November 17, 2006

India Works

Paresh Kumar of New Delhi and the USofA is the second prize winner in the Citizens for Peace/Indian Express essay competition. The theme was "Not People Like Us: A Citizen's Dilemma". (Paresh was also shortlisted in last year's competition).

Here is Paresh's essay.

(First prize: My colleague Kadar).


India Works

I am an Indian. My passport says that and little else about me.

I am a Punjabi. A Hindu by birth, a Brahmin as per the now officially defunct caste system. My father was forced onto Indian soil during the partition. A refugee from one new nation to another.

Two pieces of an ancient land torn apart as one opted to close in on a singularity, while the other continued to embrace everything.

The above serves as a cursory introduction to one and all in India. I may have to elaborate on or suppress certain aspects of the précis above, depending on the situation, the company and the geographical coordinates I find myself in.

But as long as I am in India, being an Indian is never enough.

In the States where I find myself now, I am a brown-arabic-asian-indian-garlicky-thingy.

I am an affront to the homogeneity of this place. A foreigner, an alien and for those who know what it means or think that they do – I am an Indian.

So in my experience the word Indian has meaning for only those people who have little or no interest in me as a person.

What does that say about me – about my country – about my people?

To put it quite simply, it makes me immensely proud. The fact that India as it is defined today makes no sense whatsoever to anybody reared in an atmosphere of cohesive sameness affords me great pleasure.

India has Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Marxists, Capitalists, Atheists, cows and autos and beggars and kings and all that comes betwixt. It has more languages and dialects spoken within its shores than the tower of Babel, and cuisine that ranges from the strictly vegetarian to wholly carcass based, from the bland to the fiery hot.

India and Indian thoughts, attitudes, and persuasions span the extremities of every socio-econo-cultural spectrum and include all they'll ever contain.

And India has problems.

Bombay was bombed – once again. The Babri Masjid is still an issue. Tribes are threatened as the dammed waters of a mighty river stand poised to wash them away.

The erstwhile upper classes are killing the erstwhile lower classes. The erstwhile lower classes respond in kind. The reservation issue has a section of the youth standing ready with a jerry-can full of an inflammable organic compound.

Human matches not afraid to set themselves alight to dispel what they deem an unallowable darkness.

India Pakistan matches and Ganesh processions remain sensitive. The police is corrupt, the judiciary ineffective, and politics is the domain of goons. Things are bad.

Yet life goes on and the cities prosper and the conversant debate the pros and cons of Wal-Mart in India. Technology and services that India provides continue to add to the wealth of the new youthful and burgeoning Indian middle class. Every one whether rural or urban must have a cellular phone.

A billion people some slightly and still others very un-alike each other continue to co-exist by and large peacefully, going about their daily business, making money, procuring food, filling their guts and their children's and multiplying. Working, and making Indian society work – Living.

Apparently not enough in the light of India's problems. Something must be done to sort out the situation. The country continues to go to the dogs. In fact an esteemed National Daily is so convinced that we have a problem that it is inviting essays in Hindi and English to suggest ways and means for Indians to live together and prosper in India. Ways and means to deal with this overwhelming diversity.


I cannot think of anything that I can divulge to the Indian people that would help them lead a saner, more productive life. I for one am in the possession of no magic formula; no secret that will suddenly do away with India's problems. And it may be just my callow ignorance but I find it very hard to imagine that any one else is in possession of anything of the sort. And that any solution to India's problems can be successfully broadcasted and affected by the means of a fifteen hundred word essay.

What is important though, and what can never be emphasized enough is the fact that India today is uniquely positioned as far as sustaining and nurturing diversity is concerned. There is no complete definition of India available, no "Dummy's India Fix-It Yourself" guide out there because India is too full of differences to be simply understood, to be neatly sorted, to be pigeonholed. India exists as it always has, in a vibrantly mind-boggling pluralistic manner.

That is what we need to remember, that is what we need to celebrate.

India today is nothing short of a testament to the success of our heterogeneity, our longevity, our potent fertility as Indians as an idea. We need to ask ourselves the following question. Does India have a long and rich history of supporting diversity that has today resulted in a billion Indians of all faiths and a multitude of languages, customs, cultures, cuisine and sartorial tastes, living together in a Democracy?

The only answer to the above question is: YES.

That can only mean that we do NOT have a problem with diversity.

India is not characterized by a collapse or by its problems. If anything taking a closer look at the Indian situation reveals that India is very evidently the place which seems to have always had the solution.

India allows diversity, it thrives on diversity and it always has. The only problem in India is that very often we fail to see that ourselves. We despair, knocking around we try to locate for ourselves a case-study, a management solution. And we fail – miserably every time.

This is not surprising given the fact that there is no situation like the Indian situation. Wherever similar situations have developed in the past, society has imploded and has been forced to homogenize to survive. The only place where it seems to work is in India. And thus India remains very different, very hard to peg down, to label, but in no way does that make India a state in need of a solution.

India remains truly diverse, with a unique set of problems that need to be taken care of but more importantly a unique set of strengths that need to be applauded.

I for one am of the mind that an essay cannot solve India's problems, but an essay can underline the fact that if India has problems stemming from diversity, it is because of the fact that India IS truly diverse.

India today supports more dissimilarities than other politically defined mass of land.

And India succeeds.

I think we would do ourselves a good turn by giving ourselves a pat on the back - for we deserve it. We need to stress our successful dependence on diversity as a basis for the very existence of India, that is the only cure-all India ever needed in the past and that is the only panacea that will keep India fighting fit for the future. All we need to do is to hold fast to that essential ideal that makes us what we are. No problems here – all we need to do is to continue being ourselves.

Only with this established can we go ahead to take on and solve the challenges that our society throws at us. Given that they are daunting but they do not define us. What defines us is are willingness to live together, to see eye to eye and to enjoy our differences.

The solution to India's problems is realizing that we, and probably only we, have had the solution with us all along. We have the problem taken care of. We are a country of a billion people who have always chosen to co-exist with our differences. That's the way we do it, nobody else has managed the same.

We don't have a problem – if anything we have the solution to it.

India works and I for one am proud of it.


Pareshaan said...

Thank you Dilip - once again and thanks Patrix.

Anonymous said...

This "essay" works: as an excellent soporific. Ya...wn.

How much more Arab money are the Citizens left with that they are gonna use to harass us with these maudlin contests?

Anonymous said...


I enjoyed reading this essay but I just did not get it. I thought that this competition was "Not Like Us: A citizen's dilemma". I didn't get the sense of that through this essay. What is the dilemma? What is the "not like us" (unless its saying we are not like the American people?).

I also respectfully beg to disagree with the author on india's fabulous diversity. True, we have enormous religious and language diversity - something we should be proud of. But diversity in thought and attitude? Not so much I think. Lets consider some examples:

- How much support is there for individuals who don't live the heterosexual norm in India today? For gay & lesbian people, for transsexuals, for those who want to be child-free, for those who don't want to marry? I don't think we have a brilliant record on this one.

- How much support is there for people to "do what they love" in India? To study history instead of engineering for example? Still precious little. Of course a lot of this is security, but lets face it, this attitude exists also in the upper middle-class which doesn't need this.

- How many times have we all heard the "log kya kahenge" argument when we want to do anything?

I adore India and am proud of its diversity - I enjoy tellng people about it and watching their jaws drop. But I think we have a long way to go in encouraging tolerance in thought. Perhaps we had it and lost it but I certaily do't see a lot of it in India circa 2006.


Pareshaan said...

Anonymous: you are right on all counts, my essay was more about how we are quite unlike Americans than about anything else - you hit the nail on the head.