It has been a little more than a week in India now. I am in Delhi and go to Varanasi tomorrow. When I left for India I told an acquaintance I was planning to visit Kashi (the Hindu spiritual name for Varanasi, after the Kashi-Vishwanath temple, I think :-)), he asked me if I wanted to cleanse my soul. My soul is already clean, really and every visit to India makes it cleaner.
It is not as if I am a nostalgic NRI (non-resident Indian, as we diasporic types are labelled). I don’t hanker after the ancient spirit of my motherland and get lachrymose over young boys singing the Indian National Anthem in Karan Johar films. Neither am I critical about the ‘deteriorating’ state of this country that is making nuclear deals and displacing farmers from their land to build car factories. I just revel in the crazy ambiguity of this large land that cannot be captured. (Nah, it is actually the food and the shopping that keeps me coming back for more :-))
Populism is a game played in every country. The Left does it, the Right does it. Narendra Modi did it, Raj Thakeray is doing it, Bollywood films do it. So are the Marxists and Communists. None provide solutions to the multiple levels of existence that are so apparent in India. In Delhi I observed people parking their posh new cars haphazardly at Connaught Place right under a dilapidated building that looked like a heritage structure. Do we need to start thinking about our surroundings at the same time as consuming to keep up with the Kapurs/Joshis/Sharmas or after we have depleted our natural resources and after we have exiled our own people to unseen places because they don’t fit our profile of the ‘new’ Indian? (Check out the Times Of India, once upon a time a respected institution and now a jingoistic mouthpiece for capitalistic nationalists.)
The debate has begun. Slowly, with baby steps. I find it reassuring. Let the mad consumption continue. I saw an interesting exhibit at the National Museum this morning. Astitva (existence) showcased heritage structures in Delhi that have been vandalised/encroached upon etc. On the other side of the hall was an exhibition of Pablo Bartholomew’s work from the 70s and 80s. Spaced out, socialistic, hippy individuals that seemed like wanting to take the country towards thinking for herself. (PB is a world renowned Indian photojournalist.) Interesting to say the least.
This juxtapositioning of thoughts and subsistence in daily life is what cleanses my soul. Really.
(And the food and the swadeshi shopping. Nothing like the Khadi Bhandar, FabIndia and Cottage Industries shops. I swear.)
So I spoke Marathi on the plane and was relieved not to be surrounded by only the Gujaratis and Punjabis of the world Yes we Maharashtrians are not adventerous. That is why Raj Thakeray rants against North Indians and how they are usurping all the jobs that the sons of this soil are supposed to do. We are so proud of our land 🙂 During a conversation with a friend very closely associated with MNS (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, Raj Thakeray’s breakaway party from uncle Bal Thakeray’s Shiv Sena), I ‘accused’ him of engineering riots to kick out Biharis from Mumbai. He turned around and said that I am an ‘outsider’ too. If I act too smart I will be packed off to New Zealand 😀 Yes this is the state of displaced daughters of the soil. Jay Maharashtra!
Parochialism is a great way to create a sense of singular identity. Parochialism is a great way to push for recognition. Such as South Asia (and India). I watched the IPL (Indian Premier League cricket) auction live on television. MS Dhoni was ‘bought’ for 6 crore rupees. And so many New Zealand cricketers for so many millions. Has anyone in New Zealand seen that kind of money? Or are they so fixed on China that they don’t see how India (and South Asia) is a geopolitically, economically and culturally important region for the future?
Perhaps the politically correct liberal intellectuals are happy just creating space for migrants and patting themselves on the back for it? Multiculturalism is good. Not understanding it is harmful. Let’s have more Diwalis and Lantern Festivals it is easy, simple and government driven. Surely diasporic identities are more complex than that?
Sometimes even I am unable to comprehend the complexities of my life as an Indian and and an Indian New Zealander. I see the muliple levels of existence here and try to make sense of it all…maybe that is why it is easy to slot migrants and decide what they should be. And here in India it is easy to be a middle class consumer detached from government and governance yet complain about democracy.
Right so I am still a Luddite of sorts especially when I am sitting at a cyber cafe in Chembur with little kids running around and the mossies biting at my feet…oh well I got the blog started and this self-indulgence will get better. That is a warning.
So the ‘Indiannes’ started right at KLIA. Waiting to board I see myself surrounded by Indian faces and voices. People behind me are discussing Langkawi and Bali and what seems like an old man insists that the former is better than Bali. A honeymooning couple disagree and a generally loud conversation follows. I smile and will myself not to look at them. WHELCOME TO INDIA 🙂
On the plane I ask the man sitting next to me in Marathi. ‘Tumhi Maharashtrian aahat ka?‘ Don’t ask me how I came to know. I did. You know your types anywhere I suppose. ? It was a great flight. Great to talk in Marathi and not feel that you are surrounded by the Punjabis and Gujjus of the world. Yeah we Maharashtrians are not an adventerous type. So what?
The airport is a surprise. No stench of stale urine wafting throught to immigration. Really! Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport is being upgraded and how. The staff are courteous and the carousels seemed to work. Indians are more comfortable with travelling internationally now, I think. So there was no rush in the queues (Aap qatar mein hain….you are in queue…ha! Standard line we Indians hear all the time.) I still have not subjected the airport to the toilet test that will happen when I leave.
And so out on the streets life was as is. Chaotic and crazy and hot and dusty…
Now after figuring out this blog my time at the cafe is up. But this is addictive so watch out.
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