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.)