Today’s one of the days that we wear our Indian hearts on our sleeves. Or at least pin a little tricolour flag on it to symbolise our patriotism. But while we celebrate our freedom from the British yoke, let’s think a bit about what it means to be Indian today.
Does singing the national anthem make us Indian? Does cheering for our sportspeople define us? Does hating other countries that threaten our boundaries make us more Indian?
In a country that’s full of so many ways to slice up the population, what exactly is the pie that tastes of true Indianness? The divides are many. Northie-Southie. Hindu-Muslim. Brahmin-Dalit. And everything else in between. By region. By language. By dialect. By diet. By attire. By jewellery. By appearance. By ‘in ours, we do it this way’. But, if we go beyond our differences, what are the Indian traits that can be found across the country?
One that most outsiders would vouch for is our strict adherence to IST. Indian Stretchable Time, that is! Is it because we have that strange extra half-hour that puts us in between normal time zones and makes our standard time not so standard? Is it a ‘chalta hai’ attitude? Whatever the reason, being on time is definitely not our strong suit.
But what we lack in punctuality, we make up in improvisation. If jugaad was an Olympic sport, we wouldn’t have had to wait so many decades for the gold. It’s so much a part of our DNA, practised by us all the time. Haven’t you too stuck a pen in an electric socket to push in a plug or repurposed a box as furniture? A by-product of jugaad is that we’re a country of hoarders.
You may think you’re not so well off but just look around you and look at all the stuff that you’ve filled your home with, and you’ll realise you have SO much more than the average Joe in another country. It’s also because you won’t throw away a single thing — from a pin to a broken rotary phone to a giant teddy bear — you never know when you might just need it for something!
This sort of applies to people too. We hoard our family, friends, acquaintances and all manner of salespeople. We surround ourselves with others so that we are never alone, never feel alone. Community is everything to most Indians. From festivals to funerals, everything’s an excuse to accumulate. And how many people turn up at your wedding or your memorial is a status symbol; the more the better.
And yes, we are loud. Put us together in a place and the decibel levels go up considerably. Firecrackers, drums, car horns, ululation... these aren’t just Indian tools of noise pollution, but we do wield them rather well. And often.
Our national pastimes are loud too. Be it yelling at a Cricket match or singing for worship. Be it watching dhishoom-dhishoom movies with dhinchak songs or chomping meals fast-fast. Be it fighting in our building society meetings or even more boomingly in Parliament.
This high volume is perhaps because there are so many of us that we feel the need to be heard above the herd. This leads to us being unabashedly intrusive, asking personal questions out of pure curiosity. And offering unsolicited advice to everyone because we believe it’s our duty to!
Like that know-it-all boss who tells you where you should live and which car you should buy. Or that building aunty who enquires about ‘good news’ from all the young marrieds, even urges them to procreate “before the bio-clock goes phuss”.
We’ve been aspiring to Make in India, but haven’t we already been making in India quite successfully for centuries? After all, we might soon be the most populated country in the world! We are probably our most exported commodity as well.
It’s when we go abroad through that we feel our Indianness the most. At both ends! We miss the tasty food we’re used to. And we also miss our personal jets in our toilets back home. No amount of black pepper and toilet paper can fill that deep sense of loss.
Also, wherever we go, we may not always be able to share our soup publicly, one by two. But no matter where we are, we certainly take the same pleasure dipping our daily biskut in our evening chai! And cover our remote controls in plastic. Or put very Victorian doilies on the backs of chairs and sofas to protect them.
According to me, it’s these tiny, inconsequential quirks and thousands more, that, put together, give us that feeling of Indianness that we are proud of. Today and always.
(The columnist is Associate Editor, TravelDine, and a bespoke Mumbai tour specialist. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @priyapathiyan and @thehungryhappyhippy on Facebook. She blogs on thehungryhappyhippy.com)