Monday, April 17, 2017

More Indian Than You Think

This post is part of a blogging contest. Readers are advised to make their own inquiries about being Indian, about being more Indian, about being more Indian than you, about thinking, and about any or all of their subsidiaries.

In the whirlwind of daily life, it is easy to lose sight of things. Reminders are helpful, but more often than not, we need an upper cut to drive things home. Tolerance, patience, compassion, generosity - all of these now come with the same emoji - loser. They just don't cut it.

Max Mueller wrote about decay that sets into religions and the need for a Hindu reformation way back in the 19th century. This was the result of his Indic studies and hobnobbing with mixed up fellows like Ram Mohun Ray and the like. The reminder was helpful, but we needed 150 years and an upper cut like the present revivalism to show us how deep the rot. Yehudi Menuhin, Philip Glass and The Beatles promoted Indian music better than did music producers in India. The reminder was helpful, but the last few decades of double-entendre-laden item songs makes urban bling look like poetry and Katy Perry like the face of protest music.

Lufthansa's More Indian Than You Think campaign set me thinking about what it meant to me to be Indian, and "how my ideologies, values and culture have contributed to my success." And what was even more exciting was that it came packaged as a contest. All who follow my work know how much I love contests. There was no way I would let up on this one.

I first did a search for Indian values - this is what the top result, the one that Google puts in an authoritative box, says -  Tyaga, which is renunciation, Dana, which is liberal giving. Nishtha, which is dedication, Satya, which is truth, Ahimsa, which is non-violence, Upeksha, which is forbearance. Followed by a read more link.


Google, obviously, had no clue about what being Indian was about. I did not go to Amazon since all they want to do is sell you discounted imitation jewelry.

While tribal or nationalistic approaches to identity oversimplify and lead to strife we can do without, society and life itself would be do utterly drab without our diverse identities. Being Indian to me implies inheriting ownership of one of the oldest and grandest civilizations. A civilization that has given birth to and embraced divergent cultures, geographies, and religious thought. A civilization that has turned poison into medicine by assimilating selfishness, hatred and aggression and turned them into pivots for growth. Think invasions, colonialism, globalization - you get the idea. That was then.

One would have thought that freedom from such oppression would lead to an era of self pride and growth. Logic suggests that being proud Indians, we would have rolled up our sleeves and got down to the task of nation-building. That is where As Indian As You Think ends and the More Than That takes over.  We are masters of innovation. The years of domination by a trading company has ingrained the concept of profit in our genes. I see myself as a poet and a philosopher, but I want to win a brand promotion contest with my work. Instead of laying the foundations of India, we set to work laying the foundations of healthcare system, pioneering aeronautics and space exploration, creating Googles and Amazons (both of which are hugely disjointed in what they think they are and what they would like us to think they are), all of it in Sunnyvale or Toledo instead of Siddipet or Jhargram. 

This new thoughtless form of slavery, that of aping the "developed" world, is understandable. A nascent underdeveloped nation, bred to heed his masters voice over centuries, naturally aspired to be more like their colonizers. Parents chose missionary-run English medium schools over madrassas and pathshalas, sent their kids to Harvard and Yale instead of national institutes, and made the pursuit of a green card the most meaningful of all pursuits. This is More Indian Than You Think.

Many of those who stayed back, especially the classes that fed off the feudal system, went into politics, finding ways to appropriate public funds for personal gain.  I mean, how dumb to have to work for a living in a nation with millions of people who are so deprived that you can live off their deprivation and disempowerment. This is More Indian Than You Think, because generous as we are as a culture, we queue up every five years to select a new set of scoundrels to perpetuate this legacy of legalized plunder.

In the midst of all this, the very question of what it is to be Indian got hijacked. Hijackers, as we all know, do not have a creed, just an agenda. They shunned everything that did not fit their agenda, to the point of discarding the definition India and replacing it with Hindu-stan, the land of the Hindus. So one fine morning in the winter of 1992, I was no longer an Indian, since I could not subscribe to the new identity I was being blessed with, one brick at a time. Every cloud has a silver lining. This new awareness set me free to be More Indian Than You Think, since what You think stopped mattering to me from that day on.

What are my values as an Indian? Ask my wife, and she will tell you - complaining, tardiness, obsessive-compulsive attention to things that don't matter - and she is just warming up. In my heart, I agree with her description of me (who would disagree with the missus), but in my gut, I am also aware that my Indian-ness (not the one fabricated by men in khaki shorts) is the reason I sleep well, eat well, and greet well. Okay, I take back the greet well part, and grudgingly admit that Google got it right. But see, I made you read till here to get to it. This is real success, not the Jugaadu type.

It is good to see Lufthansa doing this campaign, since it is an upper cut to every Indian, a verification call in the middle of the night to confirm our worst hidden fear - that we might no longer be as Indian As You Think, that is if we have time (and the capacity) to look up from our devices and think at all.

One of the parameters for the contest this post is part of is relevance. That's what my bets are on. Till then, do enjoy their ad and see if it stirs up a thing or three.


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