Monday, 9 July 2007

when talk starts on rabindranath tagore, few can match the valour with which the bengali attacks the ignorant. we have, for decades, learnt that no better poet had ever walked the face of the earth. rabindranath is our birthright, we have all read or heard or even seen a piece penned by him. well, at least every indian knows at least one song penned by him for sure - our national athem. bengalis like educated debates with other bengalis about tagore. its one of our favourite pastimes to determine if chandalika was better written than shaapmochan. but bengalis are seldom exposed to a question like "who is tagore?" blessed be the bengali who ever hears such a question, for his mission in life is established that very moment - the mission to educate the person asking the question on the great rabindranath tagore! some might consider it a folly, to try to teach a polly to say good morning. for to a man asking who tagore is, the act of telling him about tagore is just another act of teaching a parrot to sing hare krishna. but the bengali doesnt give up. the bengali shouts at the top of his voice and tells the ardent andhrite who tagore was and why generations upon generations of indians should be indebted to him. but the man doesnt seem to understand. he is sure he hasnt heard the name before, and since he hasnt, tagore probably isnt that important. the bengali roars, fumes, jumps with clenched fists, tries to bite, curses, calms down and gives up hope. the andhrite returns after a week, full of awe and hailing praises about tagore. the bengali smiles. the bengali smirks. the bengali tries to figure out how and why this sudden transformation took place. for the bengali is not totally convinced. anna is doubtless about the greatness of the great man. how could he be? his own hero - the great rajanikanth - pays tribute to tagore! prays right in front of tagore's picture - he can swear he saw rajani doing this in a movie he had seen not two days back! surely rajani isnt wrong, and surely tagore lies a tier higher in reverence, compared to rajanikanth! the bengali falls unconscious. the anna wins.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

The First Vibe

I have been recently reading "INDIA - From midnight to the Millennium" by Mr. Shashi Tharoor (again) and my mind is currently filled with nationalist ideas and Hinduism. It feels like revisiting chapters you had learnt in class VI, and although you remember them perfectly, you barely get to use them. For example, we have all heard of Swami Vivekananda's Chicago conference, but how often do we refer to it, or even talk about it with reference to a particular context that could have done with this reference? Like most other mundane things, we forget, or rather, not remember, very basic things in life. Like unity in diversity with reference to India. These are common things, like brushing your teeth, so used in life that we really do not pay much attention to their depths.
American kids make it a point to re-iterate "I love you Mom, I love you Dad" every night before they go to bed. Of course they love their parents, of course we love our parents, but how often do we tell them that we love them? To the Indian psyche it is irrelevant, as we have never been brought up to revisit something we live everyday – like telling our parents we love them. Of course, they know it, and so we think we do, too. Like unity in diversity in India. I last talked about it, I suppose, in some essay that I might have written in school. Since then it has just remained to be a concept that I believe in. And then I might use it again in some argument with my brother, to prove a point. I love my brother. I love our arguments. I don’t tell him I love him a lot, he knows it. Just like he knows I am a bit left inclined. And that I take pride in being a Bengali first, a Boddee next, maybe also that I am Bangaal, and a Hindu, and then may be an Indian. To him it is utterly unacceptable – it hampers in nation building, he says. We have to all think we are Indians first, and anything else next. I sympathise with him. What he is trying to think is utopian. If it had to happen, it would have happened at least a thousand years back. How can a Keralite Muslim even think he was like a Bodo tribesman? Will he not suffer an identity crisis? Talking about identities, my brother says our only identity should be we are Indians. Not acceptable. I cannot be the same Indian that a Jat is. I share nothing in common with him apart from our country and her political figures. I shall always remain a Bangali first, then a Boddee, then a Bangaal. Does that make me any less an Indian than a Jat? I don’t think it does. For don’t forget, I am also a Hindoo. Being a Hindoo is like telling your parents that you love them – it is so assimilated in my blood that I don’t even think of referring it. But today I am, for a bigger cause. I say I am Hindoo, for I believe strongly in Hinduism. In its acceptance power. In its power to assimilate, contain, respect, make space for and tolerate every other way of life. I have been brought up with Hinduism at the core. I know I respect every other Indian, along with their identities. To me a Madrasi Brahmin is as much an Indian as a Gujjar is, though they look and feel different. But I don’t try to steal their identities and make them all look same. I am not one who is offering the same shirt to Ali and Adam and Anand and asking them to fit into it. I am offering them, rather, a cloth hanger where they can hang their cloaks without offending the coat hung next to it. If they don’t want to use the hanger they’d rather not, but they will have no reason to censure the cloaks already hung there. I have seen enough of intolerance in India, from people trying to use Hindutva as a tool to breaking the nation in pieces to people trying to turn every one to conform to a common set of standards. Why? Why should I try to fit the shoe? Why cant I be the Indian that I was a thousand years back, when I accepted one and all – anyone from anywhere who came here, to seek asylum or to plunder – I accepted them all with open arms. I learnt from my mistakes – the only lesson being how to better adapt. We are rich and varied in heritage today only because we had the tolerance to accept a Bengali as a Bengali and a Parsee as a Parsee. I wont say I quote, for I fail to remember correctly at this moment, but Sardar Ballav Bhai Patel had said, about the Parsees had hit our shores, that in a boiling cauldron of milk, filled to the brim, if you add sugar it doesn’t make the milk spill – it just makes it sweeter. From our current fundamentalist or communal movements to our strictly nationalist movements, we have deviated too far from his essence these days. When we refer to a Shankaracharya, we refer to his religious theories rather than his philosophical outlook. When a Shankarachrya offers a discourse, he is targeting the Hindoos rather than an Indian.
The St. Xaviers school or the Don Bosco school do not convert their middle class Hindoo students, though they were originally set up for that. They are assimilating more to the Hindoo culture than the Hindoo himself. Why then, are we not following suit and learning the basic principle of Hinduism – “Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me” [The Bhagwad Geeta].