The Indian today is made of many things – culture, history, DNA, etc. If you just turn the focus inwards, it’ll be clear as day that not all of these have got together to make us the perfect people walking on earth. But let us think for a while what we are that others aren’t and perhaps can’t be.
For one, we must certainly rank as one of the most welcoming and warm people in the world. Try asking a Frenchman for directions in English while you are in Paris and you’ll understand what I am saying. More often than not, he’ll not even look in your direction. And if he condescends to do that, he’ll make you feel like scum. Don’t know French? What the hell are you doing in my country?
Compare this with how foreigners are treated in India. Most are made to feel like traveling deities. The whole ‘atithideva’ bit plays an important role in this. On the whole, and I think a lot of expats will support me on this, foreigners in India are treated much better than Indians are in foreign countries. Hum kaale hain toh ky hua dilwaale hain!
Oh yes, many here don’t like a lot of things they do too, like using toilet paper and eating beef and pork, but few will go down to beating the daylights out of them or make them feel so unwanted that they leave the country on their own.
We take God and faith so seriously that I am sure it makes a lot of us actually quite a people of faith. Have you counted the number of temples, mosques, gurdwaras, and churches in our country? Don’t, it’ll be a futile exercise. Yes, there will be the communal riots in a country of more than a billion with various tugs and pulls of coexistence, often under difficult and trying circumstances, but it doesn’t exactly take rocket science to figure out why this huge, rambling country hasn’t imploded. The average Indian, deep down, is accommodating, of different cultures, peoples and persuasion.
Let’s take the two big countries that matter most in today’s world – China and America. Almost the whole of China is communist, Han and speaks a language that forms a common thread joining them. Almost the whole of America is capitalist, speaks English and loves burgers. In India, they say, dialects change every few kilometers. So do food habits, physical features and other signifiers of difference. It’s a hundred nations within a nation. Travel from Mizoram to Kashmir, from Bengal to Karnataka, from Punjab to Gujarat, from Bihar to Maharashtra – the multiplicity amazes, staggers, overwhelms. We’ve done tremendously well to stick together. And let’s not be cynical about this. It’s an achievement other countries would find hard to emulate.
So importantly, Indians believe in community and that’s a fantastic thing. Almost the whole town came to one of the wedding recently in Bangalore. There was the vice-chancellor of a university and there was a poor driver with whom the groom had played football in his childhood. They shared the same table. Indians know how to rejoice in one another’s happiness and partake of each other’s sorrow. Divides of class, caste and faith apart, the instinctive response in India to the three things that wrap up life – birth, marriage and death – is to come together. It means something.
But the best thing by far about this country is how nothing is ever taken too seriously – terror attacks, riots, corruption, even traffic rules. It not always good, but it’s easier to move on. The psyche of the average American has permanently changed after 9/11 and a lot of things are now seen in black and white in that country. One attack. I don’t think Indians will let that happen to them. Ever. After so many attacks, against each other and from outside, so many deaths, tragedies, calamities, heartbreaks, Indians remain who they are – intrinsically humane, happy and hearty, coming out from each crushing blow thinking this too shall pass.