I was sitting across these three sturdy young men. Well, these three young men were full of vigour, except for Asif, who sat directly opposite to me. Asif was reading a thick instruction manual on ‘Army Drills’. My curiosity drove me to ask Asif, if I could take a look at the book. I never knew that Army drills could be so elaborate! As they were young, we struck a casual conversation about Army discipline. I was particularly curious about the Army drills. In the meanwhile I also enquired about their posting. They were recently posted in Manipur and sure, they knew quite well about Northeast India. It was my journey back from Nagaland, which lie in the North-eastern part of India. I have been amused by the richness of Nagaland. In the meanwhile, I told them how interesting I found Nagaland. I spoke to them about the market I had visited the previous day.
“I saw quite a few interesting commodities in the market” I remarked.
They were expectant of my expression more than the explication. They knew well what I would have found at Dimapur Market. Will there be a shock in my cultural exchange? I defied that shock and went on.
“I love Naga-King Chilli, and I bought a kilogram of it.”
I’m an addict of hot and spicy food, and I drool for a morsel of rice with pickled Naga Chilli. But this wasn’t an interesting statement to them. They smiled, indicating that I speak more of the market. They knew I haven’t yet come to the awaited part of my discourse. I couldn’t keep them holding on for long.
“When I entered the market, I saw a pretty dog wrapped in jute sack. I thought to myself: ‘Why have they wrapped the dog when it is not yet summer?!” I quipped.
They laughed as I contributed to the pooled stupidity. Asif, the naiveté among them, shot up at me supposedly enlightening me. He blurted out.
“That is for eating; they eat dogs there”
I made it a point to beware him that I had already known that fact. I continued my narration. I told them that I saw, frogs, snails, silkworms and other things which fascinated me. They felt kinship with me as they giggled and smiled all the while.
“They can eat anything there.” The other army chap commented. The narration was coming to an end. It was time for the moral of the story. I looked out of the paned window, and saw the pakhoras and samosas. I had to conclude. After all, it was my story.
“I love my country.”
The army men could not connect the story with the moral. They looked at me with a suspicion. I wanted to liberate them from their confined ease...
“I love India, because it has many faces.”
I saw one chap gulping, as if he had to literally swallow my words. There were no comments. Until then, it did not dawn upon these young patriots that we all belonged to the same culture: the composite Indian culture. I felt triumphant and so I gave my final verdict.
“I am part of this beautiful culture.”
This time they smiled. The lesson wasn’t difficult after all. I saw one other young man nodding.
When did ‘India’ become synonymous to its culture? Is India so, because it has some well defined unique culture? Or as I would like to think, is not ‘India’ already defined and its culture one characteristic of that definition? Assimilating the conception of ‘India’ does not begin with ingesting one culture and tradition. India has to be seen in the light of its history, political demarcations, diversity, cultural particulars and contributions to humanity. In the midst of the triumph, I confess that I am yet to be free from all prejudices. It requires more than just indianess to be an Indian. It requires a sense of humanity to love and accept people and let that be part of you, even if you do not partake of it. Patriotism without humanity is barbarism.
As I broom away the prejudices that infect me, I see how lovely each of us is. How much more the people of the slum? The government of India is making frantic efforts to filter illegal immigrants. A number of people in the slums have become victims to the prejudices of the recent filtering. But does that concern us? If I had judged them based on the cultural inclinations I have, I would only see them as illegal immigrants and sometimes terrorists. But my sense of humanity props up from light I have received from Christ. We have learned to love them and know them as Indians.