I promised to write this much earlier: here it is!
WHAT INDIA MEANS TO ME
I was born in Mumbai more than 43 years ago. Four decades and more of a lifetime spent chasing life's dreams ... some concretely realised, some still unachieved. Through all these years, knowingly and otherwise, I have been an Indian first. Too many events have cast their shadows on me, and many more obviously will; some have challenged my most basic values and morals.
And yet, my Indianness has always remained there, intact, right at the top.
I have had many opportunities to see India up close. I live in Mumbai, which is India at a microscopic level. Each day, almost 300 new people reach Mumbai to pursue their dreams, which they feel will not be "encashable" in their home towns. Sportsmen, artists, designers, beauticians, cooks, artisans, lawyers, doctors, dancers, writers, wrestlers, zoo-keepers, botanists, engineers, computer-specialists, programmers, linguists ... Mumbai receives them all, albeit reluctantly, at its doorstep, and willy-nilly provides for them all at the end of the day.
Families that stayed on monthly budgets of under Rs. 5000/= (U.S. $1 = Rs. 48) are at once earning thrice as much, and still struggling to make both ends meet in this thriving (and a tad expensive) metropolis.
Many newcomers are awed at the sheer large scale of the city, but they soon learn the ropes. Mumbai is warm, humane, welcoming and sauve. It is a city that minds its own business, and yet, rushes to help others in times of need or in disaster situations.
Indeed, this is true of India as a whole. To me, India means not just its cultural heritage, or its monuments of love or treachery, or its sights and sounds, India is its people.
Without its people, India is nothing.
Where else in the world can one have a person pouring water into your outstretched hand at 5 a.m. in the morning, 300 kilometers from home, on the side of a mountainous track? Unmindful of the cold, or the unearthly hour, this is what Jashanbee did for me more than a decade ago, when I was stranded in a remote area in the Sahyadris. Not only did I drink that water, but I also partook of a humble, home-made breakfast of tea and bread.
Where in the world will one find 5000 men and women gathered to donate blood for just over 100 victims of twin bomb blasts? And this is precisely what happened in August 2003 when a pair of powerful bomb blasts tore through crowded humanity at two hot spots in Mumbai.
These, and other similar examples, could choke up all the servers at Writing.com, and I still wouldn't be done. Countless minions of helpful people will go out of their way to make a visitor comfortable, a stranger accepted, a victim relieved, an injured, bandaged, a beggar, well-fed, a helpless woman, well - clothed, well - fed and given shelter, an orphan child, well - looked after, and a tourist feel right at home.
Of course there are rotten apples everywhere in the world, and so one may get duped by shady characters at every turn in their lives, but by and large, Indian men, women and children are open - hearted, politically naive, simple - minded and trusting, and they expect the same from the people they interact with.
India is going through a churning phase, and there are many struggles and worries that people have to face daily, as individuals, as members of a multi-faceted, multi-religious, multi-cultural society and as Indians. While on the individual front there are demons like illiteracy, ill-health, poverty and lack of access to the basic necessities of life such as clean water, medical care, nutritious food and proper housing, on the societal front there are monsters like unbridled corruption, political expediency, caste and race barriers, untouchability (100 years after Raja Ram Mohan Roy worked to eradicate it) and so on; finally, at the national level, we have gigantic problems like inter-religious wars, terrorist attacks, the Kashmir problem, and an ineffective government. In spite of this, India as a nation has grown.
And how! We have the most modern armed forces, the best of industrial progress, the finest pharmaceutical, aluminium, steel and iron-ore plants, the most advanced electricity generation and power plants, a zillion dollars of foreign currency in our governmental coffers, the best minds in the IT industry, some of the richest individuals, among the best doctors in the world, and perhaps the most number of skilled and semi-skilled workers in the world.
There is a black mark also, and I would be fooling myself if I did not mention it: India is one of the most corrupt nations in the world when it comes down to beauraucracy, red - tapism and politics. The average Indian does not even rebel against it any more. Want a new water - connection? Pay Rs. 5000/-! Want to get that land regularised? Pay Rs. 200,000/-! Want to not get officially booked for a traffic offense? Pay the policeman Rs. 30/-! Want to get your son admitted into a medical college without his having the right grades? Cough up Rs. 1,000,000!
This is the singularly most unfortunate thing to happen, and it is like a cancer that eats its sufferer from within. While on the one hand, Indians are "progressing" financially, economically, socially and politically, they are "regressing" morally and theologically. We are becoming, to my mind, men and women driven by greed, immoral thoughts and need or desire for instant gratification. The water connection or the college admission will undoubtedly satisfy our most immediate needs, but from the moral point of view, we shall continue to remain impoverished.
At the other end of the spectrum is the ancient heritage India with its amalgam of multiple cultures and myriad religions. A tourist can stay for a decade in the country and yet have places to see on his/her agenda! The eager tourist will begin his tryst with India at Agra, where he will ooh and aah over the timeless beauty of the Taj. He will canter through the countless palaces, forts, gardens, lakes, museums, National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, Forest Reserves, Bird Sanctuaries, Rivers, Temples, Mosques, Churches, Zoos ... and arrive at a point where he will convince himself that he has "seen" India.
Then he will be exposed to the hundreds of eating styles, thousands of dress styles, countless languages, dialects and communication devices, and he will feel bewildered with it all.
Just when he thinks he is "knowledgeable" about this vast country, he will witness the different dances of all the regions of India ...Dhol, Garba, Dandiya, Lezim, Kathak, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Bharatnatyam!
Then, as he stops to collect his breath, he will hear Hindusthani Classical Music, Carnatic Music, western-Indipop, the Ghazal, the Thumri, the Khayaal, the Nazm, the Ashhaar and the Qawwali!
India's cultural heritage is so vast, I doubt if even the most educated Indologist can claim to have understood all its major and minor nuances in totality!
India's drama and stage are also well developed, as are its movies, operas, plays and so on. There are actors and actresses who have appeared in Indian movies and plays that would shame the stalwarts of American Hollywood or Japanese theatre!
This, and more, is India!
© Dr. Taher Kagalwala, Nov. 2003