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The meaning of being an Indian

October 21, 2004

I was born in India and have spent most of my life here. But just how "Indian" am I? 

What does it mean to be an Indian anyway? If we set aside the default label that was stuck on you because you were born in this country, is there something else that binds people together into being an Indian? 

Ravi once opined that nationalism was a constructed identity. He wrote: "Every generation finds things we have in common, things that we share, things that we value and things that we can be proud of, and builds a nationalism out of it."

And what if you don't find too much in common with many people in your country? I ask because for many years, I have felt a "cultural mismatch" between me and the country I live in. I could not identify with many things that form our "culture". For instance:

  1. I am a strong atheist in a country where religion is woven finely into the cultural fabric. (My parents are very religious people, however.)
  2. I am a strong individualist in a country where the familial unit is very important and indeed, marriages are considered unions between families, not just individuals.
  3. In a country full of rituals for every occasion, I find no value in them.
  4. I don't believe in the "respect your elders by default" Indian principle unless they deserve respect.
  5. I don't really celebrate festivals like Diwali and Holi. (Actually, I can't stand loud noise.)
  6. I'm a libertarian in a society that still mostly believes it should have a say in what's right and what's wrong in the way people live their lives. (Not to mention our socialist government.)
  7. I stop at red traffic lights, no matter how late at night it is or how few cars are on the road. I've been wearing a seat belt many years before it became law.
  8. I try to stand in the queue wherever possible unlike all those others rushing to push ahead.
  9. I don't watch Bollywood movies because they make my brain cells melt each time I try.
  10. I consider English my first language because that's the one I'm most comfortable with.

Sorry if I came across as a snob for it wasn't my intention. I merely find myself getting more and more pissed off with the so-called "culture" of this country that is often hailed. Has our culture been reduced to breaking traffic laws, trying to beat the law, being unruly in situations where some order is required, spitting on the roads, urinating on walls, whistling in movie theatres during kissing scenes, etc.?

Not that all people are like that, of course. I have met plenty of nice enough people, but if I think about my average week, it's spent being pissed off at all the stuff I've just mentioned. It tilts the balance against what few positive experiences I have. (There, that sentence was in anticipation of the "don't look only at the negative things" argument someone will surely make.) And even if I didn't, I feel like a cultural "misfit" because of all the numbered reasons I've given.

How, then, can I strongly identify with this country? Is there any "Indian" left in me?

Update (27 Oct): I am amused that in a blog entry where the words "West" or "Western" haven't been mentioned even once, so many people have assumed the comparison anyway. Assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups, folks.

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