Being an Indian in India these days is a bit of an issue.
A bit of an anomaly really.
It’s got everything to do with our idea of India, Indian-ness and what it means to be an Indian citizen of the world.
And before we begin to define these, we would do well to acknowledge our hypocrisies, insecurities, misunderstood histories and messed up priorities – collective and individual – those conjured up by our own imaginations and those that we choose to hold onto and perpetuate.
Being Indian involves mastering a versatility that most artists take lifetimes to arrive at.
Hence, our confusion in who we are isn’t our fault entirely. It just literally came with the “territory”.
But it is certainly our lot to figure out (and preferably within a century of being truly left to ourselves).
We have time.
But we don’t have time to lose.
We are multiple personalities and compartments in every single individual in a way that doesn’t and shouldn’t make us disordered, antithetical or recalcitrant but diverse, interesting, cooperative, adaptable and a tad impossible to define, box in or explain as anything but bohemian.
At this point, I am literally picturing a bunch of flower children strewn all over the place, picking or planting or nurturing their flower of choice in that particular moment – the chaotic, interchangeable, interdependent, innocent and wild façade of India that is a pretty miraculous paradox (add a comma where you’d like!).
At the outset (sorry, it is never too late to get to the point.),
India is a young, overpopulated nation coming into its own after centuries of being invaded, ruled and swindled by everyone and their uncle.
Uncles we opened our arms to because we were and remain a friendly, cheerful, hopeful nation no matter how or how much we’ve slept or how or whether or not we’ve really woken up to countless confusion, chaos and crises.
We come from a good place – the cradle of human civilization in fact.
That good place is god’s gift to mankind that we have misplaced – an address Google Maps may not be able to lead us to – a history we desperately need to revisit so we may reinvent ourselves with the forgotten gifts of yore that build us as people of today.
Getting there is a part intuitive, part immersive process that cements a whole which knows, fully respects, represents and carries a very meaningful past into the modern era albeit without making the whole any less modern or the past any less meaningful.
I often wake up to an alarm call that bellows at me to go “Run The World” and I do think I’m being spoken to by a Goddess because if she did speak with me, nevermind the language, that is exactly what she would’ve said, whatever culture she comes from.
In those early hours, when the Sun is just about peeking out, my music transitions to Raga Asavari, as I stretch my limbs in a yoga sequence that has been performed since the beginning of time by the very Lord who is said to have given the world the rhythm, sound and sense of time – Shiva.
Neither the Goddess nor the Lord are Indian to begin with but they permeate, established and create an idea of Indian-ness that I carry through the rest of my day – strength, flexibility and an attempted harmony.
I could dance Flamenco in the same long skirt that I twirled and twirled and leapt and caught the beat in whilst dancing Kathak. I could labour through a lyrical dance routine to Dua Lipa’s latest and just as well be tugging at my hair trying to wrap my head around the skeletal structure of a Carnatic composition.
I could “thank the lord for what we are about to receive and pray that he made us truly grateful” before a meal and just for a day forget to be fussy in solidarity with a kid in some part of my country going hungry. And I could try and look beyond my fancy dietary requirements and smoothies and shakes to enjoy a simple glass of buttermilk because that’s what’s functional in the horrendous and near-ubiquitous heat of India.
I could listen to Ravi Shankar or Vivaldi or Zakir or Yiruma and appreciate Van Gogh as I do Raja Ravi Verma or have a whale of a time watching a musical on the West End and aspire to make that true for a legendary Indian epic because music and painting and theatre and all other art are living forms and phenomenons that cannot be made mortal. A stroke and sequence here is as important, perhaps even as or more beautiful, than one back then. The truth though is, that history is proof that everything you are and everything you will do has been there before. We only embellish and contemporize, as we must, as we are meant to!
To be an Indian is to be an artist. One that absorbs and consolidates all the beauty in the world to put more beauty in it. Without neglecting all the beauty that lay in our origins and lies in our originality. You could be an artist who showcases in Venice, the intricate work of a Bandhani Dupatta or the meticulous weave of a Patola or the very honest and true painting of a village woman smiling whilst grinding her own Masalas. You could be a lawyer whom evening Ragas calm after a stressful day fighting for the rights of those who would otherwise have no representation. And you could also be that artist bringing Venetian hats to your weavers and village womenfolk, as a treat or an opportunity!
We are a very young country, which has over eras teemed with tragedy as well as treasure. Treasures we ought to know, keep, rediscover and treasure. Treasures we have got to deeply embed and wear on our hearts when we meet the world. Treasures that teach us that we can carry off a Tux as effortlessly as a Kurta. Treasures that are mostly its people – potential flower children – that can hear no sound besides their own, collective laughter. Treasures in food that we are meant to share, enjoy and revel in! Treasures of tradition that bring us together and bind us, in ways we have no way of fully knowing or recording. Treasures that make us the beginning of everything the world has ever wanted to be. Treasures that resoundingly tell us we are different!
Perhaps our biggest tragedy today is that we think we have to be anything but ourselves, far away from who we once were to fit into and appeal to a world by being just like it.
We are willing to relinquish our distinctiveness to walk with the crowd, and therefore, our diversity, artistry, historic intelligence, natural ingenuity and traditions that were supported by science, logic and heart.
Take back your India. Become it.
Put its pieces back together as you piece yourself together.
Open your eyes to its past, open your heart to the needs of the present and open up some more to ferry our vastness and variousness into the future.
There simply is no other way to be.
And if you did find another, surely it isn’t the Indian way of being.
Take back your India. It’s never to late to get to the point. The turning point.
(Tabla beats. Cello chimes in.)
(This piece was written for a series named “We Need to Be Better” on our network.)
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