The following guest-post was first published in The Book Club.
Almost three and a half years ago, I wrote the afterword for my book. Not being a writer (I am a web developer by profession), it was written from my heart, the way I saw and felt things. I just knew that I was right about my feelings, and more importantly, I was right about the feelings shared by millions like me. It really didn’t matter where they were, in India or abroad. So it came as no surprise to me as the current “Modi-tsunami” reflected the same sentiment throughout India. A common identity of being an Indian. If review and ratings of my book on Amazon and Goodreads are the yard-stick for how well it is received, it is very well received, not just by Indians, but also by non-Indians. Why? Because it has a story that tugs at your heart. Some folks who have never visited India want to go there now. A lot of feedback I am getting here, in the US, is that “I had no idea how rich of culture and diverse India was.” Even Indians here whose kids don’t know much about India learn a lot about how their parents think. About how their relatives back in India think.
This is what I wrote:
So, what is being an Indian?
Is it religion? Surely it can’t be, as India is a melting pot of many religions: Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Jains, Buddhists, Jews, and many more. Would an Indian who was born in India and an Indian who was born in a different countryhave religion as a common bond? What if they both were Hindus and worshipped the same gods and goddesses, but were from different states? Is Gautam Buddha, who was born in India, and is now worshipped by many more non-Indians, an Indian God?
Is it language? Again, the answer is no, as there are 15 national languages, and over 1,600 dialects. Take a look at the Indian Rupee bill (the Indian currency). Its value is written in all 15 national languages.
Is it the culture and customs? Could be, but it isn’t the only thing, as different states have different customs.
Is it looks and features? Do you see a stranger abroad and assume that he is Indian just because of his looks? What if he is from one of the ‘Seven Sister States’ of India? Many of them have oriental features. Do you assume that he is from an oriental country? Or, he could look like an Indian, but be from one of the neighboring countries.
The Seven Sister States are a region in the northeastern corner of India, comprising of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura.
What about the millions of Indians who are not in India? What about their kids? What is their identity? They look like Indians, but think like westerners. What about kids from mixed marriages, where one of the parents is an Indian while the other is not. Where do they fit in? Are they Indians or something else? Which custom are they supposed to follow?
Is it the nationality or citizenship? What about all those Indians who now are citizens of different countries? Sure, they are not Indian citizens, but are they not Indians? When there is a catastrophe in India (like the earthquake in Gujarat), Indians all around the world rush to help. What makes them do it?
What is the common thread between a Punjabi from North India and a Tamil from South India? If both of them are Hindus, is it enough? Is it cricket and Bollywood movies? Yes, both are loved by most Indians. However, they are not the only thing. They both are great conversation topics.
If you live in India, the answer is very simple, you are among Indians, but not if you live abroad. Having lived in the US for the past 20 years, the definition of being Indian has been nebulous. My wife and I, like most Indians living abroad, try to instill Indian values in our kids, by sending them to Sunday school to learn our religion and culture. We take them to the cultural shows, musical shows, Indian festivals,etc…trying to hold onto our Indian-ness. We try to teach them cricket, and we take them to see Bollywood movies. Does going to Indian stores for groceries, cooking Indian food, and going to Indian restaurants (and ordering food for our non-Indian friends) make us Indians?
We try hard to hold on to our values, but know that it’s the Law of Diminishing Returns. Whatever we know, we try to pass on to our kids, and they will do the same. Until a few generations from now, there will be nothing to pass on. My great-great-great
grandkids will probably say, “Oh yeah! My great-great-great grandfather came from India.”
In the future, will an Indian who has just come from India, feel a common bond between himself and my great-great-great grandkids? Or will the Indian think to himself, “They look like Indians. They must be ABCD (American Born Confused Desi),” and my great-great-great grandkids will think, “Oh! A FOB (Fresh Off Boat).”
What is it that makes you go back to India? Is it family, friends, sight-seeing, business, or something else? Is your comfort level much more when you go to India because you fit in? Do you still feel it is your country? Is it the people there that make you feel at home? Or is it just a state of mind? Is it just a way of life? Is it just the way you look; the color of your skin, your features, the way you dress, or the clothes you wear?
The intention here is not to provide you with an answer, but to make you think, and ask yourself, “What is being an Indian to me?”
It’s entirely up to you…your point-of-view.
An Indian lies in the eyes of the beholder…what you choose to see.
You can travel the length and breadth of India, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Mumbai to Kolkota, and not see a single Indian. You will see Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, etc. You will see Maharashtrians, Gujaratis,UPites, Biharis, Bengalis, Tamils, Telugus, Malayalis, etc.
Or you will see Indians. जय हिंद (Jai Hind)