26 January 2011

What does it mean to be an Indian?

The Indian identity
The underlying theme of the R-day this year (as with every year) is patriotic. It made me ponder what exactly does it mean to be an Indian? Having grown up listening to mythological tales of Lord Krishna and Ram, and political legends such as Gandhi and Nehru, I thought the entire world identified us Indians with these names. In contemporary times, its Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan who were among the first Indians to be 'waxed' at Madame Tussaud's after Mahatma Gandhi. Much to my surprise then, when we arrived in the USA about a decade ago, I realized that people associated India with elephants, snake-charmers and the Kamasutra. One of the most well-known cities of India was not Delhi - our nation's capital, but Goa(!) for its beaches, feni and rave parties. 

Lately, in the wake of Deepak Chopra's remarkable rise to popularity, India is also in the limelight for Ayurveda and Yoga. Sadly, among the Indians living abroad, India is still defined by corrupt politicians, filthy roads, loud noise during weddings & festivals; raucous, nosy relatives and spicy, tasty food. Despite being a civilization that is hundreds of thousands years old, with a rich cultural heritage; though India enjoys enviable unity amongst diverse religions, communities and languages- sadly, it has no definite identity for the world at large. Known as 'Sone ki  chidiya' (golden sparrow) in ancient times for its abundant crops and spices, it was reduced to one of the 'developing' nations of the third world post numerous invasions and plundering. 

Steeped in (oft debated) virtues of forgiveness, sacrifice and non-violence, we have nonetheless achieved significant progress on almost all fronts be it business, technology, medicine, education, entertainment, sport and even space travel. Today we are an economy to contend with, students across the globe flock to our universities, our films are respected and acknowledged at various premiere film festivals, our cuisine one of the most popular ones in international restaurants and our cities are coveted tourist destinations. India has finally arrived despite grave reservations (pun intended), natural as well as man-made calamities(read terrorism). 

Somewhere along the line though, our joint family system, our definition of right and wrong, our values of 'pran jaayi par vachan na jaayi' (Life will end but promises once made won't die) and simple living have become diluted. Exhibiting our famous flexibility and expansive nature, we have embraced the culture of other nations along with their daughters as an integral part of our families. Where else can you see people tucking into salads, sushi, noodles and pasta with as much gusto as with makke di roti, sarson da saag and aamti-bhaat! Shopping malls and cineplexes have replaced the chaupati and dhabas. But then where else can we find maids who tote cell phones yet clean your homes as if its their own! Indian culture of today is a curious amalgamation of the traditional and modern. A glass-fronted restaurant and paan ki tapri stand side by side and make equal business.

For me, being an Indian means growing up to the melodies broadcast on Vividh Bharati, watching the sole channel  - Doordarshan on television, playing hide and seek and carom during summer vacations, reading Archies comics, Asterix and Tintin, walking to school, corresponding with relatives over snail mail and eating a simple meal with very little variation every day. But for my daughter, being an Indian will be mean something very different. As the neurologist and philosopher Gerhard Roth observes, "Irrespective of its genetic endowment, a human baby growing up in Africa, Europe or Japan will become an African, an European or a Japanese. And once someone has grown up in a particular culture and, let us say, is 20 years old, he will never acquire a full understanding of other cultures since the brain has passed through the narrow bottleneck of culturalization."

23 January 2011

Catching up....

On the eve of Bal Thackeray's birthday today, his daughter-in-law appeared on a popular marathi talk show (Khupte tithe Gupte). Not sure if it was planned or sheer coincidence. Off late this show is gaining ground with the marathi viewers as it showcases some scintillating conversations with  Maharashtrian celebrities from the world of cinema, sports or politics. It is in the league of 'Koffee with Karan' and the host - Avadoot Gupte, is comparable with Karan Johar! However, whether its because of the host, or the guests, the regional show has more straight talk and less controversies :)

Yesterday's episode was insightful as well as touching. The other guest, alongwith Smita Thackeray, was the popular lady director and actor of marathi cinema, theatre & TV- Smita Talwalkar. Both ladies came across as strong and dignified. Both had fought their own battles in life and emerged victorious. The senior Smita T beat ovarian cancer and lives to tell the tale. Her stoicism is truly inspiring- she actually talked about her diagnosis, biopsy and treatment with great humor. Picked up some less-known tidbits about the formidable Bal Thackeray - that he used to be a cartoonist, has a great sense of humor and keeps everyone at home in splits!

The show has some sensational impromptu performances by guests. Yesterday Ms. Talwalkar's heart-wrenching performance had me crying toward the end. Avadoot Gupte too is a multi-talented persona - be it music direction, film direction, writing scripts and now a talk show host; he has his fingers in every pie. Inspite of being a maharashtrian, I've spent my entire childhood in Gujarat. This show. and especially yesterday's episode, reminds me of the rich heritage of literature, theatre and music that we have in Maharashtra. There is a lot I've missed out on while growing up and plan to catch up on in the coming years...

15 January 2011

2011 so far....

Just a fortnight into 2011 and I've already got a taste of what the year will be like! Its been a very busy yet enjoyable time. What with rejoining work after a long hiatus and celebrating my daughter's first birthday under the sun - its been a roller coaster ride. The days seem to have whooshed by. There were visits by relatives over the first two weekends of Jan. The birthday party turned into a dynamic bash. With so many kiddos teeming over the place, the venue reverberated with joy and warmth on a cold, cold evening. The shower of blessings from so many elders and gifts from so many friends - my daughter has been granted a rightful place in the hearts of many well-wishers. The house was resplendent with balloons, gifts and scent of a great accomplishment post the party.

The third weekend is full with invitations of Anu's newly acquired friends! Its a definite omen that our social life is now tightly enmeshed with my daughter's social life for some time. 

Work-wise too, it has been a struggle to find the physical stamina to last the 8 hours of work plus the time spent during commuting. The help of family and other members has overwhelmed me and given a lot of encouragement. And most importantly, the cooperation of my darling daughter has been the icing on the cake :)

A couple of lessons learned too in so short a time! Some things never change with time while life totally changes due to some things. Also, everything that happens, happens for the best. All in all, a blessed beginning to the new year !

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