Wednesday, January 7, 2015

India and Identity Crisis

The less we know, the easier it is to assume our identity.  It is much easier to perceive ourselves as Indian or Pakistani or Hindu or Muslim than to understand the complex range of crucibles and forges which gave shape to most people’s identities on the planet called the earth.  The more we know, the more ridiculous re-conversions and identity arrogations become.

Who was an Indian before India became an independent republic?  How did the Indian become a Hindu, a Muslim, a Sikh, or whatever?  What about the increasing number of agnostics and atheists in the country?  What about other identities which may be more important to certain individuals such as feminists, environmentalists, or even Maoists? 

If I travel back in time and see the entire history of my ancestors, what will my identity be?  Will I see myself as a person whose helpless ancestor was forced to convert (or re-convert) to some religion by an emperor or his/her given situation? 

Why should any one particular religion be the religion of a country when even its staple foods may have their origins in some alien soil?

Take potato, for example.  India’s ubiquitous aloo which is an inevitable presence in most Indian foods ranging from the aloo paratha to the masala dosa, from the simple samosa to the snobbish cutlet.  Just six hundred years ago, potato was unheard of in India.

The potato, just like tomato – another common food item in our country today, originated in South America and was brought to Europe by Spanish conquerors.  K T Acharya, food historian, estimates that tomatoes were adopted by Indian cooking only as late as 1880s, if not later.  Potatoes were grown in India around the time of Akbar’s reign, but were seen as culinary novelties even a century-and-a-half later, according to the British records.

Should we ask potatoes and tomatoes to leave India since they were not originally Indian?  Or should we convert them into Indianness?  Should we apply some genetic engineering and produce Hindu potatoes and Hindu tomatoes?

Centuries ago people came to India for trade and other purposes.  They brought their culture as well as various goods.  Some of them brought their religions too.  A few of them married the women of the country and settled down in what is today India.  There is Greek blood and Arab blood in the Indian veins.  There is a whole range of European influence in the country’s history and culture.  Can we just them wish them all away?  How much re-conversion will we pretend to carry out?

I dream of a time when people rise above narrow identities and dividing lines and perceive themselves as inhabitants of the planet called the earth.

PS. Thanks to Sidin Vadukut whose book, The Sceptical Patriot, threw in me the spark for this post


  1. I had a colleague who mentioned that his forefathers move to India about 1000 years ago from xyz country. I told him he is wrong, his forefathers moved to Earth from Ocean a few billion years ago... :) Beat that :)

    1. The advaita of our Upanishads also teaches us the same thing: non-dualism. But we now choose what's politically convenient

  2. Oh, How can you write about potato? I love potato, I hope they don't read your post and decide to banish potato from India. Or worse, convert it into something inedible. :P
    Earlier, I used to think nationalism is a virtue. Now, I'm not sure I about it.

    1. I was in love with potatoes from the time I was a child so much so that they used to give me all the potatoes in the chicken stew :)

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