Thursday, May 31, 2012

It's Complicated

What is this made of?
Why are cows considered sacred?
Can you explain the rules of that game which is a bit like baseball?
How many languages do people speak here?
Please tell me the story of the Mahabharat.
Why don't Indians like football?
How come your clothes are so colourful?
What is the significance of marigolds at weddings?
India has Christians? You're kidding me! How did they get here?
Why do dozens of people break into dance in your movies?
Are you trying to tell me that there are people here who won't eat potatoes?
So caste is illegal, right?
Why do adult Indians live at home? 
Why are there so many posters of politicians everywhere?
Why won't Delhi autowallahs run on meter?
There's a billion dollar home in Mumbai? Who built it? Isn't it in bad taste? Why didn't you guys do something about that?
What's your government doing about poverty?

Being an Indian has it charms: Masala chai. Rajnikant. Sachiiiin, Sachiiiin. A.R. Rahman. Permission to be spoiled and indulged into one's late 20s. Incredible vegetarian food. Even more incredible arts, crafts and textiles. Saris and kurta-pajamas to make the chubbiest of us look distinguished. Laying claim to the invention of the zero, etc.

But it also has its drawbacks. Such as being at the receiving end of a barrage of questions about this complex and often bewildering country. Searching for an answer that lies somewhere between simple and simplistic, I feel like a bad tourist guide, a failed citizen. And I wonder if anyone else, having a similar conversation, is feeling a little bit like this.

Of course visitors and tourists turn to Indians with their queries - it's only natural to expect us to have explanations. But the realities of India are so varied and vast, it's hard to gather them into anything approaching a coherent whole - assuming, of course, that one doesn't want to converse solely in superficialities and convenient (half)truths. And it is impossible to know everything about everything. Even anything about everything. Whether its sport, film, politics, religion, society, temple architecture, women's rights, even rickshaws - there are too many things always in flux, always turning back on themselves, always open to interpretation. Too many moving parts to reconcile into a whole.  

It's a complicated business, being Indian. Equal parts delight, confusion and despair.    


Priyanka Nayar said...

I think the sheer diversity of everything you've talked about is what boggles the minds of people who come from a culture that has few shades in its palette. How is one to explain what is hardwired by conditioning anyway?

TJ said...

True. But it's hard to fob off questions using that as a defense, no?

Priyanka Nayar said...

Correct. Add to that the fact they are usually smiling inwardly at the Indian accent, and actually saying in their heads, "I like how she says 'Ghots'. Very cute." :)
But we must try as much as we can, hain na.

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