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India: More Than One Face

My friend Deepika Sahu is an angry young woman just now. Find out why...

Few months back, not many had heard of Mr Raj Thackeray and his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). But today, a large part of India knows him. He was lying low after breaking away from his uncle. And suddenly MMS was not the buzzword anymore. It's MNS and MNS all the way. Never mind for all the wrong reasons. But he has influenced some also. At least so it appears on the surface. Taking a cue from Mr Raj, a colleague was heard recently saying, "Gujarat should be only for Gujaratis." God knows what will happen to all those Gujaratis in Mumbai, Shillong, Atlanta, New Jersy, United kingdom, Kenya... the list can go on. But I think, I have a very peculiar problem on this account. I am married to a Malayali who is born and brought up in Ahmedabad. My in-laws migrated from Kerala way back in 1960s. And even if I go back to Orissa, going by this son of the soil logic, my husband can't go to Orissa. I can't even go to Kerala. So... it all hangs somewhere.

Thanks to 24 hour television channels, Mr Thackeray got his publicity. TV channels immediately jumped at organising talk shows on this. The same old experts were called upon. Somebody said Mumbai is like a mobile phone in which the incoming calls are free. Having lived in all the four georgaphical zones of India, I feel we might have developed some taste for cusines from different regions, but there is very little to add to that point of assimilation. We as a nation thrive on stereotypes. We feel very comfortable in branding communities, cities and even states. To add to it, a pathetic sense of both history and geography.

Just the other day, a senior colleague of mine asked did you go around with anybody before you got married and I said yes. And then she asked 'Where was he from'. I said he was from Bihar. She said "Thank God, you didn't marry him. Must say you have been very lucky." To make matters straight, she has never lived in Bihar. Her exposure to places is limited to two metros only. On what basis, she made that strong comment, I really can't understand. If a journalist could talk like this, why should we blame others? As communities, we have always excelled in demeaning other communities and their eating habits, lifestyle. And we always think "My commmunity's food is the best in the world."

And people from Delhi think that India's geography ends where Gurgaon begins. There's absolutely no doubt about that. Some years back, I had some guests from Delhi who stayed with me for three days. They kept on telling "Oh Ahmedabad has such high-storyed apartments. Oh, you have a lift in your apartment. Oh, there's a westside in Ahmedabad....'' They made Ahmedabad sound like some city which is far way from any signs of industrialisation. Little did they know that this is a city which was at one point of time known as Manchester of India. And to add icing on the cake, they had their food in Mcdonalds. By the time, they left for Delhi, I was mentally tired of playing the role of a host. It would be really nice if we could just open up our minds and be tolerant of others.

There's more to India than Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Bangalore. And it's so very essential to travel within the country and move beyond cities. It's a tragedy that in India, now all cities look so very similar. It's the same branded lifestyle stores everywhere. You have the same Pizza Huts, Dominos, Mcdonalds and Cafe Coffee Days everywhere. But the real test of a traveller is that whether he/she manages to look beyond these signs of globalisation and discover the real nuances of a city. Every city has its own soul. You have to touch that soul. But you can't do it if you wear coloured glasses. Or if you carry sterotypes within your small head. When you are in Gujarat, revel in the mouth-watering khandavis, dhoklas not some wrapped aloo tikki burger from a restaurant originally meant for truck drivers in USA.Cause it would have been easy for them to have a quick meal and move on the road.

Recently I heard the best story so far. My colleague went to send a speed post to his dad who lives in Agartala, Tripura. The postman at the counter said, "See we have a speed post service to Agartala. But we have no such service to Tripura (which he had mentioned on the envelope). Even though my friend explained about Tripura being the state and Agartala is its capital, very sternly the postman wrote on the envelope, "At the own risk of the customer."

And we think that insurgency is a problem in North-east.

(Post by Deepika Sahu, journalist with The Times of India and based in Ahmedabad)


Snigdha said…
Funny thing is, I only became conscious of being a Bengali after I started working. Till college, it didn't really matter. Day I on the job the first question I was asked by seniors was, "You're Bengali?". These were journalists who had been around expounding on every issue on the planet for a for many years and their first impression on an impressionable trainee journalist, me, was, "Bloody parochial bastards." We love our little lobbies when they are convenient. Why blame MNS. Raj is just exploiting a basic flaw in the common Indian psyche.
Anonymous said…
Your story about the postman is quite interesting but I don't think insurgency is a problem in North-east. After reading that part of the story we see that it is ignorance and people need to be educated.

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