There is an online magazine to which I have contributed my book reviews some 2-3 times. I keep getting their mail inviting contributions on the next month’s theme and sharing the link of the published issue. In the recent mail, they are inviting writings on the theme ‘My India’. Though I did not send them my entry but it made me think what does India mean to me actually?
What does being an Indian mean to me? What is Indian-ness? Never gave a thought to it. Is it hard to describe because it is an abstract noun or is it an emotion which is actually unknown to me? I cannot really answer this myself. Sometimes when we are in a certain place all our lives and that is the only sample space that we have seen, it is hard to think of anything beyond that. Moreover, we do not spare much thought to what is already ours, perhaps this is what permanence does to our mind. Our being and identity get ingrained and integrated with the thing, here, it is the country.
Having said that, we are no longer living isolated lives. We constantly get exposed to news, views, vistas and locales of the world beyond our own through innumerable platforms and media. When our world is living up to its not-so-newly acquired status of being a global village, it is not an anomaly to see people relocating, travelling and emigrating to lands far away from their birth place. While often various pictures of the foreign lands stare from the different screens that have become a part of the current times we are living in, I wonder what makes my country stand apart? Is it the sameness in all the locations or the uniqueness of every place that makes its citizens associate with it? I think it is a mix of both.
Mountains standing tall, gurgling rivers, fascinating verdure, luscious waves in seas and oceans, vibrantly multicoloured flora and fauna and the ecosystem they all constitute - is the sameness that nature has blessed all lands with. This in no way implies underestimating the uniqueness in this sameness too. Canadian Rockies, Swiss Alps, Himalayas, Ural, Atlas and so many others are breathtakingly beautiful in their own exclusive way and same is true about every single natural asset of any place. However, nature calms and works as a balming influence on whoever seeks its refuge and in that manner none is less than the rest.
Having said that, trees of peepal and amaltas, shrubs of chameli and raat ki raani and fragrance of tulsi are much more familiar to me than maple trees and Redwood trees; flowing waters of rivers Ganga and Kaveri know my journey of life much more than river Nile, Volga or Amazon; snow capped peaks of Himalayas and hills of Karnataka have inspired me much more than Alaska or Pamir; because they know me and I belong to them.
While grandeur of Indian weddings, colourful ensemble, festivals, cultural components like folk songs and dances and regional cuisines - are all unique features of India but all these have already been overly acknowledged, appreciated and written about. They need no further documentation or description. Moreover, I feel the achievement of a place lies in making one the most comfortable in one’s own skin : where one gets to speak one’s native language and can expect to be spoken back in the same vernacular, where awkwardness of the strangeness disappears just by addressing someone ‘didi’ aur ‘bhaiya’, where tasteful juicy mangoes make scalding summer somewhat bearable, where seasonal produce like yam (jimikand), sweet potato and colocasia(arabi) may not appear picture perfect but carry the taste which a beautifully decorated vegetable can never, where craving for boondi ladoos, pugge ki pinni, samosas, katchori and gol gappe can be satiated from any nearby sweet shop without having to compromise with french fries or potato wedges, where aerated drinks face tough competition from kanji, aam panna, jal jeera and our very own lassi, where visit to an Indian store is not an occasion but a routine and much more. These may sound very frivolous and insignificant things but aren’t these the things that our life is made up of?
Though I am not an acclaimed author, a star sportsperson or someone who has represented India on any platform yet whenever I hear my country winning any match whether cricket or hockey, I feel proud; whenever I get to read a path breaking book written by an Indian author, I feel happy; whenever I see any Indian making his/her mark on worldwide stage, I feel honoured. However, when I watch the news of violence, terrorism and disturbance in my country, I feel pained; whenever I witness lack of civil mannerism I feel guilty; whenever I come to know about the lackadaisical approach of our torch bearers, I feel cheated.
Perhaps the sum total of all this is what India is for me - the sense of belongingness, the feeling of connection and the emotion of being associated with some place so very deeply.