that cropped up in our investigations was that this is not it.
Is India the idea of geography? Maybe; maybe not. People from other countries said it must have been really difficult to attend school geography about our country, with so many states, cities, towns, climates, vegetation types. We all eat different varieties of rice, and yet all of us eat rice! We seek maize for different purposes, and yet it is inescapable that we eat maize. We seek barley and wheat for different purposes, and yet the fact that we eat them across these geographic variations confuses the argument. Are we similar yet different? Or are we different yet similar? Going around in circles seems to the only observation one can make. Within our history, we all were supposed to be different kingdoms, and yet, the fact that all of us merged into this cultural fusion makes it complicated to assess what we stand for, what we identify with.
Is India the idea of a culture? Maybe; maybe not. We have thousands of castes, sub-castes, tribes, ethnicities spanning across the entire length and breadth of the country. Each claims its own legacy in history; each leaves a strong mark; and yet, they all live under one big umbrella that is difficult to deny. All of them are distinct, and yet we may see ideas that are present at one place also present in another, where identical society structures being seen in distinct ethnicities, in spite of the thousands of miles of physical space between them, where one sees transitions of cuisine being a gradual one in spite of the distinction in the regions and climates that they live, and where one also sees ties between languages in their structure and grammar in spite of the words being different. So is India all about culture? The answer is not there for me to see.
Are we a people united? We have hatred for each other amidst our professed love for our ‘brothers and sisters’, and we make our situations complicated when we explain what structural discrimination is supposed to mean, and why it was – is being practiced by people who were supposed to have been liberated by ‘modern’ scientific education. We will define every stereotype about ourselves that the world has, and yet defy their logic with the mere shrug of our shoulders or the nod of our heads, which defines us completely. And yet, we say we are different. So what really are we? We throw trash on the road and yet cringe at the ideas of no personal hygiene. We keep butting into each other and may fight with each other, and yet, if an ‘external’ force questions us why we are thus, we aggressively deny and turn the tables on the others. Where computers are used to draw up accurate birth charts, there are certainly no easy answers.
The spiritual idea of India is a quandary in itself. Is it my matrabhumi, karmabhumi and punyabhumi? As a Sanatana Dharmi, the name of the ancient religion of Hindus would say, the answer is yes. But then, the matrabhumi is always the land where I am supposed to undertake my duty. What is my duty? This duty is supposed to liberate myself spiritually, so that the real task of giving back to society can be undertaken. I believe that I should give back to my country and my people more than just religion, though I am a deeply religious person, undoubtedly. I am seeking spiritual liberation as well, though it is far, far away from me. It is here that I have to try hard to do good not just for myself and the ones who are close to me, but also those innumerable voices that are not heard, that are heard but no one wants to listen to. It is here that I am supposed to help those who need it the most. It is not the size of the stone that the chipmunk gave to build the bridge that moved Rama, it was the spirit of giving according to their own ability that moved God. And even though this may be contrary to the idea of karma, where we all have to bear the results of our actions, it is also important to help the meek, and this thought is across all religions, where the idea of the Daridra Narayana or the meek who shall inherit the earth as Jesus had proclaimed comes to the fore. For that matter, the Abrahamic faiths proclaimed the virtues of looking after the meek, of helping the helpless, and for ensuring that the voiceless have a voice, that the poor get a helping hand. If India was supposed to be home to one faith only, what are the ‘others’ doing here? Why is it that we have accepted them as they are, and only recently has the polarization started, though these polarizations have complex multiple reasons lying underneath?
Why is it that I find my own country so difficult to understand? It will take me another twenty years to understand what India means. I am searching for the answer. I hope people have answers to the questions I have.

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