Investigating the Curious Case of the Indian Identity

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Prashant Bajpai

I'm a content marketing evangelist and serial growth hacker trying to decrypt duality and access unity. Why? Because that's my jam.
Profile photo of Prashant Bajpai
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india

It was the 10th of January 2015. Sixteen days short of yet another Republic Day. A day where I wave flags of a country whose name I can’t quite remember. They smirk incredulously and tell me: “It’s India, stupid face!”

I know the sound of it. I can point it out on an atlas too. But, I still don’t know what it means. I had a cause – an identity crisis of sorts – and no passive-aggressive psycho-babble was going to make me come to the negotiation table. When it comes to curiosity, I have a case of Stockholm Syndrome.

So I started with an image makeover. I shaved a patchy portion of my beard and then solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure all its citizens.

Regrettably, my pledge seemed to share the commitment of my beard growth – patchy and half-assed .

After that, I did what any post-modern jugaad philosopher would do. Look for another half-assed pledge and hoped it would do a better job upholding me than I would do upholding it.

The National Pledge was next on the menu.

After going through another patriotic self-baptization ritual with terms like “my country”, “my brothers and sisters”, “proud”, “heritage”, “respect”, and “worthy”, I began to feel a little more self-assured.

For a change, I thought, I could relate to a pledge that defines the spirit of harmony. I felt like an actor who knows his role, but knows nothing about the movie he is being cast in – comfortable and not overly ambitious.

Brothers in Arms or Neighbors of Convenience?

Much to my dismay, the terms “India” and “Indians” remained as foreign to me despite my approach. But, it made more sense now why my mysterious countrymen have such a fanatical fixation with Bollywood.

In a world where characters become superheroes by tearing through plot holes and bitchslapping logic to find resolution one way or another (an inspiring one in most cases), it’s easy to acclimatize to happy illusions, especially when it relieves them from the cold chokehold of reality for a few hours.

As a millennial, I was only ever taught about the heroes of our freedom struggle who fought for our identity as a nation. I have never bled for the country to preach about what brotherhood really means, and can only recall one instance of Indianism drowning out the divisiveness – the Cricket World Cup 2011 final.

indian-cricketers

As happy as I was to be a part of one big happy family for a couple of days, I wanted more. More than just the breadcrumbs of breezy entertainment. If fantasies can turn our nationalism on in a heartbeat, why can’t real issues light the same fire? It didn’t make sense.

I started to wonder. Not for the sake of seeking resolution for a change, and a strange thought crossed my mind:

Do I want to know what being an Indian is?

OR

Do I want to know what it feels like to be an Indian?

Under the cloud of cascading cultural identities, and beyond the stormy solidarity of social order, is my country for real or a lost idea?

Entitlement Through Diversity Over Uniformity in Resolution

Wise men say reality is only what your mind chooses to believe. I believe them. I also know that beliefs are not always going to get along. Diversity is fine by me. It’s the law of nature, and even rebellious little me, can respect those laws.

Unfortunately, diversity turned into a business somewhere down the line in India. What’s my historical expertise and cultural credential to prove this? I have none.

But I ask you this: Does a blind man need eyes to smell something burning?

Our country is a melting pot of differences – cultural, political, social, and economical. But instead of celebrating them, they have become indulgences. The interests of “brothers and sisters of caste” and “brothers and sisters of religion” poisoned the idea of “brothers and sisters of India”.

Somehow the idea of collective welfare began to shrink in its collectiveness without compromising on its appetite for welfare.

Freedom became a brothel where billionaires could stack castles on the corpses of slums, fundamentalists could trademark spirituality, and the occasional spectators would scramble for a few breadcrumbs like vultures starved for validation.

indian-politics

An idealist once taught me the pen is mightier than the sword. His boss later told me that it is true; however, a pen with a blank cheque to sign on is the mightiest. But that wasn’t good enough. It couldn’t be. I argued that surely the pen that signs treaties of peace and independence must be better.

It dawned on me then, swiftly and sadly. Independence is not an outcome; it’s just a declaration.

What is a declaration?

A declaration is more than a statement. It is a promise to ourselves and future generations that what we say are promises to always uphold the ideals we strive for.

Unfortunately, ideals are not immune to the most natural talent of human nature – weaponization. Over time, we get more talented in getting more bang from our buck by manipulating them to further our agenda. They start off as tools of power decentralization in concept and end up as totalitarian devices of doom in implementation.

Dude, Where’s My Democracy?

So what about that delicious democracy we were promised?

But more importantly, is the concept of equal really equal in our own minds?

Democracy-schlemocracy! Communism-cataclysm! We can cry your throats sore fighting over what’s greater, but I wish we fight over implementation as passionately as we fight over ideology.

democracy

Somewhere down the line, we forgot that it is social harmony that runs an economy and not the other way round. And as simply as we traded social integrity, we traded away our control over the harmony.

We let the course of one man’s success dictate the course of another’s – measuring ourselves through the eyes of others – hustling for the blueprint of perfection. Inspiration became a copyright war between those who treated it like a product you needed to buy to own, and those who looked upon it as social inheritance.

Team Kentucky Fried Capitalism vs Team Sanskaari Socialism

indian-burn

You had to choose to have a voice in society. If you didn’t, you became irrelevant. And if there’s one thing I know, being ignored is a punishment worse than death for most people.

Choose between the left and right of political discourse rather than find the rightness in the left or vice versa. Choose between liberal apathy and fundamentalist ignorance in our culture instead of integrating the best of both worlds.

Our identity crisis has been the outcome of a post-colonial hangover on one hand and a superiority complex for ancient glory on the other, India’s diversity has been hijacked by extremists to turn society into a snake that eats its own tail.

Here, liberty appears and disappears like a thin layer of malai in a boiling kettle of “cultural” sensitivity to satiate the tastes of those with fragile egos. Unless we tune into mutual empathy more often than pointing fingers from our stereotypical moral higher ground, the Indian identity is going to be a dream unrealized.

Choose a clean slate or your preferred ancient glory to fight for that dream. Come as you are. And let the people around you walking in and out of your life know that they matter. That’s all there is to being Indian. That’s all there is to being human. (Don’t sue me, Sallu Bhai!)

“I am yours as much as you are mine;

It’s the only truth I need to feel divine”

– Baba 432

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Prashant Bajpai

About Prashant Bajpai

I'm a content marketing evangelist and serial growth hacker trying to decrypt duality and access unity. Why? Because that's my jam.

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