In Asia and around the world, India is not simply emerging, President Obama said in Delhi to a delighted Parliament. “India has emerged.” Yes, quite true, the economic juggernaut that is India has arrived. And in their haste to enter the modern world, the pupae —Indian teenagers and 20-somethings—have undervalued the very same values of the civilization that enabled their emergence.
While the liberalization of the Indian economy in 1991 opened the entrepreneurial floodgates for the young and restless, it also has had an erosive effect on traditional Indian culture.
Though opening up to the West has some merit, Indians would be well advised to pay heed to Obama’s role model, M. K. Gandhi: “I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”
Of course, it’s premature to suggest that the winds of outsourcing will cause India House to be blown about like an outdated newspaper. But although the foundation is strong, a quick look at Facebook fan page analytics suggests that the youngsters in India are more influenced by Megan Fox than Mohandas Gandhi. These online city kids are India’s new elites; as they rapidly forsake the culture that their parents and grandparents gifted them, they establish pathways for their country cousins. And these pathways—physical and neural—are leading to a place that doesn’t resemble the set of learned beliefs, values, and behaviors that define Indian culture.
A quick scan of any India Currents issue will illuminate how we Indians living outside of India keep alive traditions that the motherland has diminished: sitar virtuosi and bharatanatyam arangetrams; sufi gatherings and yoga meditations; curry cook-offs and Karnatik concerts; wedding mandaps and ayurveda clinics; and there’s even a gentleman who will repair Indian musical instruments. Sometimes when the ancestral home is breaking down, a bit of diasporic restoration is the necessary cultural tonic.
Dr. Rajesh C. Oza is a change management consultant.
No, expatriate Indians attempt to ossify the Indian culture.
When migrating Indians wave their tearful goodbyes to family and friends, they seemingly blur their vision about what it means to be an Indian. Whether they land up in Montreal or Morgan Hill, they freeze their sense of Indian identity.
If they left India in 1960, their India remains that of Jawaharlal Nehru and Raj Kapoor. The same is true for the decades following; just substitute Indira and Amitabh, Vajpayee and Rajinikanth, or Manmohan and Aishwarya. Even with the rapid and ongoing flow of information in our flat world, when a human migrates from one place to another, the old place gets frozen in time. As I wrote 20 years ago in these pages, “Desh, the motherland, no longer is all-embracing; and pardesh, the foreign land, becomes desh. Everything seems upside down.”
While diasporic Indians have a fossilized theory of Indian culture, those of us living in India have a theory very much in daily use. We eat food grown here, drink milk from our cows, and breathe the air of an Indian.
It doesn’t matter if the food is adulterated, or the milk is diluted, or the air is polluted; we don’t have the luxury of flying in for a vacation and eating only cooked food, drinking only boiled milk, or breathing only filtered air.
We have the complete experience of being Indian—taking in a full sense of the past, living in the present, and making the future. Unlike our overseas brothers and sisters, we don’t romanticize village life or celebrate slumdog millionaires. We live our lives, whether in village havelis, army cantonments, gated communities, city flats, or roadside bustees. India changes, and we change along with her.
Non-Resident Indians are forever living a nostalgic version of Indianness, imagining and sometimes constructing a culture that barely was. Until they move back to their place of origin, these NRIs will always remain Never-Returning Indians. We, on the other hand, are India, and India is us.
Rajendra Kumar first wrote for India Currents in 1990.
Over this past year, I have been honored to serve as a steward for this special space called “Forum.” Forum: such a dignified word. It has enabled me to consider not just a host of timely and timeless topics, but also to consider the Sanskrit phrase, “neti, neti.” Neither this, nor that.
I’ve lived most of my five decades with a belief that there are few absolutes. Our world is not as black and white as some would have us believe. I’m a gray. I can see the merit of this and that, neither this nor that. While I understand, and to a certain extent appreciate, the entertainment value of the “Yes/No” mindset that pervades much of what passes for journalistic dialogue, I find the “My way or the highway” mentality quite distasteful.
When dialogue devolves into a rant, something is lost. Call it civilized engagement, call it appreciative inquiry, call it balanced advocacy. Whatever it is called, it is lost. And I feel a kind of sadness in missing something that cannot be held in one’s hands. It’s not a favorite pen. Nor is it a letter from a loved one. But it is discourse.
With today’s column being the last one that I will host, I have addressed two perspectives on the vital issue of cultural identity. Indeed, I am both Rajesh and Rajendra (a pseudonym I adopted many years ago for my first India Currents article, “So Far from Home: Rushdie and the Migrant Experience”). It is my hope that as the ultimate steward of “Forum,” you, too, can find your double and that s/he helps you see the world in its multifaceted wonder.
Dr. Rajesh C. Oza