To say that time flies, I believe, is a grave misnomer. I’d rather see time as something that flows and flows hurriedly; like a stream rushing down a mountain crevice.
As of 22nd August, 2017, I have lived four years outside India. And in this blur of the past four years, I have garnered a master’s degree and I’m about half-way through my PhD project and I’m set on an academic career that I envisioned when I first decided to move to Scandinavia. That is, if I reduce my time in Europe to a mere metric of my academic progress. Endorsing such an outlook is not only reductive, in every sense of the word, but also does little justice to the evolution of the person that I am.
That being said, this post will not be an introspective one for having tried to embrace The North. So, apologies for click-baiting you into reading rest of my rant. This, I hope, will be an attempted exposition of how I perceive India to be different from these northern lands and vice versa. At the outset, this does appear to be an easy task; like a task that we most rigorously perform in Machine Learning — to compare apples and oranges.
Or is it?
One significant change in my own perception of India is to acknowledge a seemingly innocuous trait that is so innate to India, that shapes everything about India; both her flaws and features come to light differently when seen from this point of view.
That One Indian Attribute
There is no more need for suspense. I am talking about the most obvious feature of India: Diversity. And it does define India. If you were thinking chaos (arrogantly) or curry (ignorantly), read on.
The vibrant diversity, in all quarters of one’s social life, is the reality when growing up in India. We are never aware of the culture we grow up in. Culture is to people, what water is to fish. The process of assimilating culture that we are drenched in goes unnoticed to us like we are barely conscious of the complex mechanism of breathing while we still soak in the air. It is only when placed in a different frame of reference does culture come to life. For instance, in the backdrop of Scandinavia, that is equated to be the epitome of Western culture.
Born a Hindu, I studied in a Catholic Convent in Bangalore for twelve years amongst plentiful students who hailed from all possible religions, spoke innumerable languages and different social backgrounds (read caste, which I was oblivious to then); such overt heterogeneity was never surprising to me. Each lunch break was a potluck of food from across India. I could speak four languages effortlessly by the time I was 12. Such experiences only get excessive when you travel within India, to see how the local cultures vary from town to town.
Every Indian grows up believing that such rich diversity is the truth everywhere. I did too. And then to my unpleasant surprise, it hasn’t been the case. All that my travels have revealed is a well-meaning but conscious attempt to assimilate differences, rather than see them as being normal. I am not implying discrimination, but that rest of the world does not see diversity to be the norm is saddening when you come from India. And that is unfortunate, as we are inevitably growing into a heterogeneous global society. The inertia of homogeneity in cultures is aggravating the circumstances, leading to massive problems of integration and assimilation. This is then turning into rich fodder for the extremists who want and campaign for imposed homogeneity.
On the other hand, the diversity in India also explains the problems in India when compared to the West. A homogeneous culture is easier to steer and evolve than to hone a multi-faceted one. Even practical aspects of administration are hard in India (we have 30 official languages). Other than a shared history of our struggle against colonialism, there is very little that is common to all Indians. Comparing this diversity in the backdrop of a historically homogeneous Scandinavia contrasts the differences and the related problems in far more accentuated manner than when seen from inside India. It is this insight that I attribute to my time outside India. It has helped me come to terms with understanding some of the larger problems grappling India. And no, I don’t have the solutions to them.
Or maybe I do.
The Scandinavian model will not work in India. But what might work is the theoretical European Union kind of a solution. Wherein, all Indian states are given substantial autonomy (as if they were independent countries) and then India strives to be a true federation of autonomous states. And that has a glimmer of success.
Well, I hear you sigh or hanker I go to Pakistan (for the uninitiated, due to my anti-national statements above)!
In this commemorative post, I don’t have a dream or a wish, but a plan. I want the rest of the world to embrace diversity as something natural, and India to become a federation of autonomous states. I don’t think that is much to ask.
That’ll be a wishful recipe for a prosperous India and a peaceful world.
Yours Truly. Until my new world order comes to effect.
A surreal picture of a famous street in Copenhagen.