A joke making rounds in the Internet goes: an American on a trip to India couldn’t find an Indian in India. He found only Punjabis, Gujratis, Malayalees and so on wherever he went.
He was right. Why? Let’s start with me. For the last six decades I reside
outside Bengal. I speak in Hindi or English mostly and occasionally in
Bengali if I find another Bengali to talk to. I was on my way to Manali.
Stopped for a sip by the roadside tea stall near Pandoh, in Mandi district of
Himachal Pradesh. The boy, hardly about ten, extends his hand,” Here is your tea Dada” How do you know I am a Dada? “I can easily make out” he says, with a grin. Dada means a Bengali, here. (Don’t mix-up with Mumbai ka dada). The boy is from Bihar.
The fish vendor cites his rate as Eksho Taka (Hundred rupees) – it is not coming from the
mouth of a Bengali. He is from U.P. The green chilly chap says “besh jhaal” meaning quite hot. He is from Punjab, stayed for some time in Bengal.Picked up a few words, he finds fun in using them now with a Bengali found outside Bengal. I sought an appointment with a dentist over the phone, for the first time. I was talking in English. Come at 9 am Dada, the reply comes from the other end. I cannot hide my Bengali accent. I am distinct from others. So is with every other Indian.
Former finance minister Sh. Pranab Mukherjee presented the budget in the
parliament. Shobhaa De -- a renowned author and columnist, herself a Bengali-- sarcastically remarks, she couldn’t follow whether he was talking in English or Greek. His English was so Benglicised. Speeches of our former presidents Sh.R.Venkataraman and Sh.R.K.Narayanan never betrayed their place of origin.
Each one so markedly unique, even though they were all speaking in English.
Leave accent apart and move on to every other thing – language, customs, culture and cuisine – every single entity is deviant from the mainstream. In fact the elusive ‘mainstream’ is disappointingly absent.
Twenty two separate languages enjoy official recognition. Census figures show about 20,000 different mother tongues are spoken in India.
Hinduism is the dominant religion. But, rituals among Hindus vary widely. Ganapati Bappa, Durga Puja and Chhat Puja representing different regions add glitzy variety to the religious canvass. Holi and Diwali – a rage in the north – lack fervour in the south. Rituals of marriage, funeral, etc. -- though of the same community -- are not uniform throughout the length and breadth of the country. Same is the case with other religious groups. Physical features, dress, general etiquette, and eating habits – none agrees with one another.
Dance forms like Bharatnatyam, Kathakali, Kathak, Manipuri, Bhangra, Dandia, Garba et al are uniquely region specific. Regional festivals like Pongal, Onam, Baisakhi, Lohri, Bihu, and many more augment grandeur to the living diversity that is India. Climatic zones and geographical features too are so varied. So is the case with arts and literature. Strictly speaking, even history is not the same for all the states. What we should call the indigenous people of India – now known as ‘Scheduled Tribe’, numbering more than a thousand, populating the entire country? Each tribe is distinctly different from another. In fact with sovereignty granted, each state fulfills the requirement of a separate nation. There is not a single lowest common factor that binds us as Indian except for the geographical boundary and a faint historical link inherited from the past. Where is the room for feeling like an Indian?
In such a bewildering diversity it is indeed a wonder that emotionally – still, for some moments at least – we can think as Indian, such as representing the country against the West Indies and participating in Olympic Events, or Commonwealth Games, lobbying for a seat in the Security Council and taking part in G-20 gatherings. And, of course, while fighting against the common external enemy at Kargil or Bomdila.
Otherwise, like dual citizenship we have dual identity: Marathi or Tamil first, and then Indian. What is the way to reverse the order in our psyche?
Indians become Indian only when they are out of India.