Updated on August 14, 2007
Indianism. I don't think that word exists in the dictionary. Probably because it can't be defined. I've always wondered what it means to be Indian. Am I really Indian? Does holding an Indian passport make me Indian? Is there a difference between being a citizen of India and being an Indian? These are questions that I have asked myself and I've tried coming up with answers to. I'll be posting some random ideas on this page. I don't expect you to agree with everything I say, but I do expect you to respect my opinion, because the least we can do is respect the opinions of other people. You might think I'm a fanatic, but that's alright. It doesn't really matter what other people think of me as long as I'm sure that I'm sure.
Visitors' views on Indianism - click here
To try and define Indianism, I have to try and come up with a definition of India. I don't think it's humanly possible to describe India in words. To me, India is not a piece of land with over a billion humans and countless other life forms. India has to be felt. It is an idea, an emotion. Trying to define India is like trying to define god. We know we can't define god. If we could, we would end up being the all-knowing power that god is. Our imagination is finite. India isn't. So, trying to define India is futile.
That brings us back to the same question. What is Indianism? I think it's one of those questions that don't have answers. But, there must be something that comes close to the definition of Indianism. I don't know. I do think that Indianism has got nothing to do with knowing the Indian national anthem or having an Indian passport.
I'm trying to think of the images that are formed in my mind when I think of India. I can see them, but I can't describe them. I can feel them, but I can't draw them. They aren't good or bad images, they're just images of India- images of beauty. I don't know where to start. I can see my home, my family, my friends. But, is that really all that India is to me? A place to call home? I don't know.
I wonder what it would be like if I didn't have an Indian passport- a proof of my citizenship (Indian-ness?). I see people in India whose only aim in life is to leave India and move to a more "lucrative" environment. And, I see people who've left India and whose only aim in life is to go back to India to be with their family, their friends, their people- to be home. Why?
I think India is a lot more than that. I take my India with me wherever I go. My India lies in my thoughts, and that's where home is...at least for me.
I have received a lot of feedback on the idea of Indianism. I will be posting it on this page sometime in the near future.
There are a lot of people who really love India. I guess I am one of them. Some people call them fanatics and jingoists. "After all," they say, "We are citizens of the world and we belong to one race- the human race. Patriotism is just another form of selfishness and another source of division and discrimination." I agree. I am patriotic, and I love India more than any other country. A disaster in India means a lot more to me than a disaster in any other country. I am selfish, yes. But, what can they accuse me of? If they can accuse someone of being over-patriotic, they might as well accuse him of "over-loving" his mother.
How do I see India? How do I see my family? We used to live in a pretty friendly neighbourhood in New Delhi. If there was a fire in our area, I would save my house, my family first. Yes, I am selfish. I can claim to love the entire human race, and I can also say that love cannot be compared, but I know I feel a lot more for those I know. I love the people I can relate to a lot more than those I don't even know. I call it natural human behaviour. According to me, it is extremely hard to be unselfish. The only way to reach that state of unselfishness is through losing (or letting go of) your "self." I don't know if that's possible.
To me, India is just an extension of my family, and that's how it should be. I think that's how the world works. It is an organisation of caring, with individuals caring about themselves at the grassroots. At the highest level, we have an individual caring about the entire universe. Most of our efforts go into caring about our own lives. I don't know if I'm making sense. It's hard to confine thoughts to words without sacrificing their purity.
Some people say that patriotism is not justified. They say that countries are just pieces of land- geographical entities with political boundaries. I guess, to them, human beings are nothing but orderly arrangements of chemical structures, and emotions are nothing but physiological reactions. The national flag is just a piece of cloth. I wonder why some people give up their lives to defend the honour of a piece of land- to make sure that the "piece of cloth" they love so much never has to bow in disgrace. Well, people are different...
I started off by saying that I don't think the word "Indianism" existed in the dictionary. Well, it does. At dictionary.com, one of the more relevant meanings for Indianism is:
Devotion to or preference for the people and culture of India.
Eleven words is all it took them to define Indianism.
The Government of India announced that it would offer "dual citizenship" to Non-Resident Indians and Persons of Indian Origin in certain countries. I was wondering how it would change anything. It's like having "dual motherhood" for a child. Not that it's bad or wrong. In Hindu mythology, Krishna (an incarnation or avatar of Lord Vishnu) had two mothers- one who gave birth to him and one who brought him up. But, this is different. Krishna didn't "choose" to leave his biological mother...
There are so many sides to India, so many ways to look at it. You could say it's just an idea, a whole bunch of things you relate with it and that you can relate to. It's also a political entity, an economy, a culture- a mixture of cultures, a group of people- over a billion of them.
India, as an idea- a dream, is perfect. There's a unique India for everyone. The way I look at it, as an Indian, I have to try and integrate the India with all its physical reality with the India that lies in that idea of perfection. Perfection is limitless. At no point can it be touched. We can only get close to it. But how does that happen?
They say that India is becoming unlivable. That there is this system that cannot be changed. So what if the economy is growing and people are getting richer (in theory, at least)? It's true to an extent. Having lived outside India for over five years, and following the news and everything, I kind of felt like India was changing for the better. People would want to go back now- jobs are being created and wages are increasing. India, the economy, is looking good. But is that all there is to a country- an economy? Change happens. To me, this whole "booming economy" thing is more by coincidence than by design. Living in India is completely different. The "system" still exists. If something illegal is happening around you, they say you should ignore it. Does it go away if you pretend it doesn't exist? Does it not happen again if you ignore it once? Our "let it go" attitude is responsible for this whole system, where bribes are almost impossible to do without and where the concept of punishment exists only to be applied on those who cannot afford to buy their way out.
We blame the system. We blame our politicians. We blame low salaries for government employees. We blame corruption. That's it. We can just sit back and watch the fun, and let the "system" take care of everything. It can't be changed after all.
Aren't we a part of this system? Isn't every politician one of us? Aren't we voting them in? (That is, of course, assuming that elections aren't rigged- another one of our common excuses). Really, compare politicians in India with politicians in developed countries. In most developed countries, it almost seems like education is a pre-requisite to be elected, but in India, it seems like most of our top politicians either never went to college, or just "practiced politics" in college. How many educated people actually go into politics, unless their family is already into politics?
No, our educated people think politics is "dirty". It is an option utilised only by the severely corrupt, or by those who weren't left with any other option. That is why we won't find too many people in politics who have actually "earned" degrees. It's our fault. Most of us see higher education as a ticket to fleeing the country. There might come a day when there will be more first and second generation Indians outside India than within India.
Change happens. To MAKE it happen, you need power. You can't drive a car from 10 feet away (unless it's remote-controlled). You either need to be at the wheel yourself, or you need to put someone there AND control him/her. There's no other way. We need laws that work. But most importantly, we need to be able to implement those laws as uniformly as possible. And that's the hard part.
The reason for updates as infrequent as a meaningful Bollywood movie is not a lack of time or commitment. I write here when I really feel like it. Sometimes, there's something on your mind that you just need to let out, and this lets me do exactly that.
I remember using, and hearing, the word "imported" a lot, especially when I was a kid. I didn't know what it meant then. But I knew what it meant to me, or what I would associate it with. I thought "imported" meant good, or of great quality. In fact, even now, a lot of products are actually advertised as being "imported", and that's supposed to help them sell better. It doesn't matter if they are actually being imported from Bangladesh or Tonga. Imported is good enough. Of course, that probably has something to do with the relatively poor quality of a lot of Indian goods, at least in the past. But it also has a lot to do with a general mindset.
They say a lot of Indians are coming back to India. It is true that a number of people have come back, but then, a lot of them are going out of India too. I don't believe all this talk about the "global economy" and the disappearance of international borders. Economically, as in financially, and as far as technology goes, you can make it seem like there is one global economy, but realistically, it would hardly matter to an individual or a smaller group of individuals, especially if they don't have access to that technology. You can't have uniform distribution for it. What matters most to an individual is the situation at the local level, from your own house to your own town, city or village, and even country.
People have reasons for going outside their own village, town, or country. They are usually financial (more money), or having to do with better job prospects (which in turn means more money). It's logical after all. You have to think about yourself and your immediate family before anything else. But what's funny is when they make it seem like they are doing everyone a favour by doing that. If Indians are in demand outside India, and if India has a better economic image today, and even if we attribute it solely to NRIs, who most certainly have contributed to that, it is purely a by-product of their independent decision to leave India and settle outside. It would be wrong to say that if I decide to leave India today, my intention would be to actually contribute something to my country. If I say that, I would be lying not only to others, but also to myself.
When you talk about a group of people, you always run into a highly probable risk of generalising. And I guess you have to. You cannot isolate each and every individual in a large and diverse group (NRIs here), but you can go by your own general opinion based on your perception.
I have seen people outside India who are probably doing more for India than most people living in India. But, in general, this trend of people leaving India is not very healthy for India, in my opinion at least. I guess a lot of people would disagree with this, especially those who have chosen to live outside India, but it is not a random opinion or anything. You need to look at the whole scenario carefully, from how and why a person decides to actually settle outside India, to how it would theoretically affect the population balance of India. I'll probably talk about that sometime later.
The way I look at it, you can compare India to your family. Leaving India, in my opinion, and it might sound very strong to some, is at best like putting your parents in an old-age home. There might be someone else taking care of them, but is that what they really want or need?
It's January 26th again. Of course, in India, it's a holiday- a day to celebrate patriotism perhaps. You are supposed to be proud of being Indian on that day or something. I don't get that. I don't get why you need to have special occasions for display of emotion, like Valentine's day and all that crap. If you feel something, you should feel it throughout, and not for one day a year. I don't feel any different on August 15th or January 26th or any other occasion for that matter.
Mahatma Gandhi's birthday is a holiday. I honestly wonder what most Indians do on that day. What's the point of making it a holiday? If you actually want to celebrate Mahatma Gandhi's birthday, and you feel that he hoped for a bright future for his country, you should extend the working hours on that day. Try and improve the overall productivity on that day. I don't think going for a picnic on October 2nd or taking a weekend vacation to Goa are proper ways of paying tribute to Gandhi's soul.
Occasions like these are reduced to meaningless holidays, where people just relax, watch TV, go for a drive, meet family, party, etc. And the number of holidays in our country is amazing. It's one thing to call yourself secular and celebrate religious festivals, but why have holidays for people being born and people dying? How does that make any sense at all?
And then we have our "bandhs" and boycotts and all. If something happens in Mumbai when the Chief Minister is from the Congress party, Shiv Sena calls for a bandh, which basically means a holiday. They happen all over India. It's supposed to be taken as a form of protest. In reality, it's anything but that. I remember when I was in school and I had an exam, I would hope there would be some kind of bandh or something. It used to be pretty common in Delhi then (during the days of V. P. Singh). That is reality. If a politician is murdered, and his party calls for a bandh, it is not going to affect the average person in any other way besides giving him or her just another holiday.
Religion is important to organised society as a whole, so holidays for religious festivals are understandable, when you would like to celebrate with family and friends, but asking you to not engage in professional activity just because some group wants to protest something that does not coincide with their own interest or agenda is ridiculous. If you have a valid point, there are courts that you can go to, which, however efficient, are still better than bandhs. It is nothing but showing-off your power, something that Indian politics in general is famous for.
I wonder if I'm the only one reading this, but I'll write anyway.
It's been 3 and a half years since I came back to India. Everything isn't pretty here, but then this is reality, and not a Karan Johar movie. There are things that bother me, things that frustrate me, things that make me wonder, "Is this really India?"
It's frustrating because you want to do something, but you don't know how. Maybe because you're weak, or maybe because you're not motivated enough, but the fact is that you're just not able to do it. You want to bring about positive change, but what is positive to you might be negative to someone else. India is a land of contradictions, a country of extremities. And I cease to make sense here, so I'll start a new para now...
Now I realise how important it is to BE here. To be an active part of this place. By "active", I don't necessarily mean someone who is playing a role in trying to bring about positive change. While I was in the US, India was an amalgam of [mostly] positive thoughts and memories I associated with that place. There were its share of negatives too. Negatives that most Indians, collectively, associate with India. Problems like poverty, corruption etc. The problems were all larger than life. But now, that I am here, experiencing life here, it's different.
The problems that I see are both individual (problems that I face or people from my area face) as well as collective (problems that concern India as a whole). From disorganised traffic to an impotent legal system. From corrupt officials with no self-respect at all to regular people who only know how to make money by cheating other people. You have to face these problems to really understand them.
You see a person on the street with nothing to eat, hardly anything to wear. For a fraction of a second, you feel guilty. Guilty that there is such a huge difference between their lifestyle and yours. Do they even have a lifestyle? I think using the word "lifestyle" for their life is like mocking them. They are biologically alive, yes, but they aren't really living. When every single day is a struggle for existence, are you really living?
You feel like doing something, but you don't know what. The traffic light goes green, you keep driving, trying to make your way through traffic, training your ears to filter out the noise of the horns blowing behind you. And that thought dies, and with that thought somewhere dies a life. An insignificant life dies an insignificant death. The population count rolls on. The "blue billion" is coming...
Independence day tomorrow. And the media brigade is at it again. One of the cheapest things humans can do, and do very often, is commercialise their own emotions, and exploit those of others. It's usually around August 15th (Independence day) and January 26th (Republic day) that you see the Indian flag all over the place. TV shows with "patriotic" themes, news channels (the less said about them, the better) interviewing people and politicians and talking about how India has progressed (or not) as a nation since Independence. Sounds and images that are supposed to "touch" you, and consequently, but in fact more importantly, earn them revenue.
It seems like there are so many "Indias". One India that is proud of what it has been able to achieve in 60 years as a single (albeit divided), independent country. A second India that is ashamed of the fact that it still hasn't been able to free itself from the shackles of corruption and shameless and selfish exploitation, of illiteracy and superstition, of politics and greed. And another India that doesn't even know it exists - An India to which "these things" don't matter. An India that is an India only because its passport says so. And given an opportunity, it would readily trade its identity with an America that exists in its dreams.
Indian culture. That's another thing that is talked about quite a lot. Especially since the so-called American/Western invasion of the early 90s (no, not the Gulf War). A section of people blame "Western civilisation" for the "corruption of the Indian youth". They say Indians are forgetting their culture, and trying to ape the West. It might be true or false. It's something that's both easy as well as hard to argue for or against, and hence would make a very good topic for a debating competition.
But, let's forget about how things are today for a moment. Let's just talk about culture. Indian culture. What is it? Who decides what Indian culture is? Is there a set of rules that define Indian culture? When and where was it born, and when and where did it stop evolving?
Culture in general, and Indian culture in particular, has never been static. The beauty of our culture is that it has continually evolved and given birth to a new culture, a culture that has represented the prevalent ideas and values at its time. No culture or place can afford to be static and confined. India has been able to ABSORB ideas, beliefs and practices from various cultures, and moulded them into a culture that has always been uniquely Indian. It still is. I guess the point that people against the Western influence on our culture try to make is that Indian culture, or at least the urban Indian culture, might be losing its uniqueness.
My problem is with people looking down on something. Something that is actually a part of them. When people think speaking hindi is "uncool", a young woman wearing an Indian dress is a "behenji" and preferring regular Indian food over Thai, Japanese or Mexican makes you a "ganwaar". You will find people trying to speak in English even if they really struggle to. You will find women, both young and old, wearing clothes that reveal more than they conceal, because they are trying to fit in, or live upto an image. It's both funny and sad. A lot of us are actually trying to fight against our own identity. Trying to be something or someone we are not. We want to believe what we are trying to be is superior to what we actually are. There is nothing wrong in striving to better yourself and your lifestyle, but there is something wrong when you are not actually deciding for yourself, but letting popular perception decide what you should and should not do.
to be continued...
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