When I was living in India, being an Indian didn’t really mean much to me. In fact, I used to think of myself as a global citizen. My fellow country people would also express their nationalist feelings very occasionally: either during cricket matches with Pakistan, during election times or on the national days.
Now when I am no longer in the country, I am reminded of being an Indian almost all the time. Here, living among so many nationalities, when you meet anyone, anywhere, either on a street or in an office, the first identification is that of your nation, your origins. After that comes gender, age, and the other characteristics of your identity. So for me, while living in Singapore, ‘who are you’ actually means ‘where you are from’.
What does being born and raised in India mean? A lot of things actually. It means developing a self-identification based on religion, caste, class, language, region. I remember in our school civics books, this diversity of India was always praised and glorified. I often thought this extreme diversity in India is a disadvantage in making it a modern nation. Now I know it has a huge advantage as well. Being born in a country like India, among so many different cultures, faiths and philosophies, you get a superb opportunity to develop a high level of tolerance within you. A tolerant and patient person finds it much easier to manage demanding and stressful leadership and managerial roles. Even though, at times we behave otherwise, I believe, growing up in such a diverse cultural background have given us an edge over other countries in developing these qualities. No wonder, India has a strong service industry with Indian CEOs and heads all across the globe!
I realize how many opportunities India has offered me when I meet people of other nationalities. This usually happens during adventure sports or outdoor events. Since my country people are traditionally not too ‘sporty’, I am often the only person from the Indian sub-continent. I realize how everything is easy for me and how I don’t have too many dependencies. For example, not having paper tissue will not create an emergency panicky situation for me. The cleanliness level of bed linen in a hotel room doesn’t bother me as much. If go to poor countries, with dirt and noise and traffic, I feel at home. If I go to rich countries, I feel awed. When people look at a 500 yrs old building and get impressed, I tell them about Badami caves of the 6th century and they are fascinated! When people find it remarkable that 5-6 kids in Tibet have to ride on a single motorcycle for an hour to reach their school, I tell them the stories about our current PM and other leaders who had to cross rivers and walk for miles to reach their schools. When people find it appalling that there is no proper sanitation in remote villages, I find it perfectly normal.
The cherry on top of the cake (of being an Indian) experience is when someone starts talking about mythology. Oh boy! I had no idea all those Amar Chitra Kathas and Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan and B R Chopra’s Mahabharat would become useful to me one day. I can go on and on about Hindu mythology for a rapt and enthralled audience of foreigners! While telling such stories, I myself realized how fascinating they are! The very idea of three Gods for creation-maintenance-destruction is mind-blowing!
Being born in India, in a household of plenty, I have had the best of all the worlds. I got the best education, best health care, could see mountains, rivers, birds, wildlife, beaches, plateaus, temples, mosques, churches, gurudwaras, had friends from so many different religions and regions. I could see extreme poverty and extreme riches. I learned to live in contradictions and extremes. I got a chance to live outside the country to be able to appreciate all this. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether my being born in India was (one of) the best thing(s) that happened to the country or not. :-)
Being an Indian in India is completely different from being an India in a foreign land. But that is an another post!
Happy Independence Day to my desh! :-)