At my age, it is not good to have identity crisis. I thought I was done with that shit as a teenager. After that, somehow I settled down, and now I’ve been knocked over like bowling pins. I don’t know if I am Bharatiya Nari or an Indian Woman, the latter being a western version of Bharatiya.
When this gentleman spoke so authoritatively on these two distinct identities, I knew I had to immediately suspend all my activities and figure this out. How can one continue into middle-age without knowing what one is?
So I examine my childhood. I grew up in a house where we do puja to a Narasimhar saligrama. I also know some shlokas. So I must be Bharatiya. Even now, whenever I see a temple, and I’m passing by, I touch my eyes lightly with the fingertips of my right hand –first on one eyelid then the other – a couple of times. This is the prescribed way to do a symbolic namaskara. Or, if there is a puja on in someone’s house, and they call for arshna kumkuma, I go leaping and bounding. I smear the vermilion and turmeric on my mangalya and forehead – and if there is any prasada, I do the symbolic namaskara before gobbling it up. Yes, I must be Bharatiya. Or am I?
The Bhagvad Gita I have is an English version. And many times, I have done symbolic namaskara in jeans. I shudder. Some of those times, I may have applied liptstick and kohl too. Oh no...am I a painted and dented Indian? And even though I do attend arshna kumkuma – our conversation lapses to English. Worst of all, I have short hair that can’t be plaited, and whenever I wear bindis, I get an allergy on my forehead. Surely, I must be an Indian woman then. There are no traces of Bharatiya-ness.
I think about my days at work. It is solid okay...more than a decade. For all that time, I’ve paid substantial tax – I was proud of it also. And for a good measure, I invested only in our LIC. I considered ‘business formals’ as salwaar kameez. Of course it was convenient because a) the colours of salwaars are anyday more vibrant than formal trousers b)I cannot carry off trousers. So suffice to say I was Bharatiya right? Aiyooo. No. Same problem. So what if I wore salwaar kameez? I worked in a company where I had to speak English no?
And not just speak English – all the clients were pucca, 100% westerners only. Americans, British, Germans, French and so on. At that time, I felt good talking to them about India and our history. Why I remember...I even accompanied a couple of them to Belur and Halebeedu where they were blown away with the architecture. I remember speaking passionately about Vijayanagara and all that. Now I feel like a fool. I spoke about all things Indian, instead of all things Bharat which supposedly has a better, superior culture and history. And what can be expected from an English-speaking woman working for Indian-company-that-competes-in-global-market and paying very high tax?
But the worst thing I did, (I did not know about it then), was to enable Indian-ness instead of Bharatiya-ness in others. See my maid’s daughter wanted to admit her little boy to an English-medium school. She feels that is the way for a bright future for her son. I should have told her to put him in a government school with Kannada-medium – it would have been very Bharatiya. But I did not have the heart because the government school in her locality did not have toilets and tables and chairs and all classes for all standards were held simultaneously in one large room. Now he is on his way to becoming an Indian – who like me will grow up learning English, and his chances of getting into a professional course which is anyway taught only in English is higher. Like me, he will pay taxes in the future. But like me, he will no more be a Bharatiya.
But you know – there has been another deadly effect – I’ve become a traitor. You see I have lived, worked and travelled in these ‘western’ countries. I’ve travelled alone, dined in restaurants alone, watched movies alone, shopped alone at all odd hours. Not once was I groped, leered at or made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe. I was treated with respect by everyone at all times. Not because I was a woman, but because I was a fellow-human. My interaction with their government agencies has been a pleasant experience. So whenever someone complains about western culture in our streets...I don't know what they are talking about. There. I am a traitor for taking sides with 'western culture'.
What have I done? What have I done? I wring my hands. It hits me – I have multiple personality disorder. Sometimes I am an Indian, sometimes I am Bharatiya. Oh god. And worse...this is genetic. How else can I explain? See Amma may have worn a saree all her life and read Thiruppavvai – but she was the one who was insistent that I join a convent school for a better education. And Appa may have read Vishnu Sahasranama all his life, and may have done the sandhyavandane from the time he wore his sacred thread – but what is the use? He wears pants and shirts whenever he has to go outside. And he is the one who introduced me and The Sister to the world of English books – getting us Dickens and Hardy from the library. Those books may have shaped my character but at what cost? I have become Indian and lost my Bharatiya roots. It is very clear that my parents, and my uncles and aunts also suffered from multiple personality disorder.
Then I think of all my friends and their parents. Same issue. I think of the gentleman who came out with this Indian-Bharat theory. Oh. My. God. How he suffers – I thought he was in dhoti or veshti – but he is saying all this wearing Bermuda shorts. Now I know – this is an epidemic. I am sure it is China’s handiwork – they must’ve done some mass experiments on us centuries ago. Because it can’t be the British or the Americans. The British came very recently and the Americans never came. Chinese are a different story. Way back (I’m talking single-digit A.D.) they had their travellers coming through the silk route and loafing about in the subcontinent, writing accounts of what they saw. I am sure they must’ve done something.
Even now the government has not woken up to this emergency. The disorder has escalated like anything. One old man is so far gone that he no longer thinks he is human – he says he is a pachyderm.
© Sumana Khan - 2013