15 August 2009

63 years of Independence: India celebrates its I-Day today, August 15

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we will redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance …. We end today a period of ill fortune, and India discovers herself again.”

From the historic All India Radio broadcast Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, had made….

We have come a long way since then. What remains of what India was and what I wish for in the days ahead, to retain as Indian, is what this post about.

What remains are some of the things I would work to cherish and ‘retain’.

The essence of Indianness: the willingness to accept, working from the abundance mentality, “jodi hao shujon, tentul pataey nau jon” (translated from Bangla, it means, ‘if you are good neighbours, if you are good people, nine of you can easily fit onto a single leaf from the tamarind tree’ 🙂 I love that. About my country.

Since ancient times, for years there has been a constant influx of people from different parts of the world, from different cultures – they came, brought their horses, clothes, food, religion, books, art, philosophy, technology, wisdom – blending into the melting pot called India.

Persians became Parsis, set up their fire temples, their businesses;  the wild war like pardesis from the middle east of Asia;  the Greeks came with Alexander and settled in Kashmir;  the Sindhis, the Afghans crossed the silk route across the Kyber pass in the northern frontier;  the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the French crossed the Indian ocean;  the Turks, the Armenians, the Chinese (you have Chinatown in Kolkata);  the displaced Tibetans, Nepalis, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis.

There has been only one kind of discrimination ever in this country : the Hindus vs Muslims.

It flamed into devastating riots breaking the country into three parts, (Bangladesh, Pakistan, India) only after the Brits lit the fire under the bomb before they left India. The LoC is one of their legacies too. The Koh-i-Noor sailed away to England as did numerous priceless paintings, documents,  with the last English ship leaving India at last to its own fate. They had left the famous muslin industry crushed, having cut off the thumbs of muslin weavers  to sustain the textile of Manchester. That I would never ever see a genuine piece of muslin silk  is thanks to the Brits.

And yet – irony is we learned our first lessons of Nationality from them!

And this is what is the typical Indianness I admire about my country, every single Englishman, Scotsman, Irishman,  Germans, every single philosopher, missionary, teacher, doctors, musician, nurse, soldier, benevolent tea planter, wives, husbands – were welcomed with open arms. Not one of them would have a single tale of woe to tell of discrimination on grounds of colour or creed to recount to grandchildren.

We let them be even as we studied them, learned from them, explained to them gently our ways (India never has been an aggressor), waited patiently till they learned to value what was our age old customs and traditions and we were rewarded at some point with their excited discovery and ‘show the world India’ enterprises.

We are proud of these Europeans that made our country their home. Mother Teresa (a Macedonian),  Sister Nivedita (an American) assisting Vivekananda at the RK Missions, the Mother (French) with Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry, numerous others working with Rabindranath Tagore at Shantiniketan. William Hiki’s Gazette is still revered, remembered.

Back home in Kolkata, we still like to call New Market ‘Firpos’ because we feel sentimental about the foreigners that we loved and that loved us 🙂

I remember with respect today the numerous European, Scandinavian, Italian nuns and priests, Mother Provincials,  that taught us who we were, when we were young and in school.

We proudly named our roads after these foreigners ( ‘aliens’ as they are called in the US) awards, grants, schools, colleges too. Annie Beasant was the first to set up her Theosophical society where Bengalis from different communities and religious backgrounds got together to study ‘planchet’ and theories related to the spiritual legacy of the dead.

Bethune College is where  fellow OS er Traveler1 studied, one of the best girl’s collegiate schools in India,  not forgetting the Lady Brabourne College for Women in Kolkata or the St Xavier’s or the La Mratiniere or the Scottish Church College or the Loretos.

Then there is the German that  India loves, Karl Marx,  (Max Mueller Bhavan is looked upon as an important cultural hubs in cities like Kolkata and Pune) that in a way ‘presented’ India to the world as it were, for the first time, translating our ancient Sanskrit texts into modern world languages for us, proving how nearly 80% of world languages were born out of it, initiating India studies, causing the Asiatic Society to be formed.

Through him we learned that Sanskrit has the world’s first documented grammar! If it wasn’t for him, it would surely have taken another hundred years.

Religious bigotry is a pain in the ass, oppression of women is a headache, social development is dragging, economy is struggling to keep up with pressures from within and without – terrorism is ripping the tapestry of our psyche  – and yet, every time I attempt to – I can still find my self, untarnished, the spirit in pieces, chipped, but mended with the cellotape of the slightest support it managed to glean from all over the geographical space inside the earth.

We have been attacked, plundered, devastated by invasion – yes – but I would like to remember today, how without these ‘encounters’ as it were, we would not have been what we are today.

We have a history of living with Strangers that came and became one of us. We welcomed them in our space even when we didn’t have enough. And at the time when we were one of the richest worlds of the ancient times.

I am proud that we are culturally not scared of strangers. I do not feel threatened to expose myself to alien cultures. Or communities. That is being Indian for me.

On the occasion of our Independence Day, I salute the legacies that thousands of pardesis have left behind as their loving tribute to India.



2 thoughts on “15 August 2009

  1. Hi
    even I agree that India is comparatively more tolerant than most other nations, but even here there is so much discrimination: caste discrimination, gender discrimination being the two that is always there.
    Enjoyed the post. How are you? Where are you?

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